A possible solution for OSU's QB struggles
Let me clear something up.
I’m not pretending to have the answer. Urban Meyer has been coaching quarterbacks since before I was born. He has more knowledge of this situation than all of us combined. There’s no doubt he will handle his team’s struggles at quarterback the way he sees fit, because frankly, that’s how he wins national champions.
But I have a thought.
Everybody wants to know why Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett have struggled in their two home games. Some say its because both guys are worried about each other looking over their shoulder. Some say its because they aren’t getting full first-team reps and Meyer needs to let one of them battle through their mistakes. Some say offensive line play has prevented the Buckeyes from looking like the team that dominated its way through the College Football Playoff last year.
Maybe it’s a mix of all of it. Not even Urban Meyer knows the definitive answer as to why his team ranks 104th in America in passing.
The problem, however, might not be just passing. It’s rushing, or lack thereof.
Meyer made an interesting note when he addressed the media in the middle of last week. He was asked about the season-ending injury to Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire — that was suffered on a quarterback keeper — and if that type of risk impacts his play-calling for quarterback-designed runs.
Surprisingly, Meyer said it did.
The numbers back it up. In their three playoff games last year and the opening win against Virginia Tech, Jones averaged 15 carries. In Ohio State’s two home games this year, the Buckeye quarterbacks averaged five.
Meyer doesn’t want to expose either of his quarterbacks against the likes of Hawaii or Northern Illinois. Frankly, can you blame him? With the talent the Buckeyes have, the game should be decided by halftime.
But Meyer has basically taken away an important dimension of the offense by doing this. In their own way, Barrett and Jones are tough to tackle in the open field. It takes away the aggressive element that makes both of them so dynamic.
I know what you’re thinking. How will more designed rushing attempts improve them as passers?
This is about getting into a rhythm with the offense, which both signal-callers clearly are not.
There’s a baseball analogy that applies to this situation. Guys often talk about how a position switch in the field results in a slump at the plate. On paper, one shouldn’t affect the other. They are two completely separate actions that require different skill sets. It’s mental. It puts a new, increased emphasis on one side of the ball that impacts focus on the other.
I’m not going to pretend to know what’s going on inside the OSU quarterbacks’ heads. All I know is that watching them attempt simple passes, they both look like they’re forcing it. Their ability to stay on the field is now dependent on one aspect of their game. There’s something to that.
Meyer dismissed the notion on Monday that pressure from the other guy is resulting in subpar performances. He said guys at the NFL level deal with that all the time, and at a program like OSU, there should always be a guy waiting to take someone’s job.
That’s all true.
These, however, are college kids that are used to having their full arsenals at their disposals. Running the football comes naturally to both. Without it, they’re different players. Their ability to get into the flow of a game is entirely dependent on their arms, and if that fails, they could be benched in front of 105,000 people.
How’s that for pressure?
I’m not making excuses for either Buckeye quarterback. This is what they signed up for. When you finish fifth in the Heisman voting and when you lead a team to a national title, you’re going to be faced with that reality every time you step on the field. Be effective or be replaced by somebody who will be.
Meyer might be protecting his quarterbacks from getting hurt, and no one will argue that he should have them carrying the ball 20 times against a MAC school at home.
But let’s look at the facts. Ohio State scored zero second half touchdowns on Saturday. Meyer called it “one of the worst executed performances the Buckeyes have had since he’s been there.”
On Monday, he admitted Northern Illinois put in an entirely new defense that they weren’t prepared for. That’s might’ve affected them.
Meyer was also asked about how being the “hunted” instead of the “hunter” has impacted his team.
“I think it’s affected us offensively, and we’re playing defense on offense right now, and you don’t do that,” he said. “Some people do, but our history is we want to score a lot of points. We want — our objective is to score a lot of points and still play great defense. So very good question. It’s something that I feel on offense. Not defense, defense or special teams, this whole program is the hunter.
“On offense right now, for a variety of reasons and not the players, we’re sitting back and we’re not going to do that anymore.”
Ohio State hunted the B1G, SEC and Pac-12 en route to a national championship last year. Meyer didn’t hold anything back. If he continues to limit his quarterbacks against lesser competition, OSU’s offense could continue to look mediocre.
Just as Meyer said in ESPN’s College Football Playoff commercial, they’re coming. Everybody — Hawaii and Northern Illinois included — is firing their best shot at the Buckeyes. They can’t afford to stash the ammo.