Just seconds before Ohio State took the field Saturday against Maryland, J.T. Barrett put his helmet on and started throwing some passes on the sideline to a teammate. Directly after that, the Buckeyes’ redshirt sophomore quarterback dapped up head coach Urban Meyer.
Barrett didn’t look like someone who had spent the first five games of the season as Ohio State’s backup signal caller. In fact, he looked like someone who knew he was going to play significant snaps against the Terrapins.
That turned out to be exactly the case, as Barrett trotted out onto the field as soon as the Buckeyes reached Maryland’s 25-yard line in the first quarter. Six plays later, Ohio State found itself in the end zone.
“J.T. is just a very good player,” Meyer said following the 49-28 win over the Terrapins. “He provided an obvious spark for us in there.”
Barrett going in once Ohio State reached the red zone area while Cardale Jones handled the rest of the quarterbacking duties was something Meyer had hinted at earlier in the week. But the fact Meyer actually elected to go with that strategy — and repeatedly, too — was a bit of a surprise.
Yes, Ohio State had struggled in the red zone prior to Saturday’s game against Maryland — scoring touchdowns on just six of its 16 trips (37.5 percent) in the season’s first five games, a number which ranked 121st nationally — but to change quarterbacks mid-drive is a risky move. Meyer has admitted as much.
The gamble paid off against the Terrapins, though. The Buckeyes, largely led by Barrett in the red zone, scored touchdowns on all six trips against Maryland.
“I’m very happy with it,” Meyer said after the victory. “I’m into good kids. I’m into good people that are committed to our program. To see a smile on those guys’ faces and to see they worked hard, and it’s a unique situation.”
Both quarterbacks were effective in their defined roles. Jones finished the game 21-for-28 passing for 291 yards and two touchdowns, while Barrett was used more as a running threat, carrying the ball 12 times for 65 yards and three scores. Barrett also attempted two passes, completing both, for 26 yards.
He provided the team with a clear, much-needed spark in the red zone, although Maryland’s defense isn’t one to write home about.
The decision for the staff wasn’t an easy one, but both coaches and players said it was something Ohio State worked on throughout the week in practice.
“It was just ‘What can we do to improve our red-zone offense? How can we get the ball in? How can we be more effective there?’” offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. “We brainstormed and with Coach Meyer’s past experiences, I’m sure that’s what helped trigger the thought that that’s J.T.’s role, to be the red zone specialist.”
As far as if that’s expected to be Barrett’s role as the season goes forward?
“Sure, until next week,” Meyer joked.
Meyer clearly hadn’t been happy with the way the Buckeyes’ offense had looked in previous weeks with Jones as the primary quarterback and Barrett the backup, so he made a change.
Barrett was not made available to the media following the game, so his thoughts on the situation still remain unknown. But Ohio State’s record-setting quarterback from the 2014 season apparently has a new role.
Whether or not it sticks moving forward remains to be seen.
“I think the red zone package they put in for J.T. was perfect and I think they complimented each other perfectly,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “They both were able to get in a rhythm and I think it worked out really well for us.”