What If Former Michigan And Ohio State Players Joined Forces To Make Their Own NFL Team?

What has 19 national championships, ten Heisman trophy winners, 80 Big Ten titles, bitter hatred yet mutual respect, and 1,841 total wins? That, my friend, is the Ohio State-Michigan college football rivalry, which has produced a ton of NFL talent. In fact, as of the 2017-2018 season, 33 former Michigan Wolverines players and 42 former Ohio State players were on NFL rosters. Well, what would happen if all 75 of those players joined forces and created their own NFL team? Let’s find out, shall we? Without further ado, below I have constructed the best two-deep roster possible for former participants in ‘The Game’

Quarterback: Tom Brady, Cardale Jones

The Game features Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback of all time under center. Brady is widely recognized as being one of the most clutch quarterbacks of all time and has a ton of accolades to back that up, being a five-time Super Bowl champion, four-time Super Bowl MVP, three-time NFL Most Valuable Player, and thirteen-time Pro Bowler etc.

Behind him is Cardale Jones who has proven throughout his career that he is a reliable backup.

Running back: Ezekiel Elliott, Carlos Hyde

At running back, The Game features two former Ohio State stars in Ezekiel Elliott and Carlos Hyde. Despite the fact that Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended for the first six games of the year, he and Hyde rushed for a combined 157.1 rushing yards per game in 2017. To put that in perspective, the Jacksonville Jaguarsled the NFL in 2017 with 140.2 rushing yards per game as an entire TEAM!

Wide Receiver: Michael Thomas, Devin Funchess, Ted Ginn Jr, Jalin Marshall, and Braxton Miller

In Michael Thomas, The Game has arguably the NFL’s best possession receiver who was sixth in the league with 1,245 receiving yards. It also has big-bodied Devin Funchess (840 receiving yards) and speedster Tedd Ginn Jr. (787 receiving yards) – both of which present big problems for secondaries.

Tight End: Nick Vannett, Jeff Heuerman

Although Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman provide solid blocking and are legit receiving threats, their 21 combined receptions for 266 yards and three touchdowns last season weren’t all that impressive. However, you better believe that those numbers would increase with Tom Brady under center. 

Offensive Tackle: Taylor Lewan, Taylor Decker, Darryl Baldwin, Chase Farris, Erik Magnuson

Led by rookie Pro-Bowl Selection Taylor Lewan, The Game has a respectable set of offensive tackles. Taylor Decker started in all 16 games as a rookie in 2016, but due to him undergoing shoulder surgery had to sit out for 2017. Nevertheless, the talent’s still there.

Offensive Guard: Andrew Norwell, Kyle Kalis, Patrick Omameh, Ben Braden

Anchored by All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell and an ultra-reliable Patrick Omameh, who started in all 13 games he saw action in last year, The Games guards aren’t so shabby. Kyle Kalis would make a solid option, too.

Center: Pat Elflein, Corey Linsley,  

Pat Elflein started in every game of his rookie season for the Vikings, making the 2017 PFWA All-Rookie Team. Ironically, three years earlier, Corey Linsley made the PFWA All-Rookie Team as well and is the proven leader for the Packers up front. 

Defensive End: Joey Bosa, Cameron Heyward, Brandon Graham, Frank Clark 

I don’t know if there’s a rivalry in all of college football that has produced a better collection of defensive ends than ‘The Game’. Highlighted by pro-bowlers Joey Bosa and Cameron Heyward, the combination of those two and Michigan alumn Brandon Graham and Frank Clark recorded a combined total of 194 tackles and 44 sacks last year. 

To put that in perspective, only four out of the 32 NFL TEAMS AS A WHOLE produced more sacks in the 2017-2018 season!

Defensive Tackle: Adolphus Washington, Michael Bennett, Ryan Glasgow, Willie Henry 

Defensive tackle is by far the weakest of all positions for The Game. Adolphus Washington, Michael Bennett, Ryan Glasgow, and Willie Henry started in just 15 games combined in the 2017-2018 season.

But you better believe that with four stud defensive ends, the two that weren’t starting at their normal position could fill that void. 

Linebacker: Ryan Shazier, Darron Lee, John Simon, Joshua Perry, Raekwon McMillan, Curtis Grant

Despite Ryan Shazier’s late-season injury, he is included on this list because he played throughout the entire regular season, having a solid, 89-tackle season, and putting up similar numbers to fellow Ohio State alumn Darren Lee. John Simon and Raekwon McMillan would also provide respectable skillsets at that position. 

Safety: Malcolm Jenkins, Malik Hooker, Vonn Bell, Kurt Coleman

With veterans, Malcolm Jenkins and Kurt Coleman coupled with younger rising stars like Malik Hooker and Vonn Bell, The Game has a pretty good group of safeties. Ohio State has become defensive back-U over the last decade or so. 

Cornerback: Marshon Lattimore, Bradley Roby, Doran Grant, Gareon Conley, Eli Apple, Channing Stribling, Jourdan Lewis, Jeremy Clark

Having two cornerbacks like Marshon Lattimore and Bradley Roby on your roster would be an NFL coach’s dream come true. Veteran Bradley Roby could teach a younger and arguably more talented Lattimore a lot, and Lattimore – who led all rookies in interceptions – could put some wide receivers in check.

The verdict: 

I imagine that with Tom Brady, Ezekiel Elliott and Carlos Hyde, the stable of wide receivers, the dominance on the defensive line, and all of the play-makers in the secondary, not only would The Game win in dominant fashion versus most teams in the NFL, it would produce a team that could easily win the Super Bowl.

The NFL talent produced by The Game is by far the best of any and every other rivalry, which further iterates the fact that there’s no better rivalry in college football.

The 2015 Ohio State Recruiting Class, By The Numbers

Before reviewing the 2015 Ohio State recruiting class, I want to congratulate Coach Stan Drayton for his recent move to the NFL’s Chicago Bears as the Bears running backs coach. Coach Drayton was highly instrumental in the development of Ohio State running backs Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott from 2012-2014. I wish Coach Drayton all the best as he moves onto the NFL.

The 2015 Ohio State recruiting class, with twenty-seven players signed, ranks as one of the top recruiting classes in the country. While I have never placed too much emphasis on how various recruiting analysts rate recruiting classes, I do pay attention to 1) if other top programs are recruiting the players that Ohio State has signed, and 2) if the recruiting class helped to address needs within Ohio State’s program. By those measurements, Ohio State’s 2015 recruiting class did very well.

Geographically, Ohio State signed twelve players from Ohio, three from Florida, two each from Michigan and Virginia, and one player each from Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Utah. While Ohio players may be the majority, the graph below will demonstrate that Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer and his staff will scour the nation in order to find the best players and convince them to become Buckeyes.

2015 OSU Recruits By State

The best position group with this recruiting class? In my estimation, the offensive line recruits are tremendous. Branden Bowen, Matthew Burrell, Kevin Feder, Mirko Jurkovic, Isaiah Prince, and Grant Schmidt will help Ohio State co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Ed Warriner maintain the strong play at the line of scrimmage that Ohio State fans have become accustomed to since the 2012 season. Schmidt is an early enrollee and will participate in spring practice. It is such a relief to see Coach Meyer and Coach Warriner place the strong emphasis on offensive line recruiting; gone are the days of 2010 when Andrew Norwell was the only offensive lineman signed in the recruiting class. One!

A concern for this recruiting class? Very minor, but few interior defensive linemen were signed. Joshua Alabi, DaVon Hamilton, and Robert Landers were signed, but even Coach Meyer stated that the backup defensive line play has been “disappointing”, and “”You’ve got to go, or you’ve got to go.”. With Michael Bennett’s departure to a probable NFL career, and the targeted departures of Adolphus Washington and Joey Bosa after the 2015 season, I am guessing defensive linemen will be a premium target for the 2016 recruiting class.

Which player will be able to make an impact during the 2015 season as a true freshman? Early enrollee Nick Conner may be able to make a mark on special teams, and even at linebacker. A sleeper pick may be Rashod Berry, who will be played at tight end. With Jeff Heuerman’s departure, Nick Vannett a senior, and Marcus Baugh sometimes skirting the good graces of the coaching staff, it may be possible for Berry to get some playing time at tight end.

Yes, recruiting is key to the long-term health of any program. As my Dad used to say, you have to have the horses in order to be able to win, and Coach Meyer was able to secure some highly-touted talent with this class. I believe Fox Sports 1’s Joel Klatt said it best as it relates to what now awaits all of the talented football players who signed their respective national letters of intent on February 4, 2015…

3 Areas Of Focus For Cincinnati @ Ohio State

Every Ohio State fan can vividly recall how close the University of Cincinnati came to upsetting the Buckeyes in Paul Brown Stadium in 2002. I am willing to guess that many Buckeye fans have either forgotten, or have decided to ignore, that Cincinnati gave Ohio State a good game in 1999 in Ohio Stadium as well (Ohio State 34-20). Of course, Ohio State had easier games in Ohio Stadium versus Cincinnati in 2004 (27-6), and in 2006 (37-7), both times with current Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio facing former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel.

With a 6pm EST kickoff on The Big Ten Network, Tommy Tuberville will lead his undefeated Cincinnati team into Ohio Stadium to face the Buckeyes, led by Tuberville’s former SEC nemesis, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. Before presuming Ohio State should be able to easily dispatch Cincinnati, Buckeye fans would be wise to remember that Meyer’s Florida teams lost to Tuberville’s Auburn teams in both 2006 (Auburn 27, Florida 17) and 2007 (Auburn 20, Florida 17).

My points are no matter who the coaches are for Cincinnati or Ohio State, and no matter if the game is in Cincinnati or Columbus, this game should prove to be a battle. This is as close to an in-state rivalry that Ohio State can, or will, develop. Of all the Ohio colleges that Ohio State schedules, Cincinnati will traditionally have the most talent, and the best chance, of defeating Ohio State. Below are three critical areas I will be focusing upon when Cincinnati @ Ohio State kicks off at 6pm on the Big Ten Network:

1. Has Ohio State Settled Its Offensive Line? – A major reason why Ohio State was defeated at home by Virginia Tech was because Ohio State’s inexperienced offensive line had difficulties with the Bear front the Hokies repeatedly used. While LT Taylor Decker and RT Darryl Baldwin seem to be set at their respective positions, the interior positions are still in flux. Considering Coach Tuberville’s experience as a defensive coordinator (Arkansas State, Miami (FL), Texas A&M), look for Cincinnati to do what they can to stymie and stump Ohio State’s offensive line throughout this contest. Cincinnati may not be able to play a Bear front, but Coach Tuberville probably has some ideas on how to confuse and challenge Ohio State’s offensive line Saturday evening.

2. Can Ohio State Establish Its Running Game? – I have stated this before, and will state again that Ohio State truly misses the power running game of Carlos Hyde. Ohio State has been trying to establish its running game with Ezekiel Elliott and Curtis Samuel, but it has not been easy or smooth. Considering Cincinnati has a high-powered passing game, an effective strategy Ohio State could use would rely upon its running game to keep the Buckeye defense on the sidelines, and control the clock. Will Ohio State be able to run the ball when it wants to, or needs to, versus Cincinnati on Saturday evening?

3. Will Ohio State’s Defensive Line Emerge? – [Warning! Shameless Self-Promotion Rapidly Approaching!] On the most recent podcast, I mentioned how Ohio State’s defensive line has not been nearly as dominant as I expected this season. While Joey Bosa has played well, and Noah Spence is suspended indefinitely, can Ohio State develop a pass rush to harass Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel on Saturday evening?

Those three areas are going to be on my mind when the Cincinnati @ Ohio State commences Saturday evening. If Ohio State is to maintain its winning streak versus Cincinnati, Buckeye fans can hope the answers will develop in Ohio State’s favor.

3 Concerns From Ohio State/Navy From The Mind Of Minnich

Congratulations to Coach Urban Meyer and the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes for their 34-17 victory over the Navy Midshipmen. On the road, with nine new offensive starters, against a quality opponent, having to defend the triple option…Ohio State rallied in the second half, escaped Baltimore without any notable injuries, and get to come home to Ohio Stadium to face the Virginia Tech Hokies in a nationally televised contest. I seem to recall one joker predicting the final score as 35-17 in favor of Ohio State, but I digress…

1. The Ohio State Offensive Line Remains A Concern: At the conclusion of spring practice, I ranked Ohio State’s offensive line group as my biggest concern heading into the summer, and nothing I saw versus Navy helped to remove or reduce that concern. While Ohio State’s offensive line chemistry will develop over the course of the season, it should be the primary focus of work this week before the Virginia Tech game. Pass protection was shaky in the first half, and it remains to be seen if the offensive line will be able to control the line of scrimmage for a dominating power running game. Which leads me to…

2. Ohio State Misses The Power & Blocking Of Carlos Hyde: As promised, Dontre Wilson was heavily involved in all facets of the game plan, and probably will be so as the season progresses. An area of Carlos Hyde’s game that Dontre Wilson does not have is strong blocking. Wilson tried to block, but simply lacks the strength and power of Hyde; I wonder if Rod Smith will get more chances versus Virginia Tech, as Smith is physically comparable to Hyde.

3. The Defense Will Be The Team Strength: I am not concerned about the rushing yardage accumulated by Navy. As I stated last week, the triple option is difficult to simulate and execute – giving up 390 yards on the ground is worse than hoped, but the final score still was in Ohio State’s favor at the end of the game. An area that I believe the coaching staff needs to address is the defense needs to wrap up, as many of the Navy rushing yards came after initial contact by an Ohio State defender.

Three Preseason Storylines: Running Backs

Throughout the rich history of Ohio State football, running backs have always been a big part of the offense. Whether it was during Woody Hayes’ era of “three yards and a cloud of dust,” or Jim Tressel’s conservative “Tresselball,” or the present day no-huddle, spread offense of Urban Meyer, running backs have played a big part in the success of Buckeye football. Just look at all the Heisman trophy-winning running backs throughout the program, including the only two-time Heisman winner in the history of college football, Archie Griffin. So what’s the running back situation look like heading into 2014? Well for starters let’s address…

1. Filling the Void of Carlos Hyde – The graduation of Carlos Hyde from the program is a noticeable one. He was one of the constant playmakers for the Buckeyes all season long in 2013. Hyde rushed 208 times for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns, while averaging 7.3 yards per carry. He accomplished this despite being suspended three games at the beginning of the season. He’s basically irreplaceable. You don’t find running backs like Hyde everyday and it’s unfair to expect this year’s running backs to match this type of stellar production (they have the potential to match it). And this year’s group of running backs aren’t short on talent either. The running backs tasked with replacing Hyde are sophomore Ezekiel Elliott, redshirt-senior Rod Smith, redshirt-sophomore Bri’onte Dunn, redshirt-sophomore Warren Ball and true freshman Curtis Samuel. Who will standout as the #1 running back out of all them? It’ll most likely be Ezekiel Elliott. Speaking of Elliott…

2. Will Ezekiel Elliott Have a Breakout Season? – The most likely starter for the opening game against Navy at running back will be Ezekiel Elliot. He might not get as many reps in the opening game as you expect because he’s coming off a fractured left wrist surgery. But once the season gets going expect Elliott to shine the most among the running back stable. Buckeye fans got a taste of what Elliott had to offer last season during some blowout games. If you forget Elliott’s work, take a look at his 2013 highlight reel:

Granted these were against clearly inferior opponents and backup defenses, but you could see the potential in Elliott. He’s got the ideal “package” for your starting running back. Elliott is big and strong enough to truck defenders over, yet has breakaway speed and agility to outrun secondaries. With another offseason under strength and conditioning guru Mickey Marotti, I’m sure Elliott is even stronger and faster than last season. I have a feeling Big Ten defenses are going to get to know Elliott quite well this season and not in a good way (for them). In a couple of years he may even reach the same level as his predecessor. But I’m getting ahead of myself. As Urban Meyer would say, it’s all about “Navy. Navy. Beat Na-vy.”

3. The Loss of Braxton Miller Adds More Pressure to Running Backs – When it was announced Braxton Miller would out for the season with a shoulder injury, attention immediately turned to the expected replacement, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. The pressure is now on Barrett, but more importantly the running game. Many are expecting Meyer to employ a similar offense under Barrett as he did with Kenny Guiton last season, by throwing the ball off play action passing plays. In order to make this type of offense work successfully is a productive running game of course. As Barrett gets his feet wet and becomes comfortable in his new starting role, the running game will have to shoulder most of the burden on offense. And with the running game being relied on more often, that means at least “a pair and a spare” will be needed. Remember that term Jim Tressel famously coined? It was a great philosophy and is something Meyer will need this season, especially in the early games.

It will be interesting to see who’s ultimately #2 and #3 on the running back’s depth chart. True freshman Curtis Samuel has been praised plenty in the offseason by the coaching staff and will be getting look at in-game action immediately. The elder statesmen of the group, senior Rod Smith, will be one of the first Urban can turn to because of his experience and familiarity of the pressures of being a running back at Ohio State. Another running back to keep an eye on is the burly Bri’onte Dunn, who redshirted last season. Dunn is an ideal third down and short running back, along with being a good hand in a goal line situation. His power could also make him a good blocker out of the backfield. Long story, short the Buckeyes have plenty of options at running back. With the amount of competition at the position, I wouldn’t worry too much about losing Carlos Hyde because the next Hyde could easily emerge from this talented group.

2014 OSU Spring Football – Questions To Answer (Part 1)

“It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the spring who reaps a harvest in the Autumn.” ~ B.C. Forbes

I have no idea if Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer is an avid reader of Forbes magazine, but I feel comfortable in stating that Coach Meyer agrees with Mr. Forbes’ ideas about the importance of spring as it relates to results in the fall. Ohio State will kick off the first of fifteen spring practices on March 4th, with the last culminating in the spring football game on April 12th in Ohio Stadium.

While Ohio State returns several key players from last year’s squad that went 12-2 in 2013, Coach Meyer and his coaching staff will have to address and work upon position group areas before the 2014 season commences. Over a two part series, I have ranked the various position group areas, from least concerning to most concerning, as I perceive them.

It is entirely possible that this list may look entirely different when April 13th arrives. Feel free to comment below. Let us begin…

Honorable Mention: Senior QB Braxton Miller’s Continued Passing Improvement – Before this series was written, I ranked this as my #10 question heading into spring football practices. With the recent news of Miller’s offseason surgery, it led me to reassess this as a top priority. Miller will/should have limited work in the spring, to avoid further injury, while also allowing the backup quarterbacks (more on them in this series, I promise) more repetitions in game-like conditions. This concern could certainly warrant a higher ranking, heading into fall camp.

10. Special Teams Units – While ranked low, this unit is of extreme importance to the overall success of any team. Eliminating an opponent’s ability to return kickoffs and punts can often be a difference between winning and losing. With that criteria in mind, keep in mind that several of the incoming freshmen who are not yet on campus. The players I anticipate playing on special teams for Ohio State in 2014 are names from the highly-touted 2013 recruiting class – players such as Jayme Thompson, Darron Lee, Christopher Worley, Eli Apple, Cam Burrows, or Gareon Conley. Again, this list is highly subjective, as there are several freshmen who will look to make an impact when they arrive on campus, and could fluctuate greatly by the time the season begins.

9. Tight End – Senior Jeff Heuerman returns, with redshirt junior Nick Vannett also in the mix. Senior J.T. Moore returns, after a conversion from the defensive line. Moore’s role is primarily for blocking. The wild card of this group is redshirt freshman Marcus Baugh. Baugh was highly recruited, yet has received negative scrutiny for repeated off the field incidents. If Baugh stays out of trouble, will he do enough this spring to warrant playing time this coming season?

8. H-Back/Pivot/Hybrid/Slot – Notice how I used various terms, as I have read any and all of these during Coach Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State to describe this important offensive position; H-Back seems to be the nomenclature I have seen more frequently as of this writing. Regardless, players such as Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, and newly-arrived Curtis Samuel would seem to fit the H-Back position well for Ohio State. Questions to work on this spring for H-Back would seem to be are there other players on the squad who may also be able to contribute in this manner? More importantly, can the H-Back position become more than a decoy, as Dontre Wilson was often relegated to during the 2013 season?

7. Running Back – Carlos Hyde is busy preparing for the upcoming NFL Draft, so returnees Warren Ball, Bri’onte Dunn, Rod Smith, and Ezekiel Elliott will all battle for the starting job. Elliott is the favorite going into spring practice, but all should give him a run for the position. Hybrids Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel will also be involved. Can Ohio State RB coach Stan Drayton keep everyone happy?

6. Wide Receiver – The buzzword for this position group is “competition”. Ohio State WR Coach Zach Smith has stated there are no starters, so I would speculate this is a group to keep an eye open for news this spring. Here are the players at Coach Smith’s disposal ~ James Clark, Evan Spencer, Jalin Marshall, Jeff Greene, Johnnie Dixon, Michael Thomas, Corey Smith, Devin Smith, and Frank Epitropoulos. Throw in hybrid Curtis Samuel into that mix. Plus incoming freshmen Noah Brown, Parris Campbell, and Terry McLaurin are not on campus yet. Yow. Can Coach Smith keep all these players happy and in the fold?

Part two will examine what I believe are the top five questions to focus upon as they relate to the 2014 Ohio State spring football practices.

Back(s) To The Future

When Urban Meyer was hired as Ohio State’s head coach in November of 2011, Ohio State fans were familiar with Meyer’s formidable spread offense attack, having been brutally victimized by Meyer’s Florida Gators in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game. The possibility that Ohio State would render B1G opposition in similar fashion was a tantalizing vision for Buckeye fans.

While Ohio State fans were eager to see the spread offense in action, one of the aspects of the spread offense was somewhat disconcerting. Buckeye fans, accustomed to powerful tailbacks such as Archie Griffin and Eddie George, were somewhat perplexed as to whether Coach Meyer’s offensive philosophies would mesh with a school accustomed to legendary Coach Woody Hayes’ “3 Yards And A Cloud Of Dust” style.

In both 2012 and 2013, Ohio State fans could exhale easily, as Carlos Hyde emerged in the mold of a dominant power back for the Buckeyes. Heading into the 2014 Orange Bowl contest versus Clemson, Hyde has rushed 183 times for 1408 yards, averaging 7.7 yards per carry during the 2013 season. Jordan Hall, who filled in for Hyde at the beginning of the 2013 season, rushed 81 times for 536 yards, averaging 6.6 yards per carry.

Hyde and Hall will have exhausted their eligibility after the 2014 Orange Bowl, which could lead Ohio State fans to wonder which back is next on the horizon, to carry on the storied legacy of Buckeye running backs. The answer is Ohio State does not have one back to carry on the strong rushing attack. Ohio State may have four.

Heading into 2014 winter conditioning and spring football, a front-runner for the starting tailback position may be Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott has rushed 30 times for 262 yards, averaging 8.7 yards per carry. Elliott was Coach Meyer’s top tailback recruit from the 2013 recruiting class, and could emerge as the starter heading into the 2014 season.

Senior Rod Smith may contest Elliott for the starting position. Smith has the physical characteristics to be the starting tailback at Ohio State, but has struggled with fumbles in the past, as well as off the field issues, that have prevented him from more playing time. 2014 will be Smith’s last opportunity for significant playing time.

Redshirt sophomore Warren Ball has carried the ball sparingly in 2013, but may have an opportunity for more work in 2014. Ball redshirted in 2012, and has carried the ball 13 times for 76 yards, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Ball has worked primarily on special teams, and may need to continue to do so to garner carries next season.

The enigma of this group is Bri’onte Dunn. Dunn played as a true freshman in 2012, rushing 25 times for 133 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Reluctant to play special teams, and facing a logjam at the position in 2013, Dunn was redshirted for the 2013 season. Rumors swirl that Dunn may transfer after the season, yet Ohio State fans remain hopeful that Dunn will stay in Columbus.

Another player to keep in mind that also impacts the tailback position for Ohio State is Dontre Wilson. Wilson does not have the physical attributes of the other players listed above, but Wilson will also be used by the coaching staff in a variety of ways going forward.

Four powerful tailbacks, all eager and ready to take over the load. Four backs to the future for 2014 and beyond in Ohio State football.

B1G Chance For Miller Time In Indy

Congratulations to Ohio State on winning their twenty-fourth straight game, squeaking out a victory 42-41 over That Team Up North. Standing squarely and confidently in Ohio State’s quest for a twenty-fifth victory are the Michigan State Spartans, led by former Ohio State defensive coordinator (2001-2003) Mark Dantonio. Dantonio was recently named the 2013 B1G football coach of the year. Michigan State enters the B1G conference championship game with an 11-1 record, losing only at Notre Dame on September 21st, 17-13.

Coach Mark Dantonio is not the only familiar face that Ohio State will encounter in the 2013 B1G conference championship. Most prominently, former Ohio State offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman (2001-2011) will be involved as the Spartans’ co-offensive coordinator in Michigan State’s efforts to claim the B1G championship. Other Spartans assistants who formerly assisted Ohio State during the Jim Tressel era include Mark Staten, Mike Tressel, Rob Harley, and Ken Mannie.

What do I expect Saturday night when I turn on my TV (Fox will televise the game) at 8:15pm EST? Perhaps I may be mistaken, but I am expecting pangs of nostalgia, as I expect Michigan State to embrace the “Tresselball” style Ohio State fans became entirely familiar with from 2001-2011.

Here is my logic ~ Michigan State’s strength lies in its dominating defense. In addition, Michigan State has found a winning formula that relies upon steady passing by Ohio native Connor Cook, and dependable running by Jeremy Langford. While Michigan State’s offense is not as explosive as Ohio State’s, the Spartans have established a balanced offensive philosophy that has helped to produce eleven victories this season.

Let us get back to that dominant Spartan defense. A critical match-up that will bear watching will be Spartan DE Shilique Calhoun versus Ohio State’s left offensive tackle Jack Mewhort. Mewhort, entrusted with protecting Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller’s blind side, will have his hands full with Calhoun, a lanky and disruptive pass rusher.

Continuing with the Spartan defense, Ohio State will find that running the ball with senior running back Carlos Hyde may not be as easy as it has been for the Ohio State offense in the last few games against teams such as Illinois, Indiana, and That Team Up North. Michigan State traditionally plays a base 4-3 defense, and will bring up its safeties in run support to make it difficult to run. Michigan State has confidence in their cornerbacks, led by standout Darqueze Dennard, to play press coverage on Ohio State’s wideouts.

Faced with such options, here is where Braxton Miller’s performance will be critical. While I look for Michigan State to sell out against the run versus Ohio State, the press coverage Michigan State may employ could leave the Spartans vulnerable to quick screens and slants. Perhaps Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman can be isolated on a Spartan linebacker or safety on intermediate routes that do not take too long to develop. With Michigan State probably eager to shut down the Ohio State running game, play-action passes may be there at some point during the contest.

Back to Braxton Miller. While I am loathe to run Miller too much, exposing him to possible injury, I am certainly hopeful that Miller will not hesitate to scramble for positive yardage on pass plays. If a play is not there, or slow to develop, I would prefer Miller to scramble for a few yards, versus forcing a deep pass that may be incomplete or intercepted.

Twenty-four straight victories, with a possible BCS Championship Game berth on the line. In order to get to twenty-five straight victories, it may truly require Miller time on Saturday evening in Indianapolis for the Buckeyes.

Buckeyes Have No Time For Senioritis Against Indiana

Senior Day in Ohio Stadium is always a special occasion. Eighteen seniors, including Buckeye stalwarts such as Carlos Hyde, Corey “Philly” Brown, Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall, and C.J. Barnett will be introduced for recognition by the fans, their respective families, teammates, and Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, in their final game as a Buckeye in Ohio Stadium. What may be an emotional moment for all could involve Christian Bryant, who was lost to injury near the end of the Ohio State/Wisconsin game on September 28th.

Senioritis is something that seems to afflict most students as they wind down their academic careers. Unfortunately for Ohio State fans and players, senioritis has been an issue in Ohio Stadium in recent seasons:

In 2011, Penn State defeated Ohio State 20-14 in the last home game at Ohio Stadium. This was the first post-Joe Paterno victory for Penn State, and one of many losses for the Buckeyes in the ill-fated 2011 season.

In 2007, Illinois defeated # 1 ranked Ohio State, 28-21. While Ohio State recovered nicely to earn a BCS Championship Bid after this defeat, it still marked a bitter ending for seniors such as Kirk Barton and Alex Boone.

Other areas of concern for Ohio State for this game stem from the fact that Ohio State suffered defensive lapses in their 60-35 victory over Illinois last week. Factor in how Indiana took Ohio State down to the wire last season, and one can understand why Ohio State cannot overlook Indiana in this upcoming contest.

Coach Meyer, a graduate assistant on the 1987 Ohio State coaching staff that suffered through what former Ohio State head coach Earle Bruce termed “the darkest day in Ohio State football” in a bitter home loss to Indiana in 1987, will keep his team focused upon the task at hand. I have every confidence in Coach Meyer relating these facts to his team before Saturday’s kickoff…

Below are some areas I will focus upon throughout the game…

Ohio State’s Focus Upon The Running Game: Indiana may be an offensive threat, but is poor by any definition defensively. A key way to keep Indiana’s dangerous offense off the field is for Ohio State to control the clock by relying upon its dominant running game.

Carlos Hyde is on the doorstep of a 1000 yard rushing season for Coach Meyer. Hyde should have his 1000 yards for this season by the end of the first quarter, based upon Indiana’s defensive status.

Once Ohio State has a comfortable lead, it would be advantageous for Ohio State to use other running backs such as Jordan Hall, Rod Smith, Ezekiel Elliott, and Warren Ball in the second half to finish off Indiana. Like Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall is also a senior playing in his final game in Ohio Stadium. It would be a fitting conclusion to Hall’s Buckeye career if Hall had an opportunity to score at least one more time in front of the Ohio Stadium crowd.

Will Dontre Wilson Be Involved In The Game Plan? Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman acknowledged earlier this week that Wilson needs to be more involved in the offensive attack, yet wonders how to do that without Ohio State’s other offensive weapons such as Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde, and Corey “Philly” Brown suffering as a result. Perhaps once the Ohio State running game has taken control of the game, Wilson may be factored into the contest.

Can Ohio State’s Pass Defense Slow Down Indiana? Illinois scored 35 points on Ohio State, the most points surrendured by Ohio State this season. Indiana, led by players such as Nate Sudfeld, Tre Roberson, Stephen Houston, Cody Latimer, and one-time Ohio State recruit and former Cleveland Glenville star Shane Wynn, can score on anyone. A case in point – Indiana was able to score 28 points on Michigan State, and Michigan State is arguably the toughest defense in the nation.

Secondary players such as Bradley Roby, Doran Grant, Armani Reeves, Tyvis Powell, and the aforementioned C.J. Barnett will all need to show up big in what promises to be an Indiana aerial assault. What would truly help would be if Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, and Michael Bennett can contribute with a pass rush to throw off the timing of the Indiana passing attack.

Has Ohio State Figured Out Its Special Teams Coverage Units? Shane Wynn is capable of taking a punt back for a touchdown, as V’Angelo Bentley of Illinois (another Cleveland Glenville alum, like Wynn) did last week against Ohio State. Has Coach Meyer figured out what went wrong against Illinois, and will it be fixed against Indiana?

No time for senioritis in Ohio Stadium on Saturday. Ohio State wants to send its eighteen senior players off with a victory in their last game in Ohio Stadium. It will bear watching to see how Ohio State handles the offensive challenges Indiana will bring to this game.

Ohio State Does Not “Hyde” Issues Versus Illinois, 60-35

Appearing lethargic from the end of the 2nd quarter through the end of the game, which earned the team a stern halftime tongue lashing from Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, Ohio State defeated Illinois — to claim its 22nd straight victory. Ohio State tied a school record with its 22nd straight victory, yet Ohio State did not impress its head coach, fans, or likely poll voters by giving up the most points to an opponent this season.

Ohio State started the game in strong fashion, scoring a touchdown off a 69 yard run by quarterback Braxton Miller. Ohio State led 7-0 after less than thirty seconds, and never looked back.

Illinois was unable to get anything going offensively in its first two series. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaaase was intercepted by Ohio State safety C.J. Barnett during the Illini’s first series, and Illinois was forced to punt the ball back to Ohio State after their second series.

Ohio State moved down the field, largely on the strength of runs by senior running back Carlos Hyde. Braxton Miller had a key 31 yard scramble to put Ohio State in scoring position. Miller hit Hyde for an 18 yard touchdown reception to put Ohio State up 14-0.

Bad quickly went to worse for Illinois, as Nathan Scheelhaase was intercepted by Ohio State’s Bradley Roby. Roby returned the interception for a 63 yard touchdown to put Ohio State up 21-0 in the first quarter.

The second quarter was where Ohio State’s dominance turned to lethargy. While Ohio State was able to extend its lead to 28-0, off a Corey “Philly” Brown touchdown reception with 10:20 left in the second quarter, Illinois began chipping away at Ohio State’s lead.

On Ohio State’s sixth offensive series, Braxton Miller was sacked by Illinois’ Tim Kynard. The subsequent punt was returned for a 67 yard touchdown by Illinois’ V’Angelo Bentley. Bentley, formerly of Cleveland Glenville, put Illinois on the scoreboard at 7:29 left in the second quarter. The poor punt coverage, and missed tackles by Ohio State’s special teams, allowed Illinois to score its first punt return touchdown since the 2003 season.

Senior running back Jordan Hall aided Ohio State with a strong kickoff return. Braxton Miller was able to keep Ohio State’s seventh offensive series going on a strong 14 yard run, thanks to a great block by “Philly” Brown. Carlos Hyde scored his second touchdown of the day with an 8 yard run, putting Ohio State up 35-7 with 5:47 left in the second quarter.

During Illinois’ seventh offensive series, ESPN’s announcing team of Dave Pasch, Brian Griese, and Tom Luginbill began discussing the struggles of Illinois’ in-state recruiting and the tenuous job status of Illinois head coach Tim Beckman. Fortunately for Illinois, the players paid no heed to the negative tone, as Illinois scored with a 19 yard touchdown reception to Steve Hull to bring the score to 35-14 with 2:25 in the second quarter.

Ohio State’s eighth series began poorly. Dontre Wilson bobbled the kickoff return, and Carlos Hyde sustained his first negative rushing attempt of the season. As Ohio State left for the half, Coach Urban Meyer did not hide his disdain with Ohio State’s efforts…

During the half, ESPN provocateur Mark May predictably ridiculed Ohio State’s schedule, in comparison to other national powers such as Alabama and Florida State. Thankfully, both Lou Holtz and Rece Davis represented the side of fairness and logic.

Despite a belief that Ohio State would come out intensely in the third quarter, the lethargy continued for Ohio State. Illinois quickly scored with an easy touchdown score to Evan Wilson, cutting Ohio State’s lead to 35-21. Ohio State’s Joey Bosa suffered an injury, forcing Bosa from the game, as the mood among the Ohio State faithful became even more concerned.

As Illinois began to threaten Ohio State, a critical series took place midway through the 3rd quarter. Pinned deep in their own territory, Illinois inexplicably attempted a pass with backup quarterback Reilly O’Toole. O’Toole was in the game as Nathan Scheelhaase was hit on a pass rush and lost his helmet. O’Toole was sacked for a safety by Ryan Shazier, putting Ohio State up 37-21.

After Illinois kicked off to Ohio State, Carlos Hyde was called upon to cap off the drive with his third touchdown of the game, putting Ohio State up 44-21. A scary moment for Ohio State took place, as Braxton Miller was hit late by Illinois’ Jonathan Brown, knocking Miller out of the game for a moment. On another drive in the quarter, Ohio State’s Drew Basil missed his first field goal attempt of the season, missing a 49 yard attempt into the wind.

Illinois did not quit, as the fourth quarter began. Nathan Scheelhaase scored on a quarterback keeper, then converted a two point conversion, to pull Illinois to within fifteen points to make it Ohio State 44, Illinois 29.

Ohio State went back to its 2012 playbook, running Braxton Miller on three straight plays on its first possession of the fourth quarter. Kenny Guiton was inserted into the game to give Braxton Miller a breather, while Carlos Hyde went over 100 yards rushing in the contest. Drew Basil atoned for his earlier miss, putting Ohio State up 47-29, with a 30 yard field goal.

On the subsequent kickoff, Craig Cataline helped the Illini effort with a personal foul penalty that put Illinois in better field position. Nathan Scheelhaase was able to shake off the effects of a Bradley Roby blindside hit, completing a pass to Steve Hull to maintain possession. Illinois scored on a Josh Ferguson touchdown run, and failed on its two point conversion. Ohio State still maintained the lead, 47-35.

Ohio State sputtered offensively, despite strong runs by Carlos Hyde. Braxton Miller on a third down pass threw an ill-advised pass that could have been intercepted by Illinois on a scramble that went nowhere for Ohio State.

Bradley Roby suffered a pass interference call to help Illinois on its next drive. A key sack by Ohio State’s Michael Bennett forced Illinois into a punting situation with about five minutes left to play.

Carlos Hyde continued his quest to become Urban Meyer’s first 1000 yard rusher, scoring his third rushing touchdown on an impressive 51 yard run, to put Ohio State up 53-35. Hyde had his career rushing game in this contest versus Illinois, going for 246 yards rushing. Hyde tacked on another touchdown, with a 55 yard scoring run, to give Hyde his fifth touchdown of the game, to put Ohio State up 60-35 with about two minutes in the game.

While Ohio State won this game, it is doubtful that Ohio State’s defensive performance, or lack thereof, will help them in the eyes of the voters. After the game concluded, here is what ESPN.com had to say on the matter…

In the eyes of the national media, Ohio State is “holding off” unranked teams, yet other teams are not held to the same standard. By the way, I never heard back from ESPN on the Twitter exchange below…

Will Ohio State be jumped by Baylor in the BCS Standings? More importantly, what Buckeye fans will have to hope the defensive staff will be able to figure out what went wrong against Illinois, before the season concludes with Indiana and Michigan.