Cus Words: Breakaway

A snowy Saturday in Minnesota provided quite a backdrop for J.T. Barrett to take another huge step in his development.

What we learned last week: We can officially declare J.T. Barrett's arrival as an elite quarterback.

While I was among those preaching patience after a month of feasting on terrible opponents -- even before the near-debacle at Penn State -- his performances on the road in back to back weeks against good defenses are the stuff of legends.

I would suggest his most recent is his most impressive, and not just because he had more yards. Yes, the situation was more pressure-packed at Michigan State, but a lot of the things he was executing were not terribly difficult for the average college quarterback to carry out. That doesn't mean he doesn't deserve a great deal of credit for actually doing it, but it also doesn't necessarily mean he is Drew Brees or Cam Newton or Johnny Manziel, either. That may be why when his head coach was asked about his development last week, the first thing Urban Meyer mentioned was that of those around him.

But at Minnesota Barrett had to battle the elements, some mistakes by teammates and a defense that was playing a very aggressive style, perhaps more so than Michigan State even, and he had an even bigger day.

The 86-yard run for a touchdown removed the last differentiator from Braxton Miller, whom I still think would have as a senior with these weapons been able to approach this level of efficiency while maintaining his rare ability to make jaws drop. That's just speculation, of course, and there will be plenty of time to debate the 2015 quarterback situation later. For now, folks should just enjoy the history they are seeing Barrett make and let the future be the future.

That incredible 86-yard jaunt also does a pretty good job of symbolizing the evolution of the Buckeyes since the beginning of the season. It was Barrett not only carrying out a play but going the extra mile -- not quite literally, of course, he said with a laugh -- by changing the game with his physical ability. It's the kind of thing Ohio State was missing against Virginia Tech, and perhaps not coincidentally occurred against a defensive look used by the Hokies to color the perception and coverage of the entire first half of the season.

Even as the Buckeyes started ripping off wins, the specter of the bear defense lingered. The Buckeyes previously proved they could beat it, but it's a rug to go in front of the fireplace now.


What we can expect to learn this week: If the Buckeyes can figure out how to shut down a good running game.

Minnesota's David Cobb is a good running back so some of his yardage has to be credited to his ability and the work of a good offensive line, but it's not as if he had to churn for 100 yards on 30 carries. He had eight runs of nine yards or more and averaged 5.4 yards per carry. The Buckeyes got gashed more than a couple of times.

They won't have to wait for another test as this week's opponent has an even better running back than Cobb. Tevin Coleman is a big, strong and fast runner. I'm not sure how he got out of the state of Illinois, but he has proven to be an elite talent.

The scheme he is in should make him harder to stop than Cobb, too, thanks to the running lanes created by spread formations.

Coleman missed last year's game against Ohio State, but the Hoosiers still ran for 122 yards, a figure that grows to 148 when taking away four sacks of immobile quarterback Nate Sudfeld.

Admittedly there was a fair amount of garbage time in that game that made it easy to overlook at the time, but looking back now it's not hard to wonder if we should have seen the warning signs. A week later the Buckeyes went to Michigan and allowed 152 yards rushing to a team with one of the worst ground games in the country. Then they gave up 132 yards to Michigan State and 198 to Clemson.

Like Cobb, Coleman does not benefit from a passing game that can any attention away from him. Reports indicate Zander Diamont showed a lot more in his last outing than he has in any game before, but Rutgers is not exactly a defensive juggernaut. His stat line is still an important one for the future of IU football, but the present will soon bring him into a stadium twice as large facing much taller odds.

With Wisconsin surging in the West, run defense figures to be a big story the rest of the season. So far the Buckeyes have rarely been tested -- six of their 10 opponents currently rank 92nd or worse nationally in rushing yards per game -- and they haven't looked great when they have. Even if you want to give a mulligan for opening day against Navy, the Midshipmen's 370 yards were more than their national-leading average of 354.8.

Ohio State is 30th in rushing yards allowed per game by traditional stats but ranks only 52nd on standards downs according to Football Outsiders. The defensive line is 78th in adjusted line yards, which attempt to measure only what happens in the first five yards of a run and in short yardage.

This is a good week for them to start to rewrite that narrative before it gets any longer.

Follow on Twitter @marcushartman


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