Badgers D wary of Buckeyes, new starting QB Jones
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda drew on a baseball analogy to describe Ohio State's best offense in the Big Ten.
It didn't matter that injuries had the sixth-ranked Buckeyes relying on third-stringer Cardale Jones at quarterback heading into Saturday's Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.
"Every play with their skill is a home-run shot, so if you're not perfect with everything, then it's a big chance of a big play," Aranda said. "This year, toward the end of the season, they've shown some big-play capability."
They're going with the football equivalent of a promising but inexperienced hurler out of the bullpen to finish their season.
It doesn't get any tougher than having to face the league-best defense of Wisconsin (10-2, No. 13 CFP), which allows 260.3 yards per game.
Jones is playing in relief of Heisman Trophy candidate J.T. Barrett, who broke his ankle in last week's win over Michigan. Jones had the edge as the backup going into fall camp.
Barrett, a redshirt freshman, had performed well while replacing Braxton Miller, the three-year starter who hurt his right shoulder two weeks before the season opener.
So Jones will make his first career start in the biggest game of the season for Ohio State (11-1, No. 5 CFP).
"Obviously, a really good environment against a very tough defense," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. "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."
Mainly, Jones has watched Barrett operate an offense that leads the conference in scoring (44.1 points per game) and total yardage (503.4 yards).
Barrett was hurt on a carry on the first play of the fourth quarter against Michigan. The Buckeyes were held to 416 yards in total offense in the game, their lowest total since being limited to 293 at Penn State on Oct. 25.
For his career, Jones is 10 of 19 for 121 yards and two touchdowns. The move to Jones might put Wisconsin at a disadvantage because there's not much film of him out there — especially in meaningful situations.
"I guess we won't really know until Saturday," Badgers linebacker Marcus Trotter said when asked how different Ohio State's offense might look with Jones instead of Barrett.
"But at the same time, their offense is very similar to every other offense in that they're going to stick to their bread and butter," Trotter added. "They might have a couple tricks up their sleeves just because of the new quarterback."
Aranda was preparing for perhaps more misdirection than what Ohio State has so far shown. Maybe more two tight-end sets to provide maximum protection for Jones, which would put the impetus on taking 1-on-1 shots down the field.
And that quarterback run isn't going away, though it might take on a different look with the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Jones carrying the ball instead of the 6-1, 222-pound Barrett.
"The first thing that strikes you is his size," Aranda said about Jones. "One of their top plays is the quarterback sweep, and he's awfully good at it. ... He lowers his shoulder, runs over guys, runs around guys."
The Buckeyes now have a freshman Stephen Collier, who has never played a snap, backing up Jones. It appears that may not impact how many times quarterback runs will be called on Saturday night with Jones.
"We have to win this game. We're not saving him for next week or the week after. We're not saving anything," Meyer said.
Neither will the Badgers defense, which has been playing especially well over the last six weeks. Wisconsin's quick, smart linebacking crew has the capability of keeping Jones and the Ohio State running game in check. Seniors Trotter and Derek Landisch form the experienced core at inside linebacker.