COLUMBUS — The deep pass has been missing from Ohio State’s offense for much of this season, but there is a place where it has not disappeared, quarterback J.T. Barrett says.
“Our defense makes you throw it deep, so we do complete them in practice. In practice we have more opportunities to complete them. But in games we only have one or two times. We just haven’t hit them,” Barrett said on Monday.
Barrett has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,675 yards and 17 touchdowns with only four interceptions.
But without a wide receiver who has appeared capable of stretching the field, his longest completion since the season opener against Bowling Green is 43 yards. He had only one completion longer than 20 yards in last Saturday’s 24-20 win over Northwestern and has only three touchdown passes in the last four games.
There are lots of theories why Ohio State has had only a few long pass plays. Barrett offered some ideas during interviews on Monday. Wide receiver K.J. Hill had a few thoughts after Saturday’s game.
Barrett said part of the reason Ohio State is completing short passes but not many deep ones is that defenses are playing farther off the line of scrimmage than they did last year when tailback Ezekiel Elliott was a threat to take the ball to the end zone any time he touched it.
“They’re playing off us, so it’s hard to run past people if they’re 10 yards off you. They’re 10 yards off you before the snap and then when the snap happens, they back up even more, so you can’t beat them,” he said.
Barrett said defenses are making OSU “nickel and dime it down the field.”
“It’s not like they’re packing the box like they did with Zeke last year,” he said.
Hill, whose 34-yard catch was a key play in the game-winning drive against Northwestern, said he sees defenses playing tight coverage because they don’t think OSU’s receivers can run by them.
“Sometimes they don’t respect our deep threat and sit on us a lot, so that’s what causes a lack of separation,” Hill said.
“We’ve been having our scout team defensive backs get more aggressive with us in practice and we’re getting them off us, using techniques and stuff. I think that has really helped,” he said.
Obviously, both players said they think the deep pass will return to OSU’s offense.
“I feel like we’re getting better. We know where we want to be,” Hill said.
Barrett said, “It’s going to happen.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.