INDIANAPOLIS — More than three years ago, a pair of future Ohio State football players connected in a high school all-star game for a seemingly meaningless touchdown.
On Saturday night, that connection re-emerged in a big way as redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones found senior wide receiver Devin Smith for three scores in a 59-0 blowout victory over the Wisconsin Badgers, giving the Buckeyes their first Big Ten title since 2009.
Jones and Smith last connected for a touchdown in the 2011 Big-33 classic, which pits some of the best high school football players from the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
That connection, which was a 54-yard touchdown pass, was reminiscent of the Buckeye win over the Badgers as Smith hauled in scores of 39, 44 and 42 yards from Jones, who was making his first career start for OSU.
Jones took over the starting spot after redshirt-sophomore quarterback J.T. Barrett fractured his ankle during OSU’s win over Michigan to close out the regular season.
Smith finished the game with a Big Ten Championship Game record 137 receiving yards to go along with his three scores.
Smith said he discussed that game in June of 2011 with Jones prior to the Big Ten title matchup.
“I knew when J.T. went down that Cardale was going to be the quarterback,” Smith said. “I just told him, ‘lets get back to the Big 33 all-star game we played in together’ and that right there (his performance) says it all.”
Jones completed 12 of 17 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns, all to Smith.
The redshirt-sophomore’s performance was of no surprise to Jones’ head coach Urban Meyer.
“I knew he had the talent to throw the ball and execute but I figured there would be first game jitters,” Meyer said after the game. “There was none of that.”
Barrett, who was on the sideline for the game, said he was happy for Jones and the way the team played as a whole.
“Definitely proud of him (Jones) and he’s able to … just take over the moment,” Barrett said after the game. “He seized the moment, seized the opportunity and he did it as a team. It wasn’t just him, that was the great thing about it, he had help around him. And that’s the great thing about this team.”
Jones said that he, along with his teammates, prepared with a sense of urgency heading into the matchup with Wisconsin.
“We worked all week for this and as a team we had faith in one another,” Jones said. “There was no down time and we treated this like it was our game to take and we were going to leave it all on the field.”
It wasn’t just Jones that made a statement for the Buckeyes, as sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott broke the Big Ten Championship Game record for rushing yards in the game as he rushed for 220 yards on 20 carries for two scores.
The record that Elliott broke was once held by Wisconsin redshirt-junior Melvin Gordon who was bottled up by the Buckeye defense as the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year rushed for just 76 yards on 26 carries.
Elliott said that he wanted to step his game up Saturday, especially with Gordon on the opposite sideline.
“Definitely. Just trying come out there and make a name for myself,” Elliott said. “I know it was a big stage, I knew everyone was going to be watching Melvin so I just wanted to come out and compete with him.”
Eighty-one of Elliott’s 220 yards came on one single play as the sophomore back exploded up the middle for OSU’s second score of the game.
Elliott gave credit to his offensive line for that run after the game.
“It was basically wide open, I just had to break one arm tackle reaching off a block, and the line did it all,” he said.
Elliott was overwhelmed in the locker room after the game, as he said the Big Ten Championship is the first championship he has ever been apart of at any level of competition.
“Man, it feels so good. I can’t even explain it. I have never won a championship in my life,” Elliott said. “Made it to state three times in high school and we lost. Coming back after last year, get some redemption and make up for that loss we got last year.”
The 59-0 win came against not only the No. 13 team in the country, but the second ranked defense in the nation as well.
After the dominating performance, Elliott said he believes the Buckeyes belong in the first-ever College Football Playoff.
“We definitely do. We came out here and we dominated today. I think we should,” Elliott said. “All year we have shown resilience. We had so many obstacles and we haven’t backed down, we never folded and we always come out and get better every week.”
Meyer echoed his running back’s comments referencing the the level of play the Buckeyes have reached in recent weeks.
“That is a question I know everyone is going to ask me. We just won 59-0 against one of the top teams in America,” Meyer said. “These kids are playing at an extremely high level right now.”
Whether it’s in a high school all-star game, or in the Big Ten title game, Jones said it is exciting being able to showcase his abilities.
“It was very fun, going out there showing everybody what we can do when we all come together as one,” he said.
OSU will find out whether they will come together in the College Football Playoff or elsewhere tomorrow as the final rankings are scheduled to be announced at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.