So the Ohio State quarterback question has been settled.
Cardale Jones, superhero of the Buckeyes’ 2014 national title run, is out. And J.T. Barrett—one-time Heisman Trophy candidate and, more recently, second-stringer on his own team—is back in.
It’s a change that, in truth, is long overdue. But it’s finally done, and I can’t help think that as a result we’re going about to see the Buckeyes play the way we have been expecting them to play since way back in Week 1.
When the still-No. 1 but still-not-quite-right Buckeyes travel to Rutgers this week to take on the Scarlet Knights, few will be expecting anything but an easy Buckeye victory. Given the state of the Rutgers program at the moment—and given the ridiculous talent gap between these two programs—it’s all but assured that Urban Meyer’s bunch will return home with their eighth win of the season, with their undefeated record in tact, and with No. 1 ranking safe in hand.
The question, of course, is how the Buckeyes will look in their almost assured dismantling of Kyle Flood’s (for now, at least) 3-3 Knights. Because thus far in 2015, they simply haven’t looked like Ohio State—or at the very least, havn’t looked like the same Buckeye squad that was so incredibly impressive down the stretch in 2014.
Meyer’s team has struggled at times on offense, and has suffered a surprising number of defensive lapses, too: Indiana carved up the Buckeye defense for long stretches of their near-upset in Bloomington, and last week, that same Buckeye defense had no answers for Penn State freshman tailback Saquon Barkley, who went for nearly 200 yards on the night.
Especially in contrast to the 2014 national championship team, these Buckeyes have played tentatively. They haven’t taken the field with confidence. They haven’t once gone out there and turned in a performance that makes you think, “Yep, that’s the best team in the country.”
But one has to wonder if their second-half surge last week—a surge that coincided with J.T. Barrett finally taking over at quarterback—may ultimately prove to be the turning point in the Buckeye season. If it is, Rutgers could truly find itself in a world of hurt on Saturday night in Piscataway.
Barrett is, simply put, a difference maker for Ohio State—perhaps the most important difference maker on a team stacked with them. He’s not the most talented quarterback the Buckeyes have—Braxton Miller is a better all-around athlete and Cardale Jones is clearly the better pro prospect—but he’s without question the team’s best pure leader at the position. When he’s in the game, the Buckeye offense simply works better. That’s not just because of the run-pass threat he poses to opposing defenses, but also because of the steadiness, calmness and confidence that he brings to the field.
This guy has been through battles before and come out on top. He’s flustered by nothing. He’s the guy who makes the Buckeye offense work. The only guy.
No, the Buckeyes haven’t quite looked right so far this season. We can all agree on that.
But after a couple months of confusion at quarterback, they’ve got their guy back under center.
And yeah, that will make all the difference.