What's the difference between an "OK" performance and a "very good" one?
Sometimes, it's just one play.
That's the message Urban Meyer delivered on Monday when discussing J.T. Barrett's college debut. Ohio State may have beaten Navy by a 34-17 margin in the Buckeyes' season opener on Saturday, but the one play that seemed to stand out to most was Barrett's second-quarter red-zone interception—the type of mental mistake that many expected to see from a redshirt freshman in the first start of his college career.
The play clearly clouded Meyer's opinion of Barrett's performance, which he admitted was significantly altered by the first-year starter's lone turnover.
"J.T. did OK," Meyer said on Monday. "He handled himself very well for his first start. You take away the interception, and I think he did very well."
And while that's a more than fair assessment—after all, it was Barrett's decision that resulted in the interception—it also doesn't take into account the entirety of the play. Because before Barrett made his opinion-altering throw, he faced—and avoided—significant pressure from the Midshipmen defense before letting go of a pass that landed in the hands of Navy safety Parrish Gaines.
But while the blame for the interception remains with Barrett, that's not to say that Meyer didn't also walk away from the Buckeyes' season opener disappointed with the play of his offensive line. In fact, the third-year Ohio State head coach admitted that the unit's play was his top concern leaving Saturday's game.
And for good reason. Replacing four multiyear starters from a season ago, the Buckeyes' front five looked shaky at best—particularly early—and ultimately affected Ohio State's play-calling for the better part of the first three quarters of the game.
"We had some pressure. We wanted to throw the ball earlier, and it wasn't because of J.T. or the wideouts because I thought our guys had made plays," Meyer said when asked about his offensive line on Monday. "I have a lot of confidence in J.T., but we couldn't have minus-yardage plays, and it didn't start off very well."
While the Buckeyes offensive line eventually found its footing and helped pave the way for a 28-point second half, Ohio State can hardly afford a similar slow start this Saturday when Virginia Tech comes to town. The Hokies possess an experienced and aggressive front seven, which, paired with college football expert Phil Steele's top-ranked preseason secondary, could make for as talented of a defense as the Buckeyes will face this season.
That's something that Meyer's well aware of, which is perhaps why he remains so concerned with the spotty play that he saw from his offensive line on Saturday. He also knows that his team won't be able to get away with a similar effort on Saturday, as Virginia Tech will make Ohio State pay, should it leave Barrett vulnerable to the Hokies defense.
“The second half we played pretty good. But pretty good is not what we expect," Meyer said. "You play pretty good this week, you won't win that game."
For their part, the players who make up the Buckeyes offensive line believe they're on their way toward accomplishing just that. Ohio State's lone returning starter on the line, left tackle Taylor Decker, said that Saturday's showing was simply the result of inexperience.
"With everybody being new, there were some communication issues, and we messed up some of the plays, which, unless you were out on the field, you wouldn't know about," Decker admitted. "That's just gonna come from guys being more comfortable. Once we're all communicating and we all know what we're doing—even if we're wrong—if we're all the same page, it usually works out."
Of course it’s also possible that talent—and not experience—is the OSU offensive line’s primary issue.
Whereas last year’s unit featured three players who currently find themselves on NFL rosters in Jack Mewhort (Indianapolis Colts), Corey Linsley (Green Bay Packers) and Andrew Norwell (Carolina Panthers), this year’s includes a converted defensive lineman redshirt freshman in Billy Price, a fifth-year senior seeing the first significant snaps of his career in Darryl Baldwin and an undersized center in Jacoby Boren.
Only Decker and right guard Pat Elflein appear to have solidified their spots in the starting lineup, with the latter enduring struggles of his own against the Midshipmen.
Of course, as Decker learned a year ago, one week can make all the difference when it comes to one’s outlook on the season. After being dominated by Buffalo’s Khalil Mack in his first game as a starter in the Buckeyes’ 2013 opener, Decker put together a strong sophomore season, which resulted in him entering 2014 as the OSU offensive line’s anchor.
The unit’s de facto leader Decker wouldn’t be shocked to see his group take a quick step in the right direction, similar to the one that he enjoyed last season.
“You finally realize what the game environment is like,” Decker said. “The biggest improvement, I think, is from Game 1 to 2. I expect to see a lot of improvement.”
Meyer—and Barrett—certainly hope that Decker’s right. This weekend—and this season—will depend on it.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
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