COLUMBUS — Urban Meyer has heard others say his team is too young, or that it was crippled by the loss of two-time Big Ten player of the year Braxton Miller.
He doesn’t buy it.
After the fifth-ranked Buckeyes came back from a slow start to beat Navy 34-17 on Saturday, Meyer said he doesn’t want to hear anything more about inexperience or adversity.
“They’re veteran players now,” he said Monday of those who saw their first college action in the opener. “Enough with the excuses and get going.”
The Buckeyes trailed 7-6 at the half and by a point midway through the third quarter. But they pulled away late behind some big plays by the defense and by Miller’s replacement at quarterback, freshman J.T. Barrett.
Barrett, in his first college game, completed 12 of 15 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 50 yards and was honored by the Big Ten as one of its freshmen of the week.
He gave himself a stern talking to after throwing an interception while Ohio State was on the march inside the Navy 10 midway through the second quarter.
“After the interception, I was, like, ‘J.T., you know you shouldn’t have thrown it, but you still threw it and now you’ve got make up for it,’” Barrett said later.
For a 19-year-old playing his first game since midway through his senior season at Wichita Falls (Texas) Rider High, Barrett was solid. He became only the second Ohio State freshman to start at quarterback in a season opener since 1950.
Asked how Barrett had to improve before Saturday night’s big showdown against Virginia Tech (1-0) at Ohio Stadium, Meyer hesitated.
“I’m just trying to think of the mistakes he made,” Meyer said. “He’s just not the dynamic guy. I wouldn’t mind, when he decides to run, to really go. But he played pretty well.”
If Barrett got a passing grade in his debut, Meyer wasn’t thrilled with the play of those blocking for him. The offensive line, with four new starters, was average for the most part except for a couple of key plays that turned the tide in the second half as Ohio State scored 21 of the final 24 points.
Taylor Decker, a sturdy 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds at left tackle, is the only holdover from last year’s veteran group.
“With everybody being new, there were some communication issues, and they messed up some of our plays,” Decker said. “But once guys got comfortable talking, we started to get into sync better, and we started executing more.”
The fortunes of the offensive line have risen and fallen since spring workouts began.
“In the second half I gained a lot of confidence,” Meyer said, “because I saw their demeanors change at halftime.”
Ohio State trailed 14-13 late in the third quarter until Barrett took advantage of a mix-up in the Navy secondary and found a wide open Devin Smith for an 80-yard touchdown completion. The Buckeyes never looked back.
Having finally gotten a look at their growth chart, now the Buckeyes must tweak things so that everybody is on an upward arc.
“It’s not just J.T. When we say expand the play book, it’s for J.T. and it’s for the offensive line,” Meyer said. “Once those two groups come together, which I’m expecting that to happen rather quickly … well, it better or we won’t win this (Virginia Tech) game.”