Only a few times this season has Ohio State missed the running ability of quarterback J.T. Barrett, who had a knack for picking up first downs in short-yardage situations.
Saturday night was one of those times.
Buckeye Nation winced when Penn State’s defense stuffed Dwayne Haskins Jr. on 4th-and-1 with OSU trailing the Nittany Lions 20-14 early in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t pretty. Haskins crumpled short of the mark, like a Dixie cup missing the trash can.
Maybe Barrett would have come up short, too, but a gambler would have liked his odds betting on Barrett to gain a yard.
Meet that gambler, Mr. Urban Meyer. The Ohio State coach loves him some running quarterback. Go down the line: Alex Smith at Utah; Tim Tebow at Florida; Braxton Miller and Barrett at Ohio State. Each one capable of getting crucial yards with his feet. Each one giving the offense an extra half-player the defense must defend.
Now Meyer is without a running QB, but if it’s killing him at least he’s not pulling the knife from his chest just yet.
“There are certain times of the game I’m used to having something in my pocket that it’s not there,” Meyer said Monday while recapping the 27-26 win against Penn State.
At this point, Meyer will take the trade-off. He is not totally comfortable not having a running quarterback, but trusts Haskins — or more so offensive coordinators Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson — to win games without relying on the QB’s feet.
“We’re 5-0. We have two very good coaches; more than that, I have a very good offensive staff,” Meyer said, before again commenting on his nature. “It’s comfort zone like that short yardage (running the quarterback) that I’ve been used to.”
Haskins is not a runner — he is decent in the open field, just don’t ask him to plow between the tackles — but that’s OK. The Buckeyes have tailbacks capable of picking up first downs in short-yardage situations.
A quarterback who can run is an asset, but not having one is not the end of the world. How it works: a college quarterback who runs is not a problem; a quarterback who throws but does not run is not a problem; a quarterback who runs but cannot make all the throws is the problem.
Haskins makes all the throws, which explains why Meyer is allowing Day and Wilson to run a more pro-style offense.
“We’re throwing (347 yards) a game and we’re winning,” he said.
Meyer still has reservations.
“We had two situations Saturday where we haven’t figured that out,” he said of how to handle must-make first downs. “One we didn’t make it. One we made it by (inches). So those are questions we have.”
But he is evolving, and adaptation takes time. There will be more moments when he wishes he had Barrett.
Or maybe he still has him? At the risk of stirring the QB controversy pot, it would not surprise me to see Tate Martell re-enter the picture at some point. Not just against inferior opponents — the dual-threat quarterback should see the field for the first time in two games on Saturday against Indiana — but also against better teams.
Meyer subbed Tebow in for Chris Leak in Florida’s 2006 national championship season. Tebow was more of a bull than Martell, but giving the redshirt freshman more snaps might prove valuable, especially in the red zone.
Just don’t expect to see Martell in anything but a specialty role. Meyer deep down may prefer an offense that features Martell the way Penn State features quarterback Trace McSorley, who rushed for 175 yards against the Buckeyes, but he realizes a dynamic passer gives OSU the best shot at winning a national title.