Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker declined to answer when asked if quarterback J.T. Barrett was one of the players who addressed the team about being smart and staying out of trouble before the Buckeyes’ off weekend.
Decker was, however, willing to speak on the team’s view of the quarterback after Barrett was charged with a misdemeanor for operating a vehicle under the influence in the early morning hours Oct. 31 and subsequently suspended by head coach Urban Meyer for Ohio State’s game against Minnesota.
“I was (mad) when I heard that he did that, but I’ve had so many repeated experiences of his high character and him doing the right thing and being a good person, being a great leader,” Decker said of Barrett. “I’m going to move on from it. I’m not OK with what he did, but I’m going to move on from it. I’m going to forgive him, and I think the way he’s handled it so far and the way he handles it moving on will be really telling because (younger players) don’t maybe have as much experience with J.T. But I think everybody’s heard him as that voice in the locker room. I think guys still respect him. They understand that he made a mistake.”
Barrett, 20, was pulled over by Columbus police at an OVI checkpoint north of Ohio State’s campus and was cooperative. His blood-alcohol content registered at a 0.099, more than the legal limit of 0.08 for those older than 21 and well above the limit of .02 for drivers under 21. His arraignment hearing with Franklin County Courts was originally scheduled for Nov. 6 but has been moved to Nov. 10.
The sophomore was released to fellow quarterback Cardale Jones. It is Barrett’s first alcohol-related offense, and thus his suspension was not mandatory but was implemented at Meyer’s discretion. The coach also suspended Barrett’s discretionary summer aid, a penalty he will have a chance to earn back, the coach said.
Meyer said he received a text with the information about Barrett’s arrest at around 6 a.m. on Oct. 31 and began confirming the information and dealing with the consequences. That included a personal apology from Barrett that day.
“He came over to my house – and I love J.T., I’m not ashamed to say that,” Meyer said. “He’s like a child. He’s like one of my favorite guys I’ve ever got to coach. J.T.’s going to have to deal with something that he’s never had to deal with.
“When they say you’re too short, you don’t run fast enough, your arm strength isn’t good enough, you’re just an average quarterback, you can deal with that. When they start attacking who you are, especially people who don’t know who you are, and I told him, that’s the toughest thing he’ll ever have to deal with is that now there’s some question as to who you are.”
With Barrett suspended, Jones will start for the eighth time this season when the Golden Gophers come to Columbus, putting his 10-0 record as a starter on the line.
It’s not often that a team can replace a suspended player with one who started and won a national championship, but Ohio State has that luxury. The Buckeyes are familiar with Jones, and the junior knows what it takes to step in when he wasn’t expected to start.
“It’s a combination of things,” offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said of how the team can be successful with Jones. “Like what does Minnesota do on defense? What can Cardale do at a high level, which is a lot of things, and then what can the rest of the team do as well, and then combine all those thoughts together and put together a nice package, where we can win a football game.
“So it is nice to know, though, that he has played and has those experiences, and I think he will be ready to go and play at a high level.”
Braxton The Backup
With Jones starting and Barrett suspended, the backup quarterback role has fallen to a player with two Big Ten Most Valuable Player Awards to his name. Meyer confirmed Nov. 2 that Braxton Miller was the team’s second-team quarterback this week.
Miller has been splitting time between taking second-team reps at quarterback while still a starter at H.
“There’s a lot going on,” Meyer said of the senior’s week in practice. “He worked with (quarterbacks coach) Tim Beck for a while and then he goes over to H a little bit, just a busy week. The good thing is he is very natural at that position.
“I hate to think someday I’m not going to be able to coach him. He’s had an incredible week of practice. He just shows up and goes about his business.”
How exactly Miller will be used at quarterback remains to be seen. Meyer and others hinted he might be more than just a backup, and the quarterback-turned-receiver has taken direct snaps multiple times this season but has not attempted a true pass (he is credited with one pass completion this season, but that was a shovel pass on an end around).
When players spoke to the media Nov. 4, they were silent about what Miller’s role has been in practice and if he would be used as the red-zone quarterback as Barrett was before he took over starting responsibilities. Players would not comment on Miller’s throwing ability.
“He’s gotten back there and taken some snaps and ran the ball a little bit,” right guard Pat Elflein said. “It might be a bigger role this week for him.
“(Jones) and Braxton will both be back there so I feel like they are both dangerous weapons and we’ll score points with both.”
Gopher DBs Pose Challenge
How Meyer deploys the quarterbacks at his disposal will certainly be dependent on what the Gophers do defensively, and the coach has an idea of what that will be.
Minnesota’s strength on defense is in the secondary where Meyer said there is a pair of future NFL players in cornerbacks Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray. The Golden Gophers – who will be coached by interim coach Tracy Claeys after head coach Jerry Kill resigned due to health reasons – frequently put both of their corners in man coverage and load the box to stop the run.
“They put those guys out there on an island, and they are very good players,” Meyer said. “I would anticipate that with (Ezekiel Elliott) we would see some of that and it will depend on if we hurt them whether they will stay in it or not. That’s going to be a big part of this game.”
If the Gophers put eight in the box to stop Elliott, that would give receivers such as Michael Thomas, Curtis Samuel, Miller and Jalin Marshall opportunities to beat man coverage and allow Jones to try his deep ball against Minnesota.
It won’t be anything the offense hasn’t already seen this season, but the Gophers may be one of the teams best equipped to execute that strategy.
“I think that teams have to have the corners to do that,” Elflein said. “Virginia Tech did that to us last year and this year. But this year going into it we knew that’s what their game plan was going to be and we handled that well, and we’ve got to have a game plan for this defense as well. We’ve just got to go out there and execute our game plan, and guys are going to step up and make plays and we’ll be just fine.”
• The Buckeyes received a boost to their secondary depth this week as sophomore cornerback Damon Webb returned to practice after being suspended by the athletic department. Meyer said that Webb is working his way back into the rotation and made it clear that the suspension was not his decision and not a result of violating team rules.
• Ohio State debuted at No. 3 in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season released Nov. 3, which was 13 spots higher than the Buckeyes’ spot in the first rankings last year. Meyer said he didn’t even address the rankings with his team.
“We’re not focused on that right now,” linebacker Darron Lee said. “We’re focused on winning championships in November, and that’s looking forward to the Big Ten championship at the end of this month. We’re not looking ahead or anything. We’re going to take it week by week and see where it gets us.”
• While the open week gave Ohio State a chance to get healthy, there are still some players out for the game against Minnesota. Defensive tackle Tommy Schutt is back to running after having surgery to repair a broken bone in his wrist but will not play. Receiver Dontre Wilson had a procedure done on his foot during the off week and is questionable while Parris Campbell is likely a week away from playing, Meyer said. Receiver Johnnie Dixon has a knee injury and is out for “a couple more weeks,” the head coach said. Safety Erick Smith is out for the season after knee surgery.