To bench, or not to bench: that is the question.
Whether ’tis wiser on the depth chart to suffer
The slings and arrows of message boards and Twitter,
Or to take a different arm against a sea of Black Knights,
And by changing end them? To bench: to play;
No more; and by a change to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand angry Tweets
That Twitter is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be GIF’d. To bench, to play;
To play: perchance to win: ay, there’s the rub.
– William Shakespeare’s “Barrett”
The fifth and final act of J.T. Barrett’s Ohio State career took a dark turn on Saturday night as the Ohio State offense sputtered once again in a 31-16 loss to Oklahoma. It not only eliminated most of Ohio State’s margin of error for the season, but also erased much of the goodwill built up during a promising offseason and the occasionally-encouraging Week 1 win over Indiana.
Barrett’s stats against the Sooners (19/35, 183 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT) were not impressive, and looked even shabbier in comparison to Baker Mayfield’s (27/35, 386 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs). Before the game was even over, the calls for Barrett to lose the starting job were overwhelming.
OSU head coach Urban Meyer was quick to shoot down the idea following the game. A reporter asked if there was, “a possibility that you would ever even consider a change. Is that something that you will look at?”
Meyer immediately said, “No. No.”
In a press conference that was otherwise filled with vague responses and promises of more detail after Meyer had reviewed the game tape, the definitiveness of his “No” stood out.
There is certainly a case than can be made that Meyer is right to stand by his senior, and that Barrett’s experience gives Ohio State the best chance to win a national championship this season. There is also a compelling case that Barrett may have hit his ceiling developmentally, and that a fresh arm could provide a spark to an offense that has been largely stagnant for the previous five games.
PLAY HIM: A look at the entirety of Barrett’s resume suggests that he deserves more time to work with first-year quarterbacks coach Ryan Day and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson to get the kinks worked out of the new system.
Barrett finished fifth in the Heisman voting his freshman year, and is already the school record holder for career pass completions, touchdown passes in a game and career, 200-yard passing games, and is poised to set the all-time school passing yardage record. Even after Saturday’s ugly loss, his record as a starting quarterback is 27-5.
BENCH HIM: A look at Barrett’s more recent resume suggests that perhaps it is time for a change. His already unimpressive 183 yards against the Sooners look even worse when you take out the 99 that came in garbage time, after OU had built a three-score lead in the fourth quarter. In what has become a familiar and frustrating pattern for Buckeye fans, he frequently seemed hesitant with the ball, perhaps slightly unsure of himself as he looked downfield. The Buckeyes’ deep passing game was once again nonexistent. This was not just one bad night. The Buckeye offense looked dreadful for a half against Indiana, put up zero points against Clemson, and put up exactly 17 points in regulation against both Michigan and Michigan State to close the 2016 regular season. At this point, the back-to-back 62-3 wins against Nebraska and Maryland in early November 2016 feel like they happened a decade ago.
PLAY HIM: Of course, a lot of the downfield passing issues also fall on the wide receivers. Parris Campbell dropped a beautifully-thrown ball that would have been a long touchdown against Indiana, and Terry McLaurin had an almost-identical drop when Barrett arced a throw just over a defender and directly into McLaurin’s arms at the goal line. And whether you can see it on TV or not, there are frequently not any open receivers for Barrett to throw to. Dwayne Haskins or Joe Burrow can’t catch their own deep passes, either – the receivers need to do their part.
BENCH HIM: One reason the receivers may not be getting open is because of how teams are defending the Barrett-led offense. Indiana head coach Tom Allen was very open about the fact that he frequently dropped eight men into coverage because felt Barrett simply would not be able to pinpoint the holes in that defense, even with time to throw. “With a quarterback like (Barrett) that’s not an accurate quarterback, that’s what you try to do,” Allen said.
PLAY HIM: Barrett’s career completion percentage is .627, tied for #2 all-time at OSU with a guy named Troy Smith, who people were generally okay with. Seems pretty accurate to me. And don’t forget that Smith had Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez to throw to.
BENCH HIM: Know who’s #1 on that list ahead of Troy and J.T.? Todd Boeckman, who lost his job to a talented, but raw freshman QB after an ugly non-conference loss. Barrett may put up shiny numbers and give OSU the best chance of winning against middling opponents, but we’ve seen what happens when he plays a great team. The offense didn’t just struggle against Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, Clemson, and Oklahoma; it struggled in very similar ways each time. No downfield passing, too much indecision on throws, too many quarterback runs, and not a 30-point performance in regulation to be seen. This is who he is. And it’s not good enough to get where Ohio State wants to get this season.
PLAY HIM: If this is who he is, who is Dwayne Haskins? Who is Joe Burrow? How will they do against Penn State? Or on the road at Iowa? Or at Michigan? The Ohio State coaching staff has seen a whole lot more of Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow than fans have, and they seem certain – at least so far – that it is Barrett who gives them the best chance to win. They’ve seen Barrett beat Michigan, including hanging 42 on them in Ann Arbor.
Terrelle Pryor replaced Boeckman during the BCS era, when a 35-3 non-conference loss really was the end of your national championship hopes. That’s no longer the case. Urban Meyer was willing to pull the starting job away from an undefeated, national championship-winning quarterback two years ago when he thought it was the surest path back to the College Football Playoff, so it’s reasonable to believe that he would pull Barrett this year if he thought it would get the Buckeyes back into the bracket.
There is not necessarily a right or wrong answer right now. Either path could lead to playoff glory or more punchless offensive performances. And at least for now, it seems like we know which path Meyer has chosen.