Ohio State started Cardale Jones at quarterback to open its defense of a national championship Monday night at Virginia Tech, bringing at least a temporary conclusion to college football's most highly anticipated quarterback competition.
Jones justified the decision in every way, completing 9 of 18 passes for 186 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. On the ground, Jones rushed for 99 yards on 13 carries, gashing a talented Virginia Tech defensive front primarily with option keepers and quarterback draw plays. Though he completed just 50 percent of his passes, Jones' lone interception came on a deflection and he was effective on deeper, downfield throws that accounted for an average of more than 20 yards per completion.
He found H-back Braxton Miller to be a dangerous target, connecting with the fifth-year senior for 78 yards on two catches. Jones gave way to backup J.T. Barrett late in the game, who completed his only pass for a 26-yard touchdown.
Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer declined to make his starter known until the first snap of the game, and both Barrett and Jones took snaps in warm-ups. Jones said he didn't know he had won the starting job until just before Ohio State's first offensive series on Monday night.
"We met twice along the journey in training camp, and [Jones] was ahead, and J.T. really closed it and almost nudged back," Meyer said after the game. "But the way I looked at it, ... Cardale finished the season as the starter, and I started thinking for him not to take the first snap, he had to get beat out, and he wasn't beat out. It was very close, but we got two good players and they're going to play."
The options for Meyer at the position were trimmed to two when Miller, who handled OSU's quarterback duties for two years (2012-2013), moved to H-back when preseason camp began. Jones and Barrett shared practice reps throughout August. Miller, a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, was sidelined for all of 2014 with a shoulder injury. Barrett led the Buckeyes to an 11-1 regular season before a leg injury gave Jones an opportunity to start. Jones took over for Barrett in the Big Ten Championship Game, where he beat Wisconsin, then led wins over Alabama and Oregon in the inaugural College Football Playoff.