How J.T. Barrett can have a breakthrough 2016
The Ohio State Buckeyes had a rough start to the 2014 season, as they lost to Virginia Tech in Week 2, in large part due to having had to install a new QB in August, following would-be returning starter Braxton Miller’s season-ending injury. After the rough showing against the Hokies, J.T. Barrett settled in for what was by all accounts an excellent season. He completed 64.2 percent of his passes and racked up 34 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions, posting a NFL QB rating of 116.0 for the year.
While his passing numbers look strong, it was really his running ability in Ohio State’s read option system that allowed the Buckeye offense to be so prolific. He rushed for 1,100 yards while averaging 7.3 yards per carry, adding another 11 touchdowns and forcing 39 missed tackles. Not surprisingly, his rushing grade was the highest in the country among QBs.
In the regular-season finale against Michigan, however, he broke his ankle, paving the way for former third-string QB Cardale Jones to have an incredible three-game run in the Big Ten championship game, playoff semifinal, and national title game, which the Buckeyes won over Oregon.
Both Barrett and Jones returned for 2015 (along with Miller, who converted to WR), leading to a battle for the starter’s job that wasn’t settled until well into October. Barrett’s production took a substantial dip, as his QB rating dropped almost 20 points from the prior season to 96.5, and his yards per carry dropped to 5.9. The offense as a whole was inefficient until the last two games of the season.
Now 21 months removed from his ankle injury and no longer in open competition for his job (Jones was selected in the third round of April’s draft by the Buffalo Bills), the hope is that Barrett will return to 2014 form. While not having to deal with rehab or splitting reps in both games and practices should help, there are areas of his game that need to be significantly improved in order for him to truly break out as one of the top QBs in the Big Ten.
Intermediate and deep accuracy have been consistent issues for Barrett both seasons. On throws longer than 10 yards in the air in 2014, Barrett completed just 44 of 111 attempts, and in 2015, he was 20 of 45.
Barrett’s passes traveling 10+ yards in the air during 2014 season
Barrett’s passes traveling 10+ yards in the air during 2015 season
Keeping in mind the fact that he was throwing to the likes of Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, Devin Smith, Braxton Miller, Jeff Heuerman, and Nick Vannett, all of them currently playing in the NFL, it’s difficult to expect his consistency to improve on deeper passes with newer, less experienced receivers and tight ends.
Our data also exposes Barrett’s issues in dealing with pressure. When he had a clean pocket in 2014, he threw for 30 TDs and just eight interceptions for a huge QB rating of 128.4. However, when under pressure, he threw just four touchdowns to two interceptions, and his rating plummeted to 67.2. While a smaller sample size, his performance under pressure last season was actually worse, as his QB rating was down to 50.6. To make matters even more dire in this regard, with the offensive line installing three new starters, he’ll likely see even more pressure during the 2016 season.
Barrett versus pressure during 2014 season
Barrett versus pressure during 2015 season
While multi-year starters are expected to generally improve their level of play throughout their college careers, Barrett’s particular struggles with accuracy and play under pressure, combined with the offense’s extensive attrition to the NFL at essentially every position, he could be in for another season of mixed results. The best part of his game—rushing—could also see a dip in production initially, as star RB Ezekiel Elliott was selected fourth overall by the Dallas Cowboys in April. The Buckeyes do of course have talent in the backfield in the form of red-shirt freshman Mike Weber and sometimes-WR, sometimes-RB Curtis Samuel, but the experience level of both is limited. Executing zone read plays isn’t a simple matter of finding holes and breaking tackles; it takes a level of chemistry between QB and runner, chemistry that will take time to develop.
Talent usually wins out in college football, which Ohio State continually stockpiles with its recruiting classes. That being said, the current version of the Buckeyes’ offense simply doesn’t have the experience needed to achieve a strong level of consistency without great QB play. By Big Ten standards (which are clearly not high), Barrett is one of the better signal callers in the conference. However, in order for Ohio State to remain on top and in the title hunt, Barrett will need to make several significant personal improvements to his game and carry the revamped offense.