OVERVIEW: Ohio State played two very different offensive football games against Wisconsin this past Saturday night. There was the bad game in the first half, which was another step backwards following the Indiana game. Then there was the second half, where it wasn't running up and down the field at will and setting school records against a bad team. Rather it was grinding out a tough win, by making winning football plays, rather than highlight reel plays. This was a championship football game, although not an elimination game, and in the second half Ohio State played like champions offensively. Had they not, they would have lost.
THE COACHING: It's no secret that this staff has the most trouble in bad-azz, physical, head knocker games. Well, in the first half you saw Michigan State all over again out of Wisconsin. Ohio State was hesitant to throw, hesitant to do much of anything other than running the QB behind ten blockers. This brings up the linebackers and a safety, so when you try to option Samuel on the outside there are 9 guys waiting for him. As the field shrinks, the offense shrinks, and you put up a whopping six freaking points. But in the second half, the playcallers (Urban Meyer, Ed Warinner and Tim Beck) really found their stride and attacked the Badger defense, rather than poking and prodding passively. Instead of being scared of putting the game in Barrett's hands throwing the football, they threw it often. And they force fed the football to Curtis Samuel by any way they could. They were determined to win the game on Barrett's arm and Samuel's legs, and the playcalling was excellent in the second half.
THE QUARTERBACK: This was definitely a team win on both sides of the football, but if you're going to single out player who won the game it's J.T. Barrett. The hardest thing to do in sports is pull yourself up when things are going bad. LeBron James is the greatest team player in any sport in the world. But go watch him against Dallas in the championship series a few years ago. He was awful and the more awful he played, the more scared he was to even try to make a play. Barrett was not good against Indiana and he followed that up by being worse in the first half against Wisconsin. At this point, it's easy to go into the tank. We saw him do this last year. But not Saturday night. It's easy to look good in low stress games, where you're killing some terrible defense. But to come back on the road against a bad-azz defense when you're not playing your best speaks volumes about Barrett. His receivers weren't getting open, and when they were K.J. Hill, Terry McLaurin and even Curtis Samuel had drops. But Barrett kept his cool, dug deep and was the best player on the field in the second half and in overtime. In the overtime, Barrett had to overcome a false start and a holding call, usually killers. I don't think he's a great passer or a great runner, but Barrett played championship football in the second half. That means more to me than inflated numbers against bad defenses. The pass to Dontre Wilson was the prettiest since the big throw against Michigan State two years ago.
THE RUNNINGBACKS: I guess you have to list Curtis Samuel here, but he's more playmaker than he is tied to a position. Loved the way they forced the ball into his hands, and I wish they would do it more. Even in this game, Barrett had 21 carries, while Mike Weber and Samuel combined for 23. And speaking of Weber, I thought he played like a MAN in this game. He had to make yards in the middle and he took some shots, while providing that necessary part of this offense. They need to run the football inside to open up the outside, and it's far better if it's Weber doing it not Barrett.
THE WIDE RECEIVERS: After six games I think it's pretty apparent who this group is, and these guys are average at best as a group. I think guys like Mack, Binjimen, Grimes and Lindsey are needed upgrades to this group. The current guys don't get open consistently, and other than Noah Brown they don't catch the football consistently either. Brown would be so much more effective with better players around him. There is no real deep threat at all and that shrinks the field considerably. Samuel is effective catching the football, but it's more as a slot guy or out of the backfield. These guys do block well, and that's important in this offense. They really don't look for Marcus Baugh, and I'm not sure if it's because he's not open or he's not part of the plan. Maybe Mack or Binjimen get chances going forward?
THE OFFENSIVE LINE: Like most everybody else, this was another tale of two halves, one bad and one very good. Early on, Isaiah Prince and Billy Price seemed to struggle greatly, but in the second half these guys opened holes in the running game and protected Barrett better. This is a really good group overall and there are no worries. Pass blocking was thought to be a concern with so many new starters, but they held up well against a pretty fierce Wisconsin pass rush.
THE SUMMARY: I know people love the wide-open, high scoring offense, but that might not be who this team is under Barrett. This just might be more of a Craig Krenzel operation than people might think. They cannot throw it 40 times all over the field and that's obvious, but they still need to be more than just running the QB behind 10 blockers in tight games. In the second half, you might have seen where this offense will need to be against Michigan and in the possible playoffs. The second half, to me, was a championship performance in a high stress situation where every mistake could be your last.