What we learned last week: The discussion about the Ohio State quarterback situation has lost any semblance of sanity.
Following sports can be an emotional thing, so that’s somewhat understandable, but then again in this case I believe the angst is mostly misplaced. I say that because the main motivation for complaints about Cardale Jones’ play is related to longing for a J.T. Barrett that probably doesn’t really exist.
That’s not to say the real J.T. Barrett isn’t a very good player. He is. But so is the real Cardale Jones.
But they're both human, too, and the bottom line is I believe the expectation Barrett would come into a game and eliminate all the mistakes being made at not only his position but others has little or no merit. That is key because it's pretty much the only reason to make a change at this point.
Like anybody else, Barrett had good games, great games, bad games and so-so games last season. The narrative does not reflect that, though, and that’s kind of crippling any discussion about the quarterbacks this season.
Folks remembering only the best of Barrett last year are inevitably not going to be happy with a less-than-perfect Jones this year.
Unfortunately, they are clinging to a false narrative that dominated the offseason.
You know the one: The steady and consistent Barrett, the current sophomore who had a statistically historic 2014 season before getting injury vs. to the boom/bust of Jones.
The part about Jones is true, as we saw when he took over for Barrett last year and again in the first five weeks of this season.
Jones’ play is certainly not above criticism (his play, not him personally), but it seems to me it is being excessively picked apart because it is being compared to a certain standard of near-perfection that doesn’t exist.
It’s one thing for Urban Meyer to say Jones only had a so-so grade after a very productive win over Western Michigan, but it’s another to view Jones’ season so far as a failure, which it would have to be to merit making a change at quarterback. It could be much better, but it could also be much worse.
For one thing, Meyer added a qualifier last week that they grade Jones hard because they have high expectations. Fans also have high expectations, but they are different. In the case of Meyer, it is related to Jones’ natural ability. For fans, I think it’s more about reaching a level of play Barrett supposedly achieved — and maintained — last year when in fact he did not, especially if you scrutinize the games against the best teams on the schedule and/or the end of the schedule. And that is despite having greater support on the field (and arguably on the sidelines/in the booth) for most of his run as the starter than Jones has had this year.
For me the discussion has reached a head at this point because I can't understand people still calling for a quarterback change after the Ohio State offense turned in essentially the same game two years in a row against Indiana, one with Barrett at the helm and the other with Jones.
- 2014: 35 points (also scored on a punt return), 225 rushing yards, 302 passing yards, two turnovers (both by the QB), 7/14 on third down, 3/4 in the red zone.
- 2015: 34 points, 272 rushing yards, 245 passing yards, three turnovers (one by the QB), 2/14 on third down, 2/3 in the red zone.
The raw individual numbers tilted more in favor of the quarterback last year in large part because one of the best plays Ohio State had was the shovel pass to a receiver that for all intents and purposes is really a running play. Those accounted for at least 60 yards and two touchdowns last year against the Hoosiers. (Take 60 yards from the passing total and see what happens…)
When Ohio State has tried to run that play this year, it’s rarely worked because the Buckeyes’ blocking on the edge has been subpar.
Since I think we can all agree you or I can complete that “pass” as well as either of the quarterbacks, this really doesn’t reflect on the QBs at all.
Of course, the Buckeyes have found other ways to move the ball this year, one of the most effective being Ezekiel Elliott on counters, but in both cases, someone other than the quarterback did basically all of the work.
The difference is in one case he gets equal credit on the stat sheet and in the other he doesn’t.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of great things Barrett can do, but it’s important to keep in mind if you’re going to rely heavily on his statistics to argue he is a better option than Jones. Lots of things go into those stats.
(As an aside, I bet Braxton Miller would have loved that pass being part of his arsenal, but they didn’t have anyone to toss it to…)
Also worth noting, of course, is that Barrett ran for 78 yards last season while Jones ran for negative-20 this year. But if the Buckeyes ran for more yards as a team and more yards per carry this time around (they did), that kind of neuters that stat, doesn’t it?
All that said, there is no getting around Jones’ issues with turnovers. He does give off a different vibe as far as being in control, but I don’t think the latter has much real impact on the game. I also get the impression those miscues are more on him this year than the ones that occurred in the postseason, but then again this year is still a fairly small sample size so I can’t yet draw major conclusions from them. Certainly it’s something to watch going forward.
But then again, he turned it over one less time Saturday than Barrett did against Indiana last season, too,
And then there is one other inconvenient truth for those who continue to fail to understand why Meyer is sticking with Jones: Barrett played poorly when he got an extended look earlier this season. And the offense as a whole did not execute better, either. There was no discernable difference between what the other 10 guys on the field were doing no matter who was getting the snaps against Northern Illinois or Hawaii for that matter.
If that doesn’t work against the idea a quarterback change is what Ohio State needs to get back to last year’s offensive production, I guess nothing can. So we might as well not bother talking about it anymore unless Jones' play declines, which is of course possible.
The bottom line is Meyer seems to feel he’s got a starter, and it’s fair to assume he sees enough potential in that guy to give him a chance to grow into the position — and grow the offense around him.
Rather than react in disbelief that he could come to that conclusion, maybe it’s time to figure out how he could and realize it actually makes a ton of sense.
What we can expect to learn this week: If the Buckeyes can continue to improve and cut down on mistakes.
I got the impression from Meyer’s Monday press conference the Ohio State offense, for all its issues in the first month of the season, is in a much better place than it was a couple of weeks ago.
That’s because against Hawaii and Northern Illinois, nothing in particular was working consistently.
After taking a look at the Indiana film, Meyer had good things to say about his offensive line and the blocking of his receivers, two areas Ohio State was lacking earlier in the season.
If those things are in place, the Buckeyes can not only run the ball effectively but create big plays doing it, especially with a talent like Elliott who can break tackles and outrun angles when he gets into the secondary.
If they aren’t in place, much more pressure goes onto the passing game, which then becomes more likely to have to rely on executing in more difficult and higher-pressure situations. So there is a snowball effect.
That said, the offensive braintrust might want a do-over after trying to attack Indiana in some questionable ways compared to the defensive looks it was getting early, so another week together in the meeting rooms could be a benefit for game planning as well.