A Heck of a Coaching Job by Meyer Winning National Championship with Third String QB

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

The Ohio State Buckeyes are on the top of the college football world and they did it in unlikely fashion.

Playing in just his third game, Ohio State Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes to its first national championship since 2001.

Playing in just his third game, Ohio State Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes to its first national championship since 2001.

Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer will probably be remembered for pulling off one of the great coaching jobs not just college football history, perhaps in the history of the game.

The fact that the Buckeyes made it to the national championship game against Oregon with a third-string quarterback was a remarkable achievement. That Ohio State won it all is simply amazing.

Sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones, making just his third start, was a beast of a signal caller. He completed 16-of-23 for 242 yards and one touchdown. As a rusher, he gained 38 yards on 21 carries and one touchdown. Jones used his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame to physically punish the Ducks on short-yardage situations.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer answers questions after his team's win over Oregon in the first College Football Playoff National Championship. Photo by USA Today.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer answers questions after his team’s win over Oregon in the first College Football Playoff National Championship. Photo by USA Today.

Meyer said Jones was actually the second string quarterback in the spring, but lost it to J.T. Barrett during August training camp. He said Jones of a study of what happens when you get a chance to redeem yourself.

“Everybody in life has a chance to push restart,” Meyer said. “Not many people on a grand stage like Cardale has and he has pushed restart and hit the right button and that’s called selfless approach and a serious approach to how he handles his business on and off the field.”

Jones credited Meyer for challenging him and his teammates to be better football players.

“He gets the best out of us in different waJones ys,” said. “Even in the same room as far as the quarterbacks, so the way he gets the best out of us is second to none and that’s why we’re here today.”

Speaking of getting physical, running back Ezekiel Elliot ran through the Oregon defense for 246 yards on 36 carries and scored four touchdowns. Ohio State as a team had 296 yards on the ground. In the second half, the offense was on the field 23 out of the 30 minutes.

Defensively, the Buckeyes slowed down Oregon’s fast-paced offense and kept them from scoring in the red zone including a critical fourth down stop in the second quarter. Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota passed for 333 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

Losing the starter for the season can devastate most teams and can ruin the most promising of seasons. Ohio State not only weathered the storm of losing its starting quarterback, it has experienced a season that I don’t think anyone saw coming when the Buckeyes lost their second string quarterback at the end of the regular season.

And somehow they won the national championship.

“That’s the essence of a good team,” Meyer said. “If you can hit the storm and come out the other end stronger, that’s a real, real, real team and how many of those are out there? I’ve done this 30 years and probably can count them on one hand.

“Some people think this is the luck of the draw. I think it’s leadership and training.”

First, the Buckeyes lost Heisman Trophy candidate and two-time Big 10 Player of the Year Braxton Miller to a season-ending shoulder injury 12 days before the season began.

That situation put the onus on backup J.T. Barrett who not only won 11-of-12 games, but became a Heisman Trophy candidate himself.

Barrett threw for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdown touchdowns passes. He also ran for 938 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.

Just when things were looking rosy for the Buckeyes, Barrett suffered a broken ankle in the regular-season finale against Michigan and things looked bleak for Ohio State.

Jones made his first start in what was the biggest game of the season, the Big 10 Championship game against a hot Wisconsin squad and another Heisman candidate in running back Melvin Gordon.

In his first game as a starter against the Badger Jones completed 12-of-17 for 257 yards and three touchdowns. The Buckeyes came away with a resounding 59-0 win.

Coming into the Sugar Bowl, the College Football Playoff semifinals, all the experts said there was no way Jones and Ohio State was going to beat SEC power Alabama with a third-string quarterback.

Sho’ nuf, sho nuff … Jones led the Buckeyes to a 42-35 win to put them into the title game.

Jones came up huge against the Crimson Tide, completing 18-of-35 passes for 243 yards and one touchdown. He also had 43 yards rushing.

Not many coaches—pro or college—have made a run through the postseason without their starting quarterback. It’s rare you win anything when you’re down to your third quarterback. I can think of one that comes close.
In 1965, Baltimore Colts head coach Don Shula lost legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas to a season-ending knee injury and they lost their backup quarterback Gary Cuozzo to an injury that ended his season.

The Colts were down to their emergency quarterback, running back Tom Matte, who oddly enough was a collegiate quarterback at Ohio State, and faced the Green Bay Packers in the Western Conference playoff after the two teams finished the season tied for first place.

Matte and the Colts led Green Bay 10-7 for most of the game. Late in the fourth quarter, the Packers sent the game into overtime on a controversial 22-yard field goal that appeared to be wide right.  Green Bay eventually won it in sudden death.

Wearing a wristband with the Colts plays, Matte managed the Baltimore offense well, completing 5-of-12 passes for 40 yards and running for 57 yards on 17 carries. Matte’s wristband is on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Jones name will be inscribed on a national championship trophy thanks to his coach.

Not a Two QB League Just Yet, But You Need a Solid Back-Up When No. 1 Gets Hurt

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—Flash back to the 2003 NFC Championship game between the Eagles and the Carolina Panthers.

 Nick Foles will likely start in Sunday's game against the  Dallas Cowboys. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Nick Foles will likely start in Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Early in the second quarter of that game, Birds quarterback Donovan McNabb gets hits by Carolina linebacker Greg Favors and suffers badly bruised ribs that eventually force him to leave the game.

With Koy Detmer in the game in relief of McNabb, the Eagles really had no chance to come back and win because there was a huge drop off in talent when you compare those two quarterbacks.

And so in the here and now, the Eagles have two guys who are capable of starting and winning.  When Michael Vick pulled a hamstring in the win over the New York Giants, Nick Foles came off the bench and threw a pair of second-half touchdown passes to lead the Eagles to the win.

With Vick unable to go against Tampa Bay last week, Foles passed for 296 yards and threw three touchdown passes in the Birds win over the Bucs.

Now, of course, you have a full-blown quarterback here in the City of Brotherly Love. There are some rooting for Foles to be the starter and others rooting for Vick, who will apparently be on the shelf for another week rehabbing his injured hamstring.

In an NFL where there has been a rash of quarterback injuries, you would think that teams would have backups that are just as good as their starters.  But the reality is when teams lose their starting quarterback, the back up guy is someone not as talented as the starter or who has little game experience.

“But typically, your starter is better than your backup ‑‑ in our situation, we’ve got two guys that have gone in and won a game, so ours is a little bit unique,” said Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.  “But in a lot of places, there’s probably a drop‑off between their first and second guy. “

Michael Vick will probably miss Sunday's game against the Cowboys. Photo by Webster Riddick

Michael Vick will probably miss Sunday’s game against the Cowboys. Photo by Webster Riddick

Will NFL teams ever evolve to the point to where you need two guys who are capable of being starters?  I don’t know.  In some situations, you’re lucky if you can get one guy to do it. And if you do have two capable starters, someone’s going to want to emerge as the No. 1 guy.

Every team finds themselves one season-ending injury away from having to start their back up quarterback. Foles said even as a backup, you work with the mentality that you’re going to be the starter.

“I’m going into this week like I always do,” Foles said. “I work everyday like I’m the starter, nothing changes. No matter what happens if I’m not getting reps, I’m mentally getting reps. What throws I didn’t get if I’m not getting first-team reps, I’m going to throw after (practice).”

During his press conference after the Birds win over the New York Giants where Vick got hurt, Kelly said he enjoys the luxury of having two quarterbacks capable of starting.

“No matter where you are in this league, you have to make sure you have two quarterbacks that’s just the nature of this league,” Kelly said. “We’re fortunate that we do.”

More often than naught, the loss of a starting quarterback means the season can take a huge nose-dive in the win-loss column, especially when you throw in a rookie or player who gets very little playing time. In 2011, the Indianapolis Colts lost Peyton Manning for a season and their record plummeted to 2-14.

Along with the Eagles, the Cleveland Browns (Brian Hoyer), the Buffalo Bills (EJ Manuel), New York Jets (Mark Sanchez), the Jacksonville Jaguars (Blaine Gabbert) and Tennessee Titans (Jake Locker) have seen their starters miss a significant amount of time and in some cases, like Hoyer, they are out for the season.

But throughout the history of the game, some teams have successfully managed long-term injuries to their starting quarterbacks better than others and some have been quite successful.

When McNabb had a season-ending knee injury in 2006, Jeff Garcia came in and the lead the Eagles to wins in five out of their last six games en-route to an NFC East title.

Back in 2008, Tom Brady had a season-ending knee injury in the Patriots first regular season game. Matt Cassel led New England to 11 wins, but did not make the playoffs.

Brady, a sixth-round draft pick, was Drew Bledsoe’s backup at the beginning of the 2001 season before being pressed into service when Bledsoe got hurt.  Of course, Brady went on to win three Super Bowls as the Patriots starter.

In 1990, New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms went down with a foot injury in week 14. Backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler led the Giants to a victory in the Super Bowl.

If there was one coach in NFL history that seemed to have a knack of finding a back up quarterback good enough to win when his starter got hurt, it was Hall of Fame coach Don Shula.

During his coaching days with the Baltimore Colts and the Miami Dolphins, Shula saw legendary quarterbacks in John Unitas and Bob Griese go down with injuries. In 1968, when Shula was coaching the Colts, Earl Morrall filled in for an injured Unitas and took them to the Super Bowl and was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.

In 1965, when Shula lost both Unitas and another backup quarterback Gary Cuozzo, he turned his halfback Tom Matte into a quarterback. It was Matte who helped the Colts clinch a berth in a playoff-tie breaker against the Green Bay Packers.

When Shula was coaching the Dolphins in 1972, it was Morrall, who took over for  Griese and led Miami to an unbeaten regular season.  In a 1981 playoff game against the San Diego Chargers, Miami was down 24-0 and brought in backup quarterback Don Strock to who replaced an ineffective David Woodley.

Strock completed  29-of-43 passes for 403 yards and four touchdown passes to get Miami back in the game. The Dolphins eventually lost an overtime classic.

I don’t know if the NFL will eventually go to a two-quarterback system, but there is need to make sure your No. 2 guy is ready to go out and win games in case your top QB goes down. You can’t take that position for granted.

“I think it’s important that we continue to develop quarterbacks and that’s probably a discussion for the off-season, when you talk about how your rosters are structured,” Shurmur said.