EAST LANSING, Mich. — If Ohio State’s last two games before its 17-16 win over Michigan State made anyone think that maybe OSU’s offense no longer would have J.T. Barrett running the ball as much as he has in the past, that notion was thrown for a big loss on Saturday.
Barrett went from carrying the ball eight times against Nebraska and 11 times against Maryland to calling his own number 24 times for 105 yards against Michigan State.
And most of those two dozen runs, which were two short of his career high of 26 against Indiana earlier this season, were designed plays, not scrambles to avoid a Michigan State pass rush that was more effective than advertised.
What OSU’s coaches thought would work against Michigan State’s defense was part of the decision to use Barrett so much in the running game.
Windy conditions, which made passing tricky, were also part of it.
But maybe the bottom line is that if it’s November, Barrett running the ball is going to be a big part of Ohio State’s offense.
Last year, Barrett ran the ball 15 times against Michigan State and 19 times against Michigan in the Buckeyes’ final two regular-season games. Two years ago, he carried the ball 17, 20 and 15 times in OSU’s final three regular-season games, and his 15 carries against Michigan would have been higher if he hadn’t suffered a season-ending injury early in the fourth quarter.
“That was part of the game plan, me running the ball. There were a lot of quarterback runs and I think we executed that pretty well,” Barrett said after the win over Michigan State.
He noticed early in Saturday’s game that throwing the ball would be a bit of an adventure because of the wind.
“I threw a ball to Curtis and it was going at him and then it took a nose dive to the right. I’m looking at it and thinking ‘Oh my goodness.’ It was really odd. At times it would calm down and then it would just pick up crazy.
“But that’s part of it. For the most part I just tried to make the right decisions and do the best I could with the conditions,” he said.
Saturday’s weather forecast predicted wet conditions throughout the game, but they did not materialize.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said he had begun installing a “weather plan” last Wednesday if conditions took a drastic turn for the worst.
“We wanted to throw it. There were a couple plays where it was right on the tip of my tongue. But you start watching the clock. If a ball is tipped, you lose that game,” Meyer said.
“I thought we did fine. It’s hard to run the ball when they know it’s coming. I had two players (Barrett and Mike Weber) run for over 100 yards against a defense that said, ‘We know you’re running, that’s tough,’ ” he said.
Barrett said, “I think our game plan was really good. In practice we were expecting more rain so we did a lot of wet football drills. Last year (against Michigan State) it was a wet football and we didn’t do the greatest job preparing for that, so this year we honed in on wet footballs and it turned out it wasn’t that way. But the wind was something we had to adjust to.
“A win is a win, I don’t care how it comes. We could win 2-0 and I would be really happy about it. It’s really hard to win football games in November and in the Big Ten. I’m happy any way they come,” he said.
While games against Michigan State have grown into a rivalry, Barrett and OSU will take on their ultimate rival when Michigan comes to Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
“Even when I was a redshirt freshman, I understood this game (Michigan) and all the hype that goes into it. It’s bigger than yourself, it’s bigger than me, bigger than all the quarterbacks who have played here, all the people who are part of Buckeye nation,” Barrett said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.