First there were the complaints that Urban Meyer was disrupting the rhythm of his quarterbacks by using both Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett early in the season. Once the Ohio State head coach officially named Jones the starter, it did little to satisfy the fan base as some thought he made the wrong choice.
Against Maryland, Meyer employed a system that saw Jones start the game and pilot the offense for much of the field before Barrett was inserted in or near the red zone. It was effective as the Buckeyes converted all six of their red-zone chances into touchdowns (five by Barrett, one by Jones). That execution was a major improvement for an Ohio State team that entered the contest with Maryland having scored a total of six red-zone touchdowns in the first five games of the season.
Given the success, Meyer plans to stick with the quarterback rotation he used against Maryland, at least for now.
“I think so, but I’m not writing it in Sharpie yet,” Meyer said when asked if Barrett’s role as the red-zone quarterback was permanent. “We’ll see how it goes. I think everyone on our team (wants) to see him and his energy, and he’s a good player. He gives us that extra – Cardale can certainly run, but when you have that threat, you saw it and you have to defend that now.”
As the coach alluded, Barrett was primarily used as a runner when he was put in the game. He attempted just two passes, completing both of them, while rushing 12 times for 62 yards and three touchdowns.
Because Barrett is a “nifty” runner compared to Jones and is better able to execute the read option and quarterback sweep plays, Meyer said, it makes sense to use him when the field gets shorter. The Ohio State offense is about using space to its advantage. Inside the 20-yard line there is only so much vertical space, so a quarterback who can effectively run is able to spread the field horizontally. In bigger parts of the field, Jones’ rocket arm is able to stretch the field vertically.
In addition to the schematic reasons for getting Barrett involved, Meyer acknowledged that it’s important to get his sophomore captain on the field for the Buckeyes.
“Better to have J.T. Barrett going in, and have three touchdowns and see the smile on his face, and the guy that’s worked so hard and has his leadership skills and is able to use them,” Meyer said. “Because he’s always going to lead. That’s just the way he is. I didn’t know this until the middle of the season last year, that’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around.”
Meyer said Jones has handled the rotation well and has grown enough in his time in the program that the junior was part of the conversation that led to using Barrett in this new way.
Tyvis Powell, Ohio State’s starting safety and Jones’ roommate, echoed Meyer’s comments that Jones was comfortable with the way things are going to be handled with the quarterbacks moving forward.
“He is actually doing pretty good with that,” Powell said. “I had a discussion with him about that, and he said that it’s good that J.T. was able to go in in the red zone because J.T. is more of a runner than Cardale is and he is able to open up more things in the red zone. He actually has no problem with doing that at all.”
PSU Boasts Lethal D-Line
Meyer’s second round with the new quarterback rotation will come on a much bigger stage. After topping a 2-4 Maryland team in a noonkickoff, the Buckeyes welcome 5-1 Penn State to Ohio Stadium for the team’s first home night game of the season.
“Due to the fact that they are 5-1, I am pretty sure we are going to get a great team that is going to come in here and try to upset us at home,” Powell said. “That’s what you have to expect. You can’t go in and think it’s going to be a landslide for any team because that’s when you get upset. We’ve got to take the same approach that we’ve been taking every game and try to find a way to come out and get it done.”
Since falling to still-undefeated Temple to open the season, the Nittany Lions have rattled off five straight victories. The winning streak has come largely thanks to a defense that has limited opponents to 11.8 points per game in wins this season.
Specifically, the Penn State defensive line has been dominant. The Nittany Lions lead the nation with 25 sacks so far this season and are sixth with 53 tackles for loss. Both marks lead the Big Ten.
That sets up a marquee matchup in the trenches as the experienced Ohio State offensive line will look to keep both Barrett and Jones clean Saturday night. The Buckeyes have allowed just seven sacks this season, a mark good for 26th nationally and second in the Big Ten.
While the Nittany Lions have been good at bringing down opposing quarterbacks, they’ve struggled to keep Christian Hackenberg upright. The Penn State quarterback has been sacked 19 times this season, though 10 of those came in the team’s loss to the Owls. Hackenberg has struggled to live up to his first-round NFL draft projections, posting a 120.31 passer rating as the 96th-best quarterback in the country in that category.
Still, the Ohio State defense knows that the Penn State quarterback has the arm to make all the throws.
“We know there are going to be some very good throws,” Powell said. “Not to take away from any other quarterback that we’ve faced. We have faced some pretty decent quarterbacks as well, but to know that he’s considered a top pick in the draft, being able to prepare is going to be more competitive for the secondary especially.”
Blacking Out The ’Shoe
Adding to the night game atmosphere against the Nittany Lions will be alternate uniforms for the Buckeyes. Ohio State will don black jerseys for the first time in the program’s history. It was a controversial decision for some fans but one that made sense to the administration.
“You have to recognize that our demographic is changing” athletics director Gene Smith said. “Our world is changing. We have 30,000 students that come to our football games, and then recruiting has changed, our competitors have changed. So there is that balance of respect, our history and tradition, but also moving ourselves further into the 21st century, which kind of the landscape defines that for you, and the uniforms are part of that.”
The uniforms will feature black pants and a black top with scarlet numbering as well as black matte helmets. That look will be accompanied by the university’s attempt to black out Ohio Stadium with all fans encouraged to wear black for the night game.
“I mean, it’s great to finally do something different around here,” Powell said. “At the end of the day, it’s not going to change the way we play the game. I’m indifferent about it.
“People have been asking for these all-black uniforms since I have been here, so it’s finally great to get that request answered. Just go out there, put them on, the stadium is going to be blacked out, a good environment. A good game for us. A big game at home. It’s going to be a good one.”
- Ohio State introduced a new defensive package against Maryland that featured three defensive ends – Joey Bosa, Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis – and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington in obvious passing downs. Bosa slid inside to Washington’s 3-technique spot, and Washington moved to Tommy Schutt’s spot at nose tackle with Hubbard and Lewis at the defensive end spots.
- The Buckeyes continue to deal with injuries. Meyer said that Parris Campbell suffered another setback with his right knee injury originally suffered against Northern Illinois. The redshirt freshman is questionable for the game against Penn State.
- Sophomore safety Erick Smith is also battling injuries and won’t play against Penn State. His injury elevated junior walk-on and Louisville transfer Jarrod Barnes into the two-deep at safety.
- Meyer said that freshman linebacker Jerome Baker will play on special teams against the Nittany Lions, a move made necessary because of injury, and added that freshman receiver K.J. Hill is close.