Generally one of the concerns during bowl preparation is too much time to prepare for an opponent. While learning what a team does inside and out has its obvious benefits, there is something to be said for paralysis by analysis.
The Alabama defense doesn't have to share that worry in the run-up to the Sugar Bowl, however, because this exact version of the Buckeyes has only been seen in public one time. That was much more than a test drive, of course, as Ohio State waxed Wisconsin 59-0, a stunning outburst made all the more surprising by the fact the Buckeyes were starting their third quarterback of the season, Cardale Jones.
The 6-5, 250-pounder completed 10 of 17 passes for 118 yards in seven games of mop-up duty prior to the Big Ten Championship Game. In Indianapolis he surpassed that yardage total on his touchdown throws alone, hitting Devin Smith for scores that covered 39, 42 and 44 yards as the Buckeyes romped. Overall, it was a 12-for-17, 257-yard night for Jones, who was named MVP of the game.
"Well, I hope he doesn't play like he played in that game," Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said Sunday. "He did a great job. Very unflappable. Not affected easily. He does a good job in the pocket. Throws the ball really well. He really threw the deep ball as well in that game, kind of proved himself as a passer. And Wisconsin really challenged the guys outside and forced him to throw it and he did. So what he's been asked to do, he's done. And he's done it at a really high level."
Although Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen did not say what his Badgers got from Jones in the sophomore's first start surprised his team, he more avoided the question than gave a firm yes or no. It stands to reason the Badgers were caught off guard by how Jones and the Buckeyes attacked their highly regarded defense, though. He entered the game known as a big, strong and athletic quarterback, but almost none of the game action he had seen since coming to Columbus from Cleveland Glenville featured much passing.
"He's a mystery," Alabama safety Nick Perry said. "Really don't know exactly what all he can do or what kind of offense they're gonna have come game time, so we're just preparing for everything and anything. You know they're gonna come out there with something different on game day and we just have to be able to adjust and go out there and execute."
"We're used to playing guys that have been starting all season long. Like I said earlier, he's a mystery. We don't know what he's gonna come out there and do. We don't know his tendencies or what kinda plays he runs, what kinda offensive scheme they're gonna have, so we're just preparing for everything."
Many aspects of the Ohio State offense remain the same regardless of who is receiving the snaps, of course, and that goes not only for the Xs and Os but also the talented players around the quarterback. While Smith turned in perhaps the best game of his career against Wisconsin, so did running back Ezekiel Elliott, who ran for a Big Ten title game record 220 yards and two touchdowns. Receivers Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall have also proven to be threats this season, while an offensive line that was nearly completely rebuilt in the offseason matured into one of the best in the country.
"He's got a lot of good players around him, which makes it easy for a quarterback," Smart said. "When you've got really good players around you, and they manage the game well for him, they do a great job of what they asked him to do in that game he did well. The guy's proven to me he's a very quality quarterback."
Trey DePriest, a senior linebacker for Alabama who was a five-star prospect at Springfield (Ohio) High School, mentioned seeing a faster tempo than he was expecting from the Buckeyes when he flipped on their film -- though, again, that was more the case under J.T. Barrett than Jones.
"You can't really see a lot of what he does on film," DePriest said. "That is different, because you can't really see who you want on film. He has played in a few games and we know what we can do. We saw what he did against Wisconsin. How he handled himself, not playing a lot before that and coming into the Big Ten Championship, and showing that type of composure and putting up the numbers that he did, was impressive."
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