RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Cardale Jones swears he did not know who would start at quarterback for Ohio State until Urban Meyer told him, instead of J.T. Barrett, to go in for the Buckeyes’ first series against Virginia Tech.
“Both of us had our mouth pieces in looking at each other. Should we step to the sideline? Should we step to the field? Coach Meyer was like, ‘Go Cardale,'” Jones said about that slightly awkward moment Monday night when a winner was finally declared in the eight-month miniseries that has been the Ohio State quarterback competition.
Jones started, threw two touchdowns and ran for another as the top-ranked Buckeyes beat Virginia Tech 42-24. Barrett, last year’s Big Ten player of the year, has been relegated to best backup quarterback in the country — at least for now.
“I don’t think the battle is over,” Jones said.
Neither does Urban Meyer. He said he gave some serious thought to switching to Barrett after Jones struggled in the second quarter and threw a bad interception. But he felt the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Jones would be the best guy to go up against a Virginia Tech defense that put a lot of bodies in the quarterback’s face.
And that’s the way it’s going to be all season.
“We’re going to ride my opinion in that moment,” Meyer said. “In that situation to drive the ball down the field to score, who should be in the game? J.T. has to stay warm. If J.T.’s in the game, Cardale has to stay warm. Is that the right thing to do? At this point it is. Will that change and adapt throughout the year? I don’t know. Remains to be seen.”
Jones picked up right where he left off last postseason, when he led the Buckeyes to a national title with victories against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game and Alabama and Oregon in the College Football Playoff. He completed 3 of 4 passes on the first drive, right on the money with every throw, including a 24-yard touchdown to Curtis Samuel.
Jones finished 9 for 18 for 186 yards and rumbled for 99 yards on the ground, including a 10-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter that made it 35-17 for the Buckeyes.
“I’d expect more,” Meyer said of Jones.
Barrett stayed engaged on the sideline, dapping up the offensive linemen and greeting his teammates after touchdowns. He got his chance to play in the fourth quarter and promptly led a touchdown drive, ripping off a 40-yard run and throwing a 26-yard scoring pass to Michael Thomas.
When it was over and the Buckeyes lined up in the corner of Lane Stadium to sing Carmen Ohio with the band, Jones was late getting over to the gang. He made sure to sneak into the front row and slip in between Barrett and star running back Ezekiel Elliott.
The two quarterbacks, arms around each other’s shoulder pads, swayed and sang. When the music stopped, they kidded around with each other, smiling and chatting before heading to the locker room.
“Both kids handled it great,” Meyer said.
Meyer really could not make a bad choice, but he refused to show his hand going into the opener against the last team to beat the Buckeyes. He said the competition was tight and Barrett almost nudged ahead late in preseason practice.
“It was real close and 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,” Meyer said.
Right up until kickoff, Meyer did everything he could to keep his pick a mystery.
The quarterbacks alternated reps in pregame warmups just as they did in practice.
The Buckeyes won the toss and deferred until the second half, which is standard operating procedure but felt almost comical because it pushed the great reveal back a few more minutes.
After a Virginia Tech punt, it was time and Jones was the man. Just like everyone watching, the Buckeyes found out who their starting quarterback would be when Jones lined up behind center.
“I just lined up and saw him in there,” Thomas said.
Things will get interesting if Jones struggles. How much patience will Meyer have with his starter knowing he has an ace in the hole?
“This journey is going to be interesting. Right now I don’t have an answer,” he said.
For now, it’s Jones’ job when the Buckeyes open at home against Hawaii. Right?
“I’m not even sure who will start Saturday,” Jones said.
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