By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – No debate. No suspense. No sending an additional message.
J.T. Barrett is expected to return as Ohio State’s starting quarterback when the Buckeyes go to Illinois on Saturday, OSU coach Urban Meyer said at his weekly press conference on Monday.
“If J.T. has a good week of practice, he will get to start against Illinois,” Meyer said. “He will be the starter unless he does not have a good week of practice or something. But that’s every week.”
Barrett was suspended for last week’s 28-14 win over Minnesota after being cited for operating a vehicle while impaired on Oct. 31 during a bye week for Ohio State.
That came just one week after Barrett had replaced Cardale Jones as OSU’s starting quarterback and the Buckeyes’ offense looked better than any other time this season in a 49-7 win over Rutgers.
Jones – who started the first seven games this season – returned to the lineup and hit 12 of 22 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown and scored on a 38-yard run. But many of the same deficiencies that brought about a quarterback change were still evident.
So, strictly from a football standpoint, Barrett’s return as the No. 1 quarterback was no surprise.
The biggest difference in the two quarterbacks is Barrett’s running ability, especially his ability to run the option, which means defenses can’t focus as much on stopping running back Ezekiel Elliott.
“Cardale does a nice job on quarterback draws and the slower developing plays. J.T., if you look back, his history is a little bit more of quick developing plays, a little bit more Braxton (Miller) style offense,” Meyer said.
“J.T. gives you an added element of the double option,” he said.
Senior offensive tackle Taylor Decker also pointed to Barrett’s running ability as what makes him stand out from the crowd.
“I think the big thing is he’s a legitimate threat running the ball. He reads the read option very well. He pulls it (the football) when he needs to and he gives it when he needs to.
“We’ve seen in the red zone that if teams just want to take away Zeke (Elliott), J.T. will score. Not to take anything away from Cardale, but J.T. has an incredibly high football IQ. He just understands football and what to check into. The offense is just faster with him,” he said.
OSU-MICHIGAN STATE KICKOFF: Speculation that Ohio State’s game against Michigan State on Nov. 21 could be a night game can be put to rest.
ESPN/ABC, which has the rights to the game, has announced it will kick off at either noon or 3:30 p.m. on ESPN, ESPN 2 or ABC.
The decision on which of those times and which network will be selected will come after this Saturday’s games.
MILLER EXPECTED BACK: Wide receiver Braxton Miller is expected to return to practice Tuesday after sitting out Sunday’s practice with what Meyer said was a sore neck caused when his head hit the turf hard while catching a pass against Minnesota last Saturday night.
Meyer also addressed the question of whether Miller is physically able to throw a pass after two shoulder surgeries.
He said he has thrown passes in practice. “But not a lot,” Meyer said. “He can. I think what happened to him a year ago is still fresh in his mind. He’s not out there throwing in seven on sevens, spinning all over the field. But he certainly can throw it.”
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP ODDS: Las Vegas odds maker Bovado has moved Alabama up to co-favorite with Ohio State to win the national championship after the Crimson Tide’s 30-16 win over LSU last Saturday.
Both teams are listed at 5/2 to win the title. Previously, OSU had been the favorite by itself at those odds and Alabama was 5/1.
MEYER ON DEFENSE: Despite giving up two fourth-quarter touchdowns and a lot of yards in the final 15 minutes, Ohio State’s defense had a good game against Minnesota last Saturday, Meyer said.
“Overall, the defense played very well,” he said.
Safety Vonn Bell, who scored a touchdown on an interception, and defensive end Joey Bosa were the defensive players of the game.
Nine other defensive players were labeled champions, which means they played up to the standard expected of them. Defensive linemen Joel Hale, Mike Hill, Tyquan Lewis, Adolphus Washington and Sam Hubbard, linebackers Darron Lee, Raekwon McMillan and Joshua Perry, and cornerback Eli Apple were named champions.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.