The Ohio State football team has lost more Heisman candidates than games this season.
Now it must prepare for a game that cost OSU a shot at the BCS national title game a year ago.
The Buckeyes will enter the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game this weekend with their third-string quarterback Cardale Jones leading the offense after redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett broke his ankle during a game against Michigan on Saturday afternoon. Barrett initially replaced senior Braxton Miller after the incumbent starter tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder during fall camp.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said Sunday afternoon during the Big Ten title game teleconference that Barrett’s scheduled Sunday surgery was successful.
“I have not seen him yet. His surgery is done, it went well,” Meyer said. “His father is in town, he (Barrett) is going to stay the night in the hospital. We have practice and meetings today, but at some point I will go see him.”
With Barrett now out of the picture, the Buckeyes will turn to Jones to lead them to their first outright Big Ten championship since 2009.
Jones has appeared in seven games this season, completing 10 of 17 passes for 118 yards and two scores to go along with 206 yards rushing on 26 carries.
The redshirt-sophomore from Glenville High School in Cleveland has never started a game as a member of the Buckeyes, but that doesn’t seem to discourage Meyer.
Jones split time with Barrett in spring practice while Miller sat out after shoulder surgery, something Meyer said helped Jones tremendously.
“He was the No. 1 quarterback behind Braxton leaving spring practice. He had a very good spring,” Meyer said Sunday. “The Spring Game if I remember wasn’t great, but his transition from being a guy that sat and watched Braxton and Kenny Guiton play a year ago, to a functional quarterback, he is a very talented guy.”
Jones finished the previously mentioned 2014 Spring Game 14 of 31 passing for 126 yards adding 28 yards on the ground.
Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott echoed Meyer after the win over Michigan and said it is not just the coaches who have confidence in Jones.
“He got a lot of reps in the spring, he got plenty of reps this fall, I think he is ready,” Elliott said. “I don’t think there will be a drop off.”
Jones’ career at OSU is well-documented, as the quarterback’s infamous tweet concerning his dislike for college classes went viral in 2012, his freshman season.
Meyer said however, that Jones has turned his college career around in his third season at OSU.
“It’s been tremendous. (Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach) Tom Herman has done a phenomenal job with him. Cardale was a guy that we did not recruit, he was here. Very talented guy, but just a mess. Went to a prep school, did not take care of his business academically,” Meyer said. “I noticed last year a complete transformation. (A) very immature person to a much more mature (person) and he really started handling his business. He has matured tremendously over the last two years.”
Herman, who will now need to prepare yet another inexperienced quarterback to take the reigns of the OSU offense, said after a 42-28 win over Michigan that he could have never envisioned this situation.
“I wouldn’t have asked for that,” Herman said of losing two quarterbacks in the same season. “This game is very crazy at times, throws you a lot of curveballs and you have to be able to adapt and adjust and I am sure we will be able to do that.”
Herman added that when entering the game against the Wolverines after Barrett’s injury, Jones seemed to handle himself well on a big stage.
“Great mentally. He missed the one pass to (redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Michael) Thomas, but mentally he was very in tune,” Herman said. “He keeps a headset on the entire game so he is in tune to everything we are talking about. He is very engaged in everything that goes on in terms of in-between series adjustments, halftime adjustments, so he was ready to go.”
Jones was not asked to do much in the win over the Wolverines, as he completed two of three passes for seven yards, adding 18 yards on the ground.
Meyer said after the game that he does not anticipate having to tweak the playbook for Jones in OSU’s remaining games this season.
“The good thing is they (Barrett and Jones) have similar skill set and so it’s not like we’re going to have to drastically change things,” Meyer said.
Meyer added Sunday that Jones’ physical tools should help him be successful.
“There is very good pocket presence by him. He is big. He can over, run around, jump over people so he has got it all athletically,” Meyer said.
With Barrett and Miller sidelined with injury, Jones is just one of two remaining quarterbacks on scholarship for the Buckeyes.
Freshman Stephen Collier, who was set to redshirt this season, is the other, and Meyer said he and his coaching staff would evaluate their backup plan Sunday evening in case Jones would go down.
Playing Collier in any remaining games would remove Collier’s redshirt status for the 2014 season.
“We are still in the middle of that conversation. We will have that conversation as a staff tonight,” Meyer said. “That will be a very serious conversation.”
OSU redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall, who played quarterback in high school in Middletown, Ohio, has taken multiple snaps from the quarterback position this season for the Buckeyes, even attempting a pass.
Herman said after the game Saturday that while Marshall wont be trusted upon at the quarterback position often, it is something that the Buckeyes can and likely will use in the Big Ten title game.
“You don’t want to get too reliant on that because you’ve got to be able to throw the football a little bit. The good thing is, Jalin can throw the football,” Herman said. “You’re not going to ask him to do it 30 times in a game, but enough to keep people honest. I think we have seen that role kind of expand as the season has progressed, and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t this week.”
OSU will head into the conference title game without one of their own, as walk-on redshirt-senior defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge was found dead Sunday near his apartment. He died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, and had been missing since early Wednesday morning.
Marshall, Jones and the Buckeyes are set to take on the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday at 8:17 p.m. from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.