"The one thing that the new quarterback does is he has a tremendous arm. And they have some very talented receivers. Those two things became very apparent in the last two games because of the quarterback."
-Nick Saban, via ESPN.com
If there's one thing that Nick Saban can speak intelligently to, it's the skill set that Cardale Jones brings to the table. The Buckeye attack has gotten deeper and more vertical in the last two games with Jones at the helm, and Saban was forced to take notice last week. That's not to say that the Buckeyes were lacking in the passing game when J.T. Barrett was piloting the ship -- as Austin Ward points out in this ESPN piece, Barrett was 4th in the country in yards per attempt before going down with a broken ankle. But while Barrett's style was more horizontal, using the speed of his skill-position guys to stretch the field and create mismatches, Cardale Jones' is straight vertical.
That has been the key these last two games for the Buckeyes, as Jones has proven his willingness to chuck the ball downfield against defenses tailor-made to disrupt the kind of game the Buckeyes were playing under Barrett. But Urban Meyer, in typical obfuscating fashion, claims the Buckeyes haven't gone vertical because of Jones' cannon arm. "We are not calling for deep balls because Cardale is our quarterback; we are calling for deep balls because we are getting more bump-and-runs," he told Ward. Both Alabama and Wisconsin have guys who play physical coverage, but it seems almost intentionally obtuse to claim that Jones' deep ball ability hasn't influenced the playcalling in some way.
"He can just put it on the money," Devin Smith told Ward. Smith would know -- it's been his career that has seen the biggest resurgence with Jones at the helm, proving himself to be one of college football's best deep threats against otherwise-stingy competition.
"We know Oregon. I'll probably be able to call Oregon's plays because we study them and they study us."
-Urban Meyer, via Grantland's Chris B. Brown
That statement isn't some cocky head-game play by Urban Meyer to try to instill some swagger before Monday's title tilt. It's more of an honest assessment of the kinds of schemes that Ohio State and Oregon run -- schemes that have become astonishingly similar in recent months, as the Buckeyes have shaken off some early disasters to become one of the top two teams in the country.
The causes of this convergence are threefold: Tom Herman, the Virginia Tech loss, and Chip Kelly. While Meyer found success at Florida using a power running scheme that took advantage of Tim Tebow's size and running ability, Herman helped bring the inside zone run (and a matching zone blocking scheme) to Ohio State's offense. There is no Tebow on the roster, and Herman's creativity has helped the Buckeye offense transition in extraordinary fashion.
Meanwhile, the Virginia Tech game showed the coaching staff that even this inside zone scheme was fallible. The Hokies' vaunted "Bear" front sealed up the A-gap (where the inside zone run is intended to go), leaving Barrett without much to work with, and forcing him to repeatedly keep the ball en route to a paltry average of less than three yards a carry. Enter a new wrinkle, courtesy of Chip Kelly.
In the offseason, Meyer met with Kelly and some of his staff to explore some options for utilizing the stable of explosive playmakers on the Buckeye roster. One of the biggest takeaways for Meyer and Herman was the power of the sweep to attack the perimeter of the defense rather than its center. With both the sweep and the inside zone run as viable options for the Buckeyes, the offense has hit new heights, and made quick work of several top-ten defenses. When Alabama introduced a version of the "Bear" front in last week's playoff game, the Buckeyes went with the sweep to open things up. One 85-yard scamper by Ezekiel Elliott later, Ohio State had it locked up. It's a scheme that Oregon utilizes often, with great success. Look for these similarities on Monday night when the two face off.
"They're a basic, sound offense that doesn't run more plays than they can execute. Their whole thing is, we have these basic plays and we're going to execute them so fast that you're not going to be able to react to them. Most of the time, they're right."
-Washington State head coach Mike Leach on Oregon, via USA Today
USA Today's Paul Myerberg got some unique perspective on next week's title game contenders from some of the people who would know best: the coaches that have faced Ohio State and Oregon this season. The lone common opponent of the two teams, Michigan State, suffered the cosmic bad luck of being on the schedule for both the Buckeyes and the Ducks this season. It's worth pointing out that those are the only two games that the Spartans lost in 2014.
"They're both outstanding football teams and they are both extremely deserving of getting there," coach Mark Dantonio told Myerberg. It's certainly a fair point, and a bitter pill for the Spartans to swallow (though they did just beat one-time putative playoff finalist Baylor in their bowl game). Virginia Tech's defensive coordinator, Bud Foster, also spoke to Myerberg, and though his team didn't fare nearly as well as Dantonio's, he might be happier with how things shook out -- the Hokies were the only team to take down the Buckeyes this season. "What's complicated is how they split your defense," Foster said. Otherwise, both he and Indiana coach Kevin Wilson both pointed to the relative simplicity of the Buckeye offense. Like Herman Boone's T.C. Williams Titans, they run a few plays, and they run them extremely well. Opposing coaches, like Leach, echoed the same sentiment about the Ducks.
"This is terrible. Like, we don't have cheerleaders? I was heartbroken. We couldn't have our phones, no electronics."
-Cardale Jones, via SI.com
In this profile of Ohio State's enigmatic third-string QB, some details about Cardale Jones' life at a military academy come to light. The above quote, which will certainly only add to the mythos surrounding Jones, is just one shining example of the Cleveland native's experiences at Fork Union Academy in Virginia. The rest, at least as far as Jones' thoughts are concerned, are practically unprintable.
You should check out this article for yourself to get the full picture, but the rigor and discipline of Fork Union did not gel with the casual, unfettered lifestyle that Jones had grown up a product of. He had little adult supervision for many of his formative years, bouncing around between friends' couches at night and not exerting much effort towards his schoolwork. Jones left Fork Union after a semester, but credits the lessons he learned there as being part of what put him back on the right track.
What isn't mentioned in the article is just how far Cardale Jones has come since coming under the tutelage of Urban Meyer. His attitude is well-documented as being less-than-stellar in his first year or two on campus, and it has only been this past season in which he has matured into the unflappable, dynamic person on and off the field that we have come to know. The article is missing that last piece of the story: that Jones is a far cry from being that 18-year-old kid who couldn't hack it when discipline and integrity were required of him.
STICK TO SPORTS:
- Breaking: every country-pop song sounds the exact same. (Read: terrible.)
- The Packers' "Big Game Burger" looks like a delicious heart attack waiting to happen.
- Cardale and Zeke chalkboard art? We're in.
- Dogs in the McDonald's drive through: Adorable? Check.
- Weekly reminder that Clickhole is the GOAT