Ohio State Football: How Buckeyes Offense Must Adjust After Struggles vs. Navy

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterAugust 30, 2014

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After throwing the first interception of his college career, J.T. Barrett decided to have a conversation with himself.

"I was like, 'J.T., you knew you shouldn't have thrown it. But you still threw it,'" the Ohio State quarterback recalled. "'Now you gotta make up for it.'"

And while Barrett did just that in the first start of his college career, throwing for 226 yards and two touchdowns—and yes, one interception—in Ohio State's 34-17 victory over Navy on Saturday, a self-induced pep talk won't be enough to save the Buckeyes in Week 2.

Because while the Midshipmen made for more of a headache than anything else in a game that was closer than the final score indicated, Virginia Tech won't be as forgiving to an inexperienced OSU offense when the Hokies come to Columbus next week.

A young quarterback thrust into the spotlight and an offensive line still searching for its starters both contributed to a Buckeyes offense that Urban Meyer admitted was still without an identity in Ohio State's season opener. Whether the Buckeyes will be able to find one by next Saturday remains to be seen, but Meyer at least now knows what he's working with in what unexpectedly has become one of the biggest challenges of his coaching career.

Breaking Down Barrett

It was tough to grade Barrett after the first start of the redshirt freshman's college career, considering that as expected he wasn't asked to do anything too demanding. But nevertheless, Meyer attempted to, giving Braxton Miller's replacement a passing, albeit unspectacular, mark.

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"J.T., I thought, did OK. I'd grade him a B," Meyer said after the game. "Every new player's going to have a certain amount of mistakes."

That sounds about right, considering that the majority of Barrett's pass attempts were of the shorter, safer variety. He did hit an 80-yard touchdown to a wide-open Devin Smith toward the end of the third quarter giving Ohio State the final lead of the game, but his one big play on the day was essentially negated by his one big mistake—the aforementioned interception that gave Navy the ball back as the Buckeyes were threatening from the Midshipmen 8-yard line in the second quarter.

Starting the first game of his college career on less than two weeks notice, you couldn't have asked for much more from Barrett than the 12-for-15, 226-yard, two-touchdown, one-interception stat line that he posted to go along with his team-high 50 rushing yards. But what the box score didn't show—and what everybody inside of M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore saw on Saturday—was the reality of the Buckeyes' quarterback situation for the now ongoing season.

Unlike in his first two seasons in Columbus, when all Meyer needed was a quick quarterback counter play to escape most jams, Ohio State no longer has that luxury as Barrett is admittedly not the freak athlete who made Miller the two-time reigning Big Ten MVP. Nor does he have the body of a Tim Tebow or experience of Chris Leak or Alex Smith, putting Meyer in a nearly unprecedented situation for his 13-year head coaching career.

J.T. Barrett threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns in his college debut.
J.T. Barrett threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns in his college debut.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

The only other time that the two-time national champion head coach found himself starting a freshman at quarterback came in 2010, when a Florida team in flux was forced to play tight end Jordan Reed and running back Trey Burton behind center. The results weren't pretty, either, with the Gators amassing an 8-5 record in what was ultimately Meyer's final season in Gainesville.

That doesn't mean much for Barrett, who obviously has more ability as a passer than both Reed and Burton, but that doesn't change the fact that he's still just one week into the official start of his college career. Nor does it change that while he may be effective with his intermediate throws, Barrett is not the dynamic runner Miller was, nor will he be able to bail the Buckeyes out with the cannon-of-an-arm possessed by his predecessor.

So without the physical tools or experience of Miller, how can Barrett make the most of his opportunity? The answer likely lies in building up enough trust with his short throws that his coaching staff will be comfortable calling for more long ones, hoping that they result in plays like the touchdown to Smith and not the one big blemish on Barrett's college debut.

Lingering Line Questions

Compounding the complication when it comes to evaluating Barrett's first start was the less-than-stellar play of an offensive line, which is still clearly trying to find its footing as it replaces four multi-year starters. Only one sack allowed and one penalty showed up in the box score, but Meyer didn't pull punches when he expressed frustration with the revamped unit's unspectacular debut.

"I was very disappointed," Meyer said of his offensive line. "There's been a standard set for the offensive line play for many years, and it's really been enhanced by our offensive line coach, Ed Warinner, the last two years. It didn't resemble an offensive line at Ohio State."

That's not all that surprising, considering that of the four players called upon to replace Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall on the Buckeyes' front five, only sophomore right guard Pat Elflein has seen significant snaps in his college career. Center Jacoby Boren and Darryl Baldwin have both only been backups up until this season, while left guard Billy Price is a redshirt freshman who was still a defensive lineman this time a year ago.

Even more so than Barrett, the Ohio State offensive line's inexperience was apparent on Saturday, as it left little time for the freshman quarterback to search down the field for open targets. Barrett's lone interception came on play when he was forced to quickly avoid an oncoming defender, before he floated a bad pass into the hands of Midshipmen safety Parrish Gaines.

Jacoby Boren blocks for J.T. Barrett.
Jacoby Boren blocks for J.T. Barrett.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

"We made some mistakes and didn't play as well as we would've liked," Warinner said of his unit. "A lot of young guys and some things happened."

For the better part of the first 45 minutes of the game, there wasn't a lot of cohesion to be found, and Ohio State opted to spend the second quarter rotating Price with converted defensive lineman Joel Hale. Unsurprisingly, the Buckeyes offensive line did appear to click right around the time that Barrett found Smith with 4:10 left on the clock in the third quarter, which was a big reason why Ohio State scored 28 of its 34 points in the second half.

"We settled in and I thought we played really well in the second half," Warinner said. "We started to control the line of scrimmage better. We went back to the starting lineup in the second half, and I thought they did a great job."

Where To Now?

Although Navy gave the Buckeyes a solid scare, the talent mismatch between the two teams ultimately proved to be too much for the Midshipmen to handle. That won't be something that Ohio State can fall back on next week, however, as Virginia Tech is as good as anybody on the Buckeyes' schedule, outside of defending Big Ten champion Michigan State.

That could prove especially problematic on offense for OSU, which now finds itself without Miller's big-play ability to bail it out of sticky situations. At the very least, the Buckeyes can take solace in knowing that Barrett knows that he's not the next Miller, and he's not trying to be as he attempts to put his own spin on the Ohio State offense.

The Ohio State offense will square off with the Virginia Tech defense next Saturday.
The Ohio State offense will square off with the Virginia Tech defense next Saturday.USA TODAY Sports

"You come in after Braxton, people expect you to do some crazy stuff," Barrett said. "I'm not Braxton. I'm J.T. I just need to go out there and play my game."

And as for the offensive line, its success could ultimately be what matters most to the Buckeyes—not just next week, but for the rest of the 2014 season. While Barrett may not have amazed in his debut, his line could have made him look a lot better, which it may need to do against the Hokies if 1-0 Ohio State is going to move to 2-0 on the season.

"We wanted to open it up a little bit more in the first half, and we didn't. It wasn't because of [Barrett], it was because with our offensive line, we had a couple of mistakes in there, some penalties, a sack. We just can't do that," Meyer said. "Obviously with the team we have playing next, we have a lot of work to do."

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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