It’s no secret that Bengals fans are fed up with the organization right now. After five straight years of first-round playoff exits, they’ve failed to make the postseason the past two years. The team seems to be headed in the wrong direction, and without much promise for a quick turnaround. Sprinkle in a handful of on- and off-the-field incidents and you’ve got a level of discontent in the fan base that’s at an all time high. Most feel that the majority of the blame falls with head coach Marvin Lewis, who’s failed to deliver a playoff victory after 15 seasons. For a brief moment this past season, it felt like change was finally on the way when reports surfaced that Marvin did not plan to return next year. That hope was short lived, however. Marvin came out and denied the reports the next day, and Mike Brown offered him a two-year extension after the season ended. For many fans, that was the last straw. Now the team’s leaders are faced with the task of replacing the fans that they’ve driven away. Luckily for them, there’s a massive college fan base just a couple hours up I-71, and they took some pretty obvious steps during the draft to tap into that fan base.
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It was a tale of two halves in Bloomington tonight, as the Buckeyes pulled out a 49-21 victory. Things started out promising as Ohio State moved down the field relatively quickly before stalling out inside the 10 yard line and settling for the field goal. Indiana then took it straight down the field and took the lead on a Richard Lagow to Ian Thomas pass. The teams then traded punts over the next several drives before the Buckeyes brought it back within 1 with another field goal. Lagow found Simmie Cobbs for a touchdown on the ensuing Indiana drive and OSU capped of the first half scoring with an Antonio Williams touchdown.
Indiana was moving the ball pretty handily during the first half, and the Buckeyes were unable to make adjustments thanks to the Hoosiers’ fast pace. Lagow finished the game with 410 passing yards and 3 touchdowns. He looked particularly sharp in the first half, getting the ball out quickly and not allowing the Buckeye defense to get much pressure on him. Cobbs looked very impressive at receiver for IU, including some spectacular one-handed grabs. It’s safe to say that Cobbs will be playing on Sundays in the near future.
Things took a dramatic turn in the second half as Ohio State showed why they’re the #2 ranked team in the country. The Buckeyes scored on 5 of their 7 second half possessions, and should have had a 6th if not for a dropped pass in the end zone by Parris Campbell. Campbell more than made up for it by scampering to a 74-yard score on a slant from Barrett later in the half. Barrett shared the wealth, hitting 3 different receivers for touchdowns in the second half, while running for one himself as well.
By contrast, the Hoosiers only managed one second half score, and had 4 three-and-outs against the the Buckeyes defense. Ohio State’s second half adjustments worked wonders. The secondary switched up coverages, preventing Lagow from picking them apart like he did in the first half and allowing the front 4 to get some pressure on the quarterback. Ohio State ended the game with 5 sacks, including two by Tyquan Lewis and one by Nick Bosa.
Probably the most impressive performance of the night was by Buckeyes’ true freshman running back JK Dobbins. Thrusted into the starting position due to a lingering hamstring injury for Mike Weber, Dobbins only managed to set an OSU record for most rushing yards by a true freshman running back in his debut. Dobbins finished with 181 yards on 29 carries. He failed to reach the end zone as his potential scoring opportunities were sniped by Antonio Williams, but he showed exactly why Buckeyes fans need to be excited about this kid’s future. He may not have stolen the starting job from Weber just yet, but it’s clear that Ohio State will have to make him a significant part of the offense going forward.
The Buckeyes now have 9 days to prepare for a visit from the Oklahoma Sooners. Don’t expect a blowout like last year’s matchup in Norman. Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield will be looking to exact some revenge and first year head coach Lincoln Riley will be looking for his first big statement win. This game may very well have playoff implications, so expect a battle in Ohio State’s home opener.
7. Ohio State’s seven Heisman trophies ties them with Notre Dame and USC for the most of all time. The Buckeyes also have the distinction of having the only two-time Heisman trophy winner in Archie Griffin. The school has a history of great athletes and legendary players. If all goes well this year, Ohio State could take the lead for themselves with eight Heisman trophies. JT Barrett is currently on the short list of Heisman trophy favorites this season, and at the very least should find himself with an invitation to Manhattan at the end of the year. Already one of the most prolific quarterbacks in OSU history, bringing home the top award in college football would cement his legacy as one of the greatest Buckeyes ever. He has the skills and a talented, albeit relatively unproven, supporting cast to do it. If he lives up to his potential this could be a special season for the Buckeyes.
16. JT Barrett will go down as one of the best quarterbacks in Ohio State history. He already holds a number of Ohio State records, including career passing touchdowns (69), career completions (529) and total touchdowns responsible for in a career (100). If all goes well this year he could end up with several more by the season’s end, including career passing yards and career completion percentage. While Barrett has been inconsistent at times, part of the blame for that falls on the offensive line and the play calling. A new offensive coordinator and a more experienced line should do wonders for Barrett and the Buckeyes this year. Barrett will likely be in the top 5 favorites for the Heisman Trophy this year, and he has the talent and the tools to land himself a spot at ceremony in Manhattan at the end of the year.
30. JT Barrett has recorded 30 rushing attempts twice in his career, his highest single-game rushing attempt total. Coincidentally, both of Barrett’s 30-attempt games came against Michigan (2015 and 2016). I’ve never been a big fan of utilizing the quarterback like a second (or first) running back. Having a quarterback that is a threat to run is a huge asset, but if that is his primary function then you start to limit yourself. It’s a great dynamic to have, especially when a play breaks down, and a well-timed QB draw can be a game changer if you can catch the defense off guard, but I hate to see teams abandon the pass in favor of the QB run. I think JT is a talented passer when given the opportunity, and I hope Kevin Wilson can get him playing at his full potential. If he can mix in 10-15 rush attempts a game, I think that would be a good mix. Except for when he rushes 30 times for 250 yards and 4 touchdowns against Michigan. Anything goes against that team up north.
34. JT Barrett threw for 34 touchdowns during his Freshman season, an Ohio State record. His most recent season was disappointing by comparison, although he still had a decent year from a pure numbers standpoint: 2,555 passing yards (4th best in Ohio State history) and 24 passing touchdowns (6th best in Ohio State history). If it weren’t for the way the season ended, JT’s 2016 campaign would have been considered a huge success. He already owns a number of Ohio State records, and he’ll own a lot more by the time he’s done playing. The one thing Barrett does not have, thanks to his injury in 2014, is a National Championship. He has the talent to lead the team there this year, as long as Urban Meyer and Kevin Wilson can get him playing at his full potential. Who knows, he may even pull in a Heisman vote or two…
44. Ohio State ranked 44th in the nation in total quarterback rating last year. The offense proved on numerous occasions that they could put some points on the board, but they also looked completely flat at times. If the Buckeyes hope to make it back to the college football playoff this year, they’re going to need some consistency on the offensive front, and it starts with the quarterback. JT Barrett was having a phenomenal year during the 2014 National Championship before breaking his leg against Michigan. He was never able to get into a rhythmn during 2015 while splitting time with Cardale Jones, but with the position all to himself last year he failed to live up to expectations. I’m confident he can return to his 2014 form, and if so I really like the Buckeyes’ chances of winning their second National Championship in four years.