Notebook: Offensive plan, kick return issues, Tuf Borland and Tate Martell

Nick McWilliams, Staff Writer
Buckeye Grove

COLUMBUS, Ohio - J.T. Barrett enjoyed a statistically great night against Army West Point, putting up a 25-for-33 completion clip for 270 yards and a pair of scores, along with rushing for 32 yards and a touchdown.

A majority of his completions were on passes thrown shorter than four yards past the line of scrimmage, but that didn't stop Ohio State from moving the ball down the field. It was far from the best product the Buckeyes could have put forth, but not bad considering they only had the ball for 23 minutes on offense.

The secret to success on Saturday was an obvious one, as Urban Meyer and Kevin Wilson went with a run-pass option style offense, depending on dump-off routes and short completions and depending on receivers to create their own space. The plan was set in place the week before by the coaching staff, and implemented after watching what kind of defense the Black Knights would be putting forth.

"If they're playing (tight) you'll see more (deep passing.) If they're playing (soft), you'll see more what you saw Saturday. So we have that available and we'll have more of that available and depends on how the game's going," said Meyer on Monday. "And if you remember how the way Army was playing, they played it smart, tried to keep everything in front of you. Don't let anything over the top. We knew that. And I thought J.T. and everybody managed it very well, which means it's going to be a lot of horizontal passing. If it's the tighter the defense, you'll see more vertical passing."


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Essentially the entire starting offense earned a champion grade from the coaches, which shows how strongly they felt the offense improved in a week's time. Ohio State used Barrett's unique ability to dissect and read a defense in the split second after the snap, and not depend on him to break down where defenders are throughout the duration of the play.

Overall, it worked out well.

Barrett was the second-leading rusher on the team, but was not the main focus on the run game, which seemed to allow him to settle in more in the pocket and gain a level on composure that escaped him through the first two weeks. The offense moved the ball efficiently, and relatively quickly.

Naturally, Meyer is going to be keeping this type of offense moving forward.

"J.T. doesn't have that skill set (of Braxton Miller's running ability), but he's got great sense of space on the field," Meyer said. "And we need to continue to utilize him more. And I think you're going to see more and more of that as we move forward, even more, where decision-making, that's J.T.'s strengths."


Ohio State has been flat-out bad in defending kickoff returns, and a large chunk of that issue falls on the kickoff specialist. Freshman Blake Haubeil has not been angling his kicks well, and Meyer is taking notice.

"Kickoff coverage is a mess right now. We don't have a kicker that can kick the ball. If you notice, one almost went out up in the seats," Meyer said. "So there's plenty of things that have a lot of issues that we have to get cleaned up and all our focus is on that. It's young players that ... so I'm thinking about (Sean) Nuernberger being our kickoff guy. Those are the questions that ... those are all the things our focus is on those."

On the one kick that Haubeil did nail perfectly in the corner, the Ohio State kick-coverage team failed to contain the Army returner, and safety Erick Smith had to make a from-behind touchdown-saving tackle. While Meyer praised Amir Riep and Jeffrey Okudah for a pair of solid tackles inside the 20-yard line on different kickoff returns, there is still an issue with keeping returners from open space.

Moving forward, Ohio State might be making an emphasis on staying on assignment on kickoffs, and not just flying to the ball.


Tired of the puns yet?

Meyer talked about the performance of redshirt freshman linebacker Tuf Borland after the game Saturday and on Monday during his media availability. While he praised the first-year linebacker, he would not commit to how much Ohio State would be implementing him on defense when Chris Worley returns from a sprained foot.

"Obviously he's very important to me because he's my middle shield on punt and very good on kickoff return," Meyer said. "So very valuable member and a great kid. His personality matches his name. He's a tough guy."

Worley received a questionable designation for the game against UNLV by Meyer. UNLV is one of the top ranked offenses currently in college football — No. 13 overall in terms of total yardage — but the statistics lie in this instance.

The Rebels have played against two below-average teams, and appear to rely most heavily on their rushing attack, which plays right into the hands of the Buckeyes' defense. Ohio State has proved much more effective against the run than the pass, with the exception of 259 yards allowed to Army (which most people expected).

Borland led the team with 12 total tackles against the Black Knights, so if there is any doubt in Worley's health, the team will likely go with the first-year player, and not have to think twice about it.



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Why not throw in another quarterback's name to the mix?

Ohio State put Dwayne Haskins in for his first real game time late in a game well in hand, but have given Tate Martell some interesting experience for himself. Martell has been leading the scout-team offense, especially against Army since he brings a relatively similar threat with his legs.

Meyer has been liking what he sees.

"I'm really excited for his future. I saw a player in the spring, without getting too personal, that was worried about this, worried about that, was probably social media, whatever, and that happens in high school when you're at a very successful program and you're a very successful player," Meyer said. "I've seen a guy that's ripped his chest open. I hope it stays that way and he's a, 'I'll do anything to help this team win a game.' Those are the guys whose careers will take off."

Martell is still fourth in the overall pecking order at quarterback, unless the team still is worried about Joe Burrow's surgically repaired throwing hand. But Meyer might like to push the young gunslinger up higher if he continues to impress.

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