Ohio State trailed at halftime but found its groove in the second half. … Barrett has a strong game after a so-so start … Dobbins runs for 181 yards and may be tough to pull from the lineup.
Ohio State had eight months to figure out how to breathe life into the offense, a complete off-season after bringing in a couple of innovative minds on that side of the ball to whip the clunky unit into shape.
In their first six possessions of the opener at Indiana, though, the Buckeyes looked just as anemic as they did the last three games of 2016. A promising 11-play drive to begin the game stalled out, and they went almost completely comatose after that. On their next five series, they kicked more often than a chorus line, going punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal. Three of those possessions were confidence-crushing three-and-outs.
They faced an early 14-6 deficit and were down 14-13 at halftime. And Memorial Stadium was in a frenzy.
J.T. Barrett was doing nothing to muzzle his critics, either. The 6-1 senior misfired several times at key moments. Even worse, as the Buckeye were slogging along, his body language was atrocious. At one point while sitting on the bench in the first half, he looked totally defeated.
If you injected him with sodium pentothal at that point, he might have spoken for all Buckeyes fans and said, “We bring in Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day to fix this mess, and it looks as if we’ve got the same sorry outfit as before.”
The schedule-makers had done Ohio State no favors. This was a tough opener — at night, on the road, with ESPN splashing it across all its networks and the College GameDay Show making its debut in Bloomington. The Hoosiers also were coming off back-to-back bowl trips for the first time since 1990-91 and have been competitive against the Buckeyes and the rest of the Big Ten for several years — no wonder the game was being billed as the biggest for the program since the Rose Bowl in the 1967 season.
But the emotion Indiana rode for two quarters began to wane, and the Ohio State offense dominated in the second half on the way to a 49-21 victory Thursday night.
Barrett and Co. scored five touchdowns in seven possessions after halftime and should have gone 6-for-7. On the first drive of the second half, a perfectly thrown bomb went through Parris Campbell’s arms as if they were covered with butter.
But the unit didn’t have any missteps after that. In the final two quarters, Barrett threw for 199 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another score. He finished 20-of-35 passing for 304 yards and had 13 carries for 61 yards.
His 365 total yards gave him 9,211 for his career, a school record.
The Buckeyes took the lead for good with 4:38 to go in the third quarter on a 74-yard catch-and-run by Campbell — ah, redemption — and they never looked back. Though it took a while, the talent gap ultimately proved to be too great.
And we have to ask, did starting running back Mike Weber get Wally Pipp-ed? Weber sat out with a hamstring injury, and J.K. Dobbins racked up the most rushing yards by an Ohio State freshman in his debut, finishing with 181 on 29 carries for a 6.2 average.
He had a nifty 35-yarder in the first half when the Buckeyes were stagnant, and he has an elusiveness and break-away speed that we’ve yet to see from Weber.
Meyer will have a dilemma on his hands. Weber rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year and was a freshman All-American. But this isn’t Little League. If Dobbins is the best of the bunch, he plays. Period.
Among the disconcerting elements, though, was the shaky performance by the defense. The quarterback pressure was relentless. The run-stuffing monsters up front were imposing (17 official rushing yards allowed on 27 attempts). And even that scoop and score by the big fella, Robert Landers, on an apparent fumble was the kind of energizing, back-slapping, guffaw-producing play you want to see from the unit, even if it was called back and ruled a forward pass.
But what do you make of the whopping 420 yards allowed through the air? I love the moxie the Buckeyes have in putting their cornerbacks in press coverage, keeping them one-on-one and freeing up everybody else. But three defensive backs from last year were drafted in the first round. They have some untested players on the back end, and the youth was exploited by Indiana.
Maybe you say a team passing 68 times is going to make their share of plays. Perhaps it’s not a winning formula in the end. But I’ve got a feeling Oklahoma is going to sling it around at Ohio Stadium in nine days, and they might have the complementary weapons to build a gargantuan lead and hang on.
I’m not advocating softer coverage. That’s the most maddening thing in football to me. But a little safety help or double coverage would be advisable.
The Buckeyes left the game with a few other mild concerns. Barrett was inconsistent on downfield passes. The offensive line, which has four returning starters, had trouble blowing open holes. And the receivers seldom managed to get separation, which makes you wonder whether all these highly touted recruits at the position are more hype than substance.
But the Buckeyes left Bloomington with a win they absolutely had to have in a game that was in doubt for nearly three quarters.
That’s enough for now.