J.T. Barrett fired one last quick warmup pass to Braxton Miller before kickoff, turned and gave Urban Meyer a bump of the fist and headed to the bench to grab a headset.
Sure, the cool, calm and collected Texan who became the first sophomore captain ever in Ohio State's illustrious football history prior to the 2015 season always exhibits a confident air about him. On this day, though, it seemed a little bit different. He seemed to have more of a purpose in his step, in a similar way his fellow quarterback teammate and best friend Cardale Jones does.
"I'm into good people that are committed to our program," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said after the Buckeyes downed Maryland, 49-28, Saturday at Ohio Stadium. "To see a smile on those guys' face and see they worked hard, and it's a unique situation."
Meyer's called the great debate at Ohio State's quarterback position "unique" all summer, but as the calendar's bled into fall, it was Jones who won the starting job for the nation's No. 1 team.
Jones was up and down throughout the first month of the season. Barrett got his share of the snaps, too, but struggled at times as well as Ohio State tried to figure out what it was going to do with two worthy athletes at the most important position on the field.
Saturday might have provided an answer. Meyer inserted Barrett when his team was at or near the red zone in a hope of providing the boost the offense needed to finish off drives and put touchdowns — not field goals — on the board.
"We've been having some red zone issues and the (quarterback) run everything condenses so much in there," Meyer said. "Either you have to be extremely accurate, which we're going to work at that ... (Barrett) provided an obvious spark for us in there."
The Buckeyes finished 6-for-6 on red zone chances against the Terrapins Saturday. Barrett only threw it twice (both completions) for 26 yards, instead being more of a threat with his legs: Three of his 12 carries went for touchdowns and he tallied 62 rushing yards.
"It was great. It was all within the coach's plan to win and he felt like J.T. brought an extra element to the game down in the red zone and things we want to do in the run game," Jones said. "And he proves to be right, once again."
“The attention to this thing, I'm exhausted from it. I don't read my phone very often, so I can imagine what those two young guys — they stay pretty focused, and they've got a support group that's really, really strong, and that's down in the locker room.”– Urban Meyer on the Ohio State QB quandary
Meyer was right, at least on this day against a team that's struggled to stop people all season long and whose coach — Randy Edsall — likely won't have a job come next week.
"The attention to this thing, I'm exhausted from it," Meyer said of the constant speculation swirling in Columbus at the quarterback position. "I don't read my phone very often, so I can imagine what those two young guys — they stay pretty focused, and they've got a support group that's really, really strong, and that's down in the locker room."
Loads of players in the locker room enjoyed solid days on the field Saturday against Maryland, particularly on offense. The Buckeyes racked up 499 total yards and 31 first downs, averaging 6.5 yards per play and did not commit a turnover.
Jones played perhaps his best game as a Buckeye, at least statistically. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound mountain of a man threw for 291 yards and a pair of touchdowns, completing 21-of-28 passes along the way. Running back Ezekiel Elliott eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground for the 11th consecutive game and Braxton Miller tallied 90 yards on eight touches, snagging a touchdown pass from Jones.
"We just both have a mindset and not just me and (Barrett), but everybody I believe on our team. We just want to win," Jones said. "We want to do whatever it takes to win. Sacrifice some playing time or swallow some ego at times. That's no problem with us."
As Ohio State slogged through some pedestrian offensive performances in September, Jones was sent to the bench in favor of Barrett for turning the ball over and the unit as a whole stalling.
Ohio State kept winning, Jones kept starting, but the questions kept coming. Only Saturday was different — this time, Barrett's red zone package was not meant to be a demotion for Jones: Just another thing to help Ohio State win.
"I'm pretty sure that we did some things and he saw some things in our offense when each quarterback was in that (Meyer) wants to build on," Jones said. "So it becomes a two-quarterback system, and not a system of putting certain players in certain areas of the field. If it helps us win, I'm down."
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Added Elliott, who also scored two touchdowns to go with his 106 yards: "I think the red zone package they put in for J.T. was perfect and I think they complimented each other perfectly. They both were able to get in a rhythm and I think it worked out really well for us."
It did, which will shift the talk in Columbus to something else, like if such a system will work against a better team come November when the Buckeyes are in position to earn a trip to Indianapolis and the Big Ten Championship Game.
"We have a nice set of little plays that are built kind of for Braxton and J.T. I know J.T. can obviously throw it well, too," Meyer said. "So we're going to keep tinkering with that thing."
Ohio State's defense struggled to keep Terrapin quarterback Perry Hills in the pocket, as he ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns to keep the game interesting into the third quarter. Maryland was hapless against Ohio State's offense all afternoon, with both Barrett and Jones playing significant minutes. Both were ready, and both performed.
A reporter wondered after the game if Barrett was the answer in the red zone, then why isn't he the answer all the time at quarterback? Ohio State's head coach just smiled and exhaled.
"We just won, man. I'm going to go enjoy a nice Gatorade tonight," Meyer said. "That's a good question, and J.T. is — they're both very good quarterbacks. They both played well. I'm going to hug them both and say great job, well done. Let's go to work tomorrow and find a way to get better."