The Buckeye offense is clicking.
Ohio State enters the off week coming off four-straight games where the offense scored over 50 points and five straight games where it put up over 500 total yards and 300 passing yards.
J.T. Barrett, who was the recipient of a barrage of criticism just a few weeks ago from fans and media questioning if he should even be the starting quarterback, has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 21-1, won too many national player of the week awards to count this week, and has the fourth-best odds to take home the Heisman Trophy in December.
That's how you want your offense – and your quarterback – to be performing ahead of a do-or-die matchup against the nation's No. 2 team with Big Ten and national title hopes on the line.
"We’ve gotta go play against Penn State and get that win and show that we have taken that big step.”– Ryan Day
Ever since the team's early loss to Oklahoma, the Buckeye offense has looked different; it's looked enhanced. But quarterbacks coach Ryan Day said at its core, the offense is not much different than it has been in the past – if you can think of a play, the Buckeyes have run it. The success, according to Day, is more a matter of knowing their weapons, and putting those players in positions to succeed.
“You look at the film, you have to look at it through the eyes of what your players can do, and make sure you’re picking the right thing," Day said. “There’s a million plays out there, we all can find the playbook. It’s just trying to find the right plays that fit who we are.”
So far, we've seen that plan consist of run-pass options, bubble screens and mesh passing concepts, and the plan has been working. At some point though, if you keep running the same scheme over and over, you have to think a defense is going to make necessary adjustments to stop it.
Day knows that. In fact, he's counting on it.
“The starting point is getting something that you feel like you can run that a defense when they watch the film says ‘alright, we have to stop that play,’" Day said. "If you get good at something, then you can set up the counters off of that. But if you never get good at one thing and they never have to stop anything, it’s hard to build from there."
We've already seen this in action when Barrett hit Binjimen Victor for a 22-yard, jump-ball touchdown against Rutgers. That play didn't just happen on its own, it was set up by the threat of the bubble screen. The Scarlet Knights saw it on film and came up to stop it, but Ohio State countered.
Things have been clicking these past few weeks, and there's plenty of optimism around the program right now, and for good reason. But Day knows there isn't time for celebration just yet – after all, there were times when the offense seemed to look great last year, as well.
The Buckeyes posted back-to-back 62-3 wins last year before squeaking out two nail-biter victories against Michigan State and Michigan and then laying a goose egg against Clemson in the College Football Playoff.
“You look at the scores of some of the games they played last year and some of the game’s we’ve played this year, they’re very similar," Day said. "So now, in two weeks, we’ve gotta go play well. We’ve gotta go play against Penn State and get that win and show that we have taken that big step.”
The challenge now is maintaining the momentum that this offense has gained over the past few weeks through the off week. That's something the staff is working hard to figure out – balancing rest with practice and preparation.
"We’ve talked about during practice, we’re not trying to over=practice and we’re trying to get some guys some rest, but we’re also really working with the older guys," Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. "To me, there’s a way that you practice this week to keep the momentum up, because you’re going to lose game day Saturday."
Keeping that momentum going is a challenge, to be sure, but it's a challenge the Buckeyes are lucky to have. Instead of trying to figure things out two weeks before the biggest game of the season, the Buckeyes are just trying to keep going.
“Right now we have a lot of positive energy," Wilson said. "We’re just trying to keep that through this week.”