MADISON - All Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen wanted to do was sit on the couch and put his feet up, getting a chance to enjoy his first Big Ten division championship after leading his team to a 34-24 victory over Minnesota hours earlier.
His youngest son, Chasen Andersen, wasn’t going to let him get too comfortable.
The freshman linebacker at the University of Wisconsin had heard about Ohio State’s quarterback plight – Big Ten quarterback of the year J.T. Barrett would be out with a broken ankle and little known Cardale Jones would be starting. With Jones having played in 10 career games, mostly in garbage time, and having an idea there wasn’t much quality film out there, the youngest Andersen went to the Internet, dug up Jones’ high school highlight tape and plopped it into his dad’s lap.
“I was expecting to maybe sit down and watch a game and all of a sudden he sat in front of me and said, ‘dad, this guy is really good,’” said UW’s head coach. “First time it’s happen. Good scouting on him, I guess.”
There hasn’t been much scouting, period, on No.6 Ohio State (11-1, 8-0 Big Ten) throughout the season, which makes this an important film week for No.11 Wisconsin (10-2, 7-1) as it prepares for the Big Ten Championship game Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Buckeyes have been dominant through Big Ten play since Meyer arrived three seasons ago. How dominant? Ohio State is a perfect 24-0 in Big Ten regular season play, the first team to go without a loss in Big Ten play for three straight seasons since Minnesota from 1933-35, and the first team ever to produce no ties or losses in conference contests over a three-year period in Big Ten history.
Victory No.24 – a 42-28 win over rival Michigan – came with a steep price. Barrett set school records for total touchdowns (45), passing touchdowns (34) and total yards (3,772) but saw his season end after getting bent backwards in the fourth quarter and causing his right ankle to fracture.
It’s the second Heisman Trophy caliber quarterback that Meyer has lost this season, as senior Braxton Miller was shut down during training camp with persistent shoulder problems.
“It’s his show,” Meyer said of Jones. “He’s got the keys to the car.”
The 6-5, 250-pound Jones takes over an offense first in the conference in points per game (44.1), first in total offense (503.4), second in passing (246.0) and third in rushing (257.4). Only a small portion of that has come from him, who has appeared in seven games and completed 10 of 17 passes for 118 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
He took over for Barrett with Ohio State leading Michigan, 28-21, in the fourth quarter. Jones rushed for 18 yards and completed two short throws for seven yards.
“He’s big,” said Meyer. “Very good pocket presence by him. He can run over, run around, jump over people. He’s got it all athletically … He’s got a cannon for an arm.”
Before the Michigan game, most people knew Jones for stuff he did off the field instead of on it. Once a highly-touted quarterback out of Cleveland Glenville, finishing his senior season 24-3 with 1,689 passing yards and 22 touchdowns, Jones sent out an infamous tweet two years ago that read:
"Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain't come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS."
Meyer, who did not recruit Jones, promptly suspended him. He also went as far as calling Jones “a mess” after he not surprisingly didn’t taking care of his academics. It’s been different ever since, especially when Jones was listed as the No.1 quarterback leaving spring behind the injured Miller, a sign of his growth and maturity.
“I noticed last year a complete transformation from this very immature person - not just player - to a much more mature person,” said Meyer. “And he really started to handle his business. In the classroom, he's doing very good. He has taken care of his business. He has matured tremendously in the last two years.”
Jones won’t be counted on to lead the Buckeyes by himself. Defensive end Joey Bosa was named the conference’s defensive lineman of the year after leading the league in both sacks (13.5, 12 solos) and tackles for loss (20). Offensively, tailback Ezekiel Elliott has at least 90 yards in his last four games, including a robust 154 yards and two touchdowns in Ohio State’s big road win at Michigan State Nov.8.
That’s also a credit to the development of Ohio State’s offensive line, which only had two or three starters the coaching staff felt comfortable with coming out of spring.
“They just got better, and better and better,” said Meyer. “That’s a culture creative through our line coach (Ed Warriner) … He took over an offensive line that really struggled the year before, really poor statistically in sacks and rush offense, and developed them into a really good group in 2012 and 2013. That was as good of line as I’ve been around. This year we have four new starters, one is a redshirt freshman, and they are better than I thought they would have been by this point. That’s how much they’ve improved.”
While there may be a tweak in how Wisconsin adjusts its preparations this week or in game, Andersen has known Meyer long enough to realize Meyer’s offensive philosophy is to use the best players at his disposal.
“I expect Ohio State is going to stay within their offensive scheme and do what they do,” said Andersen. “They have some tremendous athletes. I am sure this young man playing quarterback now is very talented…It will not change how we prepare.”