Is J.T. Going To Be A-OK At QB?

By Jeff Rapp, August 28th, 2014

Welcome back to what we like to called he Ruckus, but only because this segment of the site leads to lively discussion and debate, not because anyone is trying to shake up the world.

In this installment, editor Jeff Rapp sits down with on-air cohort Dave Maetzold of 610 WTVN of Columbus. Maetzold not only serves as a frequent host for that top AM station, he also served as a sports anchor for WCMH-TV (Ch. 4) and has covered Ohio State football since the mid-1990s.

With the 2014 season beckoning, Rapp and Maetzold found themselves entwined in a discussion similar to the ones no doubt going on all over town. The topic, of course, was the state of the OSU football team on the heels of the news that star quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the entire campaign.

A two-time winner of the coveted Silver Football that recognizes the top player in the Big Ten, Miller re-injured his throwing shoulder in preseason camp, opening the door for redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett.

We pick up the conversation between Rapp and Maetzold right after interviews that served as a preview for the season opener with Navy in Baltimore on Saturday (noon Eastern, CBS Sports Network).

Here’s a snippet:

Rapp: All right. J.T. Barrett. What is your take on this situation? Because we’re hearing all the things that we’re supposed to hear about how he’s a great leader and all that. How do the guys on this team really know that?

Maetzold: Well, Nick Vannett just said. He sees things from him in a non-7-on-7 situations, non-game-scrimmage situations that he likes. He talked about going through sprints, the way he attacks the weight room and that type of thing. And that’s the kind of guy you want taking over as your leader.

You don’t want a guy who shows up in the weight room (saying), “Oh, God, we’ve got to do this. Aw, man, I can’t believe that’s it’s this time again.” You don’t want a guy like that. You want a guy who is stepping up in those situations and making the most of those situations.”

Rapp: Here’s my thing about it. With a lot of good talent around you, you can be a good manager at quarterback, which we’ve seen with Craig Krenzel and others. And I think they’ve still got a tenable schedule there. But are they going to be patient enough? Because it seems like everything in the offseason has been about stepping it up and being more dynamic in throwing the ball and hitting people in stride and using these scatback guys, and all this stuff.

Are you going to really have the nerve to call all those plays with a guy when you just don’t know what you have yet? And You’ve got some tough games right out of the chute.”

Maetzold: I thought it was pretty insightful that in Urban Meyer’s first sentence he said (paraphrasing) you know what, J.T and Cardale (Jones) are coming along real nicely. I mean he had them in the same breath. That’s why the question I asked in the press conference was, “How close are they?”

When we first heard that Braxton went down it was just a couple of days after we heard that J.T. had just edged past Cardale Jones into that second slot.

Rapp: Yeah.

Maetzold: Just edged past him. That tells me that there is not that much room between those guys. And then Urban follows up by saying – when I asked “If J.T. struggles, will you hesitate to put Cardale in?” – no, absolutely not. He’ll be ready to go.”

It’s not like J.T. has surged in from a fourth position and all of a sudden is our guy, but it’s you know what, he’s done a lot of nice things to take over as a backup, and then Braxton gets hurt and, oh, by default, he’s your starter.

If you think about it, that’s not a ringing endorsement.

Rapp: No. And my assessment of that is Cardale probably is a safer play. He took the majority of snaps with the ones in the spring. But he also probably limits the offense just a little bit more. He adds a great dimension when he runs the ball; he’s such a load carrying it.

But they don’t want to play that way. They don’t to feel like it’s 2012 again, where it’s, “Well, let’s have the quarterback bail us out on third-and-6 and see if we can get him a run for a first down.”

I know they don’t want to play that way. I know Tom Herman doesn’t want to do that. So I think they’re kind of crossing their fingers and hoping that J.T. can be a move-the-sticks guy by keeping defense completely … baffled is not the right word, but at least keeping them honest.

Maetzold: Right. And let’s be honest: He obviously hasn’t played a full season since his junior year in high school. But that junior year in high school was very balanced in terms of what he was able to do. His rushing numbers were huge; his passing numbers were huge. I think he may offer more balance than Cardale does, frankly.

And the other thing you keep hearing, and it’s an ambiguous term, is great leader. He’s a great leader. I heard that from his high school coach when I talked to him last week. You hear that again today. Guys are saying he’s got the leadership thing.

I don’t buy it when I hear the “don’t skip a beat” thing. But I do buy that a guy is either a leader or he’s not. And you’re going to find that out on the first series on Saturday.

Rapp: I’ve got to tell you, the most encouraging thing to me is I keep hearing about how smart he is, how he understands what’s going on. I think it’s the most underrated aspect in sport, probably in collegiate sports. Obviously if you’re a freak athlete you can go pretty far in athletics.

But if you’re a pretty good athlete but you know what’s going on, you know what the coaches want, you know what you’re doing, and you’re confident because you know what you’re doing, you can still be a pretty good player.

Maetzold: His high school coach said (paraphrasing) you know, he commanded a lot of respect from the biggest thug in the school and from girls on the volleyball team. It didn’t matter who it was. Everybody listened to what he had to say. There may be something to that.

Rapp: Yeah. Well, I hope there’s some intangible thing. So here’s the other question: Is it the most important thing? It appears to be right now, and obviously it changes the dynamic more than any other way you can imagine the dynamic changed. No Braxton Miller.

But what if (Barrett) is pretty good? Can they still win 11 ballgames and still make the College Football Playoff? I think that’s possible.

Maetzold: Six deep at receiver. It could be any one of those guys breaking the huddle at any one time. Four deep at tailback right now with a mix of young guys and veterans who can give you a serious 1-2 punch. Again, it will be how cohesive this offensive line is.

You hear about how everything is where it should be in terms of filling those spots for the guys who are in the NFL now. But it’s about cohesiveness and chemistry and all those ambiguous terms that you won’t know until you see that line playing together.

Taylor Decker moving over from the right side to the left side – what kind of impact will that have on him? How important is it that he play absolutely error-free football to protect that young quarterback back there? Because a couple of how-do-you-dos from a defensive lineman from Navy and then it’s a whole different deal.

Rapp: I’m not going to give up on a year before it starts but the overriding feeling I have about this situation is it sets everything up. They are going to be so good next year. This experience.

Because they don’t have reliability yet. You said six different receivers. Who’s the No. 1? Who’s the reliable, 20-handoffs-a-game running back? Is J.T. Barrett able to manage a game or is he going to have to share time with Cardale?

You know what, they’re going to come out better from all this for next year. But, of course, nobody wants to hear that in Columbus.

Maetzold: And not only there, but also in the secondary.

Rapp: Yeah, look at the defense. The defense could be loaded next year.

Maetzold: Oh, my goodness, they could be really, really good. So yeah, I don’t want to look ahead, either, and I don’t want to say this one is done because the quarterback is gone. You never know how it’s going to turn out.