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Okay, it’s time to talk about J.T. Barrett

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But if we’re going to do it, let’s make sure we have all the facts.

Ohio State v Indiana Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Okay. I read all your tweets. It’s clear we need to talk about J.T. Barrett.

But, if we’re going to do that, I think it’s important that we work with all the facts. So let’s go ahead and get this one out in front, out of the way.

J.T. Barrett is not a bad quarterback. J.T. Barrett does not suck

The frustration is palpable and not undeserved, but let’s not practice revisionist history here.

Barrett finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting in the 2014 season. He won the Chicago Tribune Silver Football in 2016. He’s a two-time Big Ten Quarterback of the Year (2014 and 2016). Hell, he was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week just LAST WEEK.

The Ohio State career touchdown record? J.T. Barrett holds that. Ohio State career passing touchdowns? That’d be J.T. Barrett. Ohio State career leader in total offense? Most touchdowns in a season? Most touchdowns in a game? Barrett holds all of those records.

By every statistical measure, and hell, team success measure, J.T. Barrett is indisputably one of the very best Ohio State quarterbacks of all time—if not one of the best Big Ten quarterbacks of all time. Players who suck do not achieve such distinctions. You want to see an Ohio State quarterback that sucked? Go watch some tape of Joe Bauserman or Steve Bellisari. They sucked. J.T. Barrett does not.

Okay, are we clear on that? Good. Then we can talk about the other stuff.

J.T. Barrett clearly has some flaws

Barrett is very good at a few specific things. He’s the only three-time captain in Ohio State football history, so his leadership skills and standing with his peers is clearly beyond dispute. That’s very important in a quarterback.

Barrett, while not blessed with the raw speed or elusiveness of say, Braxton Miller or Terrelle Pryor, is an effective option in the QB run game. He makes good decisions with the read option. He has great awareness on the field, is strong enough to be a short yardage option, and is tough. He also typically makes good decisions with the football, throwing three times as many touchdown passes as interceptions.

You can run a very good, effective college football offense with that kind of quarterback. In fact, Ohio State has, for much of the Barrett era. With a powerful interior run game, playmakers outside and efficient decision-making, the Buckeyes can kill you with a million papercuts, knowing that their talent advantage will eventually open one of those papercuts into a nasty, five-alarm gash that bleeds you out.

But Ohio State hasn’t had an effective deep passing attack, and Barrett is part of that problem

Barrett is not a cannon-armed quarterback. He doesn’t zip balls around a million miles an hour and doesn’t have elite deep-ball range. He is also guilty of occasionally holding the ball too long. Dropping back, throwing 43 passes and trying to constantly burn defenses deep is simply not what he’s really good at. And without that option, and with defenses increasingly loading the box, making Ohio State’s shorter throws harder and less efficient, the Buckeye offense has looked worse and worse.

To be fair, this is not all Barrett’s fault. In case we’ve forgotten, a successful pass play requires the following:

  • An offensive line to block long enough for a quarterback to make his reads, then deliver the ball in a mechanically sound fashion
  • A wideout to both achieve separation from a defender, and then successfully complete a catch
  • A quarterback to make the correct decision on where to throw the football, and then accurately deliver the ball.

It’s a team effort. And it’s clear that the failures of Ohio State’s deep passing game are not limited to just Barrett’s delivery of the ball. Wideouts are failing to get open, and even when they do, they’re often not catching the dang ball (deep ball touchdowns were dropped against Indiana and Oklahoma, for example). The offensive line, especially Isaiah Prince, has occasionally struggled in pass protection, preventing pass plays from properly developing. And then yes, occasionally, Barrett has not put the football where it needs to be. These events are also related, and compound on each other. A QB that does not have trust or rhythm with wideouts will be more prone to making mechanical errors in his delivery, for example.

To me, that’s a total offensive failure, and it’s why Ohio State made significant coaching changes on offense. But after two games, those issues have not meaningfully repaired themselves.

So Ohio State needs to ask themselves some very tough questions

Could that include a quarterback change? Meyer was asked that after the Oklahoma game, and he said he hadn’t considered making one. With Joe Burrow injured, any QB change almost certainly means Dwayne Haskins, an uber-recruit, but also a redshirt freshman, one that unquestionably brings other questions and uncertainties to the table.

I can understand the reticence to make a change. Ohio State arguably killed their chances at defending their 2014 title by being indecisive at QB, switching between Barrett and Cardale Jones regularly. If Barrett has the locker room, pulling him could potentially create even more problems.

But if a QB change isn’t possible, then at this point, everything else should be on the menu, because Ohio State has recruited too well, and has too high expectations, for these struggles to continue. If that means the Buckeyes need to change their playbook, or bench certain offensive linemen, or wide receivers, then maybe that’s what they need to do. After the game, Meyer said “I have some ideas that we're going to work on as a staff. I'm not going to share that right now.”

It is probably fair to say that at the very least, no player, not even Barrett, should continue to start out of sheer inertia. If the results no longer justify it any longer, they should cede playing time to others. It’s also fair to say that the person who really is most to blame for these problems is Urban Meyer, the man who recruited the players, hired (and uh, encouraged others to seek other opportunities) the assistant coaches, and has been the constant over years of inconsistent passing attacks. Meyer was pretty pointed earlier this week about the need for coaches to accept accountability, after all.

Maybe Ohio State has a different quarterback later in the season. Maybe they don’t. But it’s pretty clear that what they’re doing now won’t cut it.

A good quarterback with an inconsistent supporting cast and a plan that isn’t in line with their strengths will not lead to good results. Ohio State has a good quarterback, or at least, one that indisputably can be good.

The question is how they can figure out how to make all the pieces fit, and whether they’ll be willing to try different ones if they have to. That isn’t clear right now. And that’s the question that will decide this season.