Minnesota-Ohio St. Preview
(AP) - Now that Cardale Jones is starting again for No. 1 Ohio State, he'll be tasked with keeping the ball moving not only down the field, but into the end zone.
Jones started the first seven contests but was replaced by J.T. Barrett at Rutgers on Oct. 24 - in part because Barrett does a better job in the red zone.
With Barrett suspended for Saturday's home game against Minnesota (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten) after being cited during the bye week for operating a vehicle while impaired, the top-ranked Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0) will again turn to Jones - at least for one game.
Although Jones is 10-0 as a starter the past two seasons, offensive coordinator Ed Warinner is well aware of his struggles in the red zone. In the two games prior to starting against Rutgers, Barrett was inserted anytime Ohio State got near the goal line.
The Buckeyes, who were No. 3 in this week's initial College Football Playoff rankings, have 15 touchdowns and a field goal in 18 trips inside the red zone the past three games after going 12 for 16 with six TDs in the first five.
Warinner doesn't expect the recent success to change even though the quarterback has.
"We feel like we have a good answer for the red zone right now, and we've kind of evolved into what we're going to do there, and we know what we can do," he said. "(Jones) practices as part of that all through the last few weeks, even though J.T. has primarily done it. We'll use the things that play to his strengths."
Barrett is a gifted runner who reads the option well but also can pull the ball back and toss a 30-yard scoring strike, as he did to Curtis Samuel in the 49-7 victory against the Scarlet Knights. Jones, meanwhile, runs when needed but spends more time in the pocket and throws a better deep ball.
"They're a little bit different styles," coach Urban Meyer said. "J.T., he's a little bit more a spread quarterback where he reads ends and Cardale, although he can do it, we have a little bit more drop-back pass game in."
The question to be answered against the Golden Gophers is who better suits the offense? Even though Jones led Ohio State to the national title last season by winning the final three games after Barrett broke his ankle, the team seems more in tune with Barrett.
He was on full display against Rutgers with 223 yards passing and 101 rushing yards. Barrett's dual-threat capabilities helped Ezekiel Elliott run for 142 yards - his 13th straight game with 100 or more.
Left tackle Taylor Decker said Barrett will be missed during his one-game suspension, but that Jones will get the job done.
"I think it does affect the momentum because we were getting J.T. in there more and more and we were improving week to week," Decker said. "At the same time, it just wasn't J.T. affecting our momentum. Everybody was playing better and better. We obviously know we have played really well with Cardale at times."
The wild card in the quarterback derby is Braxton Miller. The former quarterback and current receiver after shoulder surgery last year will be the backup QB this week.
"He's a two-time Big Ten player of the year at quarterback," Decker said. "That's all you need to say. The kid's a playmaker and he'll do whatever the team needs him to do."
The Buckeyes' depth at quarterback is certainly a concern for Minnesota interim coach Tracy Claeys, who took over last week when Jerry Kill retired because of health reasons.
"The unknown is the role Braxton picks up from here on out because I'm sure there'll be something there," Claeys said. "How we handle that will probably have a big part in the outcome of the game. We can set up here until midnight drawing up ways that they're going to get him the ball and may not be right on one of them."
In his first game since Kill tearfully stepped away from football over concerns with his epilepsy, Claeys chose to go for a win instead of a tying field goal, but then-No. 15 Michigan stopped Mitch Leidner on a sneak as time expired to escape with a 29-26 victory.
"I just think in those situations you've got to be able to get half a yard," Claeys said. "If it's outside the 1-yard line, hey, we'll kick it and move on. But in that situation I felt like we could get it. I'd do it all over again and do the same thing."
The Gophers have lost nine straight meetings with the Buckeyes since a 29-17 win at the Horseshoe on Oct. 14, 2000.