COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Freed at last from the drama and debate about his quarterbacks, Urban Meyer was finally able to dive into some details about how the position should be played instead of who should play it.
Maybe the Ohio State coach wasn’t exactly relieved to still be talking about his passers since he wasted no time picking at an issue less than an hour after closing out the nonconference schedule with an easy victory. But given that there is a ready-made answer to the new question posed for the most scrutinized job in the country, Meyer certainly had a reason to look a bit more relaxed behind the podium after cruising past Western Michigan on Saturday.
If the biggest problem Meyer could come up with for his offense was it missed on too many deep shots, that seems like a pretty easy fix for the top-ranked Buckeyes. Obviously it’s a bit of an unexpected problem to have with the rocket-armed Cardale Jones on hand, but this week there will be no doubt about the solution and no reason for anybody to second-guess that Ohio State will get it right.
“Offensively, it's close,” Meyer said. “The alarming part is the underthrown deep ball, which is fixable. It's not fixable when you don't have wideouts that can stretch a field -- but we do.
“It's hard to see exactly what goes on on the field, but I know at least three or four underthrown touchdowns or potential big hits. We have to get those fixed.”
There is perhaps nobody better equipped to make that correction than a man whose arm is nicknamed after a shotgun. And it was his ability to both stretch the field and drop in perfectly delivered deep balls that helped set him apart in the heated competition with J.T. Barrett during training camp in the first place.
A number of potential explanations for the undercooked passes, one of which was intercepted, were floated in the aftermath of a performance that otherwise solidified his claim to the spot thanks to more than 300 yards of offense and a pair of touchdown passes. Maybe Jones was just taking a bit too much off his throws against Western Michigan. The redshirt junior might have still been working out his timing with a reworked cast of wide receivers. Perhaps he was a bit surprised to even have targets streaking open after Jones indicated the Buckeyes had prepared for different defensive looks with a game plan that didn’t call for that many vertical shots.
No matter what it was, the Buckeyes are confident Jones won’t miss on those chances that often again. And as far as quarterback quandaries go, this one clearly beats the one they were dealing with for the last seven weeks.
“Of course, that’s on me,” Jones said. “You just have to go back and watch, every underthrown ball, the receiver had the guy beat by so many yards. Those are easy layups, and when Coach Meyer pulled me over on the sideline, he was saying that’s our strength, that’s what helped us get to this point. I’ve got to complete them.
“I could have put up a couple more touchdowns, and the simple fact is it’s my fault for underthrowing a couple balls. ... Pretty sure I can get back in the film room, get back on the practice field and get it fixed.”
Jones alone can’t solve it, just like he wasn’t the only player causing the offensive struggles that had touched off the debate about Meyer’s handling of the quarterbacks again last week leading up to the last tuneup before Big Ten play opens Saturday against Indiana.
But the offensive line started opening up holes again for the rushing attack and afforded Jones more protection in the pocket. With Jalin Marshall, Curtis Samuel and maybe even Braxton Miller emerging as deep threats at wide receiver, the arsenal at his disposal is expanding for Jones. And the continued threat of Ezekiel Elliott on the ground should only make life tougher for defensive coordinators who will have to choose between loading the box to stop the star running back and leaving defensive backs to guard against the deep shot from Jones or playing straight up and hoping Elliott doesn't run wild.
Basically, even with a couple pass attempts that left something to be desired for Meyer, the Buckeyes are starting to look like themselves again on offense.
“[Deep balls] have kind of a staple of our offense throughout these last three or four years ... and they were underthrown [Saturday] because the wideouts were behind them,” Meyer said. “But the one thing that we do is, if we find out we're not good at something, we practice the heck out of it.t“So, we're going to practice the heck out of it.”
Even better for the Buckeyes, with Jones established as their guy before heading back to work, now all they have to do is unleash his arm.