Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer named Cardale Jones the starting quarterback at his press conference Wednesday night, at least for the time being.
Despite the offense looking “discombobulated” while producing “one of the worst-executed performances since we’ve been here” in last week’s 20-13 win over Northern Illinois, Meyer is sticking with Jones, who has started each game this season. Sophomore J.T. Barrett essentially rewrote the school’s entire record book last season, but will again play second fiddle.
In light of the announcement, the team will continue to struggle offensively, particularly in third-down situations. Ohio State had more turnovers Saturday than they’ve had all season — there were five of them; the most any Meyer-led team has had since Bowling Green State had five giveaways against Western Michigan in 2001.
Under the direction of both Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, the offense failed to produce more than 300 yards, the first time the Buckeyes were held to less than 300 at home in the Meyer era. After averaging 44.8 points per contest last season (fifth-most), the Buckeyes have shaved off more than 10 points from that average and their 33.3 points per game ranks No. 51 this season.
A noticeable regression has been in third-down conversion percentage. Ohio State was 2 for 13 in third down situations Saturday, and the team has failed to convert better than 50 percent of their third downs in each game this season.
Since Meyer came to Ohio State, in 2012, the Buckeyes have converted more than 40 percent of their third downs each season. They’ve converting 33.3 percent in 2015 (No. 89 in the country), which would be the lowest percentage for the program in more than a decade.
In 2014, the Buckeyes converted 6.8 third downs per game; they’re converting 4.3 through three games. While the team is completing 56.6 percent of its passes this season, they’re only completing 38.1 percent of passes on third downs—dropping the team quarterback rating from 116.53 to 53.9. Running has been mitigated, too: Ohio State is averaging 4.11 yards per carry on third downs; they average 5.76 yards per carry on all downs.
Third-down success is proportional to national success, too. Last season, Oregon (50.3 percent, sixth-best in the country) and Ohio State (51.9 percent, third-best in the country) met in the national title game, and each of the four teams to qualify for the College Football Playoff ranked in the top 25 in the metric.
Since 2010, teams that qualified for the national championship game converted on-average 47.6 percent of their third downs; every team converted better than 42 percent throughout the season.
There are more overarching issues that Meyer must deal with, like selecting a starting quarterback. But there’s a reason that the team is having trouble stringing together methodical drives and is putting up fewer points per game: Ohio State can’t convert third downs.
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.