‘Dark place’ nearly derailed Cardale Jones, Ohio State
COLUMBUS — Before Cardale Jones could lead Ohio State to success under college football’s brightest lights, the quarterback had to emerge from what he called "a dark place."
Jones, the junior aiming to be the man who leads the Buckeyes onto the field for their season-opening game at Virginia Tech, spoke candidly about how he reacted to the news he would not be the starter last year despite coming out of spring ball ahead of J.T. Barrett on the depth chart.
That was a distinction that grew exponentially in importance when Braxton Miller, the team’s three-year starter, went down with a shoulder injury and the Buckeyes’ No. 2 quarterback became their No. 1.
"It was just having the wrong mindset about everything," Jones said Sunday during Ohio State’s media day. "You know, ‘Oh they screwed me. I should be the starter. I should be this. I should be that. Screw this, I’m just going to go through the motions for the rest of this year. I’m out of here after this year.’ That mindset. Not understanding my role on the team."
As Barrett overcome a three-interception game against Virginia Tech early in the season to become a standout player, Jones continued to let hurt feelings hold him back.
As it turned out, things finally clicked for Jones right about the time Barrett was putting together one of his best performances. With a likely spot in the Big Ten Championship Game on the line, Barrett threw for 300 yards and ran for 86 while accounting for five touchdowns in a 49-37 win at Michigan State on Nov. 8. A week later, Barrett was arguably even better as he threw for 200 yards and ran for an Ohio State quarterback record 189 yards. He tacked on four more touchdowns en route to setting a Big Ten record in that category.
All the while, Jones sat on the bench, seeing nothing more than mop-up duty as Ohio State rose back up the polls. Until, of course, he was thrust into duty in the fourth quarter against Michigan when Barrett suffered a broken ankle. Then it became Jones’ team, and the rest is history as he started — and played well in — victories over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon en route to the national championship.
What changed for Jones?
"It was understanding that it’s not just about football, understanding that it’s not just about me, understanding my role on the team," he said. "Understanding that after the Virginia Tech game, after really the Michigan State game how well I saw our team jell and come together and really put their minds to something. We really wanted to accomplish something. Understand that we had a really, really good chance and a really, really great team this year and I don’t want to be the guy to bring it down."
He accomplished that mission and more, but now he finds himself without a guaranteed starting spot as Barrett is back to 100 percent.
That means the obvious question had to be asked: If Barrett beats him out again for the No. 1 quarterback job, how will Jones react?
"That’s a good question," he replied. "I’m pretty sure I would be able to, just being older and having more experience. Being more mature. It’s more than just me. It’s about more than just me. This team is bigger than any one single person so if I have to take that backseat role again I will have to — no choice."