Ohio State football’s offseason as the first reigning national champions of the College Football Playoff era is nearly over, and two items are of particular note as the final hours tick away: J.T. and the Bear.
Sounds kind of like a Burt Reynolds movie, doesn’t it?
Well that isn’t it. Just a quarterback from Texas and a defense from, well, a lot of places but in this particular case the mountains of western Virginia.
I think we’re going to see both J.T. Barrett and the Bear defense the first time Ohio State takes possession in 2015. In the case of Virginia Tech, there seems to be a belief that is their best chance to win (They are probably correct). As far as Barrett? Only time will tell.
I have no doubts Ohio State can win every game with either J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones at quarterback, but I still think Jones offers the most options (even if he isn’t quite as good at the option, which isn’t as big a deal as some have made it out to be). Perhaps he also offers the biggest risk, in which case there’s no doubt who should be the starter for an offense that is otherwise loaded.
If the Buckeyes can win with either of them, I guess playing the one least likely to mess up makes sense. (And as I’ve already written, I believe playing both can work, especially if Jones is the reliever — maybe football’s answer to Aroldis Chapman coming into the game and throwing fire.)
I thought it was Jones’ job to lose entering training camp, and most indications seem to be he did just that over the past month.
Ohio State has managed to keep practice leaks to a minimum, but it’s not too hard to connect the dots from comments made by Urban Meyer and Jones himself. Meyer told reporters he’d seen one of the quarterbacks developing some separation at one point before the other had a big scrimmage, and Jones talked openly on the Big Ten Network about having to put bad practices behind him at times during camp. Fair or not, this also plays to the stereotypes of Barrett being the consistent captain and Jones the up-and-down performer with fantastic potential.
Meyer’s continued talk about potentially playing both is also a tell, in my opinion, because Barrett wouldn’t bring much off the bench Jones can’t do. And keeping Jones engaged is probably a good idea, especially if his throwing laser beams and bombs for an extra big play here or there is one of the side effects.
If you believe two-QB systems are all destined to fail, this wasn’t the best outcome for Ohio State.
I thought Meyer would go with Jones if performances were even or close to it because he’s got the most talent and offers the most possibilities, but again I don’t begrudge him going with the safer bet if that’s what he saw during camp. Especially since the safest bet happened to have a hand in more touchdowns last season than any Big Ten player ever in one season. And it’s not as if Barrett isn’t talented — he was a four-star recruit for a reason.
That said, Ohio State could use Barrett growing in year two into the consistent performer many seem to have perceived him to be in year one rather than the guy who played exceptionally well against Michigan State and Minnesota (and a litany of lightweights preceding them) but fairly poorly against Penn State and for much of the games against Indiana and Michigan late in the season. (I’ll always give a pass for the Virginia Tech game last year because it was Barrett’s first start and he was let down at times by those around him, too.)
Considering his age, it is reasonable to expect Barrett to progress, but that’s never a sure thing. The same could be said of Jones becoming more consistent after going through what he did last year, but maybe this is just who he is.
We’ll see how it goes.
As for the Bear defense, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster revealed last week he would have used it last year regardless of who was at quarterback for Ohio State last season.
Considering the high risk of loading the box and leaving no free safety to help against the pass or clean up in the running game, that is a major indicator of how Foster felt his personnel matched up with the Buckeyes even when they were breaking in a new offensive line and running back (Here’s a hint: Not well).
I say that because Braxton Miller would have probably broken enough tackles to make them pay for selling out at the line of scrimmage, and he would have thrown it no worse than Barrett did that night. Barrett became a better runner as the season went on, but he wasn’t as adept at finding holes at that time and the OSU coaching staff hadn’t figured out as many ways to use him as a running threat, either, because quite frankly they didn’t seem to think he was as dangerous as he later turned out to be.
Acting out of desperation is never optimal, but rolling the dice and betting on your personnel is admirable if nothing else. And sometimes it even works, as was the case for Virginia Tech last year.
VT should go that route again if that’s what they believe has the best chance for success, and their coaches reading the situation that way is telling as far as what they think of the matchup overall.
We’ll see how much VT’s personnel has grown in a year, but we already have a pretty good idea about Ohio State, which also has a greater strategical arsenal.