Remember when everyone around the nation, including some in Buckeye Nation, were bashing J.T. Barrett? I wish he’d go to the post game press conference and channel his inner Kirk Cousins right now.
Lead by the senior quarterback, the Buckeyes overcame several early mistakes on special teams, offense and coaching to overcome a 15 points fourth quarter deficit to knockoff the second ranked Penn State Nittany Lions 39-38.
Barrett completed 33 of 39 passes for 328 yards and 4 touchdowns. With this performance and the others since the loss to Oklahoma, he has firmly placed his name in the Heisman Trophy race.
But it wasn’t pretty. Here are my takeaways from the Buckeyes come from behind victory.
* THE SILVER BULLETS ARE THE BEST DAMN DEFENSE IN THE LAND.
Penn State came into the game averaging 463.3 yards per game (2nd in B1G). The Buckeyes held them to 283 total yards (192 passing, 91 rushing.)
Ohio State may very well have snatched the Heisman Trophy from Saquon Barkley after he started the game looking to run away with it on the opening kickoff. Eight of Barkley’s 21 carries resulted in loss yardage. He finished the game with 44 rushing yards for an average of 2.1 per carry. Defensive Coordinator Greg Schiano and defensive line coach Larry Johnson had the perfect game plan to stop the most dynamic player in the country.
* J.T. WAS NEVER THE PROBLEM.
As I’ve been saying all season, the supporting cast around Barrett hadn’t stepped up in big games, until Saturday night. When Barrett has time, and receivers run good routes to get open, J.T. will look like the Heisman finalist he was in 2014 and the guy who has now catapulted himself into the top of the conversation with this victory. Just Touchdowns is clutch! He completed his last 16 pass attempts and was 13 of 13 in the fourth quarter.
Johnnie Dixon and his two touchdowns in the fourth quarter will be all anyone talks about, but Austin Mack and K.J. Hill were huge keeping the chains moving. Hill finished with 12 receptions for 102 yards. I also can’t forget Marcus Baugh coming back from a huge drop early in the game to redeem himself for the game winner. When the skill guys play to their expectations around Barrett, this is the performance you’ll get from the Senior QB. He will look just like he did when he had Ezekiel Elliott, Devin Smith and Michael Thomas to name a few.
* POOR PLAY CALLING/COACHING SHOULD HAVE LOST THIS GAME
The majority of the finger-pointing the last two seasons in Columbus has been towards Barrett, but maybe it’s time to point the finger at Urban Meyer and his coaching staff. As poorly as the Senior QB has played in past big games, the coaching staff hasn’t put him or the rest of the Scarlet and Gray in the best positions to succeed.
This coaching staff hasn’t learned from the losses to Clemson in the 2017 College Football Playoff and Oklahoma in game two of this season that you can’t call plays on offense that go sideline to sideline. The top defenses are too quick. You need to throw it down field, even if it’s incomplete, just to loosen up the defense and put them on their heels.
Going for it on 4th and 8 in field goal range to end the first quarter was a panic move from Urban Meyer that I’ve never seen from him before in his career in Columbus or at the University of Florida. Had he allowed Nuernberger to kick what would have been a 35-yard field goal, and he made it, Ohio State would have been down one possession at halftime 28-20 with the ball to start the second half. Instead they went into the locker room down 11. Thankfully that decision didn’t come back to haunt them.
The game plan also needs to focus more on the best use of their best weapons. J.K. Dobbins getting only 13 carries isn’t enough. He finished the game with a per carry average of 6.8 for a total of 88 rushing yards. Dobbins is what Barkley was when he entered the B1G three years ago. He needs to be used more.
* THE SPECIAL TEAMS UNIT CONTINUES TO SUCK
It didn’t take long for this unit to show its flaws. Saquon Barkley took the opening kickoff 97-yards to pay dirt. They also allowed Koa Farmer, a linebacker, to return a pooch kick 60-yards to set up another touchdown. Coming off a Bye week were these problems had persisted for weeks, you would think this unit would have come out to play the perfect game. These mistakes still haven’t cost them a game, yet. I put emphasis on yet.
As bad as special teams was, I must them a big nod, because it was the blocked punt by Denzel Ward with 11:39 remaining in the game down 35-20 that turned the game. So there was a bit of redemption for the Buckeyes since it was as blocked field goal by Penn State last season that helped them complete the upset.
The first College Football Playoff poll will be released this week. The Buckeyes have a real shot to be in the first four, top five at worse.
Next up, the Iowa Hawkeyes in Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Kickoff is yet to be determined.