Six returning starters is all Ohio State brought back from the super-talented 2015 Buckeye squad, but the missing players were not missed in Week 1. The new-look Buckeyes started with a pick-six to fall behind 7-0, but then everything else went right for OSU.
Eleven touchdowns later, the Falcons left the Horseshoe battered and bruised, while the young Buckeyes have a good first performance to build on. The play was not perfect, but the results are good enough as this young team moves onto Tulsa next week and bigger challenges beyond that.
Let’s take a look at three things we learned from this opening-week beatdown by the Buckeyes.
1. The Offensive Coaches Finally Have It Figured Out
There were many mistakes in the 2015 season which caused what was arguably the best team in the country to fall short of winning the Big Ten championship and making the playoff, but perhaps the biggest errors were not deciding on a single quarterback and having trouble figuring out how to run an offense with the different styles of Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett. However, now that Tim Beck and Ed Warriner have had a full offseason to work out the best way to run an offense with just J.T. Barrett, the results speak for themselves.
Granted, BGSU is not bringing a top-flight defense to the field, but the numbers still speak for themselves. 776 yards of total offense sets a school record and breaks the former record by over 50 yards, while the 77 points is well above the maximum number of points (49) the 2015 put up in any game last season. Urban Meyer likes to hit an ideal of about 250 yards passing and 250 yards rushing, and the first-team offense had almost eclipsed both of those numbers in the first half.
J.T. Barrett threw for 349 yards and 6 touchdowns, leading what was clearly designed to be a pass-heavy offense. The deep threats and quick passes opened up rushing lanes for Mike Weber, who took full advantage with 136 yards on 19 carries. Weber was tripped up on about 5 to 6 runs which could have broken for the big plays Ezekiel Elliott was famous for a year ago.
In short, what the Buckeyes put on the field was a competent offensive game plan that clearly had purpose as well as effectiveness. It was built to exploit the strengths of this team, including a deep wide receiver corps as well as an experienced quarterback.
The 2016 offense may live up to the potential the 2015 offense never did. That it very scary for other Big Ten teams.
2. Ohio State is absolutely loaded with weapons
Everybody knew J.T. Barrett would likely be a star, but what was unknown was the star talent he has around him in the 2016 offense. Starting with Mike Weber, there’s no doubt why this freshman running back has locked up the starting spot. He looks like a powerful running back just like Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott, but he also has serious explosive capabilities as well.
Weber may be outshined by another offensive weapon, this being Curtis Samuel. In his debut as a full-time hybrid back, Samuel put up 84 rushing yards and 177 receiving yards, accounting for 3 touchdowns overall. On one play in particular, Samuel showed everything he brings to the table as he moved out of the backfield into a slot position, finding a mismatch in coverage with a Falcons linebacker. J.T. Barrett saw this mismatch too and hit Samuel in stride in the middle of the field, at which point Samuel streaked past all of the Falcon defenders for an easy touchdown.
The fun does not stop there. Barrett throw touchdowns to three other receivers: Noah Brown, K.J. Hill, and Dontre Wilson. Demario McCall joined the reception touchdown parade when backups took over led by Joe Burrow at QB. Meyer says this is the deepest group of receivers he’s had at Ohio State, and that was on full display Saturday.
Anybody still missing all those talented skill players from the 2015 team? Didn’t think so.
3. Ohio State’s defense is clutch, so far
Bowling Green drove down the field on a few drives in this game, but you would not know it from the 3 total points that unit put on the scoreboard. The primary reason for this ineffectiveness in scoring was the Buckeye defense coming up with big plays in clutch situations and on their own end of the field.
This includes 3 total interceptions, including a 75-yard touchdown return by Rodjay Burns for the final score of the day. Linebacker Malik Hooker also picked off two passes on the day, one of which was the most athletic play of the day. Hooker jumped high in the air to tip the ball straight up and then stuck with it to grab the interception as he fell on his back to the ground.
The Buckeyes also stopped BGSU on a fourth-down attempt deep in their own territory in the first quarter as well. By limiting the Falcons to 69 total yards rushing, the defense was able to play strong coverage and make big plays in the backfield. Those big plays will be critical when the opponents get tougher.
In short, just like the offense, the new players on defense will be just fine. Bigger tests await in the future, but this group is starting to develop from a good place.
Beware Oklahoma and Big Ten: the Buckeyes look solid, and they are on a mission to recapture what was lost in 2015.