By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – Urban Meyer says the difference in his confidence level in Cardale Jones as Ohio State’s starting quarterback on Saturday night against Minnesota compared to when Jones made his first career start in the Big Ten championship game last year is “night and day.”
There is also a difference, though, between the results Jones has produced this season and those he had last year – the kind of difference there is between a half hour before sunrise and sunrise. Last year was just a little brighter.
Jones will return to the starting quarterback role he played the first seven games this season before being replaced by J.T. Barrett.
Ohio State’s offense immediately took a noticeable step forward when Barrett replaced Jones. But, with Barrett suspended for this week’s game after being cited for operating a vehicle while impaired, Jones is back in the starting lineup.
In Jones’ seven earlier starts this season, Ohio State averaged 455.2 yards a game total offense. He completed 62 percent of his passes for an average of 177.4 yards a game, had seven touchdown passes and five interceptions.
In his three starts last season against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, OSU averaged 544.3 yards of offense per game. Jones completed 61 percent of his passes for an average of 247.3 yards a game for five touchdowns with two interceptions.
“Cardale had a great week of practice last week. He stayed engaged, he has handled everything like a man. He threw for 300 yards a couple weeks ago at a 75-percent clip. He’s 10-0 as a starter. That’s not even a hesitation,” Meyer said about Jones’ return to the lineup.
Barrett, who was the first-team All-Big Ten quarterback and the fifth-place finisher in the Heisman Trophy voting, started the first 12 games in 2014 before a broken ankle in the Michigan game ended his season.
His first start this season came in OSU’s eighth game of the season, a 49-7 win at Rutgers, two weeks ago. Barrett threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 101 yards and two scores in that game.
That game seemed to bring some certainty to a confused quarterback situation. But now uncertainty seems to have returned.
When Meyer was asked on the Big Ten coaches teleconference on Tuesday about the possibility Jones could be the starter again next week at Illinois, he said, “We’ll worry about that after this game.”
One of the biggest reasons Jones was replaced by Barrett was that OSU struggled at times to score touchdowns in the “red zone” inside their opponent’s 20-yard line with Jones at quarterback.
Offensive coordinator Ed Warinner says OSU will still be able to get touchdowns inside the red zone with Jones at quarterback.
“We feel like we have a good answer for the red zone right now. We’ve kind of evolved in what we’re going to do there. We know what we can do,” he said.
With Barrett out this week, Braxton Miller could be the back-up quarterback. Miller has not thrown a pass when he has lined up at quarterback this season and some people question if his shoulder has healed enough after two surgeries to throw the ball.
Meyer and Warinner both say he is healthy and capable of throwing. When Offensive lineman Taylor Decker was asked if he’d seen Miller throw in practice, he said, ? “I’m fine. All I’m going to say is I’m fine with it.”
Reach Jim Naveau at (567) 242-0414 or follow him on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.