On Monday, Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer appeared at his weekly press conference to offer reflection on the Buckeyes’ 28-14 win over Minnesota on Saturday and the quarterback position, as well as peer ahead to his team’s forthcoming game against Illinois.
Here are three notes from Meyer’s time at the podium.
The quarterback spot
As many expected, Meyer quickly addressed the issues at quarterback. His explanation was simple.
“(J.T. Barrett will) be the starter unless he does not have a good week of practice or something,” Meyer said.
The redshirt sophomore was suspended for Saturday’s game against Minnesota after being cited for operating a motor vehicle while impaired. Redshirt junior Cardale Jones filled in and played decently, throwing for 187 yards and a score while rushing for 65 more yards and the game-clinching touchdown.
Meyer didn’t discount Jones’ performance though, praising the Cleveland native for his efforts while emphasizing that through all the criticism, he still is 11-0 as a starter in scarlet and gray.
But like always, the coach said determining a quarterback is a difficult thing.
“It’s never an easy call because one guy had his 11th win, 250 all-purpose yards,” Meyer said. “(Jones) made some good plays for us and is invested in our program. It’s never easy.”
Even with Jones’ contributions, Meyer said the almost-sure move back to Barrett is the proper decision for OSU.
“I think it’s the right thing at this time,” he said.
After a stifling effort that held Minnesota to just 33 rushing yards, six players alongside the OSU defensive line received champion grades.
Redshirt senior Joel Hale and redshirt sophomore Michael Hill, who are tasked with filling in for the injured Tommy Schutt at defensive tackle, received champion efforts. Neither player recorded a tackle, but they put pressure on the interior of Minnesota’s offensive line all night.
Junior Joey Bosa graded out after registering three tackles, one of which was for a six-yard loss, and two quarterback hurries. Meyer said Bosa is as disruptive as any player he has been around.
Opposite Bosa at defensive end, redshirt sophomore Tyquan Lewis had himself a day against the Golden Gophers, prompting a champion grade.
The Tarboro, North Carolina, native had four tackles in OSU’s first four defensive series. Lewis finished the game with seven overall tackles and did a nice job setting an edge all game long.
Redshirt freshman Sam Hubbard concluded the champion grades for the defensive line after picking up three tackles and a sack.
Redshirt junior safety Vonn Bell was co-defensive player of the game along with redshirt sophomore Darron Lee. Bell had 10 tackles and arguably the game’s biggest play with his 16-yard interception return for a touchdown for the game’s first points.
Lee was all over the field on Saturday, accounting for five tackles and two quarterback hurries.
Offensively, it wasn’t the most electric performance from the Buckeyes, but seven players still received champion grades, including three pass catchers.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Michael Thomas had four catches for 39 yards and a touchdown, while redshirt sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall caught two passes for 56 yards, including a 44-yarder that set up OSU’s trip to the red zone.
“(Marshall and Thomas) are playing a very high level for us and blocking and making plays,” Meyer said.
Tight end Nick Vannett caught his first pass since the Indiana game on Oct. 3. The redshirt senior had two grabs for 12 yards, while also continuing with his strong blocking efforts.
Left guard Billy Price also picked up a champion grade. The redshirt sophomore has been solid all season long in both pass protection and run blocking.
Offensive players of the game were junior running back Ezekiel Elliott and redshirt junior right guard Pat Elflein. Elliott was able to extend his streak of games with over 100 yards rushing to 14 after running for 121 yards and a touchdown through the holes that Elflein opened up.
Beyond the play of Price and Elflein, Meyer said the offensive line is as consistent as any offensive line he has coached in Columbus.
‘Best in America’
Meyer had high praise for Marshall throughout his press conference.
The third-year sophomore was instrumental in setting up the Buckeyes’ first offensive touchdown after corralling a 44-yard deep pass from Jones before being brought down at the Minnesota 15-yard line.
Marshall doesn’t just contribute in the passing game though. The Middletown, Ohio, native has been a major contributor on punt returns and in perimeter blocking.
Meyer has long stressed this season that without elite perimeter blocking, Elliott cannot be nearly as effective in the run game. Marshall has engaged in key blocks all season long, including a crucial one on Elliott’s 15-yard touchdown on Saturday.
“He’s blocking, he’s our best blocker,” Meyer said. “He’s obviously a very aggressive punt returner that’s worked very hard on that. He’s one of the best punt returners in America right now.”
With injuries piling up in the receiving corps, it’s clear that OSU has found a bright spot in Marshall.
“He’s one of our best players right now. He’s one of our best practice players,” Meyer said. “He’s a leader for us. He’s doing a lot of unselfish things that most people don’t see.”