Like a refurbished race car, the Ohio State offense in its first game under the direction of new coordinator Kevin Wilson needed some major tuning after a cold start. But the Buckeyes were operating at high speed by the time the 49-21 season-opening win at Indiana was over Thursday night.
The deep passing gear, something coach Urban Meyer ordered reinstalled, still needs some grinding. But otherwise, quarterback J.T. Barrett threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, and with 304 yards passing and 61 rushing, he became the school’s leader in total offense (8,864 yards).
And a rising star made his presence known. Freshman running back J.K. Dobbins rushed for 181 yards in place of still-healing starter Mike Weber, giving the coaches a decision to make at that spot heading toward Saturday night’s Ohio Stadium showdown with Oklahoma.
“When the running game took off, J.T. settled down; the passing game got going to show what we’re capable of,” Wilson said in analyzing the debut. “You’ve got to work hard to be consistent. We were inconsistent in the first half.”
But where were the Buckeyes different offensively compared with recent years? For starters, just look at the two catch-and-run touchdowns that blew the game open:
• Barrett was throwing more often than not to receivers on the run. The short toss to hybrid back Parris Campbell on a crossing route meant one of the team’s faster players caught the ball on a dead sprint, then cut up the left sideline behind a block from Terry McLaurin to complete the 74-yard play.
• On the 59-yard Johnnie Dixon TD, granted, Dixon caught the ball while standing still in the middle of the field. But what set it up was a five-receiver deployment and two of them crossing in the short middle of the field, confusing and dispersing the defenders. Dixon, who had shadowed K.J. Hill on his crossing route, pulled up, made the catch, turned and took off, picking up a block from Binjimen Victor.
“From a schematic standpoint, they were doing some things that put us in conflict — basically, you address one thing, and it exposes another,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said of the play-calling by former Hoosiers head coach Wilson. “And we had a couple of busts in assignment, and as I said all along, you make one mistake, and it’s a big play. They’re so fast, it’s hard to catch 'em.”
The Buckeyes gained some of those matchups because, as Wilson pointed out, they had established the run with Dobbins and Barrett behind an offensive line that took greater control as the game progressed. Plus, they showed the willingness to throw the ball deep, although a wide-open Campbell dropped a would-be TD pass and Barrett overthrew open tight end Marcus Baugh on another chance.
“It’s been a minute since we hit some deep balls around here,” Meyer said. “We should have had a couple. … We’ll get better on the deep ball.”
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes proved they’re deeper already at running back because when Meyer was asked who his No. 1 would be headed into this week, he deadpanned: “J.K. Weber.” In other words, he’s not leaving Weber in the garage if he’s ready to run, giving Wilson more options, because there is no intention to park Dobbins.
“We get Mike back (this week), and that’s going to be a nice one-two punch,” Meyer said.