More for Martell

Tim May
tmay@dispatch.com
Ohio State's Tate Martell handles the snap during fourth-quarter action against Michigan State. [Adam Cairns]

Urban Meyer has made it clear in his time as a head coach that he doesn’t play a quarterback until that QB is absolutely ready — except in a pinch.

Ohio State’s game last week at Michigan State proved to be a ripe time both ways when it came to backup Tate Martell. The Buckeyes’ redshirt freshman, blessed with razzle-dazzle running ability and enough passing skills to be a bona fide threat, was subbed in for Dwayne Haskins Jr. on a first-and-goal at the MSU 6 in a scoreless tie late in the first half.

It wasn’t mop-up duty like Martell’s previous appearance, back in September in a romp over Tulane. Against the Spartans, the Buckeyes’ season was on the line in a Big Ten defensive struggle in the cold and wind, and on the road. They were in a pinch and, as Meyer said this week, Martell had proved he was prepared.

“He does it out here,” the OSU coach said, referring to the practice field.

>>VIDEO: Ryan Day on the confidence now in playing Tate Martell

As much as folks were clamoring to see Martell get to do it in a game, he is, after all, a redshirt freshman. He also is playing behind a third-year sophomore in Dwayne Haskins Jr., who is just 50 yards and two touchdown passes away from matching school records for a season — 3,330 yards by Joe Germaine in 1998, and 35 TDs by J.T. Barrett last season — headed into Saturday’s game at Maryland.

But critics believed that Martell offered options in the red zone that the pocket-passing Haskins did not. Martell proved that when he ran for 5 yards on his first play last week. He immediately returned to the sideline in favor of Haskins who, two plays later, flipped a short shovel pass to Parris Campbell for a 1-yard touchdown.

Martell didn’t pounce on a wayward snap on one of his latter appearances — the Spartans recovered the fumble — and he didn’t get the clap count right on another play, a fourth-and-1 at the Michigan State 35 that led to a false start by a lineman. Those miscues were part of his record in the game, too, offensive coordinator Ryan Day said.

“Other than those two plays, I thought he did a good job,” Day said after practice Tuesday.

Martell being thrust into those situations after spending the previous five games on the bench indicated the trust in him is blossoming.

“Give him a 5 on the competitor scale,” Meyer said. “He’s an elite competitor. He has worked his you-know-what off.”

Day said that Martell’s status upgrade can be tied to the work he has put in.

“He has been practicing better and doing a good job taking care of the ball,” Day said. “His ball security has been much better. His decision-making has been better. When you do it in practice … you build trust, and then it’s time to go play in the game.”

Haskins admitted after the win at MSU it was “a little frustrating” to have to give way, but he understood “it’s for the betterment of the offense” to offer a different look from time to time.

Day said “They’re both competitive guys and they both want to play. But they understand what’s best for the team, and our unit as a unit. Those guys, their relationship has really grown, especially this year, and they pull for each other.”

And the desire to play, “That’s what you want,” Day said. “You want guys who want to be on the field.”

tmay@dispatch.com

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