The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same for Ohio State football.
Seven games in, OSU’s quarterback situation is right back to where it was before the season, with OSU coach Urban Meyer keeping the world in the dark about whether redshirt junior Cardale Jones or redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett will get the start under center.
On Monday, Meyer said he is close to a decision about who will start OSU’s Week 8 game at Rutgers, but he is holding off on an announcement until talking with the two quarterbacks and the coaching staff.
“I have an idea, but I want to make sure I visit with everybody and make sure we’re doing the right thing,” he said.
Jones won the starting job out of training camp and maintained it for each of OSU’s seven victories — but not for the entirety of the games.
Three times — most recently in OSU’s previous game, a 38-10 victory over Penn State — Jones was pulled from the game for Barrett because of poor play. Additionally, Barrett began seeing a regular increased role in the offense in OSU’s past two contests as Meyer’s red-zone quarterback because of Jones’ struggles in short-field situations.
Still, Meyer said that Barrett did not do enough to win the job throughout the season.
“He certainly had an opportunity earlier in the year and did not do it. Same thing with training camp,” Meyer said.
After taking the reins on Saturday and putting forth his best performance of the season, it remains to be seen if Barrett did enough with his newest opportunity.
Against Penn State, Jones was 9-of-15 for just 84 yards and minus-16 yards running, while Barrett was 4-of-4 for 30 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran 11 times for 102 yards and two more scores. All five touchdowns and the Buckeyes’ field goal came with Barrett on the field.
“I think (Barrett’s offense) ran better in the football game against Penn State,” Meyer said.
Meyer has said that Jones’ or Barrett’s presences under center create very different systems for the OSU offense mainly because of Barrett’s speed. For redshirt sophomore left guard Billy Price, one of the two quarterbacks having the starting job on lockdown is not as important as the offense moving come kickoff.
“For us, it’s more or less the offense has to be efficient,” Price said. “Whoever that person may be, it’s all about efficiency and making sure that we utilize and score in the red zone, don’t turn the ball over. Whoever that person may be, that’s who we want in there.”
For each of OSU’s first three games, Meyer did not reveal who would get the start until Jones took the field on the Buckeyes’ first offensive possession. However, before the Week 4 meeting with Western Michigan, the coach changed his tune and publically named Jones the starter.
That remained the case for OSU’s next three games, but now, after Monday, at least, the Buckeyes’ depth chart is back to square one.
Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said that mystery can make game planning more difficult on Monday.
“I think it’s become very evident you’d better prepare for both of them,” Flood said. “J.T. runs around a little bit more. I know they have brought him in in the red zone. And he’s played a little more as the season’s gone on. But they are certainly both excellent players with a little bit different skill sets. But when they come in the game, you’d better be ready to defend what they do.”
OSU was on the other side of that dilemma in Week 6 against Maryland, as the Terrapins kept it in the dark about if Caleb Rowe, Daxx Garman or Perry Hills would get the start.
The nod was given to the redshirt junior Hills, who went on to punish the Buckeyes to the tune of 303 total yards, including 170 rushing. After that game, OSU defensive end Tyquan Lewis said not knowing who would start made it more difficult to prepare for the contest.
But the opposite has rung true for the Buckeyes this season.
In the three games in which a starting quarterback was not announced beforehand, Jones was 25-of-45 for 333 yards and three interceptions. In the four games as the announced starter, the Cleveland product was 67-of-103 for 908 yards, even with his struggles on Saturday. He threw two interceptions in that span.
Senior left tackle Taylor Decker said on Monday that whether he’s playing well or struggling, or if he is known to be the starter or not, Jones’ confidence does not waver.
“The thing about Cardale is he’s incredibly confident in himself, even when other people are not,” Decker said. “I know there’s a ton of scrutiny from media, fans calling for his head, but he’s confident in what he can do. Obviously he has a ton of ability, we’ve seen that. We saw it last year and we’ve seen flashes of it this year.”
Decker added that Barrett possesses many of the same qualities of stability which enabled him to be ready when his number has been called throughout the season.
“J.T. is J.T. I don’t think anything’s changed,” Decker said. “I think he’s always been the same person since he stepped on campus day one, handled his business all the same, very mature guy. Not a lot of guys come in the program who are like that. He’s just a special type of person.”
Either Barrett or Jones will get the start when the Buckeyes are set to travel to Piscataway, New Jersey, to battle Rutgers. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. from High Point Solutions Stadium.