As No. 1 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0) looks for its 21st straight victory, it will be doing so with a new, yet familiar, face under center.
Redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett, who started 12 games in 2014 and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting, unseated redshirt junior Cardale Jones as the starting quarterback before the Buckeyes’ Week 8 matchup at Rutgers, OSU coach Urban Meyer announced on Tuesday.
“J.T has earned the right to start Saturday at Rutgers,” Meyer said during the weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference.
Jones has started each of the Buckeyes’ seven games this season but was benched in the second half in favor of Barrett against Penn State after a 9-of-15, 84-yard performance. Barrett, used throughout the game in the red zone as well as the extended run in the second half, was 4-of-4 for 30 yards and two touchdowns while running 11 times for 102 yards and two additional scores.
Regardless of who is calling the plays for the offense, senior left tackle Taylor Decker said he thinks the unit is hitting its stride.
“I think we’re farther along than we were at this time last year,” Decker said. “There’s always going to be a ton of questions and everything … but I think we’re farther along.”
Decker went on to say that the offense was being held back by two areas of weakness, which it went on the attack to eliminate.
“We’re improving. We’re a capable offense,” Decker said. “I think we have been, honestly, playing well. I think the issues were turning the ball over and penalties.”
With seven wins in the books, OSU now turns its attention to Rutgers (3-3, 1-2).
The Scarlet Knights grabbed their first conference win last week at Indiana in a 55-52 shootout. Rutgers trailed 52-27 late in the third quarter of that game, but came all the way back to win on a 26-yard field goal as time expired.
While Rutgers carries one of the country’s worst defenses with 447.3 yards allowed per game, OSU sophomore guard Billy Price said the Buckeyes must respect any foe, especially one in the Big Ten.
“You can’t go into any games taking them lightly, because it’s college football and any team will creep up on you, so we have the utmost respect for them,” Price said.
Price said the size Rutgers has on the defensive line stands out to him when he looks at tape and thinks back to last season’s meeting, a 56-17 OSU romp in Columbus.
The Buckeyes will look to go into High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey, to do the same on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.
Against Penn State, junior running back Ezekiel Elliott eclipsed the 3,000-yard rushing mark with his 153 yards.
Now, several former Buckeyes sit in front of him to be passed on the all-time OSU rankings.
If Elliott hits his season average of 141 rushing yards on Saturday, he could move from eighth to fifth on the list.
The St. Louis native would pass former OSU running backs Carlos Hyde and Keith Byers to move into sixth place, but moving into fifth could pose a challenge.
Redshirt senior Braxton Miller currently stands 118 yards in front of Elliott with 3,246. While it seems clear that Elliott will soon pass the former quarterback, a strong game from Miller could keep him in fifth for at least one more week.
Beanie Wells would be the next in line after Miller for Elliott to pass, as he sits in fourth place, 254 yards in front of Elliott. Archie Griffin is the all-time leader with 5,589 yards, a mark that would be difficult for Elliott to eclipse even if he chooses to forgo the NFL draft for his senior year.
Though he left the Penn State game in the first possession with an ankle sprain and did not return, Meyer described senior linebacker Joshua Perry as “probable” for Saturday.
Another senior defensive starter will not have the same fortune, however, as defensive lineman Tommy Schutt had wrist surgery after the game. Meyer said Schutt “should be back in a couple of weeks,” but will miss the game against Rutgers. Listed in his place on OSU’s depth chart are redshirt senior Joel Hale and redshirt sophomore Michael Hill.
While healthy, the Buckeyes will also be without senior linebacker Cam Williams for the first half of the game due to a second-half targeting call that had him ejected from the game against Penn State. Junior Joe Burger entered the depth chart in Williams’ absence.
For the Scarlet Knights, senior wide receiver Leonte Carroo, the school’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions, is considered questionable with a right ankle injury. Carroo said he’ll “definitely be playing” after Rutgers’ win over Indiana, but he did not practice on Tuesday.
The Buckeyes will have their first bye week of the season upon returning from Piscataway. Their next game is scheduled to be an 8 p.m. affair at Ohio Stadium against Minnesota on Nov. 7.