Darron Lee stood there stone-faced to make sure he got his point across when asked about where Ohio State goes from here now that it has lost its Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback.
"The mission remains the same," Lee said.
Winning a Big Ten championship and earning a spot in the College Football Playoff — that's the mission.
Despite losing record-setting quarterback J.T. Barrett for the season after he broke his ankle Saturday, the Buckeyes will have a shot to capture that elusive Big Ten crown next weekend in Indianapolis against Wisconsin. They also are still alive for a spot in the playoffs after No. 4 Mississippi State lost Saturday.
It's certainly another hurdle for sixth-ranked Ohio State, but one it believes it has the ability to overcome.
“I think we’re still headed in the right direction," tight end Jeff Heuerman said. "I don’t think any one player makes a whole team. We have an outstanding defense and like I said, we have a lot of talented guys on this offense that can make up for lost ground with J.T. We’re just going to have to turn it up a notch and prepare even harder for this upcoming week, get Cardale ready and offensively get ready as well.”
Team Shows Support For Cardale Jones
Stepping in for Barrett is redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones, who head coach Urban Meyer joked has been at Ohio State for "120 years."
Jones was actually listed ahead of Barrett on the depth chart at the beginning of fall camp for the team's No. 2 quarterback behind Braxton Miller. But a few weeks into camp that changed and Jones became the No. 3 quarterback.
But now with both Miller and Barrett out of the picture, the keys to the Buckeyes' high-powered offense have been placed in the hands of a guy who has thrown just 16 career passes.
“There’s obviously going to be a transition because we weren’t expecting to have that change but it’s just next man in," left tackle Taylor Decker said. "We’ve got to rally around him just like we had to with J.T. early on. I think Cardale has all the talent in the world and I know the coaches are going to have him prepared to have a really good game."
After the win over the Wolverines, Meyer expressed for the umpteenth time this season that "a quarterback is the product of those around him." That could be especially true when it comes to Jones.
“We’ve got a really good team around him and the quarterback doesn’t have to win games for us anymore," Ohio State co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said. "The quarterback has to manage games, distribute the football and lead. We’ve seen that throughout this season, so as long as he’s mentally prepared — he’s got a lot of physical tools and he’s grown up throughout his career here so I have nothing but the utmost confidence that he can get the job done because of what we’ve got around him.”
Bennett Gives Another Speech to Defense
At halftime of a game two weeks ago against Minnesota, Ohio State senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett got after his defense about its inability to stop the run.
On Saturday against Michigan, it was more of the same — this time in the third quarter.
“Credit that to Mike Bennett for getting into us a little bit in the third quarter," Lee said. "He’s a vocal leader, vocal force and when we’re not doing our job — he’s a great captain for that. We all needed that for our defense.”
Michigan had just drove the ball 75 yards on 12 plays, chewing up 5 minutes, 24 seconds of clock in the process to tie the game at 21-all. The Wolverines had tallied 110 yards on the ground as a team to that point.
But then Bennett let his teammates know he was not happy with the way they were playing.
“The Team Up North was just driving down the field on us. They were just throwing it and running it and working us and I don’t know, that’s just not what we’re about," Bennett said. "I think we’re better than them so I just let the guys know that we’re better than them and that’s not acceptable.”
It must have worked. Michigan ran for just 11 yards after that touchdown.