COLUMBUS, Ohio – Twenty-six carries. Finally, the Buckeyes leaned hard on one of their talented, versatile ballcarriers to lead them to a hard-fought victory.
Unfortunately, that player was quarterback J.T. Barrett and that is not ideal for a team that has as many weapons as this Ohio State team does. When it came down to it, though, there’s just one thing that matters and that is why coach Urban Meyer — who admitted he’d rather Barrett not be used in the run game so frequently — isn’t going to lament any of those 26 carries.
“We had to win the damn game,” Meyer said when asked why Barrett carried the load while Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel appeared in such a limited capacity. “And he’s one of our best players.”
The reality is that Ohio State found itself in a dangerous position on Saturday against the Hoosiers. When that happens, more often than not, Meyer’s football teams fall on a familiar crutch: the quarterback run game. It’s been a staple of his teams since he took over at Bowling Green in 2001 and it’s carried over from the Falcons’ Josh Harris, to Alex Smith at Utah and Tim Tebow at Florida, and of course, Braxton Miller and and J.T. Barrett with the Buckeyes. It’s not ideal. It can be dangerous. It’s never a great thing when everyone in the stadium, from the fans to the opposition, knows what’s coming on any given play. That kind of predictability cost Ohio State a chance at defending its national title last season. Meyer knows it, but he also knows putting a “W” on the schedule means more than following the gameplan to the letter.
“(It’s) real dangerous … you just don’t want to get too much of that,” Meyer said Saturday. “But that’s a little bit of (it). My security blanket is he’s one of the best players in America. (It’s) ‘Go get a touchdown, J.T.'”
The Buckeyes have to get better at passing the football. They need to give the ball to their other stars, Weber and Samuel, when the passing game gets shut down. It can’t be Barrett having more carries than Weber and Samuel combined like it was on Saturday. Some of that, Meyer said, was just a byproduct of what the Hoosiers did, and certainly they deserve some credit for their defensive efforts.
“We were having trouble executing the pass game …” Meyer said. “Some of the things they were forcing (us) to do on the perimeter run game, they were giving us the look to have him run it instead of hand it off all the time … So once again well-defended, and I think we would all feel much better about ourselves if we hit three of those passes that are downfield because that’s the kind of game it was.”
Ohio State’s fourth-year quarterback knows he has to improve in the passing game, too. That said, he’s not going to spend too much time obsessing about what went wrong against Indiana, because as his coach said, the goal is to win.
“I think those guys – Curt, Mike, myself – we do a great job when our number is called,” Barrett said after the game. “We’ve got to just keep on getting better, find ways to get better, so we don’t get stumped. When the game is on the line, I don’t think there’s ‘too many’ carries, if we win the game. I don’t care how many times I carry the ball. I don’t care how many times I pass it. As long as we win.”