On Aug. 20, 2014, the Ohio State Buckeyes were gearing up for their season opener against Navy on the road at M&T Bank Stadium when disaster struck. The fifth-ranked team in the country lost its leader and one of the most iconic players in program history when, then quarterback, Braxton Miller went down in practice with a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the entire season. The college football world claimed Ohio State had no shot of winning anything that year and predicted 2014 would be a mere rebuilding year. However, stepping in was Texas native and red-shirt freshman, J.T. Barrett.
Barrett had a rocky start, but he would go on to prove all the prognosticators wrong. After a 1-1 start, he went on to post 34 passing touchdowns along with 11 rushing scores. Then, having brought the Scarlet and Gray back from the dead heading into “The Game” against “That Team Up North”, Barrett broke his ankle on a quarterback keeper to start the fourth quarter. Once again, everyone doubted Ohio State’s chance to make the first ever college football playoff.
OSU, of course, went on to win the National Championship that year. They crushed Wisconsin on the strength of third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, then stomped Alabama before taking the crown against Oregon. Jones, it turned out, had a cannon arm and a deep ball that Barrett didn’t.
Ohio State’s offense hasn’t been the same since that epic playoff run. It has caused them to stay in close games with teams they should be blowing out. They were embarrassed on national TV last New Year’s Eve when they couldn’t even score a single point against Clemson. Many pinned the problem on the fact that then offensive coordinator, Tom Herman, left the program to become University of Houston head coach after the 2014 triumph. His offensive scheme, the refrain went, was built for Barrett. More recently, that blame trickled over onto former offensive coordinators Tim Beck, now Herman’s offensive coordinator, and Ed Warinner, now offensive line coach at Minnesota, as the OSU offense production lacked so often during the 2015 and 2016 seasons when they were at the helm.
This year, Urban Meyer brought in Kevin Wilson, who is widely regarded as a brilliant offensive mind. Wilson served as head coach at Indiana before he resigned amid player allegations, but Meyer believes Wilson can get J.T. Barrett and OSU back on track this year. Still, the offense looked no different in the first half against Indiana in the season opener than it did against Clemson in December. We saw three-and-outs, stalled drives and a tight game against a pretender squad and its second-half improvements seemed to disappear by the time Ohio State met Oklahoma the following week. Even after a great offensive output against Army last Saturday, many still wonder: Is J.T. Barrett holding this team back?
In college football, any average quarterback can succeed with the right system in place. Coaching, game planning, and scheme are far more important to a college football team than almost anything else. J.T. Barrett is not the most skilled quarterback in the country, but he has plenty of ability. With that being said, he won’t be starting on an NFL squad any time soon after graduation. Thus, Wilson should consider reviving the set-up Tom Herman had in place for Barrett in 2014.
So far, Wilson’s scheme is not fitting Barrett’s skill set. He is not a quarterback who can stretch the field with a deep ball. Wilson’s system is predicated on hitting the short quick passes first and running the ball effectively to draw the defense in, then attacking with a big play down field. Problem is, Barrett cannot throw the deep ball very well. Defenses know that and are daring the Buckeyes to attack them deep because they know it’s the quarterback’s weakness.
Smart coaching can hide a quarterback’s flaws. For proof, consider how many bad NFL quarterbacks thrived in college in a system built around his strengths. Tim Tebow, for instance, turned out to be a horrendous NFL quarterback. On top of that, Nick Saban’s national championship teams in Alabama were led by some quarterbacks who weren’t even invited to the NFL combine.
If Wilson insists on continuing his approach for OSU, he might consider tapping back-up QB Dwayne Haskins, who has a cannon for an arm and can stretch defenses. Look for something to give in Columbus. Either Wilson will make adjustments to fit Barrett’s assets, or Haskins may find himself starting sooner than he dreamed.