“J.T. Barrett doesn’t have the arm!”
“The guys can’t get open!”
“And when they do get open, they can’t catch!”
“J.T. can’t see ’em!”
“The line can’t block long enough to even look deep!”
“It’s too windy!”
Last year, all of these words were spoken by many thousands of people when it came to explaining away Ohio State’s struggles with the deep ball.
The Buckeyes completed just four passes of 40 or more yards last year, and two of them came in the season opener against Bowling Green. There was just no viable downfield threat.
A lack of separation was said to be one of the main reasons why there was no downfield passing game. J.T. Barrett talked last year about not wanting to throw the ball up for grabs because his job is to protect the football.
Others would tell you that he was too protective of the football.
As far as the pass protection goes, do you really need to relive the two or three nightmare games that you cannot shake?
In order to go downfield, a quarterback has to have time to throw downfield, and that wasn’t always the case a year ago. When it was the case, however, it still didn’t seem to matter, which puts the onus more on Barrett and his receivers than the offensive line.
And that brings us back to the lack of separation last season. How much of an issue was it?
“You have to watch the film to really identify that,” receivers coach Zach Smith said. “There was a lot of plays with a lot of separation and there was a lot of plays where we needed separation and didn’t get it. That’s definitely an issue on select plays, and there’s other issues on other select plays. You can’t identify one thing and say, ‘That’s the problem! They didn’t get separation.’ Or, ‘Aw man, J.T. can’t throw the deep ball.’ None of that is true. It’s all partially true to make the whole thing true, which is that we didn’t hit deep balls when we needed to.”
Never fear, however, as the Buckeyes have spent considerable time this spring working on improving the deep ball. The quarterbacks were hitting their spots at a very acceptable rate during the spring, which is a good thing, even though not all of those accurate passes were completed. Remember, the receivers are being defended by some pretty talented players, after all.
Getting far enough away from that defense to make the catch is the next step for these receivers, and it was something they were focused on all spring long.
“We have a saying around here, ‘Win at the top of our route, winning in transition,'” Parris Campbell explained. “When you’re talking about separation, that just all comes with winning in transition, when you’re at the top of your route, in the top end. And that’s when we actually want to win our routes and I think we’ve improved incredibly at that and I think we’ve gotten better at it.”
Winning at the top of the route can put the necessary distance between a receiver and a defensive back, which is what the Buckeyes want. That distance then allows them to bring the football in unharmed.
If the Ohio State receivers continue to struggle with separation, there is a plan for that as well, which is a change from previous years.
“I think one of the differences is they throw it,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said of the Buckeye quarterbacks in their new offense. “A guy might be covered, and they’re throwing it anyways. They’re giving those talented receivers a 50-50 chance of going up there and getting the ball. Because you do that over and over again, the receivers learn to catch them.”