So this Ohio State quarterback thing is not a simple issue.
If it were me, I would have continued playing both, but I also can't definitively say Urban Meyer is making the wrong decision at this point. Again: at this point. Maybe not now, but definitely not a moment sooner.
There are multiple ways to explain how things reached this point, but it brings up a few issues.
The bottom line for me is if you want to argue one guy is just better than the other, you're probably wrong. Jones and Barrett are both good players capable of great things, but they are both fallible, too.
If it's a matter of only one guy fits what the remade coaching staff knows how to do, that's possible. That opens up some other questions, but it could also be correct.
I think it's more likely they know how to use Jones but haven't hit on the right formula as they've gotten to know each other. Even new guys in the room have to be aware of what worked last year.
But if it's a matter of just not having the right personnel, that could be a major problem. That would seem to mean this team is not and won't become as good as last year offensively regardless of who is catching the snaps. And that should feel like a cold glass of water in the face of those who have been calling for Barrett since Jones' first incompletion hit the ground.
And then having the right personnel this week vs. having it in a month are two very different scenarios, so a move now should only be made if no changes (read: improvements outside of the quarterback room) are expected.
How did this happen?
Either way, it kind of feels like Meyer making the move now is pulling the pin from the grenade. What remains to be seen is which side blows up.
Urban Meyer was never specfically changing the offense to fit Cardale Jones, but the notion he was seemed to upset some people. If anything too many of the tweaks that made it effective when he was the starter last year disappeared.
What the Buckeyes were doing in the postseason may have been about as perfect a marriage of zone-read and pro-style concepts as you will see at any level.
Jones utilized the whole field passing, hitting deep balls but more importantly being able to stand in and deliver strikes on third and long. But beyond that the running game was practically unstoppable even though there was less of a quarterback run threat than at any other time in Meyer’s time at Ohio State.
They utilized Jones as a short-yardage runner and mixed in a handful of zone and power reads, but they also found other ways to influence the defense and get the fronts blocked that have been either absent or less prevalent this year.
Why that is the case is not easy to pin down.
Of course they have two new faces on the offensive staff, but it’s not as if they have to invent something new. It’s already been done.
The personnel is different, but with the exception of the right tackle in pass protection we’ve seen them all at least occasionally pull off pretty good impressions of the guys they are replacing. There have been receivers open down the field, and the tight ends have gradually come on as blockers. Obviously Ezekiel Elliott is still Ezekiel Elliott.
Is it a matter of consistency with some of the new guys, or is it just a lack of trust from the coaching staff? And if it’s the latter, is that warranted?
Of course Jones has not been perfect, but he’s gotten better as the year has gone on (Sorry but three off-target passes on a 60-percent throwing night didn't ruin it entirely for me) so making a change at this point and despite him not necessarily getting a chance to really show what he can do because of the above issues is somewhat curious.
Maybe they just need Barrett’s presence to pull everything together, but that seems like a lot to ask.
The more likely scenario, instead of every unit firing like it was in the postseason last year, is things will fall back on the quarterback’s shoulders heavily at the first sign of trouble, and whether that is a good thing or not remains to be seen.
As Meyer has said, the option part of the offense has been secondary since he got to Columbus. That's because he didn't really need it with a quarterback like Braxton Miller, a running back like Carlos Hyde and an offensive line like he had the first two years, but they also lacked all the pieces until last season.
Last year there was a bit more zone read and inverted veer (a.k.a. power read), but most of the important runs you probably remember Barrett making were not off those plays. There was a fake option/counter play that went for big yardage against Minnesota, but most of his key runs against Michigan State were called runs out of an empty backfield or counters with Ezekiel Elliott lead blocking. They were still designed runs, as was the case with Miller and later even with Jones.
The offense took off last season as Elliott and the offensive line improved and the option became less and less necessary as well thanks to the addition of players who can stretch the field horizontally, another long-time key for Meyer's offense.
It was at its best in the regular season when Barrett was also hitting passes all over the field, and it bogged down when he wasn't -- pretty much just like this season under Jones.
Except the horizontal stretches haven't worked as well because of edge blocking issues (that may be clearing up) and questions about wide receiver blocking made bubble screens (another constraint play) dicey propositions (again, they showed some signs there against Maryland but where were they against Penn State?). And the offensive line hasn't played as well, and the blocking schemes haven't been as quickly or readily adapted to the style of defense they've seen.
On top of all that, they have been hesitant to go to the QB run well with Jones even though he was an effective (if less dangerous) runner in the postseason last season and at Virginia Tech.
Why is that the case? The only guess I could offer is they want him to stay healthy, but then going back to a quarterback who absolutely has to run to be effective wouldn't make much sense.
Ultimately playing Cardale Jones this year was a noble endeavor even if it didn't work.
A lot of people jumped off the bandwagon way too early, but now is not a bad time to switch gears -- if Meyer has concluded that the original course he set can't be salvaged. Since they still haven’t tried to implement it as well as would have been expected, I think he might be acting hastily, but only time will tell.
Some surely think this is a no-brainer, but just like Barrett was not playing well enough to justify giving him the job a month ago when Jones was struggling, it's sort of interesting that you could make the case Jones hasn't exactly been playing poorly enough the last three or four games to justify benching him, either.
That's why I would've kept playing both of them unless I got an indication from either of them that they couldn't handle sharing the duties long term. Obviously that's not something anybody outside of the coaching staff is going to be privy to.
I have few doubts that Barrett will lead a productive offense the next couple of games based on who they're going to face and how the offense has played for most of the past four games.
If their biggest sin so far has been failing to dominate, then one big quarter against Penn State may be fools' gold. Because a couple of zone reads working in the past two games when the defense may or may not have been prepared for it doesn't necessarily mean anything for the rest of the season.
How dominant they are in games against teams that know they can make their season with a scarlet and gray pelt for their wall could hardly mean less in the grand scheme of things.
From day one this season has been about defending the national championship, and that can't be done until December. Starting Jones (or perhaps playing both) was the best path toward accomplishing that because it leads to the most likely maxing out of the available talent, but along the way being perfect seemed to trump even winning as the goal or bottom line expectation for many fans and some of the media (national more so than local).
That kind of poisoned the well for Jones, at least on the outside, and he seemed to show he was carrying that weight at times.
It seems as though a lot of people have been worried about looking the part more than getting the job done even though that certain level of perfection was never achieved last year anyway, particularly during the regular season. Of course they never reached that level last year because it's impossible, but there was a stretch of games against mostly horrible competition that they just about looked it. And that seems to have colored the perception of the entire season, which is a shame for Jones and could end up preventing this team from reaching its full potential if the resulting pressure hurt his performance. It might ultimately mean Barrett faces unfair expectations, too, but we'll see.
The reality is Barrett, like anybody else, had ups and downs last year. And so did the entire offense. But with few seeming to remember that, it wasn't hard to see that Jones was walking into a no-win situation this year. It will be interesting to see if every mistake Barrett makes from here on out gets magnified to the point that Jones' were so far this season. Most of them seem to have been ignored to this point or the calls for him would not have been so loud or certainly started so early.
I knew it was going to be a long year when more than a few people were actually disappointed with how Jones played at Virginia Tech, which was absurd. It continued after calls for Barrett continued despite a completely ineffective half against Northern Illinois and of course after Jones turned in essentially the same -- if not a little better -- passing performance against Indiana that Barrett produced last year (minus a couple of Jalin Marshall jet sweeps).
So maybe it does make sense Jones got benched after posting a better passing line against Penn State than Barrett did a year earlier and one week after what Meyer described as maybe the best throwing day of Jones' career. It's just been that kind of year.
But the coach wasn't wrong to point out Barrett's impressive productivity in the last two weeks. He did finally do something to justify the calls for him to be the guy that previously were based almost entirely on (somewhat inaccurate) perceptions.
As I've said many times, they are both good players, and Ohio State can win a lot with both of them.
We probably won't know the full ramifications of this move until the Buckeyes go to Michigan for the the season finale. If not then, the playoff will be another proving ground should the Buckeyes get there.
Michigan State took a step back defensively last season and has done so again this year, so Michigan figures to be a much stiffer test for the OSU offense (while the reverse is true regarding the Spartans, whose offense will be a challenge to stop).
Lesser Wolverine defenses have given Ohio State problems in two of Meyer's three seasons in Columbus. The exception was in 2013 when the game was close because of OSU defensive breakdowns and the Ohio State offensive line simply dominated a weak UM front.
Will the Buckeyes miss Jones' powerful arm in Ann Arbor? Only time will tell.
Being able to run the option is nice, but it's no magic bullet.
There's a reason the zone read was developed and the spread came to prominence at places where there was a talent deficiency, so it would be more than a little ironic if Meyer feels that strategy is the only path to victory he's got left in 2015. And if it’s not the only way they can win, this would be a short-sighted move.
No matter who is at quarterback, Ohio State needs to be able to attack the intermediate and deep parts of the secondary when the time comes. The Buckeyes did that at times with both quarterbacks last year, but if they haven't been able to this year with Jones, it's hard to say with any certainty they will be able to with anyone else.
Pro-style offenses are harder to execute, but they’re also harder to stop if executed. Like with anything else, there can be diminishing returns, but sometimes it is worth the investment in the long run.
If the Buckeyes have to go to a predominance of designed quarterback runs with Barrett, that almost feels like a shortcut and since we have seen Meyer’s offense bog down against tougher competition when it was quarterback-run-centric but excel last season in the postseason when it was more “pro-style”…. well it’s not hard to conclude why they didn’t just start the year with the running quarterback and built around him.
But things change -- sometimes for the better and sometimes for worse.