COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State quarterbacks combined for a whopping 654 passing yards and seven TD passes at the LiFE Sports spring game at Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
Senior quarterback J.T. Barrett (8 of 12, 71 yards, TD) led a TD drive on the opening possession before backups Joe Burrow (14 of 22, 262 yards, 3 TDs) and Dwayne Haskins (26 of 37 293 yard, 3 TDs) put on an display that included four TD passes of 30 yards or more. The Scarlet team beat the Gray team in a 38-31 shootout, and this appeared to be the answer to a two-year question involving the vertical passing game.
We know the disclaimer. It's a spring game. The Buckeyes weren't even tackling in the early stages. Yet this is a significant step for an offense that welcomed new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day in an effort to "enhance" an offense that faltered in a 31-0 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals last season.
"You can take stats and skew it and make it look good or bad," Wilson said. "We've gotten in the ballpark where we've got catchable balls," Wilson said.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer made it clear on the first day of spring practice that the goal was to improve the deep ball, and the Buckeyes showed marked progress in that area. Meyer said he was pleased afterward. So was Wilson, who also coaches tight ends. He used the spring to improve the pass protection, which was also an issue last season.
"We've made some great strides in spring," Wilson said. "The coaches get removed when the ball's out, but I think those kids could have a huge jump in the passing game and keep this moving over the next three months."
Wilson said the summer months are when the actual passing portion is fine-tuned, but you couldn't tell by watching. Ohio State hit the deep ball early and often in a scrimmage that favored the offense. Ke'Von Huguely scored on a 35-yard post corner route. Johnnie Dixon scored on a 44-yard streak. Terry McLaurin caught TD passes of 30 and 22 yards, respectively. Even running back Demario McCall got in on the act with a 40-yard TD on a wheel route.
Yet Barrett insisted the results were even better in practice with Wilson.
"The thing that y'all didn't get to see is when we had spring practice is we did a really good job of attacking," Barrett said. "It wasn't just the spring game. That was good for the fans to see, but we're seeing it in practice as well, especially in scrimmages."
How Barrett meshes with Wilson and Day continues to be the talking point in the fall. Barrett's completion percentage and yards per attempt decreased each of the last two seasons, and he took the brunt of the criticism after the loss to Clemson. Barrett is working with his third offensive coordinator at Ohio State after Tom Herman and Ed Warinner. He's found a common mesh point with Wilson to start with.
"He has an attacking personality," Barrett said. "He's always in attack mode and playing fast. That's what we do. When you think about the Ohio State offense, we're always on the attack. At times we got away from that for whatever reason, but that's his main focus to make sure we're attacking."
The backup quarterbacks also put on the show. Burrow threw TDs on three straight possessions in the first half.
"We put a big emphasis on deep balls this spring," Burrow said. "We throw deep balls before every practice;after every practice. We've been focusing on putting a lot of height on the ball, and it's really improved our accuracy and helps the receivers."
Haskins, meanwhile, was familiar with Wilson through the recruiting process.
"(Wilson) and Coach Ryan do a good job of innovating and adding new plays, adding new wrinkles to plays, new motions and formations and routes," Haskins said. "He really does a good job."
The early reviews are favorable, but the fall will be the true test to see how Ohio State's offense is enhanced. It's the difference between a team that can win the national championship, which the Buckeyes pulled off in 2014 behind the long arm of Cardale Jones, and last year's playoff flop, which led to Wilson's hiring.
"We're playing enough young guys, that when we came into the arena they didn't make all the good things I've seen in practice bigger than it was," Wilson said.
Neither did Wilson. He'll have to do the same when Ohio State opens the season against his former employer on Aug. 31 at Indiana.Ohio State's passing game showed it's headed in the right – and what could be scary – direction. Meyer should be pleased.
Yeah, it's a spring game, and you can only take so much out of it. Disclaimer noted.
But in this case, Wilson could make a big difference in the fall.
"It will be interesting to see if we keep accelerating in the summer," Wilson said.