Anyone who has been listening to head coach Urban Meyer discuss the Buckeyes’ intense quarterback battle could not have expected either J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones to be named the signal caller in advance of Ohio State’s first game.
Meyer is feeling no pressure to name a starter publicly before his team takes the field against the Hokies, and he even went as far as to say the team hardly needs to know before that because there is little distinction between the skill sets of Jones and Barrett.
“If you look at J.T.’s game plan when he was our quarterback and Cardale, it’s very similar,” he said Aug. 31. “There is a chance they’ll both play as well, so that hasn’t really – in our mind-set we’re game planning our offense and they’re both executing very well.”
During the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference the following day Meyer added that he did have in mind who was going to start against Virginia Tech before reiterating that both Jones and Barrett will play throughout the season.
He confirmed that in a Sept. 2 meeting with the media before the season opener.
“I have an idea of who’s going to take the first snap,” Meyer said. “Favorite, I’m not sure I like that word. I still think (both will play) after today. I made this comment when I met with both the quarterbacks, ‘When you have a good player, what do you do with them? You play them.’
“We’re going to play both quarterbacks.”
While the coach was ready to confirm that both quarterbacks would see time this season, he added on his radio show the following day that Barrett and Jones may not both play against Virginia Tech.
Meyer wasn’t going to give any indication as to whom he had leading the quarterback competition but did say what qualities have provided the separation and said that Barrett being named one of six team captains Aug. 28 has little to do with the quarterback battle.
“The guy that’s going to give us the best chance to move down the field is going to be the guy taking the snap,” Meyer said. “J.T., I got asked that question by some friends. That means he’s a captain. He’s not necessarily going to take the first snap.”
While Meyer has a player in mind for that first snap Sept. 7, the team’s players either don’t know or are good at keeping that information close to the vest.
Safety Tyvis Powell, Jones’ roommate, has a unique view of the situation and said he doesn’t know who is leading the battle.
“They’ve just been the same people that they’ve been all summer,” Powell said of the QBs. “They still play (video games) together, everybody is calm, nobody really talks about the quarterback competition. They both rotate reps with the ones every day. They don’t even know. I was like, ‘Do y’all even know?’ and they were like, ‘No, I guess whoever jogs out there first will be the starter.’”
Despite the perceived differences between the quarterbacks – the thought being that Jones has the jaw-dropping physical tools while Barrett has the ability to surgically pick apart a defense – Meyer says that the game plan doesn’t change, regardless of who is under center.
For his part, receiver Mike Thomas said it doesn’t make a difference to him who plays quarterback. Sometimes in practice he isn’t even sure who is throwing him the ball.
“They’re very fundamentally sound and great leaders,” the receiver said. “Sometimes I forget who’s throwing me the ball back there because they rotate so much, but they look great to me.
“They’re both very vocal and both have a sense of humor. When it’s time to get something done and get down to business, that’s what they do.”
Uncertainty At Receiver
The quarterback position was not the only spot on the depth chart to list co-starters as suspensions to Corey Smith, Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson as well as the injury to potential starter Noah Brown have left the receiver situation opposite Thomas muddled.
Sophomore James Clark and freshmen Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin were all listed as co-starters at one of the receiver positions with Thomas entrenched as the starter at the other wideout spot. Behind Thomas, freshman Parris Campbell and senior Jeff Greene are both listed.
“Guys have to step up,” Thomas said. “When Noah went down that was a tough blow for us, but guys have to realize the opportunity and stay in the moment. They can’t really get overwhelmed. At the end of the day it’s just football. You’ve been playing all your life. It’s not like it’s anything new – just step up, make a play, do your job.”
The Buckeyes will be without the services of Brown – who suffered a broken leg Aug. 26 and stayed in the hospital through Aug. 31 – for the entire season. By all accounts the New Jersey native was having a strong fall camp after dropping weight and adjusting to an outside receiver position after playing predominantly at the “H” spot last season.
“For our team, it was tough because everybody watched his growth over the last year, and he’s a very talented individual,” said offensive coordinator Ed Warinner. “He was somebody that was going to weigh heavily into what we were going to do this year.
“Personally, it hurt because I recruited him. I kind of knew his family and have been to his home, been to his school many times. I’m very close to his high school coach. So when a guy that you bring here and you have to tell his mom that he went down, that’s hard. But they’re great people, great family, and we’ll look forward to having Noah back with us when he heals up. That will be next year, obviously.”
While Brown will not see the field in 2016, the three receivers suspended for the opener will be added to the depth chart for the Buckeyes’ second game.
The loss of Marshall and Wilson for the game against the Hokies opened room at the H position for Ohio State, allowing converted quarterback Braxton Miller to once again be listed as a starter. The H position was another spot with an “or” as sophomore Curtis Samuel was listed alongside Miller.
“(The) former Big Ten Player of the Year is doing well out there; we like him,” Warinner said. “He’s just an athlete out there. Braxton has looked good and is really growing into that position (and) had a great attitude about learning it.”
Miller was also listed next to Samuel as the team’s primary punt returners.
Miller figures to be one of just a handful of players to get significant snaps against the Hokies who didn’t see the field when Virginia Tech upset Ohio State last season.
Despite all the hype and buildup surrounding the Buckeyes’ trip to Blacksburg, captain Taylor Decker assured reporters that the team is treating it like any other contest.
“With all due respect to every team we play, every game is a big game,” the left tackle said. “We’re a high-profile team. Virginia Tech is obviously coming off beating us last year, but I think that every game we play is a big play because obviously we can’t have one slip-up.
“The biggest thing that we’ve done is just focus on what we do. You can’t focus on any trash talk going on out there, you can’t focus on, ‘What if they do this? What if they do that?’ We prepare for what we see on film and we do what we do. That’s what won us games last year.”
Lane Stadium is expected to be raucous when the Buckeyes arrive for an 8 p.m. kickoff in front of 66,233 fans, but Ohio State has a history of success on the road.
Ohio State is on a 13-game road winning streak, last falling in a true away game to Michigan in 2011, though this is the first time the Buckeyes have opened the season with a true road game since a 34-17 win at West Virginia in 1998.
“I’m sure we are going to get their best shot and we are going to have to bring it as hard as they’re going to bring it,” Powell said. “If we go down there and try to downplay the game, then they might beat us with the excitement and the crowd behind them and all that, but if we go down there and match their intensity, I feel like it’s going to be a real good game and we can definitely come out with the win.”
- With Joey Bosa one of four Buckeyes suspended for the opener, Meyer said that using linebacker Joshua Perry as a pass rusher was on the table for the game against Virginia Tech. Perry confirmed that he has worked in at end in some packages but doesn’t expect to play much at that position.
“We have a little bit of a package in place, but I don’t know how much we’ll use it,” Perry said. “I’ve been practicing 99 percent of the time at linebacker. We want to be able to have our best guys on the field, so it is definitely a possibility.”
If that happens, Perry said, sophomore Dante Booker would take his place at weakside linebacker.
- An Ohio State spokesman confirmed in an email Thursday that Jones had been taken to the hospital for what multiple reports described as a migraine headache Wednesday evening. According to the spokesman, “Jones was examined last night at the OSU Wexner Medical Center. He was released from the center following the examination, and he is doing fine today.”
- Meyer said on his call-in show that redshirt freshman Sam Hubbard is still the leader to start in Bosa’s place. Jalyn Holmes will also see time but has not been as consistent as the Cincinnati Moeller product.
- Meyer said on multiple occasions that redshirt freshman receivers Campbell and McLaurin will be factors on special teams.