COLUMBUS, Ohio — For J.T. Barrett and Ohio State, this year was supposed to be different.
The offensive line would be better. The receivers have more experience. The Buckeyes added offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day, both with great reputations. But with the exception of one half against Indiana, the Buckeyes haven’t looked much different than they did at the end of last season.
There was a 17-16 win against Michigan State, a double-overtime win against Michigan and the infamous 31-0 shutout in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. And now Ohio State has lost again, looking as lost as it ever has on offense during the Urban Meyer era.
Here was Barrett’s line against the Sooners: 19 of 35 for 183 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. After the game, Meyer didn’t even let the question finish before rejecting the idea of a change at quarterback.
“No,” he said. “No.”
He was speaking less than half an hour after a painful loss, so he never was going to announce anything then. When the dust settles, though, it’s safe to assume Barrett still will be Ohio State’s quarterback. He’s two touchdowns from breaking Drew Brees’ Big Ten record for career touchdowns responsible for. He’s a three-time captain, the only one in program history. Making a move away from that is something you have to be sure about.
But here’s the thing: At this point — and that time is now — it’s something Ohio State has to at least consider. Barrett had two good deep balls dropped in the end zone this season, two would-be completions that might have us thinking a little differently. But he’s also had more throws than he should in which the ball sailed, a bad interception and a tendency to throw too late or miss receivers altogether. And though this isn’t his fault, Ohio State also seems to forget it has running backs when Barrett is on the field, something that didn’t happen with Cardale Jones.
Ohio State is going to win its next four games no matter who is at quarterback. Hell, the Buckeyes might be able to beat Army, UNLV, Rutgers and Maryland without attempting a pass. If Barrett remains the starter, those will be numbers-padding games for him, and the offense probably will look great as it often does against basement dwellers. He’s certain to break Brees’ record. But what’s going to happen when the Buckeyes host Penn State, visit Iowa or travel to Michigan? Will it be any different than it was against Michigan last year, or against Clemson, or on Saturday against the Sooners? Ohio State is not in the business of wasting seasons to be nice, so the Buckeyes at least have to ask themselves if it’s reasonable to expect any sort of improvement.
It’s fair to point out that his would-be replacement, Dwayne Haskins, never has played a college snap. But neither had Barrett, though, when he was forced into duty as a redshirt freshman. And, in bowl practice last season, Haskins drew praise from players and coaches as the future of the program.
“He’s got great feet; he’s got great balance and anticipates well,” then-quarterbacks coach Tim Beck told Land of 10. “There’s always some guys who may have a great arm but not understand coverage. Maybe he understands coverage but, you know, he doesn’t have a strong arm or whatever. Dwayne has all that. When he plays? When he’s got it going? He’s really good. He’s the total package. He has all the things you look for in a great quarterback.”
If this all sounds crazy, consider that Jones won a national championship, never lost a game as a starter and still ended up getting replaced by Barrett midway through the 2015 season. Why? He wasn’t producing, and what he did in the past didn’t matter at that point. Ohio State wasn’t willing to throw away a season to avoid hurt feelings.
The same should hold true here. If Meyer believes Barrett is his best shot to win, he has no choice but to play him. But the time has come to at least consider the alternatives. The sample size of poor performances is growing, and the margin for error is shrinking.