Keys to Success for the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes (Guest Post)

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The Urban Meyer tenure at Ohio State started off as an unparalleled success as Meyer led the Buckeyes to unbeaten regular seasons in both 2012 and 2013. With NCAA sanctions barring the 2012 Buckeyes from the post-season party, the program and fan base alike were excited for post season success last December and hopefully into January. After a barn-burner against the rival to the North, the Buckeyes entered the B1G Championship game against Michigan State ranked #2 and with their destiny in their hands knowing that a win would send them to the final installment of the oft criticized BCS title game. Alas it wasn’t to be as the Michigan State defense; specifically Darqueze Dennard and the rest of the MSU defensive backs provided to stiff of a challenge for Braxton Miller and his receiving corp. While the receivers (Devin Smith in particular) deserved to be criticized, the Buckeyes offensive line and putrid back seven back seven on defense should share equal blame. A few weeks later some of these same deficiencies were highlighted in a shootout loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Entering a 2014 season that has grand aspirations, these same three issues represent the top three issues that need to be addressed if the Buckeyes are to emerge victorious from the first ever College Football Playoff.

1.) Offensive Line

The offensive line was arguably the strongest unit on the 2013 version of the Buckeyes, and that’s saying a lot considering the strength of both the defensive line and offensive backfield (with both Miller and Kenny Guiton at QB). With 4/5 of that unit graduated and several of those players attempting to play on Sundays, co-offensive coordinator and OL Coach Ed Warinner and Meyer have their work cut out for them. Taylor Decker is the lone returning starter and the junior will be switching from RT to anchor the LT spot that was anchored by second round pick Jack Mewhort. Although there’s youth and players that flip flopped between DL and OL several of the remaining OL spots seem to have a frontrunner identified. Jacoby Boren and Chad Lindsay who started several games for Alabama in 2013 transferred into the program and will be eligible immediately seems to be locked in a battle to start at C. Pat Elflein (G), who played very well late in 2013 after subbing in for Marcus Hall and former highly regarded DL Daryl Baldwin (T) seem to be a good bet to man the right side of the line. That leaves LG as the main point of contention for Warinner and Meyer, where there seems to be an old fashioned four way donnybrook between Chase Farris, Joel Hale, Antonio Underwood, and Billy Price. After seeing the “miracle” that Warinner worked with Reid Fragel and the 2012 Bucks OL and the overpowering and dominant unit that he built in 2013, Buckeye fans should sleep good at night when it concerns to the 2014 offensive line.

2.) Wide Receivers

The receiving corps which Meyer once called a “clown show” started off 2013 with a bang as Devin Smith and Philly Brown led a group that provided Miller and Guiton with plenty of weapons. That bang turned into a whimper down the stretch, due to both the ineffectiveness of any receiver not named Philly as well as the sheer dominance of the Buckeyes ground game. Going into Miller’s last year with the program he’ll need his receivers to be consistent, productive, and stabilizing force. Smith returns as a senior leader of the receiving corps and he’ll need to show more consistency to make the play to move the chains as well as the explosive and spectacular plays he’s known for, senior Evan Spencer also returns. In addition to the two vets, the Buckeyes boast a boatload of talent at wideout with a nice mix of upperclassmen and youngsters. RS SO Michael Thomas and Akron native Corey Smith (JUCO transfer) are two guys at least three years removed from high school and if they don’t want to be passed up by the youngsters they need to show up and work. The good news for Buckeyes coaches and fans is both of these players are extremely talented and hungry to get on the field and show their worth (and in Thomas’ case according to his Twitter account he was ready last season). Among the fresher faces true freshman Johnnie Dixon, a burner from South Florida, RS FR Jalin Marshall, and sophomore Dontre Wilson are all very talented with the ability and versatility to turn a five yard out into a 70 yard touchdown. In addition to the plethora of talent (though some unproven), Miller figures to have three dynamic and athletic TE’s at his disposal, between Jake Heuerman, Nick Vannett, and Marcus Baugh.

3.) Defense

As the old saying goes “defense wins championships” the defense the Buckeyes played to end 2013 would struggle to win a CYO championship. The offseason brought about changes to the staff, as Mike Vrabel left for the NFL and Everett Withers left for a HC job and Chris Ash and Larry Johnson parted ways with Arkansas and Penn State respectively to join the Buckeyes. With the back seven as bad as it was last season it’s astounding to think there were two first rounders among the group as LB Ryan Shazier and CB Bradley Roby heard their name called by Roger Goodell. There’s no shortage of talent in the back seven with returnees Joshua Perry, Curtis Grant (although FR Raekwon McMillan is on his tail), Doran Grant, and Tyvis Powell being joined by fresh talent (several of these players saw game action in 2013) such as Darron Lee, Chris Worley, Armani Reeves, Eli Apple, Von Bell, and Cam Burrows. More so than the talent, it will be the aggressive defensive approach being implemented by co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Ash. He’s shown the propensity to field excellent defensive with less talent and resources at his fingertips than he has now. Urban realized the defense was a mess and needed an overhaul after the disappointing end to 2013, I’m confident Gene Smith gave him an open checkbook to fill out his staff and he made excellent hires in Ash and Johnson. The defense can’t possibly get any worse than it was last season, and Buckeye fans should feel confident that defense will be greatly improved, improved enough that the Buckeyes will be the last team standing in Arlington five months from now.

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