For the fourth straight week there was rampant discussion as to whether J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones should start at quarterback for Ohio State. And for the fourth time, head coach Urban Meyer has decided Jones will get the call for Saturday’s game vs. Western Michigan.
“Cardale is going to start,” Meyer said at his Sept. 23 press conference. “It’s like any position, if someone replaces you they’ve got to beat you out. That’s the approach we’ve taken.”
The head coach made it clear that Jones, who has completed 55.6 percent of his 45 pass attempts for 333 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions, has not necessarily won the job as much as Barrett has failed to surpass him in Meyer’s eyes.
Barrett has 10 fewer pass attempts than Jones in his relief appearances, completing 57.1 percent of his 35 passes for 193 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
While neither quarterback has played up to his 2014 standards, especially in the Buckeyes’ home games against Hawaii and Northern Illinois, Meyer is sticking with the man who started the season as the signal caller.
“Someone has to beat someone out,” Meyer said. “Until that happens you don’t anoint people. ‘Let’s give that guy a shot,’ I don’t want to hear that.”
The pervasive narrative from those outside the locker room is that Meyer needs to pick a starter and stick with him. While Jones has started all three games this season, he was pulled for Barrett after struggling to move the offense in the past two games.
The head coach, however, doesn’t have a problem with Jones knowing Barrett is ready and waiting to enter the game.
“You’ll hear someone say, ‘How can you play quarterback with someone looking over your shoulder?’ ” Meyer said. “And my comment to that person is – well, no one’s complaining, but how do you not?
“If you think you’re going to play at the next level, there is going to be probably one better than you standing right next to you, so get used to it. You are going to look (over your shoulder). That doesn’t mean you get hooked. If you have a bad day, you get replaced. That might not be everyone’s philosophy, and that’s OK.”
Against Northern Illinois, Jones went to the bench after his second interception of the day, one that came on a poor read in Meyer’s eyes, but Barrett matched him with an interception of his own on a similar play. So far neither quarterback has distinguished himself, so Meyer is going with the guy who ended last season as the starter, was the starter throughout spring practice and fall camp and has been taking the bulk of the first-team reps in practice.
“It’s close,” Meyer said of Barrett and Jones. “They’re both working together. Quarterbacks are a product of those around them. I said that last year after every week. If someone is the Big Ten player of the week at quarterback, it’s because (of the others) playing their tails off around them. So we all have to do a better job.”
To be sure, the players surrounding the quarterback on offense have not been playing well either. Whether that’s the offensive line struggling to block or receivers falling to execute blocks on the perimeter or create separation downfield, no one has made things easier for Jones or Barrett.
In its two home games this year, Ohio State has averaged 172.0 yards rushing and just 158.5 yards passing per game. Those numbers are well below the season-long averages of 264.5 rushing yards and 247.1 passing yards the Buckeyes posted in 2014.
The rest of the offensive players acknowledged their struggles and, as they did leading up to the dismal performance against Northern Illinois, vowed to play better against Western Michigan.
One thing that may facilitate that is a change in coaching structure. Offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, who is also the team’s offensive line coach, has been the primary play caller so far this season and has done so from the sideline while co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck weighs in from the booth.
Those two roles may be shifting this week, according to Meyer, as the team would like to run an up-tempo approach and calling that offense from the sideline is nearly impossible.
“If we go jet tempo, that’s got to be from upstairs because you can’t see anything from down on the field,” Meyer said. “So those are all things we’re going to get cleaned up.”
Defense Promised More
There is no question that through three games this season the Ohio State defense has vastly outplayed the offense. Things came to a head against Northern Illinois when the defense saved the game with linebacker Darron Lee’s interception returned for a touchdown.
That defensive score, one that traveled 41 yards, matched the offense’s touchdown production against the Huskies and covered more ground than all but two of the offensive drives Ohio State managed that day.
The disparity between the play of the offense and defense was highlighted against the Huskies, and following the game Meyer vowed to his defense that the offense would close the gap going forward.
“After the game he promised (the offense would improve),” cornerback Eli Apple said. “It means a lot. Anytime the head coach of the football team makes a promise like that, I know he’s going to come through with it and I know he is going to do anything in his power to help the offense and get them back up to speed.”
Apple has been a big part of the strong defensive play. The Buckeyes allowed just 80 yards passing against Northern Illinois, intercepting Huskies quarterback Drew Hare twice. That matched the total of interceptions that Hare had thrown since assuming the NIU starting quarterback duties early in the 2014 campaign.
Following the lockdown performance against the Huskies, Ohio State is rated fifth nationally in passing yards allowed per game at just 119.0.
“It’s team defense,” defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. “It’s not about the secondary. It’s not about the corners and the safeties. It’s about team defense.
“For our safeties to have success and coverage, they rely on good reroutes from the outside linebackers. We have Josh Perry and Darron Lee getting reroutes, running up the field and taking steam off of them, that makes a big difference. When we have a quarterback running around back there scared to get hit because Joey Bosa, Sam Hubbard and Adolphus Washington are chasing them, that makes a big difference.
“So it’s a team concept, team defense. One part won’t be successful without the other. The good thing about it is our guys know that, believe in that, and they’re flourishing because of it.”
WMU Comes To Town
The Ohio State pass defense is expected to be tested again when Western Michigan comes to town this weekend.
The Broncos enter the game with the No. 18 passing offense in the country at 327.7 yards per game, numbers that become more impressive when you consider Western Michigan played Michigan State earlier this season.
Many of those yards have been gained through screen and swing passes, something the Ohio State defense has been excellent at stopping this season.
“I think they are going to give us a lot of screens and stuff, but we have a very athletic defense and defensive line so you know they’re not going to just stand in the pocket and let it be a hit,” defensive tackle Washington said. “So I think they are going to throw a lot of screens.
“You don’t play the screens, you’ve just got to react to them and when you react to them you have to get to him. So you just have to be ready to run and react to it.”
• Ohio State will continue to play without sophomore cornerback Damon Webb, whose suspension was announced prior to the game against Northern Illinois. No details or timeline for Webb’s suspension were given.
“The university is looking at something, I don’t know much about it,” Meyer said. “We’ll let you know.”
Cam Burrows and Marshon Lattimore will continue to fill his nickel back role.
• Wide receiver Parris Campbell also will not play against the Broncos. The redshirt freshman receiver had started the first three games of the year but suffered a knee bruise and ligament strain against the Huskies. Meyer said he was probable for the Big Ten opener against Indiana, and Campbell was replaced on the depth chart by Curtis Samuel.
• Meyer had previously said that freshman running back Mike Weber would likely be ready for his first action this weekend after suffering a torn meniscus during fall camp. The Buckeyes are still working Weber back in, however, and he will not play against the Broncos, Meyer said.
• Meyer said true freshman wideout K.J. Hill might see time this week, while classmate Torrance Gibson continues to work up to speed after a camp ankle injury.