Terrapins Can Make It Terrible For Ohio State’s First MD Visit

Ohio State travels to Byrd Stadium in College Park, Maryland, for its first ever contest against B1G newcomer Maryland. Maryland was projected as having a strong initial season within the B1G, and this trip to Byrd Stadium should prove to be quite a raucous beginning for Ohio State as the Buckeyes begin conference play for the 2014 season.

Last weekend’s contest versus the University of Cincinnati left Ohio State fans curious about the Buckeye pass defense. New co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash was brought in during the offseason to fix what was considered the weakest link in Ohio State’s defense. After allowing Bearcats WR Chris Moore to average nearly 74 yards per reception (3 receptions for 221 yards, 3 touchdowns), who could blame Ohio State fans for feeling somewhat anxious heading into a game that features two of the B1G’s leading receivers in former Ohio State recruiting target Stefon Diggs and Deon Long?

Besides Diggs and Long, Maryland features other players on its roster who may be familiar to Ohio State fans. Players such as OT Damian Prince, OT Derwin Gray, and WR Taivon Jacobs were all recruited by Ohio State, but chose Maryland instead. The lone Ohioan listed on Maryland’s roster is freshman TE Andrew Gray, who did not receive an Ohio State scholarship offer.

Three areas I will focus upon during the game are:

– Ohio State’s Press Coverage With Its Secondary: Anytime a team decides to play aggressively with its pass defense, it is a high risk, high reward situation. Receivers such as Diggs and Long can easily take a pass all the way to the end zone, like Chris Moore did last weekend. Will Ohio State adjust its safety play to offer up more help to its cornerbacks, and help neutralize the threat of big plays?

– Ohio State’s Pass Rush Must Come Up Big: So far this season, sophomore DE Joey Bosa has been causing disruptive plays along the line of scrimmage, resulting in turnovers against the opposition. Will Bosa be able to come up big again, especially against a Maryland team that may double-team him? If Bosa is double-teamed, will Adolphus Washington or Michael Bennett be able to pick up the slack, and create the necessary pressure to help Ohio State’s secondary?

– Ohio State’s Run Game Must Control The Clock: Against Cincinnati, sophomore RB Ezekiel Elliott ran for 182 yards, while teammates J.T. Barrett, Rod Smith, Dontre Wilson, Curtis Samuel, and Jalin Marshall also contributed to the overall team rushing effort (380 yards on the ground). To keep Maryland off the field, Ohio State will need its rushing attack to come through in the clutch time of this contest.

While the oddsmakers have penciled Ohio State as a strong favorite, I believe this game will be in doubt until midway through the fourth quarter. Even though there will be anxious moments for Ohio State fans, players, and coaches, I have it Ohio State 42, Maryland 31, with Ohio State scoring a late touchdown to secure its first B1G victory of the 2014 season.

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.

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 Answered, Questions Remain

Before Ohio State’s 2014 spring practices began in March, I posted questions ranked from least concerning areas to most concerning areas as I perceived them. Are the categories in the same sequence? Let’s find out.

10. Special Teams Units: Ranked tenth coming into the spring practice, and I believe this important area still ranks low in terms of concerns heading into the summer. During the spring game, Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer did not practice kickoffs, and punt returns all resulted in fair catches. Furthermore, with the influx of freshmen talent who will arrive in June, it would be reasonable to expect a number of freshmen to compete for playing time in this often over-looked area.

9. H-Back/Pivot/Hybrid/Slot: An area that was ranked eighth heading into spring practice, it seems to be in fairly capable and competent hands. Coach Meyer withheld rising sophomore Dontre Wilson from the spring game, and Wilson should have ample opportunities to play H-Back when the season begins next August 30th. Rising redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall and true freshman Curtis Samuel should also have chances to contribute in this area; Samuel had several moments during spring practice that impressed Coach Meyer.

8. Tight End: Ranked ninth, I elevated this area for two relatively minor reasons. First, rising senior Jeff Heuerman missed a considerable portion of spring practice a foot injury that required surgery, and will keep Heuerman in a cast and walking boot until summer workouts. Secondly, rising redshirt freshman Marcus Baugh had some impressive moments this spring, but is still trying to regain the confidence of the coaching staff. Rising junior Nick Vannett will play considerably this fall. Overall, a solid group, but Heuerman’s absence and injury led me to rank this as an area of more concern after the spring than before the spring practices.

7. Running Back: This position area is in the same location as it was when spring practices began. My concerns rank in the same general area – will the coaching staff be able to keep all of these players happy and involved? Rising sophomore Ezekiel Elliott seems to be the prohibitive favorite going into summer workouts, but rising redshirt sophomore Bri’onte Dunn, true freshman Curtis Samuel, and rising redshirt sophomore Warren Ball all played well throughout the spring. Throw in rising senior Rod Smith, who had a strong spring, in the words of Coach Meyer, and perhaps you can see why I question how the coaching staff will be able to keep all of these players involved and happy.

6. Placekicker: Another adjustment, post-spring practice. This battle will continue throughout the summer, but true freshman Sean Nuernberger may have a slight lead over rising senior Kyle Clinton. Nuernberger was able to successfully kick both field goal attempts from 52 yards, while Clinton was unable to do so. It is early in the process, but considering Nuernberger is a scholarship player, it would seem plausible that Nuernberger may have the edge on this spot going into summer workouts.

Part two will focus upon the five areas of highest concern, as Ohio State leaves spring practice behind and prepares for summer workouts and fall camp.

The 2014 Ohio State Spring Game: Youth Will Be Served

“Youth will be served, every dog has his day, and mine has been a fine one.”

~ George Borrow

Attending the Ohio State spring game has always been one of my favorite spring time events. The very first spring game I attended was in 1996, eagerly anticipating how the newly-signed quarterback Mark Garcia would do in his Ohio State debut, as he battled Stanley Jackson for the starting quarterback position. Little did anyone know a third quarterback by the name of Joe Germaine would outperform both quarterbacks in the spring game, giving fans in attendance an early glimpse at one of the best quarterbacks in Ohio State football history.

Another fond memory was the 2003 spring game. Not only was Ohio State basking in the glory of the 2002 national championship, but fans were treated to an aerial duel between Justin Zwick and Troy Smith. It was the unofficial beginning of the quarterback battle for the 2004 starting job.

My wife and three children will be joining me for this spring game. I have taken my wife before, and my sons came with me three years ago, but this will mark my daughter’s first visit to Ohio Stadium. I am also planning on meeting up with Shannon Sommers as well at Ohio Stadium…

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has already stated that true freshmen Curtis Samuel and Johnnie Dixon figure prominently in Ohio State’s upcoming season; the spring game will give fans that first look at both as Buckeyes. Freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan and freshman placekicker Sean Nuernberger will also be counted upon this fall; I am anxious to see how both perform for what should be a pretty decent crowd.

The player I am most anxious to see? Linebacker Darron Lee, who has been starting all spring. Lee has been consistently cited by Coach Meyer for his aggressiveness and intensity all spring. Considering the level of disappointment that Coach Meyer and the fans had of the 2013 linebackers, watching Lee’s performance will be foremost for me at the spring game.

A close second? Cornerback Eli Apple. Apple redshirted in 2013, but has recently had his black stripe removed, symbolizing that he is now a player that will be relied upon in game situations. Like the linebackers, the 2013 secondary left much to be desired. Apple and Gareon Conley have been playing well this spring, and will be challenging for playing time this season.

Yes, youth will be served during the spring game. Youth may also be served this coming season.

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.

Curtis Samuel becomes commit #17

5star_recruit_iconUrban Meyer will go where ever the talent is. He has landed recruits from every part of the country. He will leave no stone unturned to land every recruit he can. Let’s face it though Urban Meyer doesn’t have to turn over many rocks to find 4 and 5 star recruits. They stand out on top of those rocks like trophies ripe for the picking. His latest recruit fits every thing that Coach Meyer loves speed, athletic, and can play different positions.

curtis-samuel

Marc Givler of Buckeye Grove confrimed it via his twitter account…

Curtis Samuel is a 6’0″ 185 lbs 5 star RB/WR/Safety/Athlete from Brooklyn, New York. Curtis is a blazer of a football player running a 4.36 40 yard dash. He projects to play WR at Ohio State but has the versatility to move all over the place he could play RB or WR depending on how his body develops. He also could play defense but he is a playmaker so expect to see him on the offensive side in the Percy Harvin type position. Where Coach Meyer will do everything he can to get the ball in his hands to let him make plays.

247sports ranking– 5 star and 25th best prospect in the country.
Scout ranking- 4 star and the 145th best prospect in the country.
Rivals ranking- 4 star and 116th best prospect in the country.
ESPN ranking- 4 star and the 3rd best prospect in New York.