COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State coach Urban Meyer made it clear this spring that he wants to throw the ball deep again.
Meyer needs quarterback J.T. Barrett to hook up with receivers for more momentum-changing plays downfield, the kind that bring 100,000 fans to their feet and rattle the rafters in old Ohio Stadium.
That was a problem last year. The Buckeyes struggled against their best opponent with pass protection, receivers getting open and Barrett's accuracy. It all manifested itself in the mess that was the College Football Playoff game, a 31-0 drubbing by Clemson. Without being able to establish down-field passing, the Buckeyes limped to 3.8 yards per passing attempt and 215 offensive yards. Barrett's longest completion was for 21 yards.
"I think it was bigger than just a unit coming up short," receivers coach Zach Smith said earlier this spring. "It was really the offense as a whole had a lot of things we needed get fixed this off season, so we spent a lot of time and effort doing that. That goes from looking introspectively at ourselves and our unit, and also the offense as a whole, and what we needed to do better to let everyone function better."
With new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day pulling the strings in spring practice, the Buckeyes have focused on throwing the long ball. In Saturday's spring game, the Buckeyes chucked it all over Ohio Stadium, though it was mostly backups Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins doing the passing.
Barrett is back for a fourth season, but his top three receivers from last year have departed. That means the pressure is on a stable of a half dozen unproven players who have an average of nine catches each in their Ohio State careers.
Parris Campbell, who will slide into the hybrid H-back spot that made Curtis Samuel an NFL-bound star last year, could be Ohio State's next breakout receiver. Meyer has raved about the progress of the junior from Akron, whose 13 catches for 121 yards last year were well below expectations. He had five catches for 46 yards in the spring game.
"He's had an exceptional spring," Meyer said.
Campbell said he is determined, especially after the embarrassment of the Clemson game.
"I just think something kind of clicked in me," he said. "This is going to be my fourth year here and third season actually playing. I just think something kind of clicked in me like, 'It's time to go. You've been here for a while and got to make an impact now.'"
Juniors K.J. Hill, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon — who has been hobbled by knee injuries — along with sophomores Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack are the prime candidates to step out as a sorely needed deep threat. A dark horse candidate is Eric Glover-Williams, a former cornerback who moved over to offense.
Barrett played briefly on Saturday. Burrow, a third-year sophomore, and Haskins, a redshirt freshman, tossed 59 passes between them in the 40-minute Scarlet and Gray Game. Ohio State announced it sold 80,000 tickets to intra-squad scrimmage.
Dixon caught six passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns, including a 44-yard score. McLaurin had four catches for 80 yards and a pair of TDs, including a 30-yarder. Fifteen other players also logged receptions as the two squads together rolled up 654 passing yards. One of the highlights was Burrow hitting running back Demario McCall in stride on a 40-yard scoring play in the second quarter.
"Some receivers stepped up and really made some nice plays," Meyer said.
Tate Martell, the highly touted freshman quarterback from Las Vegas, played briefly in the last quarter and ran in for a 5-yard touchdown the first time he touched the ball.
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