With J.T. Barrett at quarterback, Ohio State has rebounded from early loss

After season-ending injury to Braxton Miller, Buckeyes have turned to redshirt freshman

(Jonathan Quilter, McClatchy-Tribune )
September 30, 2014|By Matt Zenitz | Baltimore Sun Media Group

COLLEGE PARK — When he's healthy, Braxton Miller is a star, a dynamic and multidimensional threat at quarterback and one of the top offensive weapons in the country.

But even without Miller, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during preseason practice, Ohio State's offense is still gaining a lot of yards and scoring a lot of points in recent weeks. The play of Miller's replacement, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, is one of the primary reasons why.

Slowing Barrett down and trying to force the young quarterback into mistakes will be key for Maryland heading into Saturday's game against No. 20 Ohio State at Byrd Stadium.

"You can see that he's got a better understanding of what they're doing, and he's more comfortable with each game that he's played," Terps coach Randy Edsall said about Barrett. "He's been impressive. He's got the ability to throw the ball extremely well. He can run the ball. He knows where to go with the ball. He's just a very talented quarterback that we're going to have to contend with."

Miller is more dangerous with his legs than he is with arm. Barrett is different.

Barrett, 6 feet 1, 225 pounds can run some, too. He escaped sacks several times against Cincinnati last week and ended up rushing for 79 yards on 14 carries. But Barrett has been at his best inside the pocket, especially during the Buckeyes' last two games.

Barrett completed 23 of 30 pass attempts for 312 yards with six touchdown passes and one interception during Ohio State's 66-0 win over Kent State on Sept. 13. He was then 26 of 36 for 330 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions against Cincinnati.

In the Buckeyes' 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6, Barrett only completed 9 of 29 pass attempts and threw three interceptions.

But he has completed 75 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions in the Buckeyes' other three games, and his numbers could have been even greater against Cincinnati if not for three drops.

Barrett, who is patient and will sit in the pocket and wait for his targets to get open, looked like a veteran reading Cincinnati's defense last week. He is accurate, as he consistently showed against the Bearcats. Barrett can also push the ball down the field, which he displayed when he put a ball on a line and hit wide receiver Devin Smith perfectly in stride in the back of the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown against Cincinnati.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said during a conference call Tuesday that his comfort level with Barrett is "night and day" from where it was entering the season. His confidence in Barrett has grown to the point that the Buckeyes have thrown the ball 30-plus times in each of the last two games.

Barrett "is fun to coach," Meyer told reporters in Ohio on Monday. "He's a guy that has a great demeanor on the sideline. He's a student of the game. He has a great relationship with his coordinator and position coach. He's a product of those around him.

"There's some guys making really terrific plays out there for him, too. So I think as a group this is a good group to be around right now."

For Maryland, one of the keys will be generating pressure, Edsall said.

The Terps had three sacks and numerous other pressures during their win over Indiana on Saturday. The pressure contributed to Hoosiers quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who had thrown for 599 yards in the previous two games, finishing just 14 of 37 for 126 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.

Maryland will now face an inexperienced Ohio State offensive line that returned just one starter from last season.

The Buckeyes have allowed just one sack in their last two games. However, Barrett was sacked seven times against Virginia Tech, and he had to improvise several times against Cincinnati to avoid being sacked more than just once.

"Any time people are going to throw the football, the best way you can help yourself there is to get pressure," Edsall said. "And if you can have pressure with a four-man rush, that makes it better because you can cover more guys.

"So defensively, it's just a matter of all of our guys just doing their job and making sure they execute their assignments and we get guys that are going hard each and every play."

mzenitz@tribune.com

twitter.com/mzenitz

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