Wednesday, August 31

Buckeye Season Preview Part II

It’s hard to believe the Buckeyes will kickoff the season in just a mere 72 hours. Before I get into the defense, there have been a few developments on the offensive side of the ball since my last post. As expected, Joe Bauserman has been named the starting QB for this weekend’s game vs. Akron. Coach Luke Fickell said that the competition is still open and expect to see a lot of Braxton Miller against the Zips as well. I called that one. Also, Jaamal Berry tweaked a hamstring and will be held out of the opener. This is not good news for a unit already missing Boom Herron, but it doesn’t sound too serious and Berry should be ready by Week 2. Jordan Hall-Carlos Hyde-Rod Smith will be the RB rotation this weekend. Lastly, redshirt freshman Verlon Reed will get the surprise nod at the starting receiver spot opposite Corey Brown, who we’re apparently calling “Philly” this season to avoid confusion with Corey Brown the defensive back. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get on with the preview.

The Defense
The 2010 Ohio St defense ranked first in the Big Ten and in the top ten in the NCAA in the following categories: points, rushing yards, passing yards, total yards, turnovers. They were pretty good. Unfortunately, starters Cameron Heyward, Dexter Larimore, Brian Rolle, Ross Homan, Chimdi Chekwa, Devon Torrence, and Jermale Hines are all no longer with us. Each year it seems I’m talking about the talent OSU lost on defense and how it seems an impossible task to not have a huge dropoff in production, but each year there seems to be a new group of emerging stars that keep this unit near the top in the country. As the saying goes in Columbus, they don’t rebuild, they reload. Let’s look at the players the Buckeyes will be reloading with this season.

Cameron Heyward was a beast, and will certainly be missed, but the defensive line will be the strength of the defense and should be one of the best units in the conference. Leading the way will be returning starters and All-Big Ten hopefuls Nathan Williams and John Simon. DE Williams led the team in sacks last season, and should be poised for a monster senior season. Simon can create matchup problems with his ability to line up at end or tackle, but should see most of his snaps in the middle. Alongside Simon will be sophomore Jonathan Hankins, who played some last year but struggled with his weight, which hovered around 350 lbs. He’s now down to a slim 325. Garrett Goebel looks to be the front-runner to replace Heyward at end, with Adam Bellamy and Melvin Fellows pushing him. If these guys don’t impress in the first few weeks, Solomon Thomas will get a shot when he returns from his five-game suspension.

Ohio St rolls out All-American caliber linebackers year after year, so even though this group doesn’t have a ton of experience, I’m confident they can be very effective. Also, they have the coolest names of any position on the team. Andrew Sweat is the lone returning starter, and will be the leader of the unit. He started mostly on the strong side last year, but should move to the weak side this season to be more in space. Etienne Sabino and Storm Klein will take over the other two starting roles, with Sabino most likely in the middle and Klein on the strong side, although they could switch. Sabino was a special teamer extraordinaire and saw limited action at linebacker in ‘09 before being redshirted last season. He broke his hand this off-season but will be ready for the opener, playing with a cast on. Klein was beaten out by Sweat for a starting gig last year, but seems primed to be a tackling machine opposite Sweat this year. The ‘backers will be a little thin with Jonathan Newsome transferring and Dorian Bell being suspended for the whole year. With those two no longer in the mix, Jordan Whiting and Tony Jackson will be the top reserves. Tyler Moeller will attempt to make another comeback, and should play safety, but may see some time at LB if he is needed.

The secondary is certainly filled with the most question marks on the team. Chekwa, Hines and Torrence made up one of the best defensive backfields in the nation last year, and will be borderline impossible to replace. The good news is there is a lot of promise in the current secondary, but there are also some injury concerns. Travis Howard and Dominic Clarke will take over the corner spots. Howard showed positive signs at the beginning of last season, but spent the majority of the year on the bench with a shoulder injury. He expects to be back at full strength, and looks to be the playmaker of the DBs. Clarke played well on special teams as a freshman in ’10, and comes into this season as the top cover corner. Dionte Allen and Corey Brown will be the first to get in in nickel and dime situations.

Orhian Johnson will return to start at safety and has the most talent of the group, but must stay healthy and come up with more big plays. The most interesting story line of the secondary revolves around Tyler Moeller. Moeller played at linebacker back in 2008, then missed all of the 2009 season after being violently jumped in the offseason and suffering a serious head injury, one that doctors said may prevent him from ever playing football again. Against the odds, Moeller was ready to play the following season and was moved to safety, where he was incredible in the first four games before suffering a torn pectoral muscle that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Finally catching a break, Moeller was granted a sixth year of eligibility for this season and the starting strong safety spot should be his, provided he can stay healthy. If he cannot, Johnson would most likely switch to strong and C.J. Barnett, who is returning from an injury himself, would take over at free safety. Barnett beat out Johnson for the starting FS spot last season but injured his knee in game one and missed the entire season.

The Buckeye special teams offer two completely opposite ends of the spectrum when they are kicking and when they are receiving. When OSU is on the receiving end, look out. Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry averaged 27.9 and 25.4 yards per kick return, respectively, last season. Hall also averaged a respectable 9.9 yards per punt return. Hall should get the majority of the work, but both he and Berry can break off a big one at any given time.

On the other hand, I could not be more worried about the kicking game. Super-reliable Devin Barclay is gone, with Drew Basil taking over placekicking duties. Basil has a massive leg, but needs to prove he can connect on mid-range field goals on a consistent basis. Don’t even get me started on punter Ben Buchanan. I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a Buckeye more, except for maybe Jon Thoma, the punter he replaced. Then of course there’s the issue of covering kicks. Ohio St gave up two scores on kick returns and one on a punt, while allowing a miserable 10.5 yards per punt return. This needs to be fixed.

The Schedule
Ohio St opens the season welcoming two Ohio schools to The Shoe to get obliterated. Akron comes first (three more days!) followed by Toledo. September 17 provides the Bucks with their first test, at Miami. The Hurricanes are in the midst of a scandal of their own, and three of their players will be suspended for this contest. QB Jacory Harris and four others will have served their one-game suspensions. Going to Miami without Boom Herron, DeVier Posey, and Mike Adams has me slightly worried, but Ohio St should still be able to pull this one out. Colorado then comes to Columbus to close out non-conference play. Don’t let the fact the Buffaloes are in the Big 12 scare you - Toledo is a much more formidable opponent.

Big Ten play begins with two of the year’s toughest tests. Michigan St visits Ohio Stadium on October 1 in the final game of suspensions for the “Tat 5.” The Spartans return QB Kirk Cousins and RBs Edwin Baker and Le’Von Bell to form one of the conference’s best offenses. The Buckeyes will welcome back Herron, Posey and Adams the following week. Their coming-home gift? A trip to Memorial Stadium, home to an ongoing record of 311 consecutive sellouts and #10 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. The returning players will have no time to adjust and be asked to carry this team to an upset victory in a hostile environment.

A visit to Illinois is up next. Nathan Scheelhaase is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the Big Ten, but the Illini don’t have much else. October 29 will be another tough game at home against Wisconsin. RBs Montee Ball and James White could each be All-Americans if they played on separate teams, making up the nation’s best backfield. The Badgers have a tough schedule coming into this contest including games against Oregon St, Nebraska, and at Michigan St, but could be undefeated when they visit The Shoe, providing a chance for the Buckeyes to pay them back for last season.

Ohio St should be able to breathe easy the next two weeks, facing Indiana at home and going to Purdue. Penn St comes to Columbus November 19 before Ohio St closes out the regular season in michigan. New head man Brady Hoke seems to have people in Ann Arbor thinking they are back, but I’m not sold yet. Can’t-Tie was in the absolute perfect situation in a Rich Rodriguez offense, and he still couldn’t be successful. I’m supposed to believe he’s going to be All-Big Ten in a dropback-style offense? Pass. (Which, along with tying his shoes, is something else Can‘t-Tie can’t do.) If the Buckeyes can take the conference’s Leaders Division (Wisconsin being the only real threat with Penn St having an outside chance), they will most likely have a rematch with Nebraska to determine the Big Ten Champ.

The Outlook
With the conference’s addition of Nebraska, the suspensions to star players, and the graduation of most of a devastating defense, this will certainly be the toughest of the past seven seasons for the Buckeyes to grab another Big Ten title. While this does look like a down year for the program, a down year at Ohio St is a hell of a year for most schools. Looking at the schedule, I definitely don’t see any more than four losses there. Realistically, I could see the Bucks posting a 4-1 mark during the suspensions, splitting with Nebraska and Wisconsin, winning the rest of their games and finishing 10-2 with a possible shot at a conference championship game.

I think I’ve said all I could possibly say about this team without even seeing them on the field yet. All we can do now is put our faith in Luke Fickell and cheer our asses of for another season of Buckeye football (and make as many michigan jokes as possible).


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