Did Nick Saban Prove Urban Meyer Was Loyal to a Fault?

Nick Saban Urban Meyer


You saw it and you have the same question.

In Monday night’s national title game, Nick Saban benched his starting quarterback at halftime in favor of a true freshman. That true freshman then led Alabama to the overtime win and yet another national championship for the Crimson Tide.

Saban’s reasoning for pulling starter Jalen Hurts — who was 25-2 as a starter — in favor of Tua Tagovailoa?

“We had to throw the ball in the game and I just thought he could do it better,” he said.

Hurts left the game 3-of-8 passing for 21 yards. Tagovailoa went 14-of-24 for 166 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Clearly, Saban made the right call.

And in doing so, he has Ohio State fans and media wondering what would have happened if Meyer would have done something similar with his quarterbacks.

Nick Saban’s loyalty is to winning, while Urban Meyer’s loyalty is to J.T. Barrett. Right?

Probably, but I don’t think the situations are all that similar.

For one, when was Meyer supposed to pull Barrett from a game in favor of Dwayne Haskins? You can point to Iowa, I suppose. The Buckeyes trailed 31-17 at the half and Barrett had already thrown two interceptions. But this was just one game after Barrett had led the miraculous comeback against Penn State. Barrett had just proven Meyer’s trust was correct one week earlier, so there was no way it was going to be called into question seven days later.

Should he have pulled Barrett at the half of that game? In hindsight, absolutely. The only hindsight he had at that time, however, was the 13-for-13 passing the last time Barrett played in a fourth quarter.

By the time it was clear that Barrett wasn’t going to get it done, the game was already out of hand. And the OSU defense wasn’t up for the challenge anyway.

What other game should Barrett have been pulled from this year? It wasn’t going to be Oklahoma. Not in week two. Barrett was 19-of-35 for 183 yards with an interception. And Nick Saban wouldn’t have pulled him then either. Jalen Hurts wasn’t pulled during a 24-10 win over LSU when he completed 11-of-24 passes for 183 yards, or during a 26-14 loss to Auburn where he was 12-of-22 for 112 yards.

And there is a very big difference between pulling a true sophomore who is not having a good game and pulling a fifth-year senior who has seen it all — and come through in the clutch more than a handful of times in his career.

That doesn’t mean Saban wouldn’t have done the same thing and put Tagovailoa in over a fifth-year senior, it just means the situations aren’t as comparable as we might want them to be.

And as Urban Meyer showed in 2015, he will bench a starter. He went with Cardale Jones over J.T. Barrett, and then eventually pulled the trigger on an undefeated Cardale Jones for a J.T. Barrett who simply moved the ball better.

Those people who wanted to see Dwayne Haskins play will tell you that he could have led Ohio State to the playoffs. There is no way to prove or disprove that assertion, however, which is why they can say it so emphatically.

What we can prove, however, is that J.T. Barrett took the Buckeyes as far as he could, which is why it’s not crazy to think that somebody else could have taken them farther. But that doesn’t mean they would have.

And there was still no clear instance to make a move like Saban had at the half of the national title game. Meyer didn’t have a similar situation.

Alabama needed to throw the ball in the second half. Jalen Hurts had just two 200-yard passing games this season, which gives you an idea of how uncomfortable they are with him throwing the ball. J.T. Barrett, meanwhile, had 11 200-yard passing games this year and three 300-yard passing games. If the Buckeyes need to throw the ball, they have shown in the past that — for better or worse — they are fine using Barrett to do it.

Give Nick Saban credit for doing something that wasn’t easy, but it was probably something that other coaches would have done as well. Even Urban Meyer. Remember the way Tim Tebow was used as a true freshman against Ohio State back in January of 2007?

Replacing a limited sophomore who is struggling with a talented true freshman in the national title game goes against many coaching manuals, but it was the right call.

It is an interesting juxtaposition between the two quarterback situations, but there are more differences than similarities.

Given the talented youth at the quarterback position in the national title game, perhaps the real lesson here is that if you are tied to a fifth-year senior at quarterback, you haven’t recruited well enough at that position to win a national title.


52 Responses

  1. I hate articles like this. They just accentuate the feeling that Meyer has lost it, if in fact he ever had it. His offensive scheme doesn’t work against big fast teams. He plays his favourites, not the guys who give him the best chance to win. He only benches players he doesn’t like.

    The man seriously has to learn to leave his persona; feeling out of it. I didn’t hurt him at all to bench Jones for winning. It would have hurt him to bench Barrett for losing. Part of being a coach is knowing when to bench guys. It’s a lesson Meyer never learned when it comes to his favourite players. Saban has it figured out. Someone has to grab him and say “look, as a coach, when someone isn’t playing well, it’s your job to take them out of the game.”

    I’m certainly not going to go with the apples oranges thing to let him off the hook. One is knowing when to bench your quarterback the other is knowing when to bench your quarterback. It’s not only comparing apples to apples, it’s comparing one apple to itself.

    Meyer will never have another run like he did when Zeke Elliott and Cardale Jones won him a national championship. They played a simplified, smash mouth offence that was more effective than anything Meyer has done in his career anywhere. HIs teams before and since have been shadows of that team. Yet the next year playing Michigan State, they were both on the bench or in Zeke’s case blocking for Barrett. He picks his favourites using values other than “who can help the team most right now .” He picks them on “who am I the biggest fan of.” Pathetic. When his favourites are on the field, no one else gets a chance, regardless of what they might bring to the table.

    HIs saving grace is, because of his recruiting, it’s hard to say you could find someone else better. But how many great teams will we see go up in flames before someone clues in that that isn’t enoug?

  2. Urban Meyer is loyal to his players. Someone on the planet remembers about team. Regardless of all the conversation, sometimes winning isn’t everything, or the only thing. Good for him

  3. Even Woody Hayes…WOODY HAYES…put in Ron Maciejowski when Kern didn’t have it. Doesn’t mean Kern wasn’t the starter, but he needed to come out and get some perspective.

  4. The real lesson here is that if you’re going to play the big boys, you’d better have a QB who’s a REAL threat to complete passes from mid-long range, or your running game is going to get swallowed-up by the D having eight in the box.

  5. love my osu bu the should nave replaced Barrett, Barrett will be undrafted and make a good coach

  6. I think Gerd got the analysis backwards. Saban copied Meyer of 2014.
    The reason Cardale was so successful in the 2014 Big Ten Championship game, Bama game and the National Championship game was that there was no tape on Cardale. With Cardale the Buckeyes used a somewhat different offense which the opposing teams could not have game planned.
    Before Monday night no one outside of Bama had seen Tua Tagovailoa play. In the first half Bama had relied more heavily on the run while in the second half Georgia continued to defend the run but Tua passed down field. That was the winning difference.
    meyer employed that tactic out of necessity while Saban did it by design.

    1. You can bet that if Hurts were to go on and break every record possible for a quarterback at Alabama that Saban wouldn’t come out publicly and declare he’s part of his family forever. Then again, Saban doesn’t appear in political ads either. I said here 4 years ago J.T. wouldn’t quarterback a national champion. Enter the legend known as. Furthermore, Haskins comes in and leads a dead team to a come from behind victory, Barrett gets all the credit for the win and Haskins barely gets lip service from the top. Meyer can’t pack Saban’s lunch and the numbers and results prove it.

      1. I take part of that back. Meyer gave credit to the university that would start full blown investigation as to who ran in to J.T. before the game and why.

  7. Is this what we are left with? Taking pot shots at people in retrospect? Are we going to forget that if not for a undeserved gift, Alabama doesn’t even make the playoff?

    We truly do have some of the worst fans in the country.

    1. Undeserved gift? I think you can count yourself in that “worst fans in the country” group.

      I hate Bama as much as anyone outside of Alabama. But how do you discount what they’ve done? Or discount their constant recruiting efforts? Or discount that they only had one loss?

      The only team I would have put in before Bama would have been UCF… but that’s more hindsight after they beat Auburn. Before they beat Auburn it would have been really tough for me to believe that UCF could be Bama on a neutral field.

      4 best teams people… not the most deserving or who “earned it”… 4 best teams.

      1. Alabama didn’t have any business in the playoffs. Yes, they most CERTAINLY were given a gift. Or was that title simply bought?

        1. Yet they still won the playoff… so clearly they had business in the playoffs… You just don’t like it because you think they didn’t “earn it”.

          You are welcome to your opinion, I just think your opinion loses significance after they beat Clemson and Georgia.

          4 best teams.

  8. Come on! You knew coming into this season that meyer would not sit him. Meyer admitted he does better the first couple of years because he has no attatchments. When he falls in love with a player though for being a fighter or team leader or whatever the quality is, he struggles in putting the good of the team ahead of the good of the individual. He is our coach and that’s what we got.

  9. Loyalty to players has a lot of merit. But that loyalty has to extend to the entire roster. What’s best for the entire roster. JT was clearly the only real choice to run the RPO. Just as clearly he can’t pass the football worth spit. Of course it doesn’t help when he’s only got 1 read, and that read to Roberto Duran. Meyer insisted on trying to stretch the field to Parris Campbell. I’m not so sure I’ve ever seen Parris catch a ball beyond 5 – 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Meyer wanted to turn someone who can’t catch, but has great speed into Jalin Marshall with a higher top end. Sorry folks, but, that’s complete foolishness. CJ Saunders would have been a better option because he can at least catch the ball down the field. Not as good as a blocker? He seemed to do just fine when he was in the game. Not the same speed? How gives a damn as long as he securing catches and moving the chains. Consistency over a home run every 3 or 4 games every time should be the measure. Not how fast he is.

    Ben Victor has hands nearly as awful. CEO Meyer always gushing about him and his athleticism. Athleticism means dick if he can’t catch the ball. JT can’t be faulted entirely when guys drop the ball, but, simply pop in a game. JT missed the target frame far too often. Combined with super athletes who can’t catch the football, that’s a recipe’ for complete passing game failure. So many deep passes JT missed not by a yard or two, but by 5 or ten yards. That’s bench worthy…………..if they had a quarterback halfway slick handling the football is the rush options. Unfortunately CEO Meyer hired a clown for receivers and an complete court jester for a quarterback coach. Meyer believing he’s the smartest guy in the room 100% of the time has cost his program at least 2 more shots at the National Title. This year Central Florida won the National title because Scott Frost gets his trigger man up to speed. CEO Meyer better take notice. Frost is going to be the real competition from the West Division in very short order.

    The only thing that little twerp in Alabama could teach is a female dog how to squat and pee.

  10. JTB wasn’t the reason we trailed PSU, poor special teams and turnovers lead to that. Notice the Saban did not bench Hurt, but said they’d go with a rotation between the two. Saban also had nothing to lose as his O did zilch the first half as well as ruin a deep TO that lead to zero points. There may have also been games which could of been lost if we didn’t stick with JTB and went with Haskins. Finally and I believe Gerd realizes this, Saban’s situation last night and Urban’s situation the last two years are like comparing apples to oranges, but it makes too debate and talk especially the first day the CFB season is over and we have about 9 months to wait until kick off.

    1. JAMES MILLS if J.T. can’t pass worth spit how did he set those records? You can’t see how ridiculous that is?

      1. Records don’t mean a thing if you can’t finish the race. I gave JT a ton of credit for the 4th quarter against Penn State. And he finally after 4 years won a conference title with him under center. The offense was awful against USC but the defense rescued the game. Haskins entered the game against the skunkbears down by 6 and finished with a with that fairly gets credited to JT.

        But, how did he set those records? A coach that demanded that JT be the center of attention for every game plan. That’s why when facing tougher opposition over the past 3 years, the Buckeye offense gets silly slapped. Stop the rush options and JT is dead in the water. You or I could pass for silly yardage against utterly outmanned programs…..especially when they’re of the zero – 10 yard range and athletes busting loose. Or Meyer taking the ball continuously out of very productive tailbacks hands so JT remains the center of CEO Meyers world. Or again, completely neglect the tailbacks in the red zone so that JT can cushion his TD’s with more fun dink and dunk silliness. Once in awhile as a break from tendency? Absolutely. Over and over for no other reason, and that reason being obvious…………just plain QB stat padding.

        That doesn’t mean I don’t think JT was the best option Meyer had because in RPO (emphasis rush) JT was brilliant………..until he faced a good defense.

        That USC game was no fluke. The USC staff believed they could shut JT’s legs down, and, they were exactly right. They simply bought the wrong ticket believing their offense could beat the Buckeye defense.

        Now we’re faced with another 2015 season. A staff that can’t operate pass pro, and no QB unless it’s Tate who can work real magic with the football. If they go with Dwayne. 2015 here with come with a FAR less experienced roster to operate it. I certainly hope that if they try to go pass pro, nobody gets worked up mad over a 4 loss season!

  11. When you have good 2nd and 3rd string QBs you need to treat that position as a starting pitcher. JT was having a bad day against Iowa and should have been pulled.

  12. Your last statement sums it up perfectly.

  13. Yes, Meyer was blind when it came to JT. Barrett is loaded with flaws, especially in the passing game. The Buckeyes might have made the NC game if Barrett had been pulled in the Iowa game. All of the scouting reports I have read on Barrett say that he will not make it as an NFL QB. Many suggest he try to make it as a receiver like Braxton Miller did. Meyer mishandled the QB situation badly with JT. I hope he does better now that Barrett is gone.

    1. How in the hell is he going to be a receiver, he couldnt get open against a defensive end. He is slow.

      1. He’s NOT going to be a pro receiver.

        1. I expect him to be a career back up in the NFL. Good enough to learn an offense and take over if the top guy goes down… but never good enough to be “the guy”.

          If Craig Krensel can do it… anyone can.

  14. The issue is not loyalty to JT. No one was complaining when JT completed 16 of 16 passes to win the Penn State game. Also, every quarterback misses some throws. That includes Sam Darnold, the supposed No. 1 NFL QB prospect. The problem is play calling. The strategy of the Ohio State offense is supposed to be
    creating superior numbers of offense versus defense. However, putting JT in an empty backfield on 3d and long and calling a QB run does just the opposite. I would like to see more jet sweeps, counter plays and other misdirections. Also, apparently other Big Ten coaches also think JT is a great QB because he keeps winning awards. I agree that Haskins is a better pure passer with a strong arm and a quick release. There is more to playing QB than passing the ball. When Tagovailoa threw the interception or took a sack in OT instead of throwing the ball away, a lot of people were second guessing Saban’s decision.

    1. You’re right Harvey. Nobody complained when he technically went 16 for 16 in the 4th against PSU. Heck, I gave him props for the ENTIRE Nebraska game leading up to the PSU game. I confess to a sidebar though………”Lets see if he can sustain that.” Damn sidebars get em every time.

      Missing some throws and insanely missing multiple throws of the same variety to wide open receivers is a serious flaw. Opponents knew it and there’s just no way the Buckeye staff didn’t know it.

      The good news is that CEO Meyer promised JT a forever home. JT will look and BE great roaming the sidelines as the new Buckeye QB coach!

  15. The last 3 years…our passing game has been bad…and with the exception of PSU 2017, it’s gone from bad to awful when needed the most. Same principle problem hree years and running, That is the head coach’s fault.

    If Meyer insists on the QB power dive as the base play in 2018 it will signify the beginning of the end.

  16. Tony this is the best article you have written that I have read. It’s dead on!!! I really enjoyed Andrews response.

  17. Good assessment in this article, Tony. The greatest thing about hindsight is it’s always so clear – and it’s hardly ever wrong. We all have things in our lives what we “woulda, shoulda, coulda” done differently if it weren’t for decisions we had to make in the moment.
    I’m so glad for the critics above, because I’m sure that when Meyer is ready to step away from a stellar career at the Buckeyes’ head coach, each of these guys will be ready with resumes and proven track records to show Urban and everyone else how it really should be done. Great to know the long-term future of Ohio State football is in such expert, astute hands!
    Maybe Gene Smith is already preparing to tender an offer to each of them.

  18. Last year’s semifinal against Clemson would have been a good time to try somebody else. The D really didn’t play that bad, but they were on the field the whole game…let down once again by an inept O.

  19. Yes he did and he also proved another thing, your QB needs to throw the ball. Elite defenses have adapted to the running QB. Tua came in and started throwing the ball around the yard, made some mistakes but he loosened up the UGA D and made room for the running game. “Alabama is the target.” Then watch and LEARN, Urban.

  20. An effective vertical passing game is key to an offense being productive especially against top defensive teams. Saban clearly understood this last night which is why he made the change. Hurts looked like a faster more mobile JT when he dropped back to pass last night which is pretty much how he always looks to me every time I’ve watched Bama play this year. Thus Bama with a whopping 56 yards of total offense at the half. We’ve had no consistent vertical passing game the last two years which is why we have struggled against elite defensive teams. Has to get fixed once and for all in 2018 if we ever want to see another national championship game.

  21. It looked like Barrett at QB and Kevin Wilson calling plays in the first have,got to hand it to Coach Saban for pulling Hurts,that’s why he’s got 6 National Championships he does it right you play to win!

  22. For me, I would of benched Barrett early into the 2016 season. I definitely would of benched him early this season and had Haskins started the Penn State game maybe we don’t need a 4th qtr “comeback” because we win by 30 or maybe we lose. There’s no way to ever know the outcome. I just know the team has been cheated by the coach not playing the best players.

  23. I would have liked to see him benched for just a series or two in the OU game. He needed to be shocked back into the game, he was way too careful with the football when we were clearly losing. At some point you have to open it up and throw against tight man coverage or into a tough window against a zone. He didn’t trust his reads, and they forced him to try to use his feet to beat them. This is the same thing Clemson did as well the year prior, so it shouldn’t have been a shock to the coaching staff. If your QB can’t trust his reads when throwing the ball, and only throws the ball when guys are wide open… Your offense will be very stagnant…. Which pretty much sums up this year’s offense in big games against good teams.

    The other way I could see he didn’t trust his reads, was that almost every long ball was under thrown. If he threw most of his long balls just a half of second earlier, I think most would have been caught or at least catchable. But that half second allowed defenders a split second to catch up and knock it down… or if it was really under thrown forced our WRs to become DBs.

    I for one have been calling for JT to be benched since the 2015 MSU game. I saw in that game all the flaws we’ve seen since. And as I understand he was still the best chance to win games at QB… he was never going to be a Nation Championship winning QB. He was good enough to win, not good enough to be elite. OSU deserves an elite QB…

    BTW, I agree with everyone else in saying Iowa was not entirely his fault. The entire team decided to take the week off after that big emotional win over PSU.

  24. The only game that comes to my mind is the Orange Bowl, I believe, against Clemson a few seasons ago. I didn’t understand his logic in leaving in a clearly hurt Braxton Miller instead of Kenny Guiton who had a great year filling in when needed.

  25. If JT didn’t recognize what Dwayne Haskins’s downfield passing did for the team in the Michigan game, he is deaf, dumb and blind. The same thing happened in our championship season when JT broke his ankle and Cardale turned us into a high powered offensive team against really good teams. Urban wanted Cardale to be QB in 2015 but he didn’t have the offensive coordinator in place to make it work. I think it is fruitless to what has happened in the past.
    My great hope is that Urban now realizes that the lack of a downfield passing threat seriously hampers what your team can do on offense and last night’s switch by Saban was EXHIBIT A. I do not think Urban in the future will install any QB as a starter if he is not an effective enough passer to keep the defenses honest.

    1. think you mean UM here. and couldn’t agree more. had that game played out as it was before the injury, the whole 2nd half would have been a progression of qb draws/counters/read-opts/off-tackles, etc., and safe short passes. and a loss. as said on this board, sure JT could be better, but still think play-calling and offensive scheme put JT in bad positions far too often as well. think the strategy that GA opened with (downfield passing to open up the run against 8 in the box) was genius, and something the folks on woody hays drive can/should be reminded of.

  26. Nice can of worms you’ve opened, Gerd. No realistic way to argue this so I’ll just read the comments and enjoy what was a pretty good season apart from the playoff debacle, which wasn’t the fault of the players other than falling asleep at Io-way.

  27. In the SEC championship game played last night or the who cares bowl….I for one did not waste my time watching, however, Saban did what he needed to do to win the game from what I have read. I have long been a proponent of removing a QB whose game is lacking and felt on more than one occasion that J.T. had no business in the game. But I find myself wondering….if the other QB had not orchestrated a come back what would be said about Saban today?

  28. He could have been pulled in the Penn State game!!! Of course who would have guessed he would finish 13 of 13!!! You never know what would have happened in any situation!! Just sayin!

  29. I question why Saban kept JH as QB during year, J.T. is more QB than JH as JH is a RB or WR. BK at ND has no QB loyalty either so there is more to Nick being the best than this move. One thing is clear, don’t see any more NC for Bucks until Nick retires

  30. It’s the elephant in the room, EXHIBIT A! Let’s see, one could argue JT should have been benched at Michigan and against USC for starters! Iowa was a total team melt down! The defense surrendered 55 points.

    1. OSU was trailing 20-14 in the third quarter with ball when Barrett was hurt. Hard to bench him at that point.

    2. The only reason Iowa put that many points up on the defense is 1. The defense obviously didn’t show up and 2. The offense wasn’t there to bail them out and constantly put the defense in bad positions. If Meyer had the guts they Saban showed last night maybe we win that Iowa game.

      The defense bailed the offense out all season and the one time they needed bailed out, JTB was just as awful. If a player is not getting the job done, the coach needs to bench him and find someone that can get the job done.

      That’s the difference between a champion and average. The Cotton Bowl showed us the whole season in one game. Amazing defense with a few mistakes and an offense that’s been handicapped because the coach decided to start who he the liked best and not who is the best player for the position. Sad thing is by Meyer not wanting to let JTB down he let the rest of the team down. Never thought I’d have more respect for Saban than Meyer

      1. love urban the recruiter (best in country), the coach/face of program, the fire, the leader; but wish he would take more of a back seat re offensive play-calling or influence with the OC. and this just in: east-west attacking doesn’t work vs elite teams-everyone’s fast. big key now seems to be to chase off lb’s and safety’s so balanced offensive attacks can run the ball and not have to fight through 8-9 man fronts. hell, osu made usc look like ’85 bears on defense, when they got to play everyone on the line

        1. Urban Meyer is on record himself stating that he has become more of a CEO (thus my reason for now referring to him as CEO Meyer) than a coach. It CLEARLY shows. He’s pulled a JoePa in getting too damned comfy in the office when he should be knee deep in developing the offensive philosophy he built. That same laziness is what ultimately cost Jon Cooper the job. If Urban isn’t careful it’s going to happen to him. Sure the goal annually is to beat the jerks to the north and win the Big 10, BUT, times they have changed. For major programs it’s playoffs and National titles or you’re just another team.

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