The biggest question in college football during the offseason was finally answered on Monday night when redshirt junior quarterback Cardale Jones trotted out onto the turf at Lane Stadium to take the first snap of the 2015 season for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Coach Urban Meyer stayed true to his word, as he reiterated all through fall camp that the world would not find out who the starter would be until the Scarlet and Gray’s first offensive play.
According to Jones, that is when members of the team — including the two guys in contention for the spot, redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett and Jones — found out as well.
When the offense huddled up prior to taking the field for the first time, both quarterbacks were there.
The Cleveland native said that after the play was called and the huddle broke, he began to take a few steps toward the sideline before he was stopped and told he was in.
“When y’all found out, I found out,” Jones said after the Buckeyes’ 42-24 victory over Virginia Tech.
Meyer said the competition between Barrett and Jones was “real close” through camp.
But for him, after Jones took over for the injured Barrett and guided the Buckeyes on a historic three-game stretch — in which he threw for a total 742 yards and five scores — to capture the national championship, it was Jones’ job to lose.
“Cardale finished the season as the starter and I kind of started thinking, ‘For him not to take the first snap, he had to get beat out,’” Meyer said. “And he wasn’t beat out.”
Jones, who was making just his fourth career start, began the game against Virginia Tech in red-hot fashion, leading the Buckeyes to a touchdown on their first drive.
On that drive, he rushed for 26 yards, while completing three of his four passes, for 54 yards and a score.
The 24-yard touchdown came while Jones was under the duress of Tech’s pass rush.
The 6-foot-5 quarterback rolled to his right and tossed the ball to sophomore H-Back Curtis Samuel in the endzone, who made a diving grab for the game’s first points.
Jones and the Buckeyes continued their strong performance during the first frame of the highly anticipated rematch, as they led 14-0.
However, the second quarter was a different narrative.
Jones and the entire offense struggled, as he did not complete a pass during the entire 15 minutes — except for one completion to Virginia Tech’s redshirt junior safety Desmond Frye early in the second frame, which was the first of two OSU turnovers in the quarter.
The Hokies stormed back, scoring 17 unanswered points to take the lead right before halftime.
At some point during the second period, Meyer said he considered making a switch and putting in the quarterback who threw for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2014: Barrett.
“I almost put J.T. in earlier,” Meyer said, “but it was such a pressure game, with Cardale’s size, I thought he could get over the top of that defensive front because they were all over the place. And that was the decision.”
Meyer added that one has to be “real careful” about making a move of that magnitude and that there really is “not a formula” for it.
However, if the situation arose where a switch might be necessary, Meyer would rely on his own thoughts.
“You can’t have too many people’s input because all that does is confuse the situation,” he said. “If that situation is to drive the ball down the field to score, who should be in the game?”
Overall, Jones ended the game 9-of-18 for 198 passing yards and two scores, along with 99 yards on the ground and another touchdown. To Meyer, however, the performance was just OK.
“I’d expect more, you know, the turnover you don’t do that, throwing late,” he said. “But once again, that’s a good team so we’ll take it and get better.”
Jones said that going forward he knows the areas in which he can improve.
“Just clean up on them turnovers and mental mistakes,” he said.
He added that even though his performance in camp was good enough to get the start — as well as being good enough for the Buckeyes to leave Blacksburg with a victory — he is not sure if he will be the one taking the first snap on Saturday when the Buckeyes are scheduled to take on the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors in Columbus.
“I don’t think the battle is over, ” Jones said, later adding, “I’m not even sure who will start Saturday.”