Buckeyes Confident In Jones

With J.T. Barrett out for the rest of the season with a broken ankle, Cardale Jones will step into the starting role. Ohio State is confident he can be an adequate replacement.

The Buckeyes got a win in The Game, a 42-28 victory over Michigan, and sent their seniors out with a win yesterday. What should have been a euphoric evening, however, was soured by a right ankle injury to quarterback J.T. Barrett. The redshirt freshman is out for the rest of the season with a fractured ankle and sophomore Cardale Jones will step in.

“It’s obviously tough,” senior tight end Jeff Heuerman said. “It’s not the ideal situation, but we’re trained for events like this. We’re going to have to have guys step up to the plate and pick it up a notch around Cardale and make up for what we’re missing with J.T.”

When Barrett got sandwiched between two Michigan players on the first play of the fourth quarter, fracturing his right ankle and ending his record-breaking season, Jones was given the reins to the Ohio State offense. He guided the Buckeyes to two scoring drives, connecting on two of his three passing attempts for 7 yards and running twice for 18.

“He was great mentally,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said of Jones. “He missed the one pass to Michael Thomas, but mentally he was very in tune. He keeps a headset on the entire game so he’s listening to everything we’re talking about. He’s very engaged in everything that goes on in terms of in-between series adjustments and in terms of halftime adjustments, he’s ready to go. He did not have a deer in the headlights look, and from what I understand on the sideline his attitude was great.”

“He’s not ready today, but he will be Saturday.”

As a redshirt sophomore, Jones is no stranger to Ohio State and Herman’s scheme. He battled Barrett for the back-up role when it was thought Miller would be the starting quarterback this season, though he had fallen behind in the competition by fall camp.

For his career Jones has completed 11 of his 18 pass attempts (61.1 percent) for 121 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 43 rushes for 340 yards and a score on the ground.

Despite the limited experience, the players who surround Jones going forward have confidence that he can be a reasonable facsimile of their fallen quarterback.

“I think he’s a very similar quarterback to J.T.,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “He has a stronger arm so he can put the ball out there. He has that sneaky speed, he’s an elusive runner somehow, and he breaks a lot of tackles. He doesn’t look like he’s going too fast, but he’s pulling away from people.”

The first start of Jones’ career will come with high stakes as the Buckeyes prepare for the Dec. 6 Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin. Through Nov. 28 Wisconsin had the second ranked total defense in the country. “It’s a huge opportunity but it’s also a huge challenge for him and I don’t think I could shed any light on what that’s going to be like for him,” left tackle Taylor Decker said.

“I can’t imagine the type of pressure he’s going to be feeling but if we just come together and let him know he doesn’t have to be a superhero, he doesn’t have to play the best game he’s played in his life, he just needs to prepare and do what he can do and we can be fine.”

For the team to be fine, Jones will have to be a product of the talent around him. As Barrett grew throughout his first season as a starter, so did the offensive line and skill players surrounding him.

Jones will be asked to spread the ball around, filling the distributor role that Barrett has vacated. Ten players have caught 10 or more passes for the Buckeyes on the season and they will be relied upon to create space and open throwing lanes for Jones as they did for Barrett. The sophomore, however, will likely not be the only Buckeye to take snaps going forward. Redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall has lined up in the wildcat formation periodically this season and even attempted one pass, an incompletion against Illinois.

Marshall, a high school quarterback, took one snap at quarterback against Michigan while Jones was split wide and the starting H-back ran for 10 yards. Meyer said the wildcat package will likely get more use going forward.

When Jones is taking snaps, however, there is one aspect of his game that is superior to Barret’s.

“Watching him throw a football is ridiculous,” Decker said. “Last year at (walkthroughs at) the Big Ten Championship he kneeled on the 50 and threw it in the end zone. It’s insane.”

Jones’ other skills will be put to the test against Wisconsin and in whatever bowl game the Buckeyes find themselves in. The key for Ohio State will be for the players around Jones to accentuate his strengths and produce a quarterback capable of winning a Big Ten Championship game in his first start.

Because he is confident in the offense that will surround Jones, Herman is confident in the Buckeyes new starting quarterback.

“We have a really good team around him,” Herman said. “There’s evidence in terms of the fact that the quarterback doesn’t have to win games for us anymore. The quarterback has to manage the game, distribute the ball and lead.

“I have nothing but the utmost confidence in Cardale because of what we have around him.”

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