Last Saturday against Indiana, the Ohio State Buckeyes did something they almost never do. Just before the half, OSU allowed the Hoosiers to cut the lead to seven with 1:03 left in the half. A seven play, 65-yard drive that took just 2:29 to march into the teeth of the south end zone.
OSU was about to head into halftime ahead by just one score against a team many thought should have been blown out. After a 91-yard kickoff return by redshirt sophomore wide receiver Parris Campbell gave the Scarlet and Gray optimal field position, junior offensive tackle Jamarco Jones didn’t squander the opportunity to regain momentum before halftime.
Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett took the snap and ran to left where Jones stood up Indiana linebacker, and leading tackler Tegray Scales, paving the way for Barrett’s five-yard touchdown run.
Jones was one of only two players on the offense to be graded as a champion of the Indiana game. The other was redshirt senior captain center Pat Elflein.
“When opportunity meets preparation, you get graded as champion every week,” Elflein said on Monday. “We rely on him for leadership, even though he’s a first-year starter, and he’s playing very well right now.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer named Jones a starter back in the spring after three members of the 2015 offensive line had left, two of which were key members of the 2014 national championship team. The program notably believes in the “next man up” mentality, but it’s one thing to embrace it and another to perform.
Jones stepped into the role of left tackle following the departure of Detroit Lions’ first-round pick Taylor Decker, who was a three-year starter with the Buckeyes. Not only did he have big shoes to fill, he also had to protect the weak side of the team’s most valuable asset, Barrett.
To date, OSU has allowed just three sacks all season and Jones is one of the first people you can look to for a reason as to why teams struggle to get into the OSU backfield. Junior defensive end Jalyn Holmes said he faces Jones everyday in practice and believes the 6-foot-5, 310-pound left tackle can be in the same conversation as some of the recent great offensive linemen who came through Columbus.
“He’s like up there with them. I feel like he’s always been good,” Holmes said. “He’s just very patient with his technique. He’s fundamentally sound and has gotten a lot stronger at the point of attack. He gets me better everyday.”
Jones and Holmes came into OSU in the same class and took fairly similar routes to seeing the field. Both played as freshman in 2014 when OSU romped Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, 59-0. On Saturday, the second-ranked Buckeyes travel to Camp Randall Stadium for the first time since 2012 to take on the No. 8 Badgers, where the game will likely be much different that the Big Ten title.
Wisconsin poses one of the premier defenses in the country, especially against the run. OSU has two standout ball carriers in junior H-back Curtis Samuel and redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber. The duo ranks among the best in the conference and heavily contributes to the team’s 323.6 rushing yards per game, which ranks third in the NCAA. Wisconsin, who surrenders just 90.4 yards per game on the ground, will be Jones’ and the offensive line’s biggest test of the season.
“It’s fun blocking for guys like that. It makes you go hard every play because you don’t want to be that guy that let their man beat them and be the reason why we didn’t score a touchdown on that play,” Jones said. “We got our work cut out for us.”
Jones is one of the few Buckeyes who understands the game atmosphere the team will experience on Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin. As a recruit, he visited the school during a big-time matchup. Jones said he remembers how loud the stadium was and how the Badgers’ fed off of the crowd’s intensity.
“It should be a very fun environment to go in and play. Those guys are going to be ready,” he said.
The No. 8 Badgers pose a gargantuan challenge to the Buckeyes, who look to move to 6-0 and remain undefeated. Elflein said even for Jones’ first Big Ten road game as a starter, he has been well prepared before this season.
“Jamarco’s been ready to play. He was ready to play last year,” Elflein said. “His time is now.”