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Cus Words: Time for Buckeyes To Step Up in Competition

After unveiling a new weapon on offense, Ohio State is set to play host to the best team it has played since the season opener. Are the Buckeyes ready?

What we learned last week: Urban Meyer may have found the perfect compromise in the never-ending Ohio State starting quarterback debate. 

Meyer made good on a suggestion J.T. Barrett could be used as the Buckeyes quarterback in the red zone, inserting the sophomore after Cardale Jones finished an 8-yard run (and completed four of his first five passes) the first time the Buckeyes approached the scoring zone against Maryland. 

Although I don’t think Barrett was asked to do much Jones could not have done if they called the same plays, it’s hard to argue with the results of the experiment or deny it looks like a viable long-term strategy. 

It makes sense on paper and in action as the two are alike enough they can both run the full offense but different enough that various aspects of the Meyer attack look much more dangerous depending on who is catching the snaps. 

Should this be a long-term strategy? As with picking a starter in the first place, I look at the situation as needing to be motivated by what is going to make the team the best long term, but to little surprise, the layout of the schedule has been conducive to some workshopping ideas in live settings. 

I still think going with Jones and minimizing quarterback runs makes sense in terms of building the offense for the end of the season is the smartest play because there are going to be throws someone will have to make when the chips are down, and he has proven he can make them. 

There are good fallbacks if that doesn’t work, although I’m not sure if the coaching staff views it that way or not. I suspect they are thinking more about what to do when things work than when they don’t. 

Perhaps the most amusing part about Meyer’s move is that it came as a surprise. 

Lots of people, myself included, spent part of preseason camp wondering if a true two-quarterback system would work, but then (as with many things Meyer throws out there during interviews) it did not happen at the start of the season. 

Then I guess we all forgot all about it. 

While there was some ambiguity about exactly what he was doing with the quarterbacks, Meyer said specifically more than once in the first couple of weeks he was not operating it as a two-quarterback system. 

That method of playing both seemed to have a negative effect on both, but what we saw last Saturday had relatively few bumps along the way to victory, likely because everyone said they were on board before it got implemented. 

What comes next will be fascinating to watch, but if the offensive line, wide receivers and tight ends continue to progress (joining Ezekiel Elliott as a finished product), both quarterbacks should find their jobs easier to execute (unlike when neither were impressive against Hawaii or Northern Illinois). 

Maybe in that case — if using Jones as the starter and Barrett in specialty situations works out — the early season execution problems throughout the unit will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. 

Because while I’ve always believed getting the best out of Jones was the way for Ohio State to reach its ceiling, getting the best of both is even, well, better. 

Whichever one got the start was going to have ups and downs if he got the majority of the snaps and then face criticism as a result. 

Will splitting their duties make it easier for each to shine at what he does well, or will it doom Ohio State on some day neither has it? Only time will tell. 

What we can expect to learn this week: If Ohio State (or Penn State, for that matter) is ready for a step up in competition. 

Penn State has been living in a parallel universe to Ohio State. I wrote last week at how it was interesting to see the different reactions to the first month of the season at Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan. 

Of course it's natural that fans of the Wolverines are head over heels for their team as Jim Harbaugh seems to have managed to both temper expectations and send them through the roof in the span of only about six weeks thanks to an opening game loss and subsequent five-game winning streak. 

Meanwhile it's also not surprising that Ohio State and Michigan State have gotten more criticism than praise for failing to blow teams out the way they did last year even though the schedules for the most part have not been all that challenging. That is something that comes with the territory when you're ranked in the top 10 to start the year. There's not a whole lot to say about it — it is what it is.

But then Penn State is a bit of a curious case. This year did not begin with big expectations nationally, and getting ragdolled by Temple to start the year pretty much assured they would not be in the discussion to be ranked for a while afterward. 

But it does not seem like expectations have changed much at all for the fans or for reporters who follow the Nittany Lions, and that means coach James Franklin keeps being asked why they have not taken off already under his much-hyped coaching staff.

That is not entirely unfair, it also seems a bit incongruous in the grand scheme of things. 

At any rate, Penn State appears to be better than last season up front, where they still have a stud tackle tandem of Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel and are benefiting from addition-by-subtraction at end. 

They are younger in the back seven, but potential appears to be high and the overall results have been good so far. 

Most of the angst is reserved for the offense, where the reaction to the output so far is probably dependent on exactly how good you feel quarterback Christian Hackenberg is or can be and how quickly you expect a very young offensive line to mature. 

Outside of those two issues, Franklin has added more playmakers, so the unit is dangerous when it can keep things together up front and Hackenberg has time to distribute the ball. 

What it all means for their trip to Ohio State remains to be seen. 

After embarrassing the Nittany Lions at Ohio Stadium two years ago, I thought the Buckeyes brought on a fair amount of their problems themselves last year in Beaver Stadium. 

This edition of Penn State football is more talented, but what will the Buckeyes look like (in substance, not the garish uniforms they plan to wear)? 

It's a good test and not a bad way to perhaps start turning the national discussion (that doesn't matter at all until December) back in their favor. 

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