Outcome doesn’t answer all doubts
Well, at least the pass defense held up. That’s a joke, by the way. Ohio State’s pass defense ranked last in the nation entering Saturday’s 38-7 skirmish against Army, but as providence would have it, Army’s passing offense also ranked last. Given the aesthetic yin yang of that statistical novelty, the Buckeyes were in no danger of getting flag-planted by Black Knights’ quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw. Baker Mayfield he is not.
What’s not a joke? J.K. Dobbins. The true freshman gives Ohio State a breakaway threat it has lacked since Ezekiel Elliott took his burst to the NFL. Mike Weber is a good tailback. You don’t win Big Ten freshman of the year last season on smoke and mirrors. But Dobbins has the look of an exceptional talent, a gifted runner who instinctively feels when a cutback move is needed, which defines the great ones.
Don’t take my word for it. Parris Campbell described his teammate as primed to take a place among the OSU greats.
“J.K. is a one-of-a-kind player. He can really be something special,” Campbell said.
J. T. Barrett can be special, too, but no one is quite sure, because he also can seem pedestrian, at least as a passer. The fifth- year quarterback is not headed for NFL stardom, and maybe he misses on too many deep throws, but he still holds something like 4,034 school passing records, and just passed Drew Brees for the most touchdowns responsible for ( 107) in Big Ten history.
Barrett is like the aging actor who wins an Oscar based mostly on his lifetime achievement, a la Paul Newman in "The Color of Money," but Newman was still pretty good in that movie. And, so, Barrett is still pretty good at times.
“The heart of a lion,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of Barrett. “And one of the toughest players I’ve ever been around. That’s pretty good characteristics to have with a guy touching the ball every snap.”
So to review …
This much we know:
• Ohio State needs to be a runfirst, pass- second offense. It is best to be balanced, of course, and the Buckeyes were against Army, rushing for 281 yards and passing for 316. Credit Meyer and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson for meshing their philosophies, for one game, anyway. But more than just the eyeball test tells me OSU is best when the run sets up the pass. Dobbins rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns on 13 attempts against the Black Knights. Allow me to do the math: That is 13.2 yards per carry. As Jeffery Lebowski would put it, “The Dude abides.” So abide him by handing him the ball more than 13 times a game.
This much we think we know: • Barrett is best as a passer when he free- wheels it, but that is the tricky part, right? How to get him to that point? Clearly, Barrett looked better late than early against Army. Regardless, his final numbers (25 of 33 for 270 yards and two TDs) were strong. What happens when a better defense comes his way? Keep reading.
This much remains a mystery: • How will Barrett fare against better defenses? His track record is suspect, but — and perhaps it’s because his school records are rattling in my brain at the moment — maybe something clicked for him in the second half against Army?
• Is Ohio State’s defense capable of dominating? We already mentioned the pass defense. No clue if it has improved. As for the defensive line, which has been touted as among the nation’s best, it showed some resolve against Army, which had an 18-play drive that went 99 yards over 9: 37. But the Knights still only scored seven points. That’s the bottom line.
What have we learned, then? A little but not a lot. Questions remain. This onion still has layers to be peeled.