By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – Maybe Ohio State’s players were ahead of their coach. They voted J.T. Barrett a team captain in August and it took until Tuesday for Meyer to name Barrett as Ohio State’s starting quarterback.
Or maybe it took that long for Barrett to catch up to the player he was a year ago after months of rehabbing a broken ankle he suffered in the Michigan game last season.
After back-to-back games in which No. 1 Ohio State’s offense finally lived up to expectations when Barrett was at quarterback, Meyer announced the redshirt sophomore would replace last year’s postseason hero, Cardale Jones, as the starting quarterback when the Buckeyes play at Rutgers on Saturday night.
Barrett finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting last season and was first-team All-Big Ten when he threw for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns. He also for 938 yards and 11 TDs.
So, it was a surprise for many people when Meyer went with Jones as the starter and stayed with him for six games.
Two weeks ago, Meyer moved Barrett into a role as a red zone specialist when Ohio State got inside Maryland’s 20-yard line. Last Saturday against Penn State, Barrett filled that role again and remained on the field most of the second half.
The results were dramatic. Ohio State scored all 12 times it was inside the 20-yard line in those games and 11 of those scores were touchdowns.
Barrett rushed for 102 yards against Penn State and 62 yards against Maryland. He had five rushing touchdowns in those two games, which gave OSU’s offense a dimension it didn’t have with Jones at quarterback.
“J.T. has earned the right to start Saturday at Rutgers,” Meyer said on the Big Ten football coaches teleconference on Tuesday.
He said the decision was based on “sheer production.”
“It was a very difficult decision but red zone production and third down production were the two areas that made the difference. He earned it with the way he played Saturday,” Meyer said.
Until this week, Meyer had said the quarterback depth chart could change if Barrett outplayed Jones, but that he had not done that in practice or when he got extensive playing time against Northern Illinois when Jones got off to a rocky start.
After a 38-10 win over Penn State last Saturday, Barrett said he was not the cool, calm player he was a year ago earlier this season.
“The first few weeks, I was trying to come in and trying to make plays and really forcing it. That’s asking for bad things to happen, when you force things instead of letting the game come to you,” he said.
“Being that I wasn’t starting, when I came into the game, it was like ‘I want to make a play, I need to make a play.’ So the forcing came along. Now it’s just about executing the play that I have and big plays come out of that.”
Meyer said there was a noticeable difference between Barrett now and several weeks or several months ago.
“I do possibly believe the confidence factor wasn’t there. He didn’t do it (play) in the spring and he did it in the summer and didn’t look exactly like he does now,” he said.
Jones, who was the quarterback for Ohio State’s three postseason wins last season, has completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,242 yards and seven touchdowns with five interceptions.
Meyer said Jones would have a role at quarterback going forward but wasn’t sure what it would be.
“What goes on with the players in meetings is between us. There is disappointment but they are grown men, both of them,” he said. “I have two guys I have a lot of respect for. I’m just trying to do the right thing.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.