The matchup everyone seems to be talking about heading into Ohio State’s game against Cincinnati is the Bearcat pass offense against the revamped Buckeye defense.
And while the Buckeye offense has briefly been discussed, it has been the high-flying aerial assault of the Bearcats and Cincinnati redshirt-sophomore quarterback Gunner Kiel getting the attention.
Kiel, who was the No. 3-rated quarterback by ESPN coming out of high school, has the Cincinnati offense ranked ninth in the country in pass offense.
Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville classified his wide receiving corps as the best he has ever coached.
But OSU coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday that any quarterback is can succeed with talented teammates.
“You put a great offensive line and good receivers and a quarterback becomes great,” Meyer said. “You put that same quarterback with a makeshift offense line and some struggling receivers, and there’s a really bad quarterback, so a quarterback is the product of those around him.”
Kiel has been exceptional in his first two games, averaging 344.5 pass yards per game to go along with 10 passing scores. Not only has he tossed 10 touchdowns, but he’s spread those passes out to seven different receivers.
In that respect, Kiel has out-distributed “the distributor,” OSU redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, who was given the nickname by his coaches earlier in the season. Just five different Buckeyes have been on the receiving end of Barrett’s nine passing touchdowns.
One of the receivers on the end of Barrett’s passes has been redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall, who said Wednesday that he, along with the rest of the Buckeye offense, is capable of producing more for Barrett.
“Of course we want to do more,” Marshall said Wednesday. “Being a playmaker, you always want to make plays for the team. I feel like we have practiced hard this last bye week and this week. I feel like we have more opportunity to make plays this week.”
Marshall, who scored his first collegiate touchdown against Kent State on Sept. 13, said he was recruited by the Bearcats to play quarterback, a position he excelled at in high school.
“I was recruited by Cincinnati, Tennessee and UCLA, schools like that but that kind of dropped off as I committed here to play receiver,” Marshall said. “I was looking at the bigger picture, it (OSU) is a great university.”
Marshall even alluded to the possibility that Buckeye fans could see him take snaps at the quarterback position on Saturday in Ohio Stadium.
“We have done a little bit of it,” Marshall said in regards to him playing quarterback in practice. “Hopefully on Saturday we can start some of it.”
While Marshall teased the idea of taking the snaps from center, Barrett seems to have control of the Buckeye offense. He is averaging 252.3 passing yards per game and has been, for the most part, consistent in replacing senior Braxton Miller, who is out for the season after tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder during fall camp.
Junior offensive lineman Jacoby Boren said Wednesday that he believes Barrett has played well since taking over for Miller.
“J.T. is a great quarterback. He stepped up big time, I think, since week one. Everybody has their bumps in the road but he is a great quarterback,” Boren said. “(He has) great leadership. He is an awesome leader on this team. He is a really smart guy.”
Despite Barrett and Kiel being relatively inexperienced, Meyer stood firm on his belief that a quarterback’s play hinges on his surrounding teammates.
“I think it is all relative. Who’s the best quarterback usually has the best players around him,” he said.
Which quarterback has the best supporting cast remains to be seen Saturday, as the Buckeyes and Bearcats are scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m. at Ohio Stadium.