“I feel the same pressure as everyone here to get very good in the pass game,” said an irked Urban Meyer to the media, following Ohio State’s embarrassing 31-16 loss at the hands of Oklahoma in The Horseshoe Saturday night. “It wasn’t good tonight. We’ve got to get the damn thing fixed.”
If Meyer’s comments don’t sound familiar, then you probably haven’t been following this program closely for the past two years. Meyer promised that he would fix the passing game at the end of the 2015 season, when the team’s prehistoric-looking attack derailed what was likely the most talented team in the country that year. Twelve months later, Meyer found himself making the same promises, following a humbling beatdown at the hands of Clemson in the College Football Playoffs.
At this point, Meyer sounds like a broken record. Perhaps it’s time for the head coach to turn to a different conductor, in search for a different tune.
College football fans are a notoriously prickly lot, and there is likely not a fanbase that better resembles a cartoonish, pitchforks-and-torches mob than Buckeye Nation following a loss. We call for coaches to be fired when we understand less about football than they could ever forget. We spit vitriol at a quarterback who will graduate as one of the most decorated athletes in the program’s history. Dare I say, we can be spoiled.
With that in mind, J.T. Barrett deserves better than this. He’s been a divisive figure among Buckeye Nation for some time now; we debated his merits in comparison to Cardale Jones in 2015, and we debated his responsibility for the offense’s lack of cohesion a season ago. Over time his detractors have seemingly grown in volume, if not in sheer numbers. Even Corey Smith, a former teammate of Barrett’s, was calling for a quarterback change Saturday night.
To Barrett’s credit, many of his former teammates alternatively flocked to his defense. Jones himself defended the man that he once battled with for the starting quarterback job, as Buckeye fans collectively destroyed Barrett on Twitter Saturday night.
Win or lose, JT has done more than any player in OSU HISTORY. Best QB to ever play for the Bucks, so let's not forget & start point fingers— Cardale Jones (@Cardale7_) September 10, 2017
J.T. Barrett is many things. He’s the only three-time captain in the history of the football program. He’s a fifth-year senior, a celebrated leader, and is 3-0 against rival Michigan. But he’s not the best quarterback to ever play for the Scarlet and Gray, far from it, if we’re being honest. And as Barrett continues to look disastrous as a quarterback against teams with comparative talent, it’s become increasingly apparent that he might not be the right quarterback to lead Ohio State to a championship.
Championship or bust might seem like an unrealistic notion, but this is what’s expected out of elite teams and programs. Much like the Cleveland Cavaliers are evaluated on the scale of “Does this move make them closer to beating the Golden State Warriors?”, Ohio State is evaluated by whether or not it’s competing at a national level. It’s the silent contract you agree to as an elite high school prospect when you sign with Urban Meyer and Ohio State.
It’s one thing to lose to Oklahoma at home or to Clemson in the College Football Playoffs. It’s another thing entirely to look like you simply don’t belong. For that reason, Ohio State deserves better than J.T. Barrett.
Supporters of Barrett will counter by placing at least a share of the blame at the hands of an offensive line that has struggled in pass protection for much of the past two seasons, and a receiving group that has been pedestrian on its best days. Meyer himself loves to say that the quarterback is simply the product of those around him. But at what point does the quarterback need to be held accountable for his inability to elevate everyone else’s play?
How can the offensive line reasonably thwart oncoming pass rushers, when defenses pack the box without any regard for a downfield passing threat? Are the receivers failing to find separation in the secondary, or are the coaches so hamstrung by Barrett’s inability to push the ball downfield that the pass catchers are only enabled to run a portion of the route tree?
It's been a rough start to the year for Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett.. really struggling on any throws beyond 15 yards pic.twitter.com/I7laZxeHXc— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) September 10, 2017
Through two games, Barrett is a paltry 3-for-20 on throws beyond 15 yards. Many hoped that new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson would usher in a dynamic passing attack, and restore Barrett to his efficient 2014 form; Wilson has unleashed some of the nation’s most potent offenses as a coordinator and head coach for more than two decades. Yet thus far, the heralded play caller’s system has largely resembled that of his maligned predecessors Ed Warinner and Tim Beck.
A core tenant of Meyer’s program is competitiveness; players are driven to fight for their jobs in every game and practice, or risk being passed up by a younger player on a roster dripping with former four and five-star recruits. Meyer has rotated coordinators, receivers and offensive linemen throughout the past two seasons, as he’s searched for a remedy for his failing passing game. At some point, the man throwing the football needs to be held accountable too.
The Buckeyes have been derailed by embarrassingly bad quarterback play in each of their last four losses, and Barrett is the lone constant in all of those games. On Monday, Meyer stated that the player who gives the team the best chance to win will play, regardless of position. It’s become abundantly clear that Barrett is not the answer against championship-caliber competition. Whether or not Meyer takes action in light of this reality will likely determine the tone of Ohio State’s 2017 campaign.
If a change isn’t made, Meyer will likely be singing a familiar tune about the need for a more potent passing attack yet again next season.