Ohio St.-Rutgers Preview
(AP) - The starting quarterback job at Ohio State is J.T. Barrett's now. Though maybe FOR now is more appropriate.
The never-ending story of this college football season entered a new chapter Tuesday. Coach Urban Meyer announced that Barrett would replace Cardale Jones as the starter when No. 1 Ohio State plays at Rutgers on Saturday night.
This was no unexpected plot twist. The move seemed inevitable after Barrett accounted for four touchdowns in relief of Jones against Penn State last week.
Conceivably, Barrett could take the job and run with it and the quarterback questions will end in Columbus. But as Meyer said after the 38-10 victory against the Nittany Lions: Whatever it takes to win.
''Cardale is going to be a very active part, too,'' Meyer said Tuesday during the Big Ten coaches' conference call. ''Hopefully, we'll keep him very much involved. So, it was a difficult decision. But red-zone production and third-down production were the two areas that made the difference. (Barrett) earned that with the way he played Saturday.''
Barrett helped the Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) break out of a red-zone funk, guiding the offense from inside the 20 into the end zone six times in six trips two weeks ago against Maryland. The trend continued against Penn State. Barrett ran for two touchdowns and threw two more in six red-zone trips for the Buckeyes. The other resulted in a field goal.
Ohio State is 81st in the nation in converting third downs into first downs at 37.5 percent. The Buckeyes are 72nd in converting red-zone trips into touchdowns at 60.7 percent (17 for 28), and most of those TDs have come with Barrett on the field.
The way the Ohio State offense is built, Barrett seems the better fit. He is a nifty runner and quick decision-maker in the zone-read option. He ran for 102 yards on 11 carries against Penn State, neutralizing a good pass rush that was giving Jones problems.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Jones has one of the strongest arms in college football, but the Buckeyes have not been able to use it to exploit defenses down the field. Last season, when Jones took over in the postseason, field-stretching receiver Devin Smith became a force. These Buckeyes don't have that kind of vertical threat.
''I have two great guys that I have a tremendous amount of respect for. I'm just trying to do the right thing,'' Meyer said.
Jones has seven touchdowns passes against five interceptions and ranks 48th in the nation with a passer rating of 141.23. He threw for just 84 yards against Penn State and was replaced by Barrett for good after two series in the third quarter.
A two-quarterback system, like the one Meyer used to win a national title at Florida in 2006 with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow, seemed to be emerging. Though not an exact comparison, at this point it seems reasonable to expect anything from Meyer. If Barrett struggles or Jones is a better matchup in a particular spot, Meyer seems more than willing to switch things up again.
There have been no signs that this game of quarterback roulette is causing problems. Tackle Taylor Decker said as much before Meyer made his decision public.
''It's not creating a divide in the locker room, which would be a downfall if that were to happen,'' he said.
It's possible the QB discussion could go on hiatus this week with the Scarlet Knights (3-3, 1-2) on tap. Rutgers, though, has won two of three and been competitive in each, with a 31-24 home loss to then-No. 4 Michigan State on Oct. 10 perhaps the most impressive.
Last week's 55-52 win at Indiana, however, was the most thrilling. The Scarlet Knights overcame a 25-point deficit by converting three fourth-quarter turnovers into touchdowns and won on a 26-yard field goal from Kyle Federico as time expired.
''We're relentless, we'll never give up and we have a lot of fight in this team,'' quarterback Chris Laviano said.
Laviano was 28 of 42 for a career-high 386 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Leonte Carroo caught seven passes for a career-high 157 yards and three scores before leaving in the second half with an injured right foot or leg.
Robert Martin ran 17 times for a career-best 124 yards and a career-high three TDs.
''It's adjustments, it's guys making plays,'' coach Kyle Flood said. ''I think it's just a matter of continuing to compete and it's not easy to do. It takes tough-minded people, and I think we have that.''
The Buckeyes hammered the Scarlet Knights 56-17 at home last Oct. 18 in the teams' first meeting. Barrett passed for 261 yards, three TDs and no interceptions while running for 107 and two scores on seven attempts.