Ohio State coach Urban Meyer made a splash on Tuesday, announcing redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett will take over as starting quarterback before the 7-0 Buckeyes’ game at Rutgers (3-3, 1-2).
As OSU’s attempt at extending its nation-best winning streak to 21 on Saturday at 8 p.m. draws near, here are five things The Lantern’s sports editors Ryan Cooper and Kevin Stankiewicz will be looking out for from Piscataway, New Jersey.
How will the offense react to full-time Barrett?
The biggest storyline throughout the season has been the quarterback battle between Barrett and redshirt junior Cardale Jones that began in the spring and carried over into the season.
After Jones started the first seven games of the season, Meyer made the decision that the inconsistent OSU offense would be better suited with Barrett’s talents.
Barrett starred in the Buckeyes’ 38-10 win over Penn State in Week 7, completing all four pass attempts for 30 yards and two touchdowns while running 11 times for 102 yards and two more scores. Compounded with Jones’ struggles in the game, Meyer inserted Barrett in the game in the second half as the sole quarterback after the two split time in consecutive weeks.
Meyer has spoken about the offensive possibilities that open up with Barrett in the game due to his poise, speed and ability to read the defense. The OSU offense was scrutinized throughout the season for not reaching its potential, but a change with Barrett — who seems to better fit Meyer’s offensive style — could help it reach the level it needs to be at as late-season marquee games against Michigan State and Michigan draw nearer.
Barrett started 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2014, and shook off a slow start after preparing for the season as a backup to pick up totals of 3,772 yards and 45 touchdowns. The Wichita Falls, Texas, native won Big Ten Quarterback of the Year and finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting but missed OSU’s three postseason games after suffering an ankle injury.
Meyer said Barrett’s confidence wasn’t quite there at the start of the season coming back from the injury, but he now believes the signal-caller is back.
The OSU offense hasn’t played at a level required to compete with some of the titans of college football, but the new starter could lead to a turnaround starting Saturday.
Replacing a defensive starter
OSU has been blessed with stability on the defensive side this year.
There have been a few bumps and bruises, but the Buckeyes were yet to have a defensive starter miss a game due to injury through their first seven games.
The only change that was seen on the defense at all was in the opener at Virginia Tech, when redshirt freshman Sam Hubbard started in place of a suspended Joey Bosa at the defensive end spot.
That good fortune will come to an end at Rutgers, as senior defensive lineman Tommy Schutt will be held out for a “couple of weeks” after undergoing wrist surgery after the Penn State game, Meyer said.
A pair of possible starters in place of Schutt were listed on OSU’s depth chart: redshirt senior Joel Hale and redshirt sophomore Michael Hill.
Hale, a former walk-on out of Greenwood, Indiana, has appeared in all seven games for the Buckeyes this season, racking up eight total tackles, though only one was unassisted. Hill has also played in all seven games, accumulating six tackles, including two unassisted.
The Buckeyes have been fortunate enough to maintain their great depth on the defensive front this season, but the first injury test will begin on Saturday.
Bosa played his best game of 2015 last week against Penn State. Now against Rutgers and its 34th-ranked offense, the Buckeyes will need him to do it again.
The junior was seemingly camping out in the backfield against the Nittany Lions, registering a season-high seven tackles — three of which went for a loss — and a quarterback hurry.
Meyer called it “dominant,” and with Schutt sidelined, Bosa replicating that level of disruptiveness and forcing the Scarlet Knights to assign additional blockers to him will minimize the absence of the starter.
The 2014 unanimous All-American got off to a rocky start, as he was suspended for the opener against Virginia Tech and in the next couple of games it seemed like Bosa was trying to get back into the groove.
It appears like he has found that groove. The Rutgers offensive line is solid but nothing to write home about, which could be bad news for the Scarlet Knights.
A second consecutive big game looms on the horizon for Bosa.
How effective can Carroo be?
Leonte Carroo is arguably Rutgers’ best offensive player, but unfortunately for coach Kyle Flood’s team, he might be unable to suit up Saturday. The senior wide receiver is ailing from an ankle injury he sustained in the third quarter of last week’s win over Indiana.
Carroo said following the victory he would “definitely” play against OSU, but the official injury report lists him as questionable. As of Wednesday night, the Edison, New Jersey, native has yet to participate in practice.
Him not being on the field would be a critical loss for the Rutgers offense. In the four contests he has buckled his chinstrap, Carroo has tallied over 125 yards receiving and three touchdowns in all but one of the games.
In the two weeks he was suspended due to ongoing legal matters, the Scarlet Knights mustered only 30 points total. With him on the field, they’ve put up point totals of 64, 34, 24 and 55.
Even if Carroo can go, the question will be: How effective can he be?
He’s an explosive player, and there is no doubt having a less-than-100-percent ankle will affect his ability to plant on routes. If Carroo can’t play, Rutgers will severely miss him. If he can play, the Scarlet Knights have to hope he can still be close to the guy who has six receiving touchdowns in the last two games.
Is the Zeke streak in jeopardy?
In the last 12 games going back to last season, junior running back Ezekiel Elliott has finished with a triple-digit rushing total every time.
The St. Louis native averages 141.1 rushing yards per game, which is fifth in the nation and best in the Big Ten.
However, if a game exists that could threaten to stop his 100-plus-yard streak, it could be Saturday’s.
With Barrett under center, it is reasonable to expect Elliott will see fewer carries. On read-option plays that Meyer makes a focal point of his offense, it is likely that the mobile Barrett will keep the ball for himself more than Jones had.
Compounded with that fact is that Rutgers has a strong rushing defense but are very vulnerable through the air, so Meyer could rely on a pass-heavy attack.
The Scarlet Knights are 30th in the country in rushing defense, allowing 126.2 yards per game, but are 124th in passing yards allowed per game with 321.2.
Elliott has been unstoppable at times this year, and has shown that he can get out in open field and pick up a sizable portion of those 100 yards in one fell swoop.
However, while it’s hard to see the junior not have a strong performance at the very least, it’s very possible that he comes up short of 100 yards for the first time since last year’s Nov. 15 meeting at Minnesota.