COLUMBUS, Ohio -- If it had come down solely to intangible qualities, Ohio State’s quarterback derby might have been over months ago.
The Buckeyes are quick to defend the leadership traits of both Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, and their teammates have been consistent in expressing a belief that they have no problem following either of them out on the field.
And while the ability to motivate, a penchant for fiery speeches and poise under pressure are all valuable, they aren’t easy to quantify -- aside from votes for a captaincy, which for the first part of the season favored the backup over the starter.
“First of all, both of them are great leaders,” tight end Nick Vannett said. “But J.T. is one of those guys where he grabs everybody’s attention when he’s on the field. He just takes control of the whole situation, whatever is going on out there on the field. Everybody is listening to what he says, and when you’ve got somebody like that at quarterback, it definitely gives you confidence as an offensive unit.
“That’s his show when he’s out there. He’s a true field general.”
Barrett is officially back in command of the Buckeyes now, with head coach Urban Meyer making the switch ahead of Saturday night’s trip to Rutgers and giving the redshirt sophomore his first start since Barrett broke his ankle in the regular-season finale against Michigan last year.
And while his leadership qualities perhaps played a small factor in the decision for Ohio State, it really comes down to the things that can actually be measured.
Efficiency on key downs
Breakdowns in the red zone helped spark the idea of installing a package for Barrett as a reliever to finish off drives, but it’s also his ability to extend drives that prompted the Buckeyes to expand his role in the offense.
Barrett was remarkably efficient inside the 20-yard line during the last two weeks, leading Ohio State to points on all 11 attempts with touchdowns on 10 of them. The move almost instantly solved a problem that had been clearly bothering Meyer. During first five games with Jones as the primary option, the Buckeyes were generating points, but they settled for field goals six times, missed one kick, twice had a half come to an end without getting points and Jones threw one interception.
They also had some issues getting the ball deep into enemy territory at times, issues that popped up during the last two weeks with Jones going a combined 3 for 13 on third-down conversions. Barrett’s sample size is smaller, but he was again more efficient by moving the chains five times in seven tries.
“Just sheer production,” Meyer said. “It was a difficult decision, but the red-zone production and third-down production were the two areas that made the difference. He earned that with the way he played Saturday.”
Threat of the run
Another tweak to the lineup aimed at solving the red-zone issues actually has proved just as useful on the rest of the field, and it should come as no real surprise, given Meyer’s track record that a more mobile quarterback has shined in his power-spread system.
Jones is capable of taking off and running as a scrambler, and trying to tackle a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder in the open field isn’t something defenders are usually in a hurry to do. And while he has gained 215 yards so far this season, that total has been negated by nearly 85 yards in losses when sacks are factored in, and Ohio State doesn’t appear comfortable trying to execute the zone-read rushing attack as much with Jones taking the snaps.
That isn’t the case with Barrett, who is averaging 7.9 yards per attempt and has already scored five rushing touchdowns on just 29 carries. The original goal was to help even up the numbers against defenders in the red zone by again making the quarterback run a factor, but that has proven to be effective elsewhere on the field as well -- and the option threat might also take some attention and pressure off star tailback Ezekiel Elliott.
With a talented, veteran group of wide receivers that included the nation’s most dangerous deep threat, the guy with the stronger arm and ability to stretch the field is probably the best bet.
But Devin Smith graduated after the playoff run Jones helped engineer last season, along with Evan Spencer and tight end Jeff Heuerman. And injuries have further depleted the number of targets available in the passing game with both Noah Brown and Corey Smith out for the season, adding to the degree of difficulty in trying to install a more pro-style system to take advantage of the physical tools Jones brings as the quarterback.
Jones has completed more than 62 percent of his throws, but his yards per attempt dropped a full yard down to 8.3 this season and he’s also thrown five interceptions. Barrett certainly doesn’t have the same type of arm strength as Jones, but as currently constructed, Ohio State’s roster might lend itself more to quick-hitting, accurate throws that would allow shifty, explosive athletes such as Braxton Miller and Jalin Marshall to rack up yards after the catch instead of primarily through the air.
“For us, it’s more or less, the offense just has to be efficient,” offensive lineman Billy Price said. “Whoever that person may be, it’s all about efficiency and making sure that we utilize and score in the red zone, take care of the ball, don’t turn it over.
“Whoever that person may be, that’s who we want in there.”
That is again Barrett, and the Buckeyes obviously won’t have any problems following the new leader.