Last season, quarterback Cardale Jones helped the Ohio State Buckeyes win one of the most unlikely national titles in college football history. Unlikely because he was the third quarterback to play under center for the Buckeyes that season. First there was Braxton Miller, who went down with an injury. J.T. Barrett stepped in and helped OSU climb the AP and College Football Playoff rankings. And then he was injured, opening the door for Jones.
In a matter of months, Jones went from an unknown to a man being referred to by his nickname of “12 Gauge” in official State of Ohio documents. And as soon as the Buckeyes won the national title, everyone knew what Ohio State faced. Namely, the quarterback controversy to end all quarterback controversies come next season.
Well, next season is here. And as the Buckeyes’ good-but-not-great wins so far have proven, the battle is far from over.
Jones and Barrett have both seen a fair amount of time, but neither has been terribly impressive. Coach Urban Meyer voiced displeasure at the quarterback play in the Buckeyes’ 38-12 win over Western Michigan on September 26.
“Fundamentally [Cardale] wasn’t sound,” Meyer told reporters. “The way he transferred back to front, dragging his back leg, [he and offensive coordinator Tim Beck] will work at it.” Barrett wasn’t immune of criticism either, as Meyer called him out on some underthrown balls late.
Jones’ shaky play continued last Saturday in a 34–27 win over Indiana, a game in which Ohio State had just six points at halftime. Jones was actually benched in the Buckeyes’ win over Northern Illinois in Week 3, in which the Buckeyes looked listless in a sloppy, uncharacteristic 20–13 win over the Huskies.
By the way, this is a team that several publications hyped before the season as the second coming of several historical juggernauts, including Nebraska’s 1995 squad.
That comparison is looking pretty irrelevant right now, as the Buckeyes’ most impressive win remains a 42–24 dressing down of Virginia Tech. But even that was significantly devalued after the Hokies fell to East Carolina last week. The hero of that game, Braxton Miller, broke social media that Labor Day night with a deviously awesome spin-move. But Urban Meyer’s next great weapon has looked decidedly human over the last month.
And the question being asked by all the faithful on the banks of the Olentangy is, what on earth is going on?
“I would have expected us to play a little better,” Meyer admitted. “But I hope no one here felt a sense of panic. It’s normal growing pains for early in 2015.”
Ohio State had better shake off the growing pains fast. On November 21, Michigan State looms large on Ohio State’s schedule in the de facto East Division championship game. Both teams have weak schedules and should meet as unbeatens on what stands as the Buckeyes’ Day of Reckoning.
In the words of the great Keith Jackson, “Whoa Nellie! It’s 1 vs. 2 in a barn-burner.”
It doesn’t take BCS computers — which, by the way, when averaged together have Ohio State ranked outside the Top 5 — to deduce that Ohio State’s path to the playoff hinges on quarterback play. Whether Jones or Barrett suit up for OSU’s marquee games, both of them need to play lights out. The defense, no matter how efficient, is not going to bail them out every time.
The D, as a matter of fact, has been the only consistent unit on the team, even with star Joey Bosa underachieving. Adolphus Washington ran back an interception against Western Michigan a week after Darron Lee did likewise to seal the Northern Illinois win, and the Buckeyes are fifth in the FBS in defensive efficiency.
Before the season, the writers christened the Buckeyes the Associated Press’ first unanimous number 1 team. Now their lead is shaky, as the aforementioned Spartans of Michigan State, the Bears of Baylor, and even the Utah Utes have received No. 1 acclaim from the voters.
The quiet uncertainty surrounding Ohio State has returned, even with the Buckeyes at the top of the polls. Time will tell if it’ll last.
Photos: Andrew Weber/Getty Images (Jones), Jamie Sabau/Getty Images (Barrett), Joe Robbins/Getty Images (sideline), Jay LaPrete/AP (Washington)