COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Ohio State quarterback battle is over -- again.
At least for now.
The door remains cracked open for Urban Meyer if needs another option off the bench, but after a couple days of deliberation with the depth chart seemingly in flux, the Buckeyes coach is sticking with Cardale Jones over J.T. Barrett to lead the nation’s No. 1 team.
“Cardale is going to start,” Meyer said. “It’s like any position, if someone is going to replace you, they’ve got to beat you out. That’s the approach we’re taking, and they’re both ready to go.”
Jones certainly wasn’t at his best last weekend against Northern Illinois and spent more time on the bench than he did taking snaps, but Barrett was hardly any better in relief. That helped keep Jones as the top choice for Ohio State heading into Saturday’s final non-conference tuneup against Western Michigan, but far more has gone into that decision than just one game or half. And Meyer’s latest announcement brings into even clearer focus how he has handled the competition between the two, what he’s looking for moving forward and what he might be able to do to help Jones as the Buckeyes attempt to defend the national title.
Dating back to the moment the confetti was falling on Jones during his storybook run in the College Football Playoff, here are the most important takeaways from the most scrutinized position battle in the country.
1. Jones was always in the lead: There were three key moments that Meyer pointed to in summing up the race between Jones and Barrett, and the edge was clear on all three dates.
Jones was the starter when the title was won. He was the first-team option coming out of spring practice. And while there wasn’t anything Barrett could do about those first two crucial times while he was recovering from a fractured ankle, Jones also had the advantage coming out of a month of training-camp practices when both were healthy and sharing snaps with the first-team offense.
The message from Meyer could hardly be any more clear.
“To replace him, the other guy has got to pass him up, either out there or in games and that hasn’t happened,” Meyer said. “Until it happens, you don’t anoint people. You don’t [go], 'Let’s give that guy a shot.' I don’t want to hear that.”
2. The pro-style shift favors Jones: On numerous occasions over the last couple weeks, Meyer has gone out of his way to stress that Ohio State is now aiming for a more pro-style attack out of his familiar spread formation. He’s even gone as far as proclaiming that the zone-read rushing scheme isn’t really a part of the game plan anymore.
And if the Buckeyes are serious about that transition, there’s nobody with more pro-style traits at quarterback available than the 6-foot-5, 250-pound, rocket-armed Jones. For all of Barrett’s strengths as a nimble rusher and accurate distributor of the football, he can’t stretch the field like Jones and also doesn’t have the ability to just shrug off potential sacks in the pocket like the big man did against Virginia Tech.
And it’s often overlooked, but Jones is much more mobile than he typically gets credit for, continuing to give the Buckeyes the option of a multipurpose weapon at the position with legs that have already produced a long run of 24 yards and a touchdown so far this season.
3. There’s still no controversy in the locker room: If their teammates actually favor one guy over the other, they’ve done a remarkable job keeping it a secret. The praise for and belief in both guys has eliminated any sort of potential rift in the locker room, and there’s no doubt the friendship between Jones and Barrett surely plays a large part in that.
Neither guy has publicly campaigned for the job. Both have made clear they fully support the other in whatever role Meyer believes is best for the team. And while their leadership styles may be polar opposites with Barrett elected a captain and Jones typically more of the practical jokester, the Buckeyes aren’t short on confidence in either because both are proven winners.
4. Look elsewhere for early-season issues: An inconsistent half against Hawaii and a low-scoring win over Northern Illinois certainly didn’t meet Meyer’s high standards for his offense. But the quarterbacks might rank pretty low among the people to blame for the issues over the last couple weeks.
The Buckeyes desperately miss Devin Smith as a deep threat for the passing game. The perimeter blocking of tight end Jeff Heuerman and wide receiver Evan Spencer has not yet been replaced. A season-ending injury to Noah Brown robbed the Buckeyes of one potential solution to both problems, and that’s impacting not just Jones and Barrett but also running back Ezekiel Elliott.
The offensive line has struggled with “odd” fronts with three down linemen, uncharacteristically failing to provide time to throw or open holes on the ground. And even the coaches are not immune, with Meyer indicating the way the revamped offensive staff is dialing up plays is “not as smooth” as it was last year with Tom Herman calling the shots.
Settling on a quarterback might bring some stability, but there are plenty of other places in need of improvement before Big Ten play opens.
But at least for the time being, Ohio State has once again made its decision clear at the most important position on the field.