Quotebook: Beating Michigan, But Missing J.T. Barrett

By Patrick Maks on November 30, 2014 at 10:05 am

After losing star quarterback J.T. Barrett for the rest of the season, Urban Meyer was notably upbeat after Ohio State powered past Michigan, 42-28, Saturday afternoon in Columbus.

He was loose. He cracked jokes. He smiled. For a turn of events as gutting as they come, there was a certain ease about the head coach, who has guided the sixth-ranked Buckeyes to an 11-1 regular-season finish and back into the thick of the national conversation.

But without Barrett, who’s exceptional season turned the previously unknown redshirt freshman into a star in place of the injured Braxton Miller, familiar clouds — the same ones that hovered in late August — have been cast over Columbus as Ohio State makes it final playoff push.

“We lost a Heisman candidate today,” Meyer said.

Of course, it’s not the first time the Buckeyes have been crippled by such a setback.

They lost Miller — a program staple for the last three seasons — less than a week before the season opener against Navy. Now, they’ve lost Barrett a week before a Big Ten Championship bout with Wisconsin in Indianapolis. It made for an awkward and seemingly somewhat unfulfilling celebration after beating the arch rival Wolverines.

“I was just thinking about that, it’s almost like you’ve got a weird feeling. It’s your senior day, you just beat the team up north, you’re going to the Big Ten Championship Game and you feel like something’s missing,” senior tight end Jeff Heuerman said. “And really something is missing — your starting quarterback that you’ve rallied around all season is done.”

As such, Barrett addressed the team .

“He said it’s not about me, it’s about winning this game,” senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “I think that really hit us a lot because, you see he’s done — he stepped in went Braxton went down, he’s been humble throughout the whole process and then to do whatever he did through that injury to support the team and not be down on himself really shows what character he has.”

Added Heuerman: “He’s probably one of the toughest kids I’ve ever met, the way he handles his business — you can see it in our locker room. He’s tough as nails … I’ve never met someone like him before. It’s a huge loss but we’ve got to keep moving forward and we’re going to prepare as a team and an offense and get ready for next week. “

Without Barrett — who suffered a broken right ankle and is scheduled for surgery Sunday — those plans now involved backup quarterback Cardale Jones, who has yet to prove his worth in meaningful play. Nonetheless, Ohio State’s players and coaches maintained a certain level of trust and confidence in him.

“He’s not ready today,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said, “but he will be Saturday.”

But why?

“Because we’ve got a really good team around him … the quarterback doesn’t have to win games for us, the quarterback has to manage games and distribute the football and lead. We’ve seen that throughout this season. As long as he’s mentally prepared and he’s got a ton of physical tools … I have nothing but the utmost confidence in him because of what we’ve got around him.”

And the Buckeyes say they’ll adjust to Jones’ strengths. Offensive line coach Ed Warinner said:

“We’ll assess what we need to do to move the football. Cardale has a lot of strengths, he’s at Ohio State for a reason. He’s done a lot of good things and we have to play to his strengths and other players on the team have to pick it up. We’re gonna ask more of the O-line, more of the running backs, more of the receivers, and they’ll take that load off. Cardale will do what he needs to do, he’ll be ready.”

Whether or not it’s enough time to be replace what Barrett had come to mean to Ohio State seven days before the biggest game of the season remains in jeopardy.

For now, though, a win indeed against the Wolverines keeps its playoff chances alive and well, but it was not without flaws. The Buckeyes didn’t break the game open until the fourth quarter and a general tepidness on both side of the ball raised eyebrows. Senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett said:

“I think it’s the best rivalry in all of sport and everyone always worries about their record year-in and year-out. It doesn’t matter. They’ve got great recruits, good coaches, great players. They’re a good team when they want to be and they always want to be a good team against us so they’ve got the weapons and I think they played well today. I think we played not as well in some areas as we usually do but, for the most part, it’s a good opponent and every year’s gonna be a battle regardless.”

In particular, Bennett took personal issue with a defense that struggled to slow a Michigan offense that’s among the worst of the worst in college football.

“I just told them we can’t just look back and like oh well, they just threw screens on us and got some lucky plays because they were straight-up beating us, they were driving down the field on us and that’s not OK. So I wanted to bring it to the forefront and eliminate all confusion that we were just getting beat and that we need to go out there and beat our man who’s lined up across from us one-on-one every single play and we’ll win the game.”

After embarking on three drives of at least 75 yards to tie the game at 21 late in the third quarter, Ohio State’s defense buckled down before slamming the door shut on the Wolverines in the fourth quarter.

But against Wisconsin next weekend, there should be little margin for error with Jones behind center. After all, the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes are riding on what happens at Lucas Oil Stadium — the place where they watched their hopes and dreams collapse into a million little pieces last season.

“I still think we’re heading in the right direction,” Heuerman said. “I don’t think any one player really makes a whole team; we have an outstanding defense and like I said, we have a lot of talented guys on this offense that can make up for lost ground with J.T. and we’re just gonna have to turn it up a notch and prepare even harder for this coming week and get Cardale ready and offensively get ready as a whole.”

View 23 Comments