The identity of Ohio State's starting quarterback was the mystery that dominated college football's offseason, and Urban Meyer kept everyone guessing right until the last minute -- Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett included.
Jones told reporters in Blacksburg, Va., Monday night he did not know he had won the competition with Barrett until he was sent out for the first snap of Ohio State's 42-24 win over Virginia Tech. That came as a surprise because Meyer had said during the week of preparation for the Hokies that he would tell Barrett and Jones who was getting the nod before the game.
Once he found out he was the winner, Jones proceeded to lead the Buckeyes to a touchdown on their first possession of the season, a 64-yard drive capped by Jones' 24-yard pass to Curtis Samuel in the end zone.
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He had some ups and downs as the night went on, including an interception off a deflected pass that was one of the key moments in a 17-0 second-quarter rally that saw the Hokies grab the lead before the half, but Jones was more than good enough to help top-ranked Ohio State improve to 1-0 on the season.
When it was over, the junior from Cleveland had completed 9 of 18 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns while also running for 99 yards and another touchdown on 13 carries.
Meyer described his performance as "OK," mentioning the turnover and saying, "I expect more."
The coach also explained how he came to the decision to start Jones, who came off the bench to lead Ohio State to three victories in three postseason games last season en route to the national championship, over Barrett, who started the first 12 games and broke the Big Ten record for touchdowns in a season.
"Cardale finished the season as the starter and I started thinking for him to not take the first snap he had to get beat out, and he wasn't beat out," Meyer said. "It was very close, but we've got two good players and they're gonna play."
Barrett made his season debut in the fourth quarter after the Buckeyes had essentially put the game away, but he looked sharp in limited duty. The sophomore rushed for 40 yards on an option keeper and tossed a 26-yard pass to Michael Thomas for Ohio State's last touchdown of the night.
"I almost put J.T. in earlier, but it was such a pressure game and with Cardale's size I thought he could get out over that defensive front because they were all over the place again, and that was the decision," Meyer said.
He admitted he has to be "real careful" with how he juggles playing time moving forward.
"There's really not a formula," Meyer said. "You can't have too many people's input because all it does is confuse the situation. In that situation to drive the ball down the field and score, who should be in the game? And J.T. has to stay warm, and if J.T.'s in the game, Cardale has to stay warm. Is that the right thing to do? Right now at this point it is. Will that change and adapt throughout the year? I don't know. It remains to be seen."
Both quarterbacks offered reminders they have the tools to perform in Meyer's spread offense, and by all appearances the two handled the competition and the ultimate decision quite well.
For his part, Jones sounded like he took Meyer's comment about expecting more to heart. While he displayed his rocket arm on more than one occasion and his rushing stats show he is more than adequate as a runner, the turnover might haunt him. He was aiming the ball for a double-covered tight end before it was deflected into the air and caught by a diving defender.
While it is often said the backup quarterback is the most popular person in any football town, few reserves have the credentials of Barrett, who was the Big Ten's Quarterback of the Year last season and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting after accounting for 45 total touchdowns. He also has enough respect from his teammates to have been voted one of the team's six captains for the season.
"I don't think the battle is over," Jones said. "We feel we've still got to stay razor sharp and stay locked into the game plan every week, just continue to stay ready because our number could be called at any moment.
"I'm not even sure who will start Saturday."