The Ohio State football team won its third straight matchup with Michigan, but the emotions were mixed as the Buckeyes left the field.
OSU — ranked No. 6 in the College Football Playoff poll — lost redshirt-freshman quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate J.T. Barrett to a fractured ankle during the game, ruling him out for the remainder of the season. But after the injury, the Buckeyes found a way to post 14 fourth-quarter points on their way to a 42-28 win Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
With the Big Ten Championship Game on the horizon, The Lantern sports editors picked five key takeaways as OSU tries to bounce back from losing its signal caller.
1. It’s redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones’ time to shine
With Barrett out after undergoing surgery on Sunday, the Buckeyes have no choice but to turn to Jones.
Listed at 6-feet, 5-inches and 250 pounds, the Glenville High School product is an imposing physical presence, but has very little collegiate game experience. Jones has attempted 17 passes this season and completed 10, totaling 118 yards and two touchdowns without throwing an interception. He also has 26 carries for 206 yards, for an average of 7.9 yards per rush.
In a small sample size, the numbers are promising, but his playing experience during significant portions of a game is limited to almost none. Up until Saturday, he had only taken the field for extended stretches when the Buckeyes already had a big lead.
With his first OSU start set to come in the conference title game, Jones might be expected to struggle — potentially harming the team’s shot at making the playoffs no matter if it wins or loses. But if he finds a way to shine, the Buckeyes should still be able to win and work their way into the final four come season’s end.
2. With Jones under center, sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott should carry the load
In 12 games played — 11 as the starter — Elliott has run for 1,182 yards and 10 touchdowns with an average of six yards per carry.
Perhaps the best game of his young career came against the Wolverines when he ran for 121 yards on just 17 carries, and helped put the game away with a 44-yard touchdown run on fourth down in the fourth quarter.
If OSU wants to win the Big Ten championship, it’ll have to find some success throwing the ball. But if Jones does struggle, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman should turn to Elliott to carry the load.
If Elliott does see significant — as in 25-plus — carries, it will either mean Jones has been a bust, or Elliott is having a standout performance. If the latter is true, he has the natural ability to carry the Buckeyes to a win.
3. The OSU defense is still a work in progress
Giving up 28 points to Michigan isn’t necessarily a red flag, but when it comes against the 2014 Wolverines, there’s something going wrong.
Michigan had a poor season — highlighted by the team missing out on bowl-game eligibility — and a lot of that can be attributed to the offense. Coming into the game, redshirt-senior quarterback Devin Gardner hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass on the road all season, but he managed to throw two at the Horseshoe.
Overall, the Buckeyes gave up 372 yards of total offense, but also managed five sacks and 10 tackles for loss. OSU had a quick start to the game with an interception on the second play from scrimmage and a strong finish, but the time in between has to raise a red flag for coach Urban Meyer and his staff.
Especially with a question mark at quarterback, the OSU defense will need to step up going forward.
4. Jalin Marshall will need to be a bigger part of the OSU offense
With OSU down to just two healthy scholarship quarterbacks, it is likely that the Buckeyes will need extra production from the redshirt-freshman H-back this week.
That production might come from all over the field, including lining up behind center and taking reps at quarterback.
Against Indiana, Marshall flexed his muscle and scored four touchdowns in the second half of an OSU win that clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game.
With Barrett out, most expect Marshall to see extended minutes in addition to the playing time he was already getting with fellow H-back Dontre Wilson out with a broken foot.
5. The starting quarterback job in 2015 just got more interesting
With Barrett’s injury, OSU carries two hobbled Heisman candidate quarterbacks into the 2015 season.
Meyer said during a Sunday teleconference that he expects Barrett to be back in time for spring practice in a limited role, and a timetable for senior quarterback Braxton Miller has not recently been discussed.
The debate had been swinging in Barrett’s favor as to who should start for the Buckeyes next season, but now it becomes a matter of who is more healthy, rather than who has been more productive.
The two are arguably the best two quarterbacks in the conference, and, for the time being, both reside in Columbus.
The Buckeyes are set to take on the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten title game on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:17 p.m.