I think I can guess the reaction of 99.9% of the members of Buckeye Nation to last night’s 28-14 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers: disappointment, and a shrug.
Disappointment, because we all hoped to see the Cardale Jones and Buckeye offense that took the team to the National Championship last year — and we didn’t. The offense got off to its customary slow start again last night, as it has in most of the games Jones has started this year. When you’re getting close to halftime and a team that is filled with speed and playmakers hasn’t scored yet, it’s frustrating. Is it because of Cardale Jones, or because different coaches are calling the plays this year? We don’t know for sure — but the offense just looks totally out of sync when Twelve Gauge takes the snaps.
A shrug, because we recognize that a win is a win and we have confidence that the offense will play better with J.T. Barrett at quarterback. We see other teams falling from the ranks of the unbeatens — look at what happened to Michigan State, for goodness’ sake — and we know that even if Ohio State’s win looked sluggish and uninspired, it still goes in the W column. And in college football, staying unbeaten is still the best way to make it to the playoffs.
I think we might want to do more than take a ho hum attitude about last night’s game, however. Sure, there are some good things to take away from it, like an improved performance from the defense, which produced a touchdown and came reasonably close to pitching a shutout. Some will even argue that it’s a positive that the game quashes any lingering issues about a quarterback controversy.
But the big issue in my mind is about confidence. Last year, when J.T. Barrett went down, Cardale Jones had not tasted failure. The offense was rolling already, and CJ played footloose and fancy-free. When he hit some long balls against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, his confidence went through the roof. This year, though, he has had his struggles and — equally important — the team has, too. They don’t play with nearly the same confidence with Jones at quarterback. He knows it, and they know it. It would be very difficult for the team and #12 to recapture the moxie they displayed last year.
What does it mean? Increasingly, it looks like this: members of Buckeye Nation had better hope that J.T. Barrett keeps his nose clean and his body uninjured if Ohio State wants to have a realistic chance to defend last year’s title on the field.