Ohio State’s game against UNLV might have turned out to be a glorified scrimmage, but that is just what the Buckeyes needed.
Nothing beats game reps when it comes to building a football team, and the Buckeyes still have a lot of building to do if they want to accomplish any of their goals for the season.
That is still true after the 54-21 blowout of the Rebels. And yet the Buckeyes got a lot done on a steamy afternoon at Ohio Stadium.
GAME STORY: Barrett, Haskins star in Buckeyes’ win
First and foremost, there was the passing game.
A sore subject at Ohio State for more than a year, it could hardly have looked better against an admittedly suspect UNLV defense.
J.T. Barrett completed 12 of 17 passes for 209 yards and five touchdowns in less than two quarters of work.
He found five different receivers for scores and looked as sharp as he has in quite some time.
Beyond the numbers was how Barrett and Buckeyes did it.
They thought they might finally get to work against tight man coverage this week, but the Rebels did not comply.
All the better: Soft coverage is what has given Ohio State the most problems over the past two-plus seasons, and that is what UNLV gave them most of the time.
This time, the Buckeyes were ready with a variety of short passes the Rebels could not contain.
It started with a screen pass to Parris Campbell, who got a block, broke a tackle and outran everyone else for a 69-yard touchdown.
On the next drive, Barrett found K.J. Hill streaking across the middle on a route beneath the coverage, and the sophomore sprinted for 22 yards.
Barrett also worked the middle of the field, including a touchdown pass to Johnny Dixon, who made a man miss after finding a spot in the zone and took it to the house.
That all seemed to get Barrett, who missed a deep sideline throw early on the team’s second drive, into a rhythm. He picked the Rebels apart from there.
It wasn’t a perfect day, and the defenses are going to be much tougher in the future, but it was another step forward.
“I think it’s always good to come out here and execute and do what you do. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is,” Barrett said. “I think it was really good for our young guys to get some work, too. Those guys if they play well, they can get some confidence, and if they didn’t play so hot they can watch in the film room on Monday."
Ohio State built on the success it found with the horizontal passing game a week earlier against Army, not only moving the ball on this day but hoping to set up the rest of its offense for later in the season as defenses have to think harder about playing off coverage.
“If (the defense) starts jumping the bubble we have complements out there,” Meyer said. “I like what we're starting to do, and I think (assistants) Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day are doing things that complement the things we're doing well.”
***Ohio State also got to try out a new weapon in the red zone as Barrett connected with Binjimin Victor on a fourth down-and-goal in the second quarter.
At 6-foot-4, Victor reached over UNLV cornerback Robert Jackson to haul in a pass and keep a foot in bounds for a touchdown. The 6-2 Jackson is no midget, but Victor’s size is something Ohio State has not had a lot of at receiver. He figures to only get better as his career progresses.
***And we would be remiss not to mention Dwayne Haskins.
The redshirt freshman quarterback relieved Barrett late in the second quarter and showed again the future is bright.
His 28-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Saunders — a laser on a post route against tight coverage — got the stadium buzzing even with Ohio State already holding a 37-point lead.
Despite being known as a passer first, Haskins also displayed enough running ability to get a first down with his legs by keeping on a zone-read play and scooting forward for five yards. He later had a 16-yard scamper.
The Maryland native finished the day 15 of 23 throws for 228 yards and two touchdowns.
He also left a couple of reminders of his inexperience, including a bad decision that turned into an interception returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
***As for the Ohio State defense, there were plenty of teachable moments.
The coaches substituted liberally even in the first half, so some unevenness to the performance was to be expected.
UNLV busted multiple long runs in the second half and ended up with 176 yards on the ground despite losing 30 yards on four sacks.
Additionally, a litany of pass interference penalties (some more questionable than others) are something to be concerned about as the season wears on.
Ohio State makes a point of playing aggressively in the secondary, but there are still some technique kinks to work out.