Without Fear of Mistakes, Expect to See Jones at his Career Best Against Minnesota

Expect Cardale Jones to play his best football of the 2015 season this Saturday against Minnesota.

In fact, don’t be surprised if he plays the best game of his career against the Golden Gophers, and makes fans wonder, “Wait, are we more dangerous offensively with Jones at quarterback?”

Aside from the negative news surrounding his teammate and friend, J.T. Barrett, Jones finds himself in the perfect situation to succeed this weekend – a situation that more closely mirrors the predicament he found himself at the end of the 2014 season. Now, with Barrett suspended from the game and thus not posing as a threat or “bullpen ace” for the Ohio State coaching staff to turn to, the rest of the Buckeyes will have no choice but to band behind him, elevate their individual performances, and do what it takes to win the football game. The same way they did in consecutive games against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon last season.

It’s absolutely a different scenario than Jones has faced all season – which might account for how seemingly unimpressive he had played in his first seven starts. Similar to how Barrett looked rusty and made poor decisions in early-season matchups – likely because of his desire to push to make enough plays to “win” the spot – Jones may have also been more hesitant to take chances on big plays out of fear that he could “lose” his spot. By playing cautiously (i.e. trying to limit mistakes), Jones may have actually played away from his strengths. The very strengths that may have prompted Urban Meyer to name him the starting quarterback from the onset. Instead of unleashing deep balls – his most noticeable advantage over Barrett – and trucking defenders on scrambles to convert third downs, Jones instead tried to play safe. He played safe because he was scared to give the coaches a reason to bench him for Barrett. However, it was actually a choice that limited the potential of himself – and the offense.

Think about it. In the final three games of 2014, Jones was the only option the Buckeyes had at quarterback, besides burning unproven Stephen Collier’s redshirt or running the Wildcat offense with Jalin Marshall. Jones was able to pair his natural raw talents with a sense of swagger – a swagger that only comes when you know that you are unequivocally the man. He knew that it was up to him to make plays to complement Ezekiel Elliott’s backfield prowess. He knew he had to do whatever it took to win games – even if it meant putting his body on the line and pummeling 310-pound nose guards. Likewise, all of his teammates – on the offense and defense – knew they had to elevate their games to put Jones in the best position to succeed.

Maybe Jones’s lack of deep ball success in 2015 isn’t because of the absence of Devin Smith – maybe it’s because he was scared to throw bombs unless it was dialed up in the right moment, for fear of making mistakes.

Cardale will have the privilege of playing with a sense of reckless abandon against Minnesota. Knowing that he’s already been supplanted as Ohio State’s starting quarterback, he’ll be able to mentally treat this game like it’s the national championship game. He’ll scramble for third down conversions; he’ll connect on passes of over 50 yards; and *Bonus* Elliott might run for over 200 yards again.

Don’t expect Jones to look like Aaron Rodgers out there on the field. He’ll still make mistakes here and there, but that’s who he is. He’s an imperfect game-changer. The reins will be loosened, he won’t be nervous about making mistakes, and the Buckeyes will roll over Minnesota. This Saturday, you can expect to see that shiny-looking 12 Gauge that Ohio State fans have been longing for since January.

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