Ohio State’s passing offense was supposed to be better this season.
That was the story all offseason. With Kevin Wilson as the new offensive coordinator and Ryan Day as the new co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, J.T. Barrett was supposed to have a resurgent senior season, and Ohio State’s passing offense was supposed to be the best it’s been since its 2014 national championship season.
Two games into the 2017 season, that simply hasn’t been the case.
"I feel the same pressure as everyone here to get very good at the pass game," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said after Saturday night’s 31-16 loss to Oklahoma. "We've worked extremely hard at it. It wasn't good tonight. We've got to get the damn thing fixed, and we will."
It was easy to glaze over some of the problems that were evident with Ohio State’s passing offense – particularly that the Buckeyes didn’t complete a single deep ball – in the season opener at Indiana, as Barrett ultimately threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns and the Buckeyes defeated Indiana, 49-21.
Ohio State couldn’t overcome its passing problems in Saturday’s second game of the season, however, when Barrett completed only 19 of 35 passing attempts on Saturday for 183 yards and zero touchdowns. 99 of those passing yards came on the Buckeyes’ final two drives, after Barrett threw a back-breaking interception that led to Oklahoma’s final touchdown and the Sooners going up 31-13.
Even so, with noise from Ohio State’s fanbase louder than ever before that the Buckeyes should make a change at quarterback, Urban Meyer said he has no plans to bench Barrett in favor of Dwayne Haskins or Joe Burrow.
"No," Ohio State’s coach responded succinctly and firmly when asked whether he would consider a quarterback change.
While Meyer acknowledged that Barrett has to shoulder the blame for his poor performance, as that comes with the territory of being a starting quarterback, he says that all three phases of the passing game – the quarterback, the receivers and the pass protection – need to be better.
"Last week we threw the ball decently and had 300 yards passing, and this week we did not," Meyer said. "I'm going to say he's the head dog and he holds – he's accountable. But I'm going to make perfectly clear, there's not a bull's eye on J.T. Barrett. It's part of the system and a group that have to get better."
“I'm going to make perfectly clear, there's not a bull's eye on J.T. Barrett. It's part of the system and a group that have to get better.”– Urban Meyer
Wilson said he and the rest of Ohio State’s coaching staff have a responsibility to "put (Barrett) in better situations."
"He has been great his whole career and he had an outstanding preseason," Wilson said. "I don't think we did a good job. We didn't calculate as well as we should. We've got a lot of work to do."
Center and fellow captain Billy Price was among the Ohio State players who expressed their confidence after Saturday’s game that Barrett is still the right man to lead their offense.
"I am 100 percent confident in J.T. and everything in his ability," Price said. "He has gotten us, and the program, to a point where most haven’t … The entire program, the entire offense, the entire defense has a lot of confidence in J.T."
Barrett had no qualms himself, though, about shouldering the blame for Saturday’s loss.
"That’s how the quarterback works. When we’re winning, I get too much credit … and when we lose, I’m the one who’s blamed," Barrett said. "And rightfully so. I didn’t play well. Missed a lot of throws, and it’s a game of inches. So it’s a lot on the quarterback."
With no change at quarterback, how does Ohio State’s passing offense get better? Meyer wasn’t ready to commit to an answer in his postgame press conference, stating multiple times that he "just walked off the field 15 minutes ago," and had to go back and evaluate the film on Sunday.
Meyer and Barrett both acknowledged, though, that defenses have been dropping eight players in coverage and forcing him to make an extra read, which has caused him problems. While Barrett felt that he made progress going against Ohio State’s defense during the offseason, he said the Buckeyes play mostly man coverage in practice, which means he need to work on developing more trust in connecting with his receivers in tight windows against zone coverage.
"When it comes to zone coverage, and I think that’s a lot of what we’re getting, just being able to trust the throws and having the receivers be there," Barrett said in regards to what he needs to do better.