Cardale Jones just quarterbacked Ohio State to the national championship in only his third career start. In his three starts, he’s won a Big Ten Championship Game with an flawless performance against 13th-ranked Wisconsin, beaten the #1-ranked team in the country in Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and then won a national championship by knocking off #2-ranked Oregon. Because Jones was the third string quarterback who was replacing the Heisman Trophy candidate who also replaced the Heisman Trophy quarterback, conventional wisdom says the Buckeyes should not have been in this position but here they are, national champions, led by the most unlikely of heroes.
Jones’ sudden success speaks volumes of the coaching at Ohio State. When Heisman candidate Braxton Miller was declared out two weeks before the 2014 season because of a bum shoulder, his replacement was redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett who played himself into a Heisman candidate after a rocky second game loss to Virginia Tech. When Barrett broke an ankle in the final regular season game against Michigan, Jones stepped in and the Buckeyes didn’t miss a beat.
Contrast that to Florida the last four years where quarterback development and the Gators have been like two ships that pass in the night. It’s not like the Gators have lacked for talent although it’s only fair to leave John Brantley out of the equation since he languished four years while trying to be a square peg fitting into the round hole that was Urban Meyer’s spread option offense. But look at the other guys.
Jeff Driskel, Jacoby Brissett, Tyler Murphy, Skyler Mornhinweg and Treon Harris never developed under any of the three offensive coordinators the Gators had running the show since 2011. When Brantley went down with an injury in 2011, neither Driskel nor Brissett were anywhere close to being ready to play. When Driskel went down in 2013, Murphy and Mornhinweg couldn’t stop the bleeding as the Gators lost their last seven games. This past season, Driskel couldn’t get the job done and Harris played with mixed results.
Driskel has since transferred to Louisiana Tech. Brissett transferred after 2012 and led North Carolina State to an 8-win season in 2014 by throwing for 2,606 yards and 23 TDs and running for 529 more. Murphy transferred to Boston College after 2013 and this past season threw for 1,623 yards and 13 touchdowns and ran for 1,184 and 11 more while leading the Eagles to a bowl game.
You look at what Florida’s quarterbacks have done the last four years and it pales compared to what Ohio State just did. Now Cardale Jones did have plenty of talent to work with but he’s the third string quarterback and he played better in three games than any Florida quarterback has played an entire season since one Tim Tebow graduated.
Now you understand why Jim McElwain hired Doug Nussmeier to come here as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. McElwain and Nussmeier know each other well enough that they might as well share the same offensive brain and they certainly have proven they can develop quarterbacks. Alabama won national championships in 2009 with Greg McElroy and 2011-12 with A.J. McCarron, both turned into big time winners by McElwain and then Nussmeier.
They have their work cut out for them for 2015 with only Harris, redshirt freshman Will Grier and Mornhinweg to work with but for Florida to get back to a championship level, they are going to need better quarterback play than we’ve seen in years and there better be enough quarterback development that if one guy goes down, the next one can step in and the team won’t miss a beat.
Consider that task number one when McElwain is finished with recruiting and can finally start working with his players to get them ready for the spring.
The Buckeyes won this game by dominating the game on both lines of scrimmage. Ohio State ran for 296 yards with Ezekiel Elliott going for 246 and four touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, Oregon, which came into the game averaging 242 yards a game, managed only 132. Royce Freeman, who came into the game with 1,343 yards and 18 touchdowns, got 22 yards on 10 carries and Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, was contained in the pocket. He sprung loose for 39 yards on 10 carries but his longest gain was eight yards.
In addition to opening up gaping holes in the Oregon defensive line so that Elliott was at the second level before the Ducks could adjust, Jones was given plenty of time to throw and he delivered 242 passing yards. He was charged with an interception when his receiver couldn’t handle a very catchable job. Early in the game when Oregon brought the heat, Jones bought time with his legs but in the second half, the Ohio State offensive line became almost impenetrable.
It’s great to have all those fast guys, stud runners and quarterbacks with great arms, but if you can’t control the lines of scrimmage you don’t win.
With a roster that returns 35 of the top 44 players, stud running back Ezekiel Elliott, All-American defensive end Joey Bosa and potentially all three quarterbacks, Ohio State will be loaded once again in 2015. TCU will certainly get a lot of preseason attention with all the players returning on that talented roster, but it’s hard to imagine anyone but the Buckeyes starting the season ranked #1.
It will be interesting to see how Meyer handles the success this time. The pressure of trying to repeat as national champs at Florida in 2009 got to him and he broke down physically. The illness was real, evidenced by the 40 pounds of weight he lost during the season and when things began to unravel on the Monday prior to the SEC Championship Game against Alabama, it brought on chest pains that even Shelley Meyer, a trained RN with a Masters Degree, thought was the big one. Then came the one-day retirement and then the decision to return to the sideline in 2010, a move I don’t think he would have made if he had it to do all over again. The illness was real and Meyer should have taken both 2010 and 2011 away from the game. We know what happened next.
Since taking the Ohio State job, Meyer has done a better job of handling pressure and high expectations but until Monday night, he hadn’t won a national title. It’s one thing to go 12-0 in a season when you can’t go to a bowl and another thing to go 12-2. When you win the national title, Buckeye fans begin to lather and the always high expectations go through the roof. Meyer has rock star status in Ohio and if he thinks he has no privacy now, wait until he’s trying to take a bite of that steak when someone shoves a hat with a Sharpie in his face and doesn’t even ask if he’s interrupting. Ask Steve Spurrier about that. It’s what he endured his entire 12-year run at Florida and that was living in a state where loyalties are divided among the Gators, Seminoles and Hurricanes. In Ohio even though there is Cincinnati plus all those MAC schools playing Division I football, Ohio State is really the only game in the state. The pressure to win that Meyer endured at Florida will pale by comparison of what he can expect the next few months and all of next season.
From a health standpoint, Meyer is in far better shape now than he was the night the Gators knocked off Oklahoma in 2008 and certain far better than he was at any point in 2009. Will he keep it all in perspective? Will he continue to do the things that he’s done since leaving UF to better deal with stress? Or will the winning obsess him once again?
Only time will tell.
Heisman winner Marcus Mariota is a class act both on and off the field. What a fine example of what a leader ought to be. Although he has a year of eligibility remaining it’s difficult to imagine that he will come back for another year at Oregon. If he declares for the NFL, then he’s a top five draft pick. If I’m the GM of the Tampa Bay Bucs, this is my guy with the first pick in the first round.
Of course, since it’s the Bucs, figure they’ll take Jameis Winston. Bummer.
To recap the last 24 hours, the Buffalo Bills hired Rex Ryan and gave him a five-year contract worth $27 million to coach the team. What am I missing here? Since going 11-5 in 2010, Ryan coached the Jets to a 26-38 record and made an absolute mess of the franchise. And he’s supposed to take all that young talent in Buffalo and turn the Bills into a winner? Again, what am I missing here?
I am continually amazed at how the same old faces get shuffled around in the NFL. Coaches who lose and get fired continue to resurface somewhere else where they typically lose again and get fired again.
Do you think Meyer will handle the success of winning better this time or do you think he will encounter health problems with the increased pressure?
If you love the blues, then mark May 16 down on your schedule and make plans to be in Mount Dora for the Blues and Groove Weekend where you can catch a live performance of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. Mayall will be 82 this year but he’s certainly not slowing down. He’s got about 50 concert dates confirmed already and will likely add some more in the summer. Today’s song is “All Your Love” and features Eric Clapton on guitar.