Jake, Elwood and the Red Zone Quarterback

I rarely enter into the Buckeye football discussion world. It scares me frankly–all college football fan base discussions scare me. Scary people lurk there too.

Irrelevant side note: I don’t even like scary movies (I don’t gravitate to chick flicks either, but what would you expect me to say? To be perfectly truthful, I actually like some chick flicks. And they are also the only way to get my wife to watch a movie with me without her falling asleep. I just can never watch one a second time). If you can’t give me a western or historical film, give me your best nonsensical man comedy. Like Groundhog Day–a truly essential movie for the mature development of any modern man.

I’ve also been impressed by the fact that no matter how clever someone thinks he or she is on social media, someone, somewhere has already said the exact same thing. I’m not clever and I’m rarely original. So I stay out of the world of Buckeye football twitter mania. Too scary.

But I was in a bar in Las Vegas the night before last year’s B1G championship game. I was wearing a Buckeye wrestling hat. When a Michigan fan approached me my instinct was to roll my eyes, but this guy was unique. Wasn’t filled with the usual Michigan angst and oblivious condescension that goes way beyond football (you know, the hilarious kind that Michigan people are full of–“my Camaro–which we all tell ourselves is a Maserati–is better than your Mustang”). He asked how I thought Ohio State would do with its third string quarterback the next night. I said they’d win by three touchdowns. He was taken aback, but genuinely said, “I hope you’re right.”

I obviously understated the case but my point was that by that time it seemed clear the Buckeyes had grown into an elite offensive machine. One that grew, got more sophisticated and had become a smoothly functioning system that was much greater than the sum of its parts. I said with a little focused prep, Cardale could assume the controls and do just fine.

Until this year I had not really appreciated the full extent of what JT Barrett must have meant to the growth of that team. Think about what has happened in twelve months. A seemingly pedestrian team went from a home loss to Virginia Tech to embarrassing four elite or near elite teams. Based on that, the hype for this team, even from haters, was almost unparalleled, right? But then it seemed to disappear, right? None of anything I’ve just said is unique or hasn’t been said often.

Early in the season, Matt Finkes–a man with infinitely more insider and football knowledge than I will ever have, and a great wrestling fan–said, more or less, the 2015 Buckeye offense lacked cohesion and leadership. It’s a simple point to make, and it is also the kind of generic comment that could be said, and often wrongly, in a lot of instances when a team isn’t functioning as hoped.

I have zero real knocks on Cardale as a football player or even as a leader–I love him. Matt may have been saying JT was the reason why the chemistry was faltering. Regardless, just maybe JT’s key ability really is to take a complex task and synchronize it to near maximum efficiency. In fact, just perhaps JT actually has uniquely elite talent on that special facet. I do believe the Buckeyes gain a lot with that big arm of Cardale’s (assuming he can harness it a little more accurately).

So my only humble observation is that it may not really be about whether JT is a better red zone quarterback. Everyone talks about JT’s running, and ok I get that. But Cardale is no slouch and in the red zone with far less space to maneuver, I am not sure Cardale, who has been known to bulldoze over defenders, is not more suited as a red zone quarterback. And the touch thing on passes–well frankly Cardale needs to improve his touch on long balls as much as near the goal, so take your pick.

If a red zone quarterback really makes sense, on balance it does seem marginally better to have that QB be JT rather than the other way around. But the strict execution difference seems so marginal as to not justify foregoing the benefits of sticking with one quarterback and working on his areas of improvement.

So no, I don’t really buy the need to have JT as a red zone specialist, per se. What I do buy is finding a defined role for JT that gets him integrally involved every game as a way to capitalize on Cardale’s clear strength while putting the chief engineer of last year’s phenomenon back in a position where he can work his hidden magic.

So, without sacrificing Cardale’s potential, this dual role just might be the thing necessary to put the band back together. Ohio State’s own Blues Brothers may just be a unique chemistry, one that is perhaps based on the gifts of a truly gifted leader, just working from a new playlist. Who wants an orange whip?


  1. sportsMonkey says

    They’re on a mission from God.

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