Ohio State ranked sixth in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season, but despite the high ranking Buckeye fans have some concerns after some struggles in October. The biggest concern might be the relative lack of a downfield passing game.
It’s near the top of the list of concerns for Nebraska defensive backs coach Brian Stewart, too, but for a different reason.
“I think the thing that we haven’t seen and I’m praying to God we don’t see is [quarterback J.T. Barrett] throwing vertical,” Stewart said. “I think that they’re averaging about… looking at the film, they probably throw the ball vertical down the field five or six times. He hasn’t really been able to connect like he has in the past so he’s been giving them the intermediate routes [which] have been successful for them.”
Ohio State currently ranks 77th nationally with 66 passing plays of 10-plus yards and 87th with 22 passing plays of 20-plus yards. After averaging 3.67 explosive passing plays (20-plus yards) per game in non-conference play, the Buckeyes’ average has dropped to 2.2 per game against Big Ten teams. Barrett’s yards per attempt has come down accordingly, from 8.9 in September to 6.7 over five conference games. That ranks seventh in the Big Ten in conference play.
“Those guys are pretty fast,” Stewart said. “They got behind Indiana. They got behind
Northwestern. They got behind Wisconsin. [Barrett] just hasn’t connected yet
and I don’t want him to. So if you ask me what I’m worried about,
that’ll keep you up right there.”
Nebraska has engineered an almost total turnaround this season when it comes to defending the deep ball. In 2015, the Huskers gave up 60 passes of 20-plus yards (4.62 per game). Only three teams — Houston, Western Kentucky and Arizona State — were worse.
This season, the Blackshirts are one of the best defenses in the country at preventing the big play through the air. Nebraska has given up 18 plays of 20 yards or more this season (2.25 per game), which is tied for the ninth-best total in the country.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.