Season Preview: Rutgers @ Ohio State

In week 2, the Buckeyes will square off against a team led by a former coach in Chris Ash.  It has been two seasons since he left and he has gone up against his former team twice and they have yet to get on the scoreboard.  The past two years have been miserable for the Scarlet Knight as they were blown out both times, by a very wide margin and in embarrassing fashion.

Teams would often tip their hat to the other team, but being on the opposite end of a 56-0, 58-0 beatdown in consecutive years?  Things need to change and they need to try to put some points on the board.

So what will this years edition be like?  Will it be the same old stagnant offense getting dismantled by another dangerous defense?  Or will they make it a little more competitive and interesting?

No one really knows and since it is college football, anything can happen, but unless drastic changes are made, it is not looking too good at this point, if I am being honest and objective.  Since Coach Ash took over, he has gone 0-2 against his former team which is respectable despite being throttled both times, but that is the least of his worries because he has yet to post a winning season and he is 6-18.  He needs to win a few more games or he will feel the pressure.

The biggest question remains with the offense who finished 128th in total offense, 86th in rushing offense, and 124th in passing offense.  Last year, the Buckeyes were 9th in the nation in total defense,  6th in rushing defense, and 30th in passing defense, which gave offenses fits.  This years defense will undoubtedly be just as dangerous and relentless as last years, but they do have new starters at a few positions.  The unfortunate thing is they still have no idea who will lead the offense at Quarterback, which goes in Ohio State’s favor.

Rutgers will have their leading receiving threat at Tight End in Jerome Washington.  They also return a pair of defenders, Trevor Morris (leading tackler) and Jawuan Harris (interception leader), which is helpful.  They have a star in the making in Jonathan Hilliman, who is projected to be the starting Running Back after Gus Edwards left.  A committee is also another option at the position because they have a ton of talent there.

The O-Line is also solid, with a pair of new Guards that are wedged in between experienced players with experience and a few starts.  Will it help against another Bosa brother led defensive front?  We will see what happens.  I feel like this game will be another massacre and it’ll get ugly quick.  The defense will keep them in check as the offense puts on a show with their shiny new toy at Quarterback.

Prediction:

Like I said a little bit ago, it’ll be a massacre.  The Rutgers are the away team after all, and they go into the Shoe with a purpose that quickly disappears after a few turnovers–and poof!  Thier will is gone.  The D-Line will prove to be too much for whoever is the starting QB and the defense scores at least once and collects a minimum of 4 sacks.

Haskins lights up the scoreboard as well.  He will tear it up with 4 passing TD’s while his Running Backs pound the will out of the defense for a combined total of 145 yards and a TD.  This game will be put out of reach quick and the starters will use this as a tune-up for the neutral site game at AT&T Stadium.  Rest or go pedal-to-the-metal, it’ll be helpful if the offense runs efficiently.

Final:  Ohio State defeats Rutgers 55-6

 

 

 

What to Expect: Secondary

The Ohio State Buckeyes will have some real experience at the cornerback position. Kendall Sheffield will look to on a good season last year, but not the season most expected the former 5-star, Alabama transfer to have.  Sheffield is looking to be the next first-round pick out of Ohio State at the cornerback position.  I expect him to have the breakout season he wants to achieve. I am going to the guess the Junior will have at least 3 interceptions this year.

On the other side of the field will most likely be Damon Arnette.  Arnette started last year, so this is a no surprise he will be the starter this year.  Splitting carries is Jeffrey Okudauh.  Okudah got the starting job for the Cotton Bowl last year after Denzel Ward chose not to play in the risk of injury before the 2018 NFL Draft.  The coaching staff is high on Okudah and I’m expecting him to have a  huge season.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Okudah didn’t get the starting job at some point in the season, but I’m giving the job to Sheffield and Arnette do to their experience already.  The next in line player is Shaun Wade.  Another 5-star player.  Wade will be a big key for the Buckeyes, especially if one of our other cornerbacks go down with an injury.  Ohio State shouldn’t miss a beat though.  Wade has been committed to being a Buckeye since 2015, and is ready to show Buckeye Nation what he can do.

Jordan Fuller should return as one of the starting safeties. Fuller had a good year last year, and I’m expecting him to have another good year this year.  The big question mark for the Buckeye Secondary is the other safety.  I’m expecting it to be Isiah Pryor who had playing time last year, but not in any real meaningful time.  The safety position is the only real place where the Buckeyes don’t have real depth.  Josh Proctor is coming in this year, but he will be a true freshman.  They also have Brendon White who has only played in 1 game against Rutgers, where the Buckeyes won 56-0.  Shaun Wade may move to the safety position if need be this year since the Buckeyes have 3 reliable corners, but hopefully Fuller and Proctor can stay healthy throughout the year.

The Buckeyes will also miss hype-man Kerry Combs, who left the program to become the secondary coach for the Tennessee Titans.  the Buckeyes are bringing back Taver Johnson who coached the Buckeyes in 2007-2011 with Jim Tressel.  Johnson has coached talent before including Malcolm Jenkins and Kurt Coleman.  I expect the Buckeyes secondary to be the same secondary that has been sending cornerbacks and safeties to the NFL year after year.

 

Expectations VS Reality

With the 2018-2019 quickly approaching, the excitement steadily builds within the fanbase as we inch closer to opening day.  As the excitement builds, the expectations become unrealistic and it could potentially depart from reality quicker than someone could conjure it up in their head.

Dreams of an undefeated season en-route to another championship is surely attainable, but it will not be an easy road.  Then there is the possibility of securing the top ranking in the recruiting game.  It is surely doable, but it would also be difficult to achieve.  Then there is the worst kept secret with our coaching staff, namely with Coach Schiano returning after being forced out by the Tennessee fanbase.

These are all juicy subjects but let us look at the potential for the Buckeyes to go undefeated this season.

Are We Going Undefeated?

With the season coming up, we all would LOVE to see our Buckeyes go undefeated throughout the season and win the entire CFB Playoff, but as I previously stated, it will not be that easy.  When going over this seasons schedule, the Buckeyes will be tested early and often right from the get-go.

First, in week 3, Ohio State will travel to Arlington, Texas to face a nasty TCU defense that will bless have a new quarterback leading the offense that will give the Silver Bullets an early test.  TCU has recently come on as of late, and I am willing to bet that they are still angry at the fact that they were left out of the first CFB Playoff.  This will be a measuring stick game for the Buckeyes (Haskins and offense) and for TCU as they attempt to get their signature win over a CFB Blueblood program.  All eyes will be looking at this early season matchup between Top 10 teams, will the Buckeyes sink or swim out the gates?

During week 5, the Buckeyes will travel to Happy Valley for another hostile “whiteout” situation where the last time they arrived in these conditions, they fell to the home team via blocked FG that resulted in a TD.  It will be another dogfight minus, Barkley and Gesicki, but Trace McSorley is a magician and he will give the defense fits with his ability to pass and run.  Add the fact that this is an East Division and a rivalry game and that former Buckeye target Micah Parsons is there?!  It’ll be tough sledding for sure, but hopefully, the Buckeyes can do enough to silence the crowd.

Then you have a couple of trap games lined up in consecutive weeks that could lead to trouble for the Buckeyes playoff hopes.  In week 10, a home game against a Nebraska team that is now led by the former head coach of the undefeated UCF “National Championship” team.

The Buckeyes have demolished the previous two Cornhusker teams, but this year might bring a different kind of energy and focus to the game.  With a seemingly rejuvenated team, with a bright young mind leading the charge, this game might be harder this year.  And if some of you forgot, there was also the Tate Martell versus Tyjon Lindsey beef that might resurface.

In week 11, the Buckeyes will travel to East Lansing to face Sparty and this has the potential for another air guitar letdown for the Buckeyes.  It still haunts me and hurts my soul, but it’ll be a slugfest between two Eastern Division rivals vying for a berth in the Conference Championship Game.  This game will be intense.

Brian Lewerke returns as the starter, but you cannot discount the potential impact of the Spartan back-ups because they have had some success against the Buckeyes.  They used DeWeaver as a runner, and I could see the same issue this year.

Then there is something called The Game, that will pit Ohio State against Michigan.  I do not have to put effort into how important this game is, especially for the Buckeyes.  There have been many times when either team was undefeated up until this game, then poof–dream is gone.  If the Buckeyes take care of business up until this game, this game will have a lot at stake.

If they remain undefeated during the regular season and they secure the East Division berth in the Conference Championship Game, there is another obstacle in the way, the West Division representative.  It will be either Wisconsin or Iowa, two teams that always remain in the way of Ohio State related goals.  Last year it was Iowa’s demolishing of the Buckeyes at home that ousted the Buckeyes playoff hopes and Wisconsin always finds a way to do the same in the postseason.

So, to be clear, I am not assuming that they will remain undefeated and that they will breeze by opponents because what’s not to say that another Iowa game happens.  It won’t be an easy season, but I have enough faith in the team that they will not disappoint.

 

What to Expect: Linebackers

The Ohio State linebackers had some up and down moments during last season.  The highlight of last season was the Michigan State game.  The low point, sadly, was the game before against the Iowa Hawkeyes who absolutely torched us, and cost us a spot in the College Football Playoffs. A topic I could go on and on about because a certain team played Mercer last year, but I digress.

The 2018 season will feature players that had quite the roll in last season as backups, but played more and more as the season went along.  Tuf Borland will most likely be the starting middle linebacker, as he is the best player for the job. However, he is coming off an Achilles injury where he missed all of spring ball.  Hopefully, he comes back the same player, or even better than last year because this kid has talent.  In the MSU game, he had 11 total tackles with 8 of them being solo and 1 sack.

If Borland can’t go or just loses the starting job, look for Baron Browning to be the next guy up. Browning was the No. 1 linebacker in the 2017 class, and was on the field during special teams last season. I expect Borland and Browning to play a lot this season back and forth, and having two guys with same level of skills is never a bad thing. Browning can also play outside linebacker, so if Borland does come back healthy, expect Browning to be on the field at both middle and outside linebackers.

Justin Hilliard, who lost his starting position to Borland last year, is the older player, but he has dealt with lingering injuries.  If Borland or Browning can’t go Hilliard is looking to improve from last season, and the Buckeyes will need him to be his former 5-star self.

Malik Harrison is expected to be the starting Strongside Linebacker.  Harrison got in games last year in garbage time, and to give the other guys some rest for a play or two, but he did show what he can do, especially in the MSU game.  Dante Booker will most likely be the backup even though he chose to comeback, and forego the NFL Draft.  Booker didn’t have the best of season last year, and that wasn’t entirely his fault.  He has been injured almost his whole career at Ohio State.  He wants to come back and show everyone, including the scouts, what he really can do.

Weakside Linebacker is the big question mark for the Buckeyes.  Replacing 3rd round draft pick Jerome Baker is no easy task.  But expect Keandre Jones to be the starting linebacker with Pete Werner to back up. Both players have seen plenty of time on special teams, but not much action at the linebacker position.  Jones is the the older player which is why I’m giving him the starting job, but Werner and Browning will be coming for the spot.

After the Iowa game, Urban and Greg Schiano made some linebacker changes for the Michigan State, and they payed off big time.  Putting in the young guys really helped the Buckeyes defense come alive.  I expect this season to be much better at the linebacker position, and they will help get the Buckeyes off the field on the 3rd down plays.  The Buckeyes have a history of great linebackers, and this season should be no exception.  With 4 and 5 star players all over the field the Buckeyes should have plenty of depth and talents to keep the NFL linebacker talent alive.

What to Expect: Defensive Line

Ohio State is expected to remain one of the top defensive lines in the country.  Even with three seniors leaving, Jayln Holmes, Tracey Sprinkle and Tyquan Lewis, and one early departure, Sam Hubbard, Ohio State has raw talent. The group is young and looking to make a name for themselves with hard footsteps to follow.

Headlined by Nick Bosa at defensive end.  Bosa is looking to improve his 8.5 sacks and 19 solo sacks a year ago. He is already dropping jaws at his stellar performances and wants to continue his and his family legacy at Ohio State.  In my opinion, Bosa will do just that.  As he had to share snaps last year with second-round draft pick, Tyquan Lewis, Bosa will get plenty of playing time this season, and earn his top 5 draft pick.

On the other side from Bosa is another familiar name, Chase Young.  Young saw playing time last year, but really only in garbage time.  With so many older, more experienced players in front of him, it was hard to get him in.  However, going into his sophomore year Young will get a chance to really show off his talents.  Young has all the makings of being a top ten draft pick, and this year is the start of it. Splitting the snaps with Young and Bosa will be Johnathon Cooper, a redshirt freshman, and Jashon Cornell, a redshirt sophomore. Cooper is the third defensive end and will get the bulk of the playing time alongside Bosa and Young.  Cornell can earn significant playing time if he shows up in camp and on the field.

The middle guys are the big question here.  Dre’mont Jones and Robert Landers saw playing time last year and most likely will be the two starters at the defensive tackle positions.  However, Antwuan Jackson is a transfer from Auburn.  Jackson was going to commit to Ohio State or Auburn back in 2015 but chose Auburn at the time.  Now in 2018, Jackson is where he belongs and will have a huge part on our defensive line.  Haskell Garrett and Davon Hamilton are also “backups.” The coaching staff is loving the depth at the defensive line position and all these players could earn significant time this year.  The coaching staff also loved Tommy Togiai the true freshman who had a great spring and is hoping to get in the rotation.

What I am expecting this year is the defensive line to continue dominating like in years past. The only real problem Ohio State has right now is creating enough game time to get all these players in.  Ohio State has recruited well at the defensive end position ever since Urban got into Columbus, and with Larry Johnson at the helm the only thing stopping these players from making a name for themselves is themselves. Even with all the talent that has left in the last few years, the Buckeyes just keep on reloading.

What To Expect: Offensive Line

The Offensive Line is one of the deeper units for Ohio State with three returning players who will be leading the charge.  Even after the departures of Rimington winner, Billy Price and bookend Left Tackle in Jamarco Jones to the NFL, this specific unit will bring another wave of talent to the table.

Obviously, this unit did not come unscathed and due to the crowded room, Ohio State lost a handful of potential two-deep players in Matthew Burrell, Kevin Feder, and Evan Lisle, but even without them, I wish them the best of luck with their new teams.  There is no ill will on my end and the rest of Buckeye Nation should do the same, but that rarely happens.  Either way, the room still has a plethora of former five and high four stars, that will get their shot this season.

The fall camp would bring some more intense competition for starting spots along the Offensive Line, but the surefire starters will be Prince at Left Tackle and Michael Jordan at Left Guard.  Beyond that, Brady Taylor looks to be the favorite in the Center battle, it is a toss-up between former starter that is returning from a season-ending leg injury in Brandon Bowen and Demetrius Knox for the Right Guard spot and Bowen could also be a factor at Right Tackle with Thayer Munford.

If I were to call it right now, I think from the left side to the right, it will be Prince, Jordan, Taylor, Knox, and Munford as the starters.  Following that, the two-deep would look like Alabi, Davis, Myers, Bowen, and true freshman Petit-Frere.  Other true freshmen, Max Wray and Matthew Jones could also make some noise in the fall so stay tuned.

All in all the unit is not as deep, but they are deep enough to nearly have a three deep in place in case of emergency.  This year’s line will be important to maintain the balance between the run and the pass.  They need road graders and maulers to do so and I think this line will be special.  Call it a gut feeling, but I think it’ll be a fun year.

 

 

 

What To Expect: Tight Ends

The Tight End position at Ohio State is on the rise and they will be looking to make an impact come gameday.  With the departure of Marcus Baugh, the position will feature a few familiar faces with Rashod Berry, Luke Farrell, and Jake Hausmann, walk-ons Davin Brock and Derrick Malone, and a once in a lifetime talent in true freshman Jeremy Ruckert.

The position would have two additional names, but life happened and it left A.J. Alexander, who was forced to end his playing career due to injuries and Kierre Hawkins, who will be transfering to Youngstown State, where a former Buckeye Head Coach Jim Tressel resides as President.

The Tight End position has been in flux compared to the previous seasons, and I believe it will be on the rise from here on out.  The proof is in the way they used Baugh late in games, like how they leaned on him during that amazing home win against Penn State.  The coaches have shown that if needed, they will lean on the Tight End to win the matchups against their opponents.

It may not be demonstrated right away, but they are certainly trending in the right direction, and with the number of weapons on the offense, everyone will just have to take their best shots when thrust into action or called upon.

Similar to Zone 6, the focus is on balancing the passing and running games to throw defenses off balance.  This years offense has the potency that makes the fans salivate, and it has the potential to be one hell of a ride and season.  Hopefully, it comes to fruition as the season draws closer.

 

What To Expect: Wide Receivers

At Wide Receiver, Ohio State has quite the collection at the position that oozes with potential.  The majority of the weapons at the position have returned with a new type of Quarterback at the helm, who could sling it all over the field.

From the playmakers from a season ago in Johnnie Dixon, Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill, Austin Mack, Terry McLaurin, and Binjimen Victor to the younger players in Elijah Gardener and Jaylen Harris, the talent accumulated at Ohio State is undeniable.  Factor in the haul in the 2018 recruiting class in Kamryn Babb, L’Christian “Blue” Smith, Chris Olave, and Cameron Brown, this group is both deep and talented.

The expectation at Ohio State remains the same, win every battle and play your heart out.  With the experienced members, that remains intact with Haskins at the helm.  For the younger players and incoming freshmen, they have leaders atop the depth chart and a great coach to lean on and to learn from.

All players on the roster have built a bond that is strong and unbreakable, and with their playmakers from a season ago being so close to graduation, they will surely be auditioning for their shot at the NFL while teaching the younger players the ins and the outs at Ohio State.  These younger players will need to learn quickly and absorb the tips of the trade prior to their departure.

I truly expect a change in the offense that will emphasize a balance between the passing and the running gameplans that will keep defenses off-balanced.  These players have the talent to assist in the quest for another stellar season and it will be up to them and the coaches to figure things out as the season progresses.

 

 

What To Expect: Running Backs

Much similar to the transfer situation at the Quarterback position, the Running Backs suffered that same minor setback after the spring game.  Longtime back Antonio Williams left the team after a great showing that put him in the conversation for additional snaps at his position.  He looked good and ran with a lot of power, but the lure of playing time won out in the end and North Carolina got them a stud to feed.

In the beginning, both J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber proved why they will be a problem for opposing defenses and they will look to pick up where they left off at toward the end of last season.  Dobbins had an average game this spring, but his skillset is half of what the Buckeyes need this upcoming season.  With Weber, he had that long run that dazzled and that essentially ended his night giving way for the aforementioned Williams and Teague to light it up.  

Buckeye Nation got a treat seeing half of the future at the position with True Freshman Master Teague’s performance this spring.  He ran with power, speed, and he had that crazy look in his eyes as he put his best foot forward to place him firmly into the gameplan for this season.  He looked like a likely heir to the RB throne, and the future surely looks bright at the position.  We still have to see what Brian Snead has in store for the staff when he arrives in a few weeks, but I am sure he will not disappoint.

There will be a lot of fireworks with this tandem, and with what Haskins can bring through the air, the potential for a more balanced offense is there, it is just a matter of execution.  With Dobbins and Weber, defenses will have to choose their poison, and in what could be Weber’s final season at Ohio State, what better opportunity is there?

The Brotherhood is still strong and although Williams left, the bond is stronger than ever.  With these two studs, Teague and Snead along with the walk-ons, the future is bright.

 

What To Expect: Quarterbacks

As we crawl toward the better half of the year, we are a couple of months away from the start of a new era at Ohio State.  This year, on both sides of the ball, the team will feature a few new faces at critical positions, but they will also feature some familiar ones as they hunt as a team, a unit for a CFB Playoff berth after falling short of that feat at the end of the season.

At the end of spring practice, there was a lot of uncertainty at arguably one of the most important positions on a football team, and this competition between this particular group went down to the wire.

Enter Dwayne Haskins.  He recently received the go-ahead nod from his head coach giving him the first shot at the starting gig.  The spring game was mesmerizing, watching him battle it out with Tate Martell and Joe Burrow.  Securing the starting job and living out his dream of starting at Ohio State came and it cost them a guy like Joe Burrow, who recently announced that he is transferring to LSU.

Joe Burrow lit all the fireworks in the spring game, especially with the last second bomb to the sideline that resulted in another touchdown before time expired.  The all-important exclamation point, but neither Burrow or Haskins gained an edge over the other.  With his departure, the team is left with Haskins as “the guy”, Tate Martell as his backup, and Matthew Baldwin as the 3rd teamer, who is still on the mend.  There are also walk-ons in Danny Vanatsky and Kory Curtis who both are there as well.

What To Expect:

Dwayne is now the man and one would expect the offense to rely more heavily on the passing game due to his obvious talent for tossing the pigskin around but expect the offense to be truly balanced.  With JT (God bless his soul), he was a true dual-threat that was overutilized as a runner and it left the running backs as an afterthought when they needed yardage.

With Haskins, he is not as fast or as shifty as Barrett, but expect the QB draw usage to decline during his era.  Comparing Barrett and Haskins would be a mistake because they are two different players with different skillsets, but with Haskins, the WR’s and the TE’s will get more chances through the air.

Haskins has the arm strength and the poise (TTUN game) to stand in the pocket and hit his receivers in stride, which is what has been missing since Devin Smith left for the pros.  The deep ball will make its return to the scarlet and gray and that will free up space for the RB’s to frustrate the opposing defenses.  He has a well of weapons at his disposal and a few more will be joining the team in a few weeks.

Tate Martell earned enough consideration to have his own set package of plays to add another dimension to the offense.  He didn’t do too hot in the passing game, but man is he elusive.  He could do some serious damage and he would be utilized as such because of shiftiness and speed.

All in all, I expect the PPG to go up a little bit more and more balanced focus on the passing and running game.  With Haskins leading the team, there is a lot of potential and explosiveness that could be on the horizon and I am excited just imagining it in my mind.  We won’t truly know how the position battle will pan out, but I cannot wait.