The knee injury to quarterback J.T. Barrett in the third quarter of Ohio State’s game against Michigan on Saturday left the Buckeye offense in a state of uncertainty. But redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins stepped up and drove the Buckeyes to victory in their 31-20 win.
Head coach Urban Meyer listed Barrett as probable for the Big Ten championship game against No. 5 Wisconsin, but much about his situation is still to be determined. He did not practice Sunday, and Meyer said he did not know much about the injury to his starting quarterback.
“I don’t want to pretend that I know I’ve dealt with it before, but it’s a cartilage that once it comes out of the area — I shouldn’t even — I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about,” Meyer said Monday.
More concerning for Ohio State is that Meyer said it’s too early to tell if the injury will affect Barrett’s mobility, a key aspect of his game, and that he will know more about Barrett’s limitations later this week after he practices.
What has always made Barrett such a weapon for Ohio State is his ability to be a key contributor through the air and on the ground. He is not known for his ability to make outstanding passes, but his running ability adds an additional threat to his game. Barrett is second on the team in rushing yards with 672 on 130 carries and has nine of the Buckeyes’ 31 rushing touchdowns.
An injury to the knee brings up several potential concerns for Barrett. First, it puts into question whether Barrett can run effectively. If the knee causes him pain, it could threaten plans for option- and designed runs.
Second, if the Buckeyes think Barrett is healed enough, they could trust in him to run the ball only for him to be injured in a more serious way against Wisconsin should he be tackled on a carry. Meyer said after Saturday’s game that he thought Barrett was going to be healthy enough to play, and it was on a run by Barrett that he injured his knee.
“We were worried he wasn’t going to be able to [play],” Meyer said Saturday. “He’s so tough, he went out there and played, and obviously we didn’t do very well and then we got going and then tied things up at 14.”
Much of what will determine Barrett’s mobility and his potential to play will come down to practice this week. Meyer did not say what the practice plan for Barrett this week was and did not say whether Barrett is going to be full-go for practice.
The only thing Meyer knows at this point is Haskins will be seeing additional reps in practice and will be essentially splitting time with Barrett.
Meyer said he was impressed by Haskins against Michigan, primarily the comfort he displayed in a tough environment and against one of the nation’s best defenses. The performance by the second-year quarterback gave Meyer some comfort, should Haskins need to play.
But Meyer qualified that comfort by saying it depended on the situation and implied he would not want to throw Haskins into a tough situation unless he absolutely needed to use him.
“I mean, that’s an option,” Meyer said. “But the comforting and more, almost hate saying comfort. It’s the confidence. Because you’ve seen it.”
Should Haskins be required to step in and see meaningful time for Ohio State Saturday, he will provide the Buckeyes with a completely different offensive look. He is not the dual-threat quarterback Barrett is, but his pocket-passing style and big arm offer the offense more of a vertical threat. It could even potentially give Ohio State an advantage because Wisconsin might not be prepared for such a drastically different style of quarterback.
“We’re not going to try to play guessing games,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said on a teleconference on Sunday. “We believe [Barrett] is going to play.”
That is not the ideal situation for the Buckeyes. In 2014, Ohio State was down to no one else but a redshirt sophomore quarterback in Cardale Jones, who had a similar profile as Haskins, and it worked out. But relying on an inexperienced, young quarterback in a critical make-or-break game is not a situation the Buckeyes would like to be in again.
If Barrett is healthy enough to play, he will. But his health will determine more than just the starting quarterback. It will determine how much the Buckeyes are able to do offensively and if they will need to change their game plan.
The health of Barrett will leave a bevy of questions unanswered for the remainder of the week. Those questions will not be answered until kickoff Saturday.