With Ohio State facing a 1st-and-15 following a false start, J.T. Barrett dropped back to pass, surveyed the field and rifled a strike to James Clark over the middle.
Clark turned, cut up field then dove for 12 yards to Wisconsin's 8-yard line. Three plays later, Barrett found Noah Brown in the corner of the end zone on a fade route for what eventually represented Ohio State's game-winning touchdown against the Badgers in a 30-23 overtime victory last Saturday. But it was Clark's catch—his only one in the game—that got the offense moving in the right direction following a penalty.
“Huge catch,” Urban Meyer said Wednesday.
Such a play is a rarity for Clark, who only has four catches for 29 yards in what is now his third year playing. All of those came this season. He is one of the players Meyer and the rest of the Ohio State staff continue to wait on to develop, and one of the guys they know they will need down the stretch if the team's passing game is ever going to get to where it needs to be in 2016.
“James Clark had an incredible play to get us going. Noah's been pretty consistent throughout the whole year. Parris is a big play waiting to happen.”– Urban Meyer
“We're just not near satisfied,” Meyer said. “We're nowhere near we need to be at that position yet.”
Brown leads the Buckeyes with six touchdown receptions, four coming at Oklahoma a month ago. He is third on the team in receiving yards, trailing H-backs Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson. Both of those guys are threats, but not really the downfield, big-bodied playmakers Ohio State's passing game desperately needs. It is what made the Buckeye offense so terrific when it won the national championship in 2014.
“There’s room to get better there. I think we’re really pushing right now,” offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said on Wednesday. “Regardless of our rankings, that’s not what we’re looking at. We’re looking at how do we get better every day.”
Ohio State actually owns the most efficient passing attack in the Big Ten, as the battery of Barrett and Joe Burrow have completed 63.5 percent of their passes in the first six games. They have 17 touchdowns against just four interceptions but something still is off when the unit tries to stretch the field. Barrett has under thrown balls, overthrown them or just missed his man.
But there also have been instances where he's put the ball in a position for one of his guys to go make a play. Terry McLaurin saw one go through his hands in the end zone against Wisconsin, as did Samuel. Those plays kept points off the board after Barrett either extended the play or found them with a proper read.
The mishaps down the field are as much on the wide receivers as it is the quarterback.
“James Clark had an incredible play to get us going. Noah's been pretty consistent throughout the whole year,” Meyer said. “Parris (Campbell) is a big play waiting to happen.”
Ohio State is running the ball better than anyone in the Big Ten at 300.5 yards per game. But as Meyer has noted on more than one occasion, the Buckeyes will run into a team that hinders their rushing attack and makes them have to throw the ball to win. It hasn't happened yet but could at any time, even as early as this weekend at Penn State.
That's why seeing guys make plays—like Clark and Brown at Wisconsin—with more consistency is so crucial moving forward.
“We're not panicking yet but we're not where we need to be,” Meyer said. “We're developing a little bit, we're having a little bit of growing pains at that position but we're going to be good.”