In his six seasons as the head coach at Florida, Urban Meyer started just three quarterbacks.
In what is now his third season in Columbus, Meyer is getting set to start his fourth quarterback at Ohio State.
Cardale Jones, a redshirt-sophomore quarterback from Cleveland, is set to make his first career start in the Big Ten Championship Game, and Meyer doesn’t seem to be worried.
“Cardale, it’s going to be his first start. Obviously a really good environment against a very tough defense,” Meyer said Monday. “But it’s not like he’s not taking snaps with the one offense or understands the concepts. So he has a very good understanding (of the offense).”
Jones is set to take over for redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett, who fractured his ankle in the fourth quarter of a 42-28 win over Michigan on Saturday. Jones has appeared in seven of OSU’s 12 games this season, accounting for 324 total yards and two touchdowns.
The Glenville High School product was named the backup to senior Braxton Miller in the spring before being passed by Barrett just days before Miller tore his right labrum, ending Miller’s season before it started.
The demotion was something Jones’ position coach and co-offensive coordinator Tom Herman said was not easy for the quarterback to handle.
“I think that was tough for him. But him and I spoke at great length and great detail on numerous occasions about how to handle it,” Herman said Monday. “He has done nothing but be a great example of how to handle that. He stayed engaged in every game plan. He has taken that role very seriously and I am proud of him for it.”
Being demoted from the second-string spot in the fall wasn’t the only time Jones has had to face adversity in his Buckeye career, as a now-infamous tweet describing his dislike for college classes earned him a one-game suspension in 2012.
Redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Pat Elflein has continued to make fun of the tweet on social media of his own, and even with the media.
“Not playing class today?” Elflein asked the media as they gathered around him on Monday.
Elflein said with a smile that he and some of his teammates continue to joke about the tweet.
“Oh yeah, all the time,” he said.
On the field, the Buckeyes are preparing to take on a Wisconsin defense that ranks second in the country.
Meyer said after Saturday’s win over Michigan, though, that he does not anticipate the game plan changing much with Jones in the lineup. But Herman said he does see some differences in the style of each quarterback.
“(Jones is) a big dude. Probably doesn’t have the same short range change of direction that J.T. has, but (he has) long-range speed and the ability to open it up in stride. He is pretty fast,” Herman said. “I am excited to see what he can do. I think he has got a chance to be pretty effective.”
While Jones might be effective, both Herman and Meyer acknowledged that they have discussed limiting his carries against Wisconsin.
“We’ve had a mini conversation about that already,” Meyer said. “That will be continued throughout the week. We have to win this game. We’re not saving him for next week or the week after. We’re not saving anything.”
Herman agreed, adding that the quarterback run is an important part of setting up the Buckeye offense.
“In order to run the football, I don’t think you can ever take out the way we do our business,” Herman said. “You can never take out the QB read element of it. The called and designed quarterback runs, we will probably take a few of those out.”
Herman stressed that the members of the OSU team should not expect Barrett-like numbers from Jones, but should expect that he will manage the game well.
“The guy (Barrett) has accounted for 45 touchdowns in 12 games. So I think what our team needs to understand is, is Cardale going to come in and account for seven touchdowns in this game? Probably not, and doesn’t need to,” Herman said. “He shouldn’t have that weight put on him. To expect that as a teammate, I think would be a little bit false.”
While Herman doesn’t want too much pressure put on Jones, he characterized Jones’ arm strength by rating it as “eleventy-billion.”
Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott said Monday that he agrees with his coaches in that he doesn’t believe the offense will change, but added there will be a lack of familiarity with Jones at the helm.
“I think it is definitely a big transition just because it’s the magnitude of the game we are about to have this weekend,” Elliott said. “I don’t think the game plan will change much from last week to this week.
“It’s his time, so J.T. went out, it’s the ‘next man up’ mentality. We are upset for losing J.T. but we got to keep it moving.”
The OSU offense will look to do just that Saturday at 8:17 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis against Wisconsin.