INDIANAPOLIS — Having to rely on a third-string quarterback in the Big Ten Conference Championship game tonight is not the biggest concern for Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer.
Sophomore Cardale Jones is making his first career start against the University of Wisconsin because two Heisman Trophy-caliber talents — Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett — suffered season-ending shoulder and ankle injuries, respectively.
When asked Friday if Jones was his primary concern going into the duel with the Badgers at Lucas Oil Stadium, Meyer said that wasn’t the case.
“Number one is tackling this ball carrier,” he said, referring to UW junior tailback Melvin Gordon, who leads the nation in rushing with a Big Ten-record 2,260 yards as well as 29 touchdowns. “That’s our No. 1 concern, getting this guy on the ground.”
The Buckeyes have faced several top backs this season, including Tevin Coleman of Indiana, David Cobb of Minnesota and Jeremy Langford of Michigan State. Coleman carried 27 times for 228 yards, Cobb had 27 attempts for 145 yards and Langford 18 rushes for 137 yards.
“This is probably the best of the bunch,” Meyer said of Gordon, who has five games in excess of 200 yards this season.
Meyer said his No. 2 concern is keeping Jones upright. The Badgers recorded 35 sacks during the regular season, two fewer than Big Ten leaders Ohio State and Michigan State.
“They blitz a lot,” Meyer said of the UW defense.
“For example, the other great defense we faced this year was Michigan State. Not overly complicated, but very well-coached.
“Here it’s a much different dilemma you’re dealing with, with Wisconsin. They’re all over the place.”
Watching the Badgers play this season reminds UW athletic director Barry Alvarez of the 1999 team that won the last Big Ten title of his 16-season tenure.
That team also had two early setbacks — one during the non-conference slate (Cincinnati) and one to open the Big Ten season (Michigan) — before a quarterback situation was smoothed out and a Heisman-winning tailback (Ron Dayne) got things cranked up.
“Guys hung in there,” Alvarez said, “and we became a good team.”
Meyer: Barrett Heisman-worthy
Meyer believes Barrett, who suffered a broken ankle last week vs. Michigan, should be among those invited to New York City for next Saturday’s Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Barrett was 11-1 as a starter, passing for 2,834 yards, rushing for 938 yards and having a hand in 45 TDs overall.
“Statistically, he is a Heisman candidate,” Meyer said.