Two days after the Ohio State quarterback situation once again became college football’s biggest story, Urban Meyer said he didn’t know whether it would Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett starting at quarterback for the Buckeyes on Saturday.
The Ohio State head football coach has dealt with this dilemma for months, supposed to make a decision on which of the two highly qualified guys would be the team’s signal-caller back before the season started. But through three games — all Buckeye wins, by the way — both Jones and Barrett have played, neither has played particularly well and the quarterback controversy still exists.
When asked during his Monday press conference who would be the starter against Western Michigan, Meyer simply said “I don’t know.”
The latest hyper-focus on the position comes after Ohio State’s offense played atrociously in a 20-13 win over Northern Illinois this past weekend. The Buckeyes, expected to be an offensive juggernaut that dumped truckloads of points on each and every opponent, struggled to do much of anything offensively against the Huskies, needing a defensive touchdown to get a victory over the MAC foe.
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Ohio State turned the ball over a total of five times, and it was a pair of early interceptions that forced Meyer to pull Jones. Barrett took over from there, not faring much better and throwing an interception of his own in the second half. But for the second straight week, neither quarterback played very well. Jones has two touchdowns and three interceptions in three games, while Barrett has two touchdowns and one interception.
Meyer reported that Jones continues to receive the majority of the reps in practice with the No. 1 offense but that that fact doesn’t necessarily elevate him above Barrett and that neither guy has beaten out the other.
“I haven't decided yet, we're going to have conversations,” Meyer said. “Today, not one is beating out the other, and they're not playing great.”
The continued hypothesis from outside observers is that Meyer’s refusal to pick an outright No. 1 guy and his insistence that the job is up for grabs on a weekly basis has actually weakened what was supposed to be the most dominant quarterbacking unit in the country. Meyer continues to say both players will play. Is the constant fear of being removed from the game — as Jones was on Saturday in quick fashion — a contributing factor to the poor play at the position?
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Meyer responded to that theory thusly:
“I think because of all the intrigue (around the Ohio State quarterback situation), that you'll hear someone say, ‘How can you play quarterback with someone looking over your shoulder?’ And my comment to that person was, ‘Well, no one's complaining, but how do you not?’ If you think you're going to play at the next level, there is going to be probably one better than you stand right next to you, so get used to it. You are going to look. That doesn't mean you get hooked. If you have a bad day, you get replaced. That might not be everyone's philosophy and that's OK.
“So once again, if that's an excuse, which I call it an excuse of how can you perform with someone looking over your shoulder, NFL quarterbacks do. I've never had one not. We've always had a backup quarterback. It just happens the backup quarterback here, whoever it may be, is really good.”
The offensive performance Saturday provided warranted alarm in many fans and observers, but there’s also plenty of reason to think we could be looking back on this moment and laughing later this season. After all, the track records of both Barrett and Jones — what they showed last season — and the impressive surrounding talent, such as Ezekiel Elliott, Braxton Miller, Michael Thomas and a terrific offensive line (which is also struggling at present) gives confidence that this is still the team favored during the preseason to repeat as national champion.
But surely this is a moment of intrigue, to borrow a word Meyer used, because the recent performances of two guys believed to be two of the nation’s top quarterbacks have been downright shocking.