A look back at the great moments in Ohio State football history
Sometimes when you win a national championship, little things just have to go your way. During that glorious 2014-15 football season, luck was with the Buckeyes. But that was certainly not the case at the start of the season.
Ohio State was ranked No. 5 in the AP’s preseason poll and was expected to compete for the national championship in the first four-team playoffs that were to conclude the season. Of course, the Buckeyes lost key players from the 2013 team 12-2, including star running back Carlos Hyde. But the main offensive weapon was back: Braxton Miller, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
Miller injured his right shoulder in the orange bowl in January and had taken place outside of spring practices. But he was reportedly ready to go, and the 2014 season was shaping up to be pretty rosy for Buckeye fans. Then came Monday, August 18. Miller re-injured his shoulder and it was announced the next day that he would miss the entire season.
Coach Urban Meyer announced that redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett would be the starter; Cardale Jones would be the backup quarterback. Jones had thrown two assists in his Buckeye career; Barrett hadn’t played any games. Too bad.
The Bucks struggled to beat Navy in the season opener, 34-17. Barrett’s stats were pretty good (12/15 for 226 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception), but the running game was stalled by Navy and OSU never really clicked. They were only up by six going into the fourth quarter, and I remember feeling lucky to have taken the win when it was all over.
In Game 2, Barrett’s inexperience caught up with him against good defense, and he completed just nine of his 29 pass attempts and threw three interceptions. The Buckeyes lost at home to the Virginia Tech Hokies, 35-21. And it was starting to look like a .500 season.
The winning streak
Then the Buckeyes started winning. . . and went on to win. Often winning big. When the streak hit nine, the Bucks were 10-1 and had already clinched a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game. Barrett had become a phenomenal passer and runner, a legitimate dual threat. And the other guy in the backfield with him – Ezekiel Elliott – made us forget all about Carlos Hyde.
As always, the regular season finale would be played against Michigan, this year in Columbus. Brady Hoke’s Wolverines weren’t doing well at all. They had been mutilated by our Lady early in the season and were stepping into the “shoe” after losing to Maryland, 23-16, and sitting at 5-6 for the year. Buckeye’s hopes were high again and the team had moved up the rankings to sit at No. 7. Playoffs? Maybe not out of reach after all.
There’s an old cliché that says when fierce rivals go head-to-head, you “can throw the record books away”. This is about the 2014 Michigan game. On paper, the Buckeyes looked like an easy (and sure) winner. The game was close and tucked, however, and there was plenty of drama until the fourth quarter.
The Buckeyes scored first, as Barrett threw a short pass into the end zone to tight end Nick Vannett. But that 7-0 lead didn’t last long; Michigan tied the game at the end of the first quarter. Wolverine’s running game was clicking (as it often seems to do) and TTUN took the lead on a two-yard run. Barrett tied it again with a 25-yard springboard. The extra point made it 14-14 at the end of the half. A tight.
Barrett scored again on Buckeye’s first possession of the second half, but another short run play for Michigan tied the score again about halfway through the third quarter. With just a minute left in the period, Elliott took it from the two, and the Buckeyes again led, 28-21.
Very early in the fourth quarter, Barrett kept the ball on a second and a play. He didn’t get up. Players from both teams gathered around the fallen star. Team doctors called the cart and JT Barrett was transported off the field to Ohio Stadium. Earlier in the contest, Barrett had beaten Drew Brees’ Big Ten, the single-season mark for counted touchdowns (passes, rushes, returns). And now he was seriously injured.
The Bucks led by just seven, and the inexperienced Cardale Jones took the helm. It felt like deja vu again. How deep can the Buckeyes be at quarterback? Along comes the 6-5, 250-pound backup. And while we’d love to remember Jones coming in and winning — like Dwayne Haskins did three years later when Barrett injured his knee — that’s not what happened. in 2014.
Jones threw just three passes, completing two of them for seven yards. He ran for 18 more on a few races. No stellar stats for a quarter, but he’s a hero nonetheless. He held the team together when things looked bleak. He made no mistakes. He looked pretty cool, actually, handing the ball to Zeke who carried it 44 yards for a touchdown and a 14-point lead. Linebacker Darron Lee sealed the deal for the Buckeyes on UM’s next possession, recovering a fumble and going 33 yards for a score. With about four minutes to play, the Bucks led 42-21. Michigan would put up another TD to make the final score 42-28. The winning streak was still alive. The Buckeyes would face Wisconsin for the Big Ten title.
Why the game was important
After the game, we learned that Barrett was, as feared, made for the year. A fractured right ankle that would require surgery. Cardale Jones was now the man – for the championship game and whatever bowl opportunity came our way. Jones gained confidence in the Michigan game. Not that Cardale ever lacked confidence, but he now had the team behind him.
I haven’t seen it, but several people who have been to the Big Ten Championship swear that Jones was sitting (yes, sitting) on the midfield boards during pre-game warm-ups, throwing “goals on the ground”. 60-yard field goals from a seated position. Badgers and Buckeye players watched with open mouths.
We know how this one turned out: Ohio State 59, Wisconsin 0. After that performance, the Buckeyes — despite being ranked No. 5 — earned the fourth offer for the inaugural playoffs and would face No. 1 Alabama. in the semi-finals. Strong wins over Bama and Oregon secured the Buckeyes’ first national championship since 2002 and made third-string QB Cardale Jones a legend.
While most fans would say that the rout of Wisconsin, or beating Alabama, was the highlight of this championship season, I see this Michigan game as a turning point. No longer counting on a running quarterback, the Buckeyes let Elliott carry the ball. He’s gained more than 200 rushing yards in each of those last three games. And Jones’ rocket arm and Devin Smith’s speed gave the Bucks some serious longball ability. The last three games, Ohio State looked like a different team, a possessed team. They looked like one of the great college teams and Cardale Jones was their quarterback.