What must the Buckeyes do to prepare for Wisconsin and win the Big Ten title? Two of Urban Meyer's top assistants explained that and more.
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Asked if Cardale Jones is ready today to start for Ohio State on Saturday, Herman said no, but he will be by then. As for now, he is ready for what he needs to do Monday to prepare.
Jones is a big dude who is fast for his size. He doesn't have the same change of direction as Barrett, but he can get going up the field. Herman is excited to see what he can do. He acknowledged reading coverages and fighting the effects of rust will be the biggest challenges for Jones, but he is football smart. Jones now understands what it means to be a quarterback, the work and attitude it takes to succeed. The quarterback is not just another guy on the team.
Jones has a strong arm and an easy delivery. He gets off balance sometimes and that gives him accuracy issues. If he keeps that under control, he could be the best passer Herman has ever coached.
The decision to elevate J.T. Barrett to No. 2 quarterback (and therefore the starter when Braxton Miller was injured) was not about a deficiency on the part of Jones but rather because of how good Barrett was. Herman said they were receiving similar grades for their play, but the offense moved better when Barrett was running it. It was tough on Jones getting passed, but Herman spoke with him about it and he dealt with it. He has been a great example to his teammates since. He has taken his role as backup quarterback seriously, and Herman is proud of him. The way he reacted gives him confidence he'll be ready Saturday night. He has stayed engaged.
Asked about limiting quarterback runs to keep him healthy, Herman explained there are three ways to run the ball: load up the line of scrimmage like Wisconsin, triple option like Georgia Tech and Navy or spread option like Ohio State and Oregon. If you go the path the Buckeyes prefer, the read is an essential part of making the attack work. Barrett was hurt on a read play, and the defense can to a certain extent determine how much the quarterback carries based on what they want to stop. They can limit designed runs like QB power or QB draws, but they must have the read element.
When the issue of leadership came up, Herman noted they'll be missing 45 touchdowns and Jones won't be able to score that much. He shouldn't try to do too much. They can make up for the loss of Barrett with Xs and Os and other players. He doesn't want Jones to get overwhelmed, explaining that it is unwise to do a cannonball into a hot tub. You want to get in slowly.
Herman said it would be "crazy" for the CFP to drop Ohio State because of the loss of Barrett and that he hadn't even considered it.
Herman noted Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda was his roommate for a semester at Cal Lutheran and called the school the West Coast Cradle of Coaches with a laugh. He is a good friend, and the challenge of facing Wisconsin is their multiplicity. The Badgers rarely lineup in the same place from one play to the next, so the line and the quarterback have to decipher what is really going on behind all their different bells and whistles. This year they are playing more man pass coverage and the front is more like a four-man front than last year. They will change their game plan significantly from one week to another, so the challenge is going in and determining early what they are going to do for that game.
Asked about potentially becoming a head coach, Herman said he hasn't given it much thought. If it happens, it happens. For now he is focused on preparing the team to win a Big Ten championship.
Luke Fickell, defensive coordinator/linebackers coach
He has never been through something like losing a member of the team, but the Buckeyes will battle through it.
Melvin Gordon is as good a back as Wisconsin has had, going back to Ron Dayne in the mid-9-s when Fickell was an Ohio State nose tackle. The offensive line is also very good. Stopping Gordon is about team defense, and they have had success in the past. They will have to bring him down in space if he gets there, but mostly it's about leveraging the ball and tackling.
Wisconsin's offense is not one-dimensional. Last year they had a big day through the air because Ohio State opted to concentrate on taking away the run. The Buckeyes won, but they had problems stopping the Badger passing game. The defense can't be one-dimensional either. Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave manages the game like most Badgers QBs. A good running game gives a team a greater chance to throw it. He takes advantage.
Asked if the defense will need to raise its level of play with J.T. Barrett out, he said adversity tends to bring teams together. He thinks they grew as a team after Braxton Miller went out. Saturday against Michigan the defense played better after Barrett went out. This year the Buckeyes are more of a full team whereas last year they were offense dominant. He hopes guys are more apt to lean on each other this year.
Cardale Jones has Fickell's confidence. Jones can run and throw. Barrett's emergence was the result of having an opportunity. How Jones has one. They are different but both hard to defend in practice.
He said last year's defensive flop in the Big Ten title game won't be brought up because the team doesn't need more motivation. It is ironic after an offseason when so much attention was put on the porous pass defense now they are facing the best running back in the country. The defense need stop be balanced. They used to be good at stopping everything and want to get back to their high standards they set in the past decade.
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