Ohio State redshirt quarterback J.T. Barrett is a confident player and has never been one to say he doubts his wide receivers.
Through the issues in the passing game, Barrett has remained steadfast in critique of himself and timing difficulties with his targets. But his confidence in his receivers hasn’t faltered. Likewise, the trust the wideouts have in Barrett hasn’t wavered.
Now, it seems that mutual conviction is becoming legitimate with Barrett’s confidence in his arm and his receivers growing with each throw. It has manifested itself in a third different wideout — Johnnie Dixon, Parris Campbell and now Binjimen Victor— emerging as a potential go-to target for the third straight week.
“Not a jump, but a steady incline [from the receivers],” head coach Urban Meyer said. “Very pleased with their attitude and they’re making plays.”
Four throws in Saturday’s 62-14 Ohio State victory against Maryland exemplified the strengthening connection between Barrett and his receivers.
On Ohio State’s first offensive series, Barrett rifled a third-down pass between two defenders to Dixon to move the chains. Barrett later connected with the 6-foot-4 Victor on third-and-6 from the Maryland 8-yard line in the back of the end zone for a score.
Sophomore wideout Austin Mack caught a back-shoulder fade for 20 yards on the following drive, and then hauled in a touchdown reception with a defender on his back while getting two feet in bounds with 10 seconds left in the half.
Barrett deserves credit for his play — including 20-of-31 passing for 261 yards and three touchdowns Saturday — and the play-calling has improved. However, the wide receivers have also managed to get open more recently, which has allowed the quarterback to build confidence and compete at a tempo the team will need in a showdown with Penn State in three weeks.
“It’s great seeing [Barrett] make those passes and having confidence in us to make those contested catches,” Mack said. “Shoot, keep it coming.”
Both Campbell and Dixon recorded more than 100 yards and a score in one of the two most recent games, displaying their potential to be the go-to playmaker at receiver. Saturday, Barrett turned to his big target in Victor for four catches and a team-high 55 yards. Campbell and Dixon each had three receptions during those weeks, but their play was significant enough to be noted by opposing coaches on scouting reports.
Victor’s five targets were all against man coverage and thrown to a spot where Victor can elevate above the defender and be the only one to come down with it.
“Down in the red zone, top shelf, I mean that’s where the ball has to be,” Barrett said. “Based on coverage, I think that was something good.”
Victor is a different receiver than Campbell and Dixon. Campbell is used over the middle or on bubble screens when he can use his speed in the open field. Dixon is a deep-ball threat.
Victor might not be more than a red-zone target, but he’s Ohio State’s tallest receiver and its best option in jump-ball scenarios.
The trio of Campbell, Dixon and Victor all bring something different to the table for defenses that have to design a scheme to minimize their impact. And Mack, who showed Saturday he can be another option for Barrett, might be the best route runner on the team with less speed than Campbell and Dixon, but more than Victor.
The competition hasn’t been great. And it is uncertain whether Ohio State’s wideouts can be difference-makers against the Penn States of college football, but they deserve recognition for finishing the plays Barrett makes and giving him options — two elements of the offense which weren’t present in early September.
The next logical step: consistency.
“I wouldn’t say we’re where we need to be,” Campbell said. “But I like where we’re at.”