Cardale Jones goes from third-stringer to Buckeyes legend

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Legend of Cardale Jones just got even bigger.

It would have been enough for Jones to get Ohio State to the national championship game. After all, back in August he was the Buckeyes’ third-string quarterback.

But for Jones to win the title in just his third game as a starter, that’s not just the stuff of dreams. That’s legendary.

"It’s even better than I thought," Jones said. "It’s an unreal feeling."

After the game, Jones got a congratulatory hug from the reigning sports icon of his hometown.

"This is something for all of Cleveland to believe in and rally around," Jones said LeBron James told him.

Jones wasn’t the star of Ohio State’s 42-20 bullying of Oregon. That honor went to running back Ezekiel Elliott and his 246 rushing yards and four touch-downs.

But Jones was impressive in his own right with 242 passing yards and a touchdown each passing and running.

Jones, nicknamed "12 Gauge" for his ballistic passing arm, fired plenty of jaw-dropping shells at receivers. His one-yard touchdown pass to Nick Vannett in the first quarter was one such rocket.

But what really got people gawking were his short-yardage runs for first downs. 

On the third quarter drive that put the Buckeyes ahead 28-20, Jones ran over an Oregon defensive lineman. At 6-5 and 250 pounds, Jones was a mismatch for most defenders.

It was far from a perfect performance for Jones, which can be expected of a quarterback starting his third game. He had a pair of fumbles and threw an inter-ception on the opening drive of the second half.

Jones trusted his teammates to overcome those mistakes. 

"It’s hard to be flustered or nervous or down when you have the other guys on defense playing the way they’re playing," Jones said. "And then definitely when you’ve got the guys up front blocking the way they were blocking. We definitely felt we could score any time we want."

He was 16-of-23 passing and often stood in the pocket for long periods trying to decipher what was in front of him. If he had more games under his belt, those reads would have come quicker.

On one play in the third quarter, he tried to evade pressure and wound up dropping the ball. The Buckeyes lost possession and 17 yards of field position, but that was Jones’ only sack.

"Even though I made some stupid turnovers, I knew I didn’t have to do too much and just have faith in my teammates and faith in our defense," Jones said.

Jones knows something about overcoming mistakes. He’s had the typical ma-turity issues and sometimes chafed at his lowly status on the depth chart.

Before becoming the starter, Jones was mostly known for an infamous tweet that said "Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play football? We ain’t come to play school, classes are pointless."

Because of injuries to the quarterbacks ahead of him, Jones was given a chance to rewrite his legacy.

"Cardale is a case study for overcoming adversity," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "And how if his personal alignment with his mentor, his high school coach and his coaching staff, if that didn’t happen, he wouldn’t be sitting here."

Jones also had a lot of help in the national championship game. The blistering runs by Elliott took a lot of the weight off Jones’ shoulders. Yet he was no mere passenger on this ride. 

Jones calmly executed plays in the end zone on Ohio State’s first scoring drive, which went for 97 yards. 

On the Buckeyes’ third scoring drive, Jones was flushed to the right and fired a deep pass on the run to Devin Smith for a 45-yard gain.

It was the kind of pass that shows the great potential Jones has if he continues to progress. That may be difficult with Braxton Miller, Ohio State’s original starter, and J.T. Barrett, who was injured in the Michigan game, both planning to return next season.

Then again when your resume, albeit brief, consists of wins over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, Alabama in the national semifinal and Oregon in the national championship, you can’t be counted out of anything.

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire

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