All throughout spring and fall camp, the Ohio State coaches and players talked about how good the deep passing game was looking.
It may have taken longer to come to fruition than people wanted, but we finally saw a good bit of what they were talking about in Saturday night’s win over Rutgers.
J.T. Barrett hit deep shots to Binjimen Victor and Johnnie Dixon, and tried with Terry McClaurin as well. Dixon and Victor came down with theirs, even if one of them didn’t count.
So why were the Buckeyes to intent on throwing deep against Rutgers? Was it just because of who they were playing?
The answer, of course, is sort of. They weren’t throwing deep because of who they were playing, they were throwing deep because of what who they were playing was playing.
Ohio State practices against man coverage every day because that’s what their defense plays. Until Saturday, however, they had only really seen zone coverage from opposing defenses.
Barrett has said in the past that he doesn’t want to throw deep into zone coverage if there are things opening up on shorter routes. Defenses for the first four games had basically dropped back in an effort to keep everything in front of them. That’s not Chris Ash’s way, however, and so this was always setting up as the coming out party for Ohio State’s deep passing game.
Asked if the amount of man that the Buckeyes saw contributed to the downfield attack, Buckeye head coach Urban Meyer wasn’t sure.
“They were in a lot of man,” he said after the game. “I didn’t think about that until now, it was more man than we’ve seen.”
His players, however, were adamant that this is what happens when the Buckeyes see man coverage.
“When you get man coverage, you’ve got to let our guys go up and make a play, or just give them a chance to go touch it,” Barrett explained. “I mean, that’s what is supposed to happen.”
Barrett completed 14-of-22 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 89 yards rushing because defenders were too busy running with receivers to address him at the line of scrimmage.
“We haven’t seen man all year, really, so when they came out in man, we knew that today was a day to go out and make big plays, and that’s what we did,” said Victor, who caught a 46-yard pass and a 23-yard touchdown pass on a jump ball [pictured above].
Barrett saw man coverage against Rutgers and he gave his receivers an opportunity to make a play, and they answered the bell several times.
“We’ve got to come down and make some of those plays,” Dixon said. “Sometimes it’s not always on the QB. He gives us those 50/50 balls and we’ve got to make the play.”
Meyer wasn’t totally happy with his team’s passing performance against Rutgers. Afterward, he said the Buckeyes should have taken and hit more shots than they did. This was their first extensive action against man coverage, though, so they can be forgiven for a little bit of rust. Barrett himself said that he rushed things early on and was pressing.
“We knew we had opportunities for it,” he said.
Based on this one performance, those opportunities may start to become a thing of the past, however.
Asked if playing man coverage against Ohio State is a bad idea, Dixon didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Yeah, we look at it that way,” he said.
“I would not play man against us,” Victor said.
“Would I? No,” Dixon echoed. “I just think we have too much speed. It’s difficult. I don’t really think we get that much respect. I think we deserve it because we’re pretty good against man-to-man coverage. We’ve just got to execute at all times. Not just man-to-man coverage.”
Executing at all times is where things get a little tricky. The Buckeyes have certainly shown different — and productive — aspects of their passing offense. The bubbles and the routes over the middle of the field against zone defenses have worked the last few weeks. As Urban Meyer keeps saying, however, you have to be realistic about who they are doing this against right now. The real tests will come.
The one thing these last few games has done is given the Buckeyes some very necessary confidence. That confidence also has them believing they can continue the downfield attack against zone coverage the next time they see it.
“Most definitely,” Victor said. “We’ve just got to put the people in the right places to make plays. So whether they play off or play press, either way we’ve got to make plays.”