Northern Illinois entered the Horseshoe Saturday as 31.5-point underdogs, but came within a possession of upending the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer was none too pleased with his team’s careless and occasionally lackadaisical effort in the 20-13 win.
“We have good players, good coaches and good scheme,” Meyer told reporters. “We expect much, much higher execution on offense.”
The Buckeyes turned the ball over five times, the most in Meyer’s four-year tenure at the helm in Columbus. In fact, only two teams — Charlotte and Texas-San Antonio — have had more turnovers in a single game this season.
After throwing two first-half interceptions and completing just four passes, junior Cardale Jones, the incumbent starter this season, was benched Saturday. Sophomore J.T. Barrett — who set two Big Ten Conference records and 17 school records as a freshman, while winning 11 of his 12 games as a starter before going down for the season with a fractured right ankle — captained the offense in the second half, throwing a touchdown and an interception of his own. Even though Jones has started in all three games this season, Barrett has seen playing time in each.
When questioned about the quarterback situation and whether or not a one-quarterback approach was being cogitated, Meyer hinted that a pick could be imminent.
“There might be some truth to that,” Meyer said. “Not that I’m going to call some armchair [analysts] and ask them what they think.”
Consider me smitten with the opportunity to convince the coach of the reigning national champions to go with the younger of the two options. Jones was remarkable in last year’s national title game, but Barrett should lead the Buckeyes the rest of the season. Here’s why.
He’s more accurate with the ball
Saturday marked the second game this season in which Jones threw an interception. Last season, he was cautious in the pocket — just one of his 92 passing attempts was picked off. Barrett threw 10 interceptions, but also attempted 222 more passes, was involved in 321 more plays, threw 27 more touchdown passes (34 total, the most in a single season in school history), and produced the third-most single-season passing yards (2,834) in the history of the program.
Despite having an above-average passing acumen in his sophomore campaign, Jones also accounted for five fumbles, three of which the team lost. He has a fumble this season and three more turnovers than Barrett; again, he’s seen considerably more time on the field.
Barrett has yet to fumble and only has 35 passing attempts this season, so his numbers are considerably less impressive in terms of touchdowns and passing yards. However, Barrett has demonstrated that he can pace the offense — he did so against Hawaii and Northern Illinois — and manage an offense without forcing opportunities. It also takes him 15.5 percent less time to get rid of the ball compared to Jones, per Pro Football Focus.
If Meyer wants accuracy, Barrett’s the better option: Even with him throwing 222 more passes last season, Barrett completed 64.6 percent of his passes (Jones completed 60.9 percent), the best completion percentage of all Big Ten quarterbacks who attempted at least 200 passes and the second-best single-season completion percentage in school history. Last year, Barrett produced the most efficient season any Ohio State quarterback has ever logged. However, he has completed a lower percentage of his passes this season (57.1 percent) — Jones also has completed a lower percentage of his passes this season (55.5 percent).
The turnover battle, as with most programs, has been a vital point of emphasis for Meyer at Ohio State. Since 2012, Meyer’s first year with the team, Ohio State is 18-2 when they have less than two giveaways, meaning two of the program’s three losses under Meyer came when the team wasn’t careful with the ball. Barrett is the safer pick here.
He’s a more adept runner and brings more to the team’s offense
It’s easy to misconstrue Ohio State’s rushing attack last season as being the Ezekiel Elliott highlight reel, which it was at times, particularly in the national title game, but Barrett nearly eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing and averaged 78.2 yards per game on the ground in addition to his passing figures.
He rushed for 938 yards on 171 carries (5.5 yards per rush), scoring 11 touchdowns on the ground, including an 86-yard touchdown run — the longest of the season for Ohio State and the third-longest in program history.
On the road, his numbers improved: Barrett averaged 6.2 yards per rush in away games or games played at neutral sites (4.92 yards per rush at home), picking up 94.2 yards per game (66.71 yards per game at home).
Jones is a threatening player in the open field: He ran for 296 yards on 72 carries (4.1 yards per rush, 29.6 yards per game), scoring a lone touchdown on the ground last season. His numbers, though, were considerably worse on the road or at neutral sites — environments where you’d expect the crowd to diminish offensive production. He averaged less than three yards per carry on the ground (8.21 yards per rush at home) and just 28 yards per game (31 yards per game at home).
This season, Jones has improved his rush average — 115 yards on 21 attempts, 5.48 yards per carry — but remains a far cry from Barrett’s otherworldly averages on the ground: 65 yards on five carries, 13 yards per carry.
In terms of all-purpose yardage, Jones never racked up more than 50 all-purpose yards last season — he has eclipsed the threshold once this year — while Barrett produced better than 70 all-purpose yards against Cincinnati, Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan. He holds five of the 10 spots on Ohio State’s all-time leaderboard for single-game individual offense; Jones isn’t on the leaderboard.
What Barrett lacks in Ronda Rousey enthusiasm and social media savvy, he more than makes up for in other areas, namely on-field production. His play last season propelled the team to its first national title since 2002; he should be the man to lead them to another in 2015. Ohio State has plenty of work to do, but they can start by naming Barrett the starter.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.