Ohio State entered the 2014 season without two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller and promptly lost to Virginia Tech – at home, no less – in the second game of the year, this after struggling against Navy in the opener. At that point, a lost season appeared to be a foregone conclusion.
The No. 13 Buckeyes (4-1, 1-0), however, have not gone quietly into the night. As a matter of fact, they’ve won three straight games – albeit against Kent State, Cincinnati and Maryland – while averaging 56 points per contest.
While the schedule has been nothing to brag about, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has played spectacularly, accounting for 15 touchdowns (14 pass, one rush) and just one interception since the loss to the Hokies.
It seems like he’s figuring things out.
“Yeah, he is,” former Heisman Trophy winner and current college football analyst Eddie George said on The MoJo Show. “The good thing is, he’s playing against inferior competition, and I think that’s good for his confidence. I think the game that we’re all as Buckeye fans looking (forward to) is the Michigan State game when he goes on the road to play in a hostile environment.”
That clash will come Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. ET. The Spartans, of course, beat Ohio State in the Big Ten championship last December, and Buckeye fans are hoping Barrett has the moxie to pull off the upset in East Lansing.
“He has the intangibles of being a really good quarterback,” George said. “He has the good vision, he has good pocket presence (and) he has good footwork. Now, does the confidence come along with it? I want to see how much he’s grown from that Virginia Tech game to this one. If he can find a win there, then the Buckeyes (have a chance to be selected) for the four-team playoff.”
But they’ll have to win their next three games first. Ohio State hosts Rutgers (5-1, 1-1) this Saturday, plays at Penn State (4-2, 1-2) on Oct. 25 and hosts Illinois (3-4, 0-3) on Nov. 1.
You can expect a steady diet of sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott in all three of those games. The Buckeyes rank 18th nationally in rushing yards per game (247.0), and Elliott is a big reason why. The St. Louis native has carried 79 times for 462 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and three touchdowns and was particularly good in his last two games, accounting for 378 total yards (321 rushing, 57 passing).
“Ohio State came into the season with a plethora of different running backs with different skill sets,” George said, “but the guy that stood out to me was Ezekiel Elliott. They really had to get him going. I think they’ve been doing that and really putting an emphasis on getting him the ball early and often over the last three or four games to establish the running game. I think he has all the ability to be a great running back for Ohio State. He’s the key cog that makes this offense go.”