What’s next for Ohio State at quarterback?
Ohio State’s head coach and offensive coordinator sounded a lot less certain anything was going to change about their quarterback situation than one might expect from how things played out Saturday night at Ohio Stadium.
Cardale Jones started again, and J.T. Barrett played a lot again.
Those were about the only similarities to earlier weeks, though. Well, other than the Buckeyes won again.
This time it was 38-10 over Penn State, but as has been the case all year, that felt secondary to the ongoing discussion about who should be The Man taking the snaps the rest of the season.
Even though Barrett had his best game of the year and Jones was largely ineffective, the idea of it continuing to be The Men rather than one or the other was definitely not ruled out by coaches Urban Meyer or Ed Warinner.
"You’re facing a defense that — like I said, they started blitzing our tails off," head coach Meyer said. "And they’re very good players. That’s one of the best defenses in the country. And statistically, the personnel, they are.
"So we had to have some neutralizers and equalizers, had some misfires in the throw game, and we started really blocking them, really blocking them. I thought Ed Warinner did a really nice job developing that run game.
"But J.T. managed it very well."
Jones completed 9 of 15 passes for 84 yards without an interception or a touchdown.
His stat line was a bit deceiving, however, as most of his incompletions were misfired passes intended for open receivers.
Jones also looked bothered at times by a ferocious Penn State pass rush — statistically among the nation’s best entering the night — and a conservative coverage scheme limited his ability to unleash his powerful arm on downfield throws.
Barrett, who first played as the red zone quarterback for a second consecutive week but eventually took the reins full time in the second half, proved to be just what the doctor ordered against the Nittany Lions, who befuddled him for much of last season’s matchup but had no answer for him this time around.
Barrett ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns on only 11 carries. His ability to run the zone read opened up plays for both him and running back Ezekiel Elliott, who ran for 153 yards on 27 carries.
"I just think our whole team, we kind of got a feel for what they were doing," Warinner, Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, said when asked why the offense was more effective when Barrett took over. "We had a good series of plays that we liked and we started to get some rhythm and then J.T made a few plays when he was in there and that kind of sparked things. We knew what we needed to call when he went in. It was just a good little timing of rhythm there, and he got us going with some big plays."
Barrett was also 4-for-4 passing for 30 yards and two touchdowns.
The dearth of passes for Barrett could be a hint of what the coaching staff was thinking in using him in favor of letting Jones try to throw his way out of his funk while the team held a double-digit lead.
Whether it was because they simply found attacking the Nittany Lions run defense to be a smarter play or were being conservative, four passes in a half are not many, especially for a player who threw 314 in 12 games last season en route to being named the top quarterback in the Big Ten.
After Meyer said he would evaluate the game film and give an answer about the quarterbacks on Monday, Warinner fielded more than a dozen questions about the same topic.
The first two might have been enough to see where they are going, though.
"We’ll let this game settle overnight, sleep on it, and then we’ll make some assessments," Warinner said. "I don’t anticipate any changes, but we’ll see how it goes."
"It’s too early to make any decisions right now," Warinner replied when asked why he felt that way. "That’s the head coach’s decision, first of all. Second of all, we’ll have a consult about it. But there’s a reason we had Cardale starting, and we just have to assess where we’re at right now."
Warinner agreed Barrett provided a spark for the Ohio State offense but questioned whether or not the quarterback change was the only factor in the Buckeyes’ strong finish.
"I don’t want to downplay the offensive line and the tight ends, how they blocked, and Ezekiel Elliott’s running ability and our defense," the coach said. "There were a lot of good things going on."
As for what’s next?
"We’re going to do whatever we have to win on that particular day and then we assess where we go moving forward tomorrow," Warinner said. "I’m going to enjoy our 20th straight win, being 7-0 and see where we go."