All eyes are on new Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones following J.T. Barrett's devastating season-ending injury against Michigan last Saturday. Jones was the first thing B5Q's Zach Wingrove talked about in his very good OSU preview on Tuesday, and our Buckeye affiliate here at SB Nation, Land-Grant Holy Land, had a nice in-depth breakdown of the young quarterback as well.
For those looking for the footnotes, here's a summary of Jones: He's a massive sophomore (6'5, 250 pounds) with good straight-line speed and a rocket for an arm, but has little experience, elusiveness and many questions surrounding his accuracy and decision-making.
It's definitely a different skill set than the one Barrett possessed, but I wouldn't expect the offense to change too much. OSU went through a similar change last year when Kenny Guiton had to replace an injured Braxton Miller, and OSU in large part trusted its quarterback-friendly system. With that in mind, I believe Jones' quarter of play against Michigan will serve as a decent preview of what Wisconsin should expect in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Jones first entered the game in a 3rd-and-2 situation with OSU up seven to start the fourth quarter. Running back Ezekiel Elliott started in the slot and then motioned across the formation. Jones faked the handoff and ran up the middle, where he was stopped short of the first down.
OSU used this look at another critical point shortly thereafter. Still up seven in the middle of the quarter, OSU faced a 2nd-and-15. Once again, Elliott started in the slot, went in motion and Jones faked the handoff. This time, Jones ran off tackle to the side Elliott came from and was able to pick up 18 yards for the first down.
This type of movement is something Wisconsin saw a good amount of against Minnesota. UW's answer was to send Michael Caputo crashing towards the line of scrimmage as soon as the player went in motion.
The timing of this usually worked well, but it also put Caputo in some difficult situations where he had to react to the play or quickly adjust to make a tackle while he was at a high speed. The latter could especially become a problem against a quarterback the size of Jones. Not only will he be a load to bring down, but he also showed some nice wheels for someone his size. Per usual with the option offense, keeping outside contain is imperative and that's something the Badgers didn't do a few times against Minnesota.
On the play above, Caputo commits to the running back instead of sticking to the quarterback, which was his responsibility. We saw something similar on Minnesota's first touchdown run which occurred after Caputo and Lubern Figaro got sucked inside by the handoff option and Joe Schobert got blocked in with them. The result was the quarterback taking the ball around that edge and practically walking into the end zone.
Another look OSU gave that I would expect to see on Saturday is Jalin Marshall receiving the snap. Marshall, a quarterback in high school, is the Buckeyes' jack-of-all-trades. He returns punts, catches passes and receives some handoffs/end-arounds. The freshman has already proven to be a playmaker, and he's someone OSU might lean on more than usual if Jones struggles in Indianapolis.
OSU split Jones out wide when Marshall was behind center, leaving all options open. After Marshall picked up a first down on the first play out of this formation, OSU hurried to the line and had its next play blown dead because of a false start. Once again, maintaining responsibilities is a necessity and will become even more difficult with guys in less familiar positions and everything moving more quickly.
What the Michigan game didn't really hint at was Jones' ability to throw. His first attempt was an errant incompletion on an 8-yard out route and his only other "real" throw was a bubble screen that gained a handful of yards. His highlights fit the narrative of a strong arm, but it remains to be seen if he can stretch a college defense. If he can't, expect UW to attack the run similar to the way it played against Minnesota. If he can spread out the Badgers, OSU's already dangerous skill players will become even more scary.