J.T. Barrett's name is always in the mix. This preseason it was whether he would retake the starting role. When the Buckeyes struggled through their first four games, many wondered whether Urban Meyer made the wrong choice. Now that Barrett has tried out a new role as the red-zone QB, he's in the center of this week's conversation once again. Urban Meyer has run two-QB systems in the past with great success, when Tim Tebow and Chris Leak caused havoc in the SEC. This week, watch to see if this system is going to keep sparking the Buckeye offense.
Weight: 225 lbs.
Stats: 23/40, 219 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT; 126 yds rush, 3 TD.
The further we get from last season, the easier it is to forget just how good Barrett was last year. Here's a little taste to help you remember last year's 5th place Heisman vote-getter:
The game situation
Week 5 saw the installation of the true two-QB system, with Cardale Jones handling Buckeye drives until the red zone, when J.T. Barrett stepped in. Urban Meyer hasn't committed to keeping this system permanent, but he does seem to be happy with its performance:
Barrett has the personality and work ethic to handle coming in during red zone plays. Meyer appreciates that he came in and scored three touchdowns and liked seeing the smile on his face after success. "He's always going to lead, that's just the way he is.
Ohio State's struggles in the red zone have been well documented. Just look at the score: Ohio State hadn't cracked 40 points since the opener against Virginia Tech, despite many, many trips inside their opponents 20 yard lines. Maryland is pretty bad, but Ohio State wasn't scoring against less opponents (Western Michigan) with much reliability either.
What to watch for
So many questions: Is the Barrett Scoring Machine (trademark pending) here to stay? Can Barrett stay healthy with all those runs? What will teams do to adjust to Barrett's run-based red zone attack?
So far, there doesn't appear to be a personality problem on the Ohio State bench with switching off QBs. Tyvis Powell told reporters that Cardale Jones has no problems with Barrett stepping in to cap off his drives. Things might be different if Jones was stringing together a Heisman level season, but he hadn't made much of a case for that award through 5 games, and what Barrett's doing isn't really NFL-level technique (unless you're Cam Newton). If Barrett scores 28 touchdowns with Cardale doing most of the work to get the Buckeyes in scoring position, we could have the first-ever joint Heisman, though. Only two-time Heisman winner and only two-winner Heisman has a nice ring to it.
Back to the situation at hand: Penn State's defense is tough, so watch for their adjustments against this new wrinkle in the Ohio State offense Saturday night. Barrett swings the numbers back into Ohio State's favor, precluding defenses from doubling down on Ezekiel Elliott. With Barrett sweeping to the outside, he only needs to beat one defender if his line holds their blocks. But that requires Barrett to pitch the ball at times or execute the zone-read to keep defenders honest. Cardale's lumbering running style is great for picking up short yardage third-downs, but it just doesn't work when the Buckeyes aren't knocking on the goal line. Barrett's also better at running the option, a quicker and shiftier runner than the more powerful, but slower Jones. Barrett's moves work at the end zone because it requires all defenders to commit to just one offensive player, and Barrett has the immediate speed to make his man miss.
Barrett has historically felt like a more accurate short passer than Jones. He also may be able to more quickly survey a short field to find the open receiver, but its hard to quantify that. Especially if Barrett can throw a couple short touchdown passes, defenses will simply be unable to account for all the ways Ohio State can score. That was the promise at the beginning of the season - now we get to see if the two-QB system is the answer we were waiting for.
J.T. Barrett provided a much-needed spark to the offense and was finally able to reliably score for the Buckeyes. With Barrett handling red zone work, opposing defenses now need to plan for Cardale Jones's excellent long-ball (now with pump fake action!), Ezekiel Elliott's incredible burst, and Barrett's shifty and sneak running and throwing style. If this works again Saturday night, we may be on to something here.