COLUMBUS, Ohio — Any roll needs an opening win to start the momentum, and Ohio State has that now.
The Buckeyes picked it up in impressive fashion even, dealing with the quirks and frustrations that come from playing a service academy and cruising to a comfortable 38-7 win over Army on Saturday at the Horseshoe. Coming off the loss to Oklahoma, that’s about all that coach Urban Meyer possibly could have asked for in a bounce-back effort.
What does it mean for the Buckeyes moving forward and what did they learn? As always, there were five lessons that stood out as Meyer’s program starts to turn the page and prepare for UNLV and the last nonconference matchup at home on Saturday (noon, BTN).
1. J.T. Barrett is best with the entire playbook
Nobody becomes the leading touchdown-producer in Big Ten history by accident. For as much criticism as J.T. Barrett often seems to receive, he has a special set of skills and a strong-willed mentality that have combined to generate that record-setting total of 107 touchdowns. And that total is going to continue to grow as long as the Buckeyes are giving him a diverse game plan like the one they unveiled against the Black Knights.
Barrett has shown a knack for making the correct decision in the zone-read rushing game since he was a freshman. So, it seems like a no-brainer that expanding that responsibility with run-pass options would be the next step, particularly with new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson calling the shots. Ohio State sparingly used those plays in the first two games, but they are clearly useful for Barrett and his collection of speedy skill players. They were among the best plays for the offense against Army.
2. Tuf Borland is making a move
The triple-option can make even a veteran defender’s head spin, and a freshman getting his first extended playing time at Ohio State is generally going to be dealing with some understandable nerves. But neither seemed to faze Tuf Borland, and that might earn him a more regular role at linebacker moving forward.
There’s no way to know when an opportunity like Borland had on Saturday is going to arrive, but he was ready for it. With Chris Worley dealing with a foot injury, Borland more than made the most of his chance to get involved, leading Ohio State with 10.5 tackles, adding a quarterback hurry and a tackle for loss as well. If nothing else, Borland will give defensive coordinator Greg Schiano something to think about with his rotation at the position. Now there’s evidence that Borland deserves to be on the field and can handle the work.
3. J.K. Dobbins is a special talent
Maybe his splashy debut already taught this lesson, but the way J.K. Dobbins carved up Army offered another early refresher course that he’s got rare ability in the backfield. His explosiveness was on full display during his 52-yard touchdown burst. He showed his power on a 2-yard score early in the game. And his vision and athleticism were obvious on just about all of his 13 attempts, which he turned into 172 yards while Mike Weber continues to get eased back into the lineup following his hamstring injury.
Reclaiming his starting job is going to be more difficult for Weber every week with Dobbins continuing to turn in electrifying performances. There’s nothing wrong with having more than one dependable running back to lean on, and odds are Ohio State will use both of them throughout the season when Weber gets back to full strength. But Dobbins is building a strong case that he needs the football as often as possible.
4. Parris Campbell is finding his spot
After an offseason of hype around his ability to fill Curtis Samuel’s shoes at the famed H-back position, Parris Campbell really hadn’t done much during the first two games that even looked like he was playing in that spot at all. The Buckeyes weren’t unleashing the jet sweeps or pop passes that help get a dangerous weapon to the edge, for starters, and Campbell primarily had been involved only as a target in the passing game.
Ohio State looks prepared to rectify that situation now. And while Campbell’s most eye-popping display of speed was called back on an iffy holding penalty, that rush looked like what the Buckeyes had been promising for him throughout training camp. Against Army he finished with relatively modest numbers with 8 combined touches for 80 yards, but the way he was used suggests more opportunities will come his way.
5. Sean Nuernberger is still perfect
After a couple of up-and-down seasons, Ohio State’s junior kicker appears to be back in form. Nuernberger couldn’t really ask for much more from his start to the season, either, hitting on all six of his kicks after banging through a 33-yard attempt in the win over Army.
If there’s any concern at this point for the Buckeyes, it has to be the uncertainty over just how deep his range is. That make against the Black Knights represents the longest field goal Nuernberger has kicked this season. Part of that is because of Meyer’s aggressive approach, but four of the attempts have been from 27 yards or less and Nuernberger never really has been known for the strength of his leg. He converted just half of his attempts from at least 40 yards during his freshman season.
But Nuernberger’s accuracy is on point at the moment. And there’s no reason to complain about that.