And so, it has come to this.
Urban Meyer, in his sixth season at Ohio State, is at a crossroads. He hasn’t done it, doesn’t want to do it, and claims he hasn’t even considered doing it. But it need to be done.
He needs to bench J.T. Barrett.
This claim is not made lightly. It’s not Monday-morning quarterbacking. It’s not dramatic prisoner-of-the-moment drivel. It’s not clickbait.
It’s simply the right thing to do.
Ohio State was embarrassed on the national stage yet again Saturday night, with Oklahoma spanking the Buckeyes, 31-16, in Columbus. If not for a series of self-inflicted errors by Oklahoma, the 15-point margin of defeat would have been much worse. Ohio State scored just one touchdown and forced just one punt.
Other than that? Boomer Sooner, baby. Big time.
It would be unfair to pin the loss solely on Barrett, who finished 19-of-35 for 183 yards and an interception. No, this was a team effort. Ohio State’s defense has allowed 927 yards through two games, including 806 through the air, not to mention six passing touchdowns. That unit, which lost three first-round picks from its secondary, looks like a shell of its former self.
And yet, Ohio State’s offense will – and should – dominate the national Buckeye narrative. Why? Because in their last three games against elite competition (Michigan, Clemson, and Oklahoma), the Buckeyes have scored just two offensive non-overtime touchdowns. And one of those touchdowns came on a 13-yard “drive” set up by a Wilton Speight interception and a Jim Harbaugh penalty.
Two regulation touchdowns. In three games. That’s it.
Barrett’s passing stats in those three games: 44-of-100 (44 percent) for 434 yards (144.7 yards per game), zero touchdowns, and four interceptions.
At this level, against that competition, that ain’t gonna cut it.
Urban Meyer, however, isn’t ready to concede defeat. When asked Saturday night if he would at least consider – consider! – a change at quarterback, Meyer said, “No. No.”
This defies logic.
The QB cupboard at Ohio State isn’t bare. It’s full. It’s plentiful. Dwayne Haskins, Tate Martell, and Joe Burrow were all highly ranked recruits who, if given a chance, could succeed in a Kevin Wilson offense. Last year, Barrett had his flaws, but the offensive line, receivers, and play-calling didn’t do him any favors. Wilson, who turned Indiana into an offensive juggernaut, was supposed to change that. Through two games, he hasn’t.
Will he? Well, that depends on Meyer.
Look, Meyer and Barrett have history. Good history. Barrett was the first quarterback Meyer recruited to Ohio State. When Braxton Miller went down for the season in 2014, Barrett stepped in and, as a redshirt freshman, guided Ohio State to a 12-1 regular season. Cardale Jones got the glory for his brilliant three-game stretch, but the Buckeyes don’t win the national title without Barrett.
But that was then. This is now.
Then, Barrett was a Heisman Trophy contender. Now, he’s a lost cause – or close to it. When Barrett drops back, nothing comes easy. Nothing. On Saturday, Baker Mayfield, who torched Ohio State for 386 yards and three touchdowns, was a video game; Barrett was a toddler trying his hand at Madden. Mayfield was wheeling and dealing all night. He oozed confidence. He was in the face of every unit before every possible game-changing play or series. His leadership was apparent, his focus singular, his execution flawless.
Barrett was a decrepit fifth-year trying to feel his way out of a phone booth. On the edge of a cliff. On a moonless night. He seems not only reluctant, but terrified, to throw downfield. When he actually musters the courage to do so, his receivers either drop would-be touchdowns or whiff completely.
The optimist will point out parallels between 2014 and 2017: bowl loss to Clemson the previous season, shaky Week 1 performance, embarrassing two-score prime-time home loss in Week 2. In 2014, Ohio State responded with 13 straight wins to claim its first national title since 2002.
This year feels different.
Yes, all three national champions in the playoff era lost a home game. Two lost home games in September. Two lost home games to unranked teams, including Clemson a season ago.
Don’t expect Ohio State to continue that trend. The Buckeyes have lost three of their last nine games and, one could argue, should have lost a few more.
If anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, it’s Meyer, who has won three national championships and is 62-7 at Ohio State. But since winning it all in 2014, his teams have routinely come up short in big spots. Meyer, in particular, has often played not to lose, quarterback-running his way into three-and-outs and leaving his defense out to dry.
Head coaches are at their best when following a simple maxim: dance with who brung ya. Meyer, for whatever reason, often goes against this for no apparent reason. In a November 2015 home loss to Michigan State, Ezekiel Elliott carried just 12 times. Ohio State scored 14 points, lost by a field goal, and missed the playoff. With the damage done, Meyer got back to basics. Elliott carried 57 times for 363 yards and six touchdowns in his final two college games, as Ohio State beat Michigan and Notre Dame – both top-10 teams – by a combined score of 86-41.
Why Elliott was not given more carries against Sparty, no one will ever know.
Need a more recent example? Sure, no problem. In his first collegiate game, J.K. Dobbins carried 29 times for 181 yards (6.2 yards per carry) against Indiana. On Saturday, he carried just 13 times – for 72 yards and a touchdown. That’s a 5.5 yards-per-carry average, folks, and this was a 17-13 game in the fourth quarter. Why was Dobbins not more involved?
Ohio State had 1st-and-Goal midway through the third quarter with a chance to go up seven and seize control. Might be a good time to hand off to Dobbins, right? Wrong. Kid wasn’t even on the field. Instead, it was quarterback run, quarterback run, incomplete pass, field goal.
By the time the Buckeyes threatened again, the game was out of reach.
Meyer has a monumental yet fixable problem on his hands. He has stacks of top-five recruiting classes but nothing to show for it. The Buckeyes are talented, but they are not elite – and they will not be elite without a change at quarterback.
Barrett has won big games and holds numerous records. In fact, he’s a couple of touchdowns shy of Drew Brees’ Big Ten record. Barrett will pass Brees, but he should do so not as a starter, but rather, as a change-of-pace backup orchestrating a run-heavy package. Meyer has four lay-ups upcoming – Army, UNLV, Rutgers, and Maryland – to experiment with new arms and legs. He should. If he doesn’t, it will define Ohio State’s 2017 season and, quite possibly, his legacy in Columbus.
Even with a new OC, Ohio State’s play-calling remains an enigma. The quarterback play, however, is not. It’s as straightforward as it gets – and painful to watch.
Opposing defenses have figured out J.T. Barrett. It’s time for Urban Meyer to do the same.
Tony Meale is a Chicago-based author, journalist, and content creator who uses words to inform, educate, entertain, and inspire. A Cincinnati native, he has a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Louis University and a master’s degree in journalism from Ohio University. He began his career as a high school sports reporter before writing and publishing 2012’s “The Chosen Ones: The Team That Beat LeBron,” a behind-the-scenes look at the greatest sports story never told. He’s been creating written and spoken content ever since.