If you’ve listened to anything Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has said regarding his quarterbacks since the Buckeyes’ first game of the season at Virginia Tech, Wednesday’s decision to stick with Cardale Jones as the starter over J.T. Barrett should not have come as a surprise.
From the moment Meyer addressed the media following Ohio State’s 42-24 win against the Hokies, he has been consistent with his approach to the situation: Jones is the starter; Barrett is the backup.
“Cardale finished the season as the starter and I kind of started thinking for him to not take the first snap, he had to get beat out,” Meyer said after that win at Virginia Tech. “He wasn’t beat out.”
The “[Jones] needs to be beat out” phrase is one Meyer keeps uttering, even after Jones struggled in performances against Hawai’i and Northern Illinois. Barrett came on in relief in each of those games — he played against Virginia Tech, too, but when the outcome was already decided — but did not exactly set the world on fire. He had his opportunities to beat Jones out, but did not perform particularly well.
Now, it’s fair to say Barrett may be a little off because he’s not getting many reps in practice now that the season has actually started and the Buckeyes are no longer in camp. Meyer said Monday that Jones had been getting the overwhelming majority of the reps in practice. “He’s a high-volume guy right now,” Meyer said.
“Just like any position, if someone replaces you, they gotta beat you out. That’s the approach we’re taking.”– Urban Meyer
But Barrett had his opportunity to beat out Jones in fall camp when both guys were working with the first team and rotating every day, according to coaches and players. He apparently did not do that. The decision was “really close,” according to Meyer, but it remained clear in Meyer’s mind that Barrett had not done enough to beat out Jones.
So, as a result, Jones earned the right to start the season-opener against the Hokies and has started each of the last two weeks, too.
But after Barrett replaced Jones because of a poor performance in Ohio State’s narrow 20-13 win over Northern Illinois last Saturday and Jones did not return to the game — he came back and played almost the entire second half against Hawai’i after being replaced in the first half — many people began to wonder if Meyer just needed to choose one guy and if Jones had been officially replaced by Barrett even though Barrett didn’t play particularly well either.
After the game, Meyer said, “I don’t know that right now, I haven’t had time to think about it,” when he was asked if he knew who his starting quarterback was. But on Monday when he was pressed again with the issue of picking just one player to go with, Meyer said, “Let’s be clear: I did go with one guy. The guy didn’t perform well, so we went with the backup. There is no set thing saying that we’re a two-quarterback system, we’re not. The backup’s a very good player, whomever that may be, so we are going with the guy.”
The guy had clearly been Jones, but at that point, Meyer hadn’t tipped his hand as to whether or not a change was coming. But if you looked at how each guy performed and at the number of times Meyer said Jones needed to be beat out in order to lose the job, it became relatively clear there wasn’t going to be a change made.
Through the first three games, Jones was 26-for-46 passing for 334 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He also has run for 115 yards an additional score. Barrett, meanwhile, is 20-for-35 through the air with two touchdowns and one interception. Nothing about that screams Barrett beat out Jones with his play in the games and that seems to be the point Meyer continues to drive home with this whole situation.
“I did have a very clear starter, the guy that starts. In the first three games, we have had one,” Meyer said Tuesday. “The first game worked out very good, the second game not so good and the third game was not good at all. We did have a very clear starter and we’re going to have a very clear starter again this week.”
So if you’ve been paying attention to Meyer, it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise when he said Wednesday that Jones would start again. Sure, he’s struggled the last two weeks in the games, but so has Barrett. Nothing we’ve seen in games has suggested Jones has been beat out by Barrett.
“Just like any position, if someone replaces you, they gotta beat you out,” Meyer said Wednesday. “That’s the approach we’re taking and gotta get both ready to go. I’ve heard, I get asked questions, ‘Is that a process?’ Someone has to beat someone out. Until that happens, you don’t anoint people.”
Meyer really wanted things to play out like they did in that game against Virginia Tech. That game was the blueprint for how he planned to use his quarterbacks. Things of course don't always go according to plan, though.
Neither quarterback has been consistent over the last two weeks, but Meyer has in how he's handled the situation. Jones is his starting quarterback, and he's sticking to it.