Red-zone inefficiency has been a problem for Ohio State’s offense throughout the season.
It appears that now the solution may have been discovered during its 49-28 victory over Maryland.
And it looks a lot like J.T. Barrett.
OSU coach Urban Meyer hinted during the week that the team has thought about using the redshirt sophomore quarterback inside the red zone, but at the time, he said they had yet to make a decision about it.
By Saturday, Meyer apparently had made a decision.
The Buckeyes went three-and-out on their first possession, but when they got the ball back, trailing Maryland 7-0, the offense started clicking.
Redshirt junior quarterback Cardale Jones methodically marched the unit 44 yards in seven plays to get down to the Terrapin 25-yard line. Jones had just finished scrambling for eight yards when he jogged off the sideline, passing Barrett on his way.
Barrett stepped in behind center and finished the job. It took Barrett six plays — including a 20-yard completion to redshirt junior wide receiver Michael Thomas — to find the end zone on a three-yard touchdown run.
It was the team’s first touchdown in the red zone since the third quarter against Western Michigan in Week 4.
“(Barrett) provided an obvious spark for us in there,” Meyer said after the game. “He’s a leader and a guy that needs to be on the field.”
Despite Jones playing his best game of the year, according to Meyer, and throwing for a new career-high of 291 passing yards, Barrett entered the game when the team crossed inside the 20-yard line all but one time.
The one time he did not was because Jones had just completed a 33-yard pass to redshirt senior H-back Braxton Miller, which brought the team to the 19-yard line. The Buckeyes kept with the tempo, hurrying to the line before Jones connected again with Miller for 19-yard score.
Barrett guided the Buckeyes to touchdowns on all five of his trips in the red zone. Thrice he scored on rushing touchdowns, while junior running back Ezekiel Elliott had the other two.
Using the two quarterbacks in specific situations was not a game-day, spur of the moment decision.
“It was all within the coaches’ plan to win,” Jones said. “He felt like J.T. brings an extra element to the game down in the red zone, and certain things we wanna do in the run game. (Meyer) proves to be right once again.”
The plan to begin using Barrett, who started 12 games for OSU and amassed 3,772 total yards — 938 of which were on the ground — and a Big Ten record 45 touchdowns in 2014, in the red zone came to Meyer during a walk on Monday, according to Jones.
Jones said Meyer decided to then ask Barrett and Jones what they thought of the idea.
“I agreed with him,” Jones said. “J.T. brings the element to the game in the run game and certain positions on the field … It was all for the benefit of the team.”
And benefit the team it did.
The theory that rotating signal-callers could be detrimental to the continuity of the offense did not seem to hold any merit Saturday.
The offense looked much more polished against the Terrapins, as it had no turnovers and racked up 499 yards of total offense.
“I think this system works perfectly for our offense,” Elliott, who extended his streak of 100-plus-yard performances to 11 after gaining 106 yards, said. “I don’t think it took anyone out of rhythm, everyone was in rhythm, everyone was playing well.”
Moving forward, Jones said he thinks the situational usage of Barrett can work because Meyer does an “unbelievable job of managing it.”
But whether or not the Buckeyes have found their fix to their red zone ails and quarterback situation is not so clear to Meyer.
“Sure,” he said about if the issues were repaired. “Until next week.”
That matchup next week is set to be against Penn State at Ohio Stadium on Oct. 17. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.