Friday, September 6

Buckeye Season Preview

Editor's note: I wrote this Pryor to last Saturday's Buffalo game, so there may be instances where I refer to that game in future tense. In case you missed, Ohio St rolled.

It feels so good to be back! What promises to be another exciting Ohio St Buckeye football season is already underway, and I could not be more stoked. It’s Ohio St football, so expectations are always high, but this season seems even more so, as the Bucks will begin the 2013 campaign ranked #2 in both polls with their sights on nothing less than a National Championship.

There is plenty of reason to believe that the number two ranking is no joke in Columbus. Reason 1A – Braxton Miller comes into the season as the biggest threat to Johnny Autograph’s second consecutive Heisman trophy. Brax had an up-and-down freshman season in 2011, but showed plenty of flashes to give Buckeye faithful reason to believe he could live up to the hype. And that he did last season, completing nearly 60% of his passes, owning a 15-6 TD-INT ratio, and most importantly logging a team-leading 1,271 rushing yards with 13 scores, en route to finishing fifth in the Heisman voting. If he can stay on the field and duplicate those numbers while bringing the turnovers down a bit, there’s no reason Ohio St shouldn’t run train on the Big Ten and be given the opportunity to get probed by Alabama in Pasadena.

While most of the talk about Ohio St surrounds its superstar signal-caller, just as important to a successful season is reason for optimism 1B – Coach Urban Meyer. Urbs (Can I call him Urbs? I don’t care I’m going for it.) has had smashing success in his second year at a program, owning a 34-4 combined record in Year 2 at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, while leading the Utes to a perfect 12-0 season and the Gators to a…game we don’t want to talk about. Does the man seem sketchy as hell? Sure. Can I look past that because he’s been the best collegiate coach in the past decade? Hell yes. (Quick aside: Jim Tressel will always be a god in my eyes, and he would be #2 on this non-existent list of mine, but I can honestly say I’d rather have Meyer. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I will burn in hell for saying that. Also, Pete Carroll can eat a dick.)

Meyer and Miller have a wide array of talent to work with on offense, anchored by a veteran, NFL-ready offensive line. The defense has some question marks but also a number of playmakers as well. Before we look ahead, let’s take a quick look back.

Last Season
Ohio St broke the 2012 season already knowing their ultimate fate. Due to the Merch-for-Ink scandal and consequent Jim Tressel cover-up, Urban Meyer’s first season in Columbus was tainted with a post-season ban. That did not stop him from leading his flawed but determined squad to an undefeated 12-0 mark. Meyer’s work last season will forever go down in my memory as one of the most impressive. Not only did he get his team to buy into playing hard knowing they wouldn’t have a game past November, but he took a very good-but-not-spectacular roster plagued by injuries (Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall and John Simon all missed multiple games, Brax was in and out of several contests, and the linebackers dropped like flies) and got them to take their talents to the next level.

The season began with routs of mid-majors Miami (OH) and Central Florida. While there were plenty of highlights in their combined 81-26 victories, the tone was set 16 minutes into the season with Devin Smith’s catch of the year. Things got a bit hairier the following week when the Cal Bears exposed some chinks in the Buckeyes’ armor (namely: tackling) and pushed OSU to the limit in The Shoe before the Bucks prevailed 35-28. Ohio St closed the non-conference schedule undefeated after beating UAB the next week in unimpressive fashion.

Four games really stand out in my mind about the 2012 B1G schedule, three of them coming in the first four weeks. The opener saw Ohio St’s defense dominate michigan State All-American Le’Veon Bell, and Braxton Miller overcome a play where I thought he shattered every bone in his leg, to make enough plays and outlast the Spartans in East Lansing, 17-16. Seven days later, Brax and Carlos Hyde dicked all over the alleged “Blackshirts,” running up 371 yards and six touchdowns on Nebraska. The Buckeye defense took the next week off and almost blew a game to Indiana leading into the most thrilling and improbable victory of the season.

Kenny motherfucking G. The lowly Purdue Boilermakers made the trip to Columbus on a late-October Saturday afternoon after losing their first two conference games in embarrassing fashion. Everything that Cal and Indiana exposed in the Buckeyes earlier in the year came out in this contest, and when Miller left the game at the end of the third quarter with a shoulder injury and the Buckeyes trailing 20-14, the dream season was all but lost. Then the world got to experience Kenny Guiton. After being in Meyer’s doghouse all season long and almost quitting the team, Kenny G found himself with ball in his own territory facing an eight-point deficit and 47 seconds on the clock. The first play went 39 yards to Devin Smith and OSU was quickly in business. Eventually down to the Boilermaker two-yard line with three ticks remaining, Guiton found Chris Fields for the touchdown. The two-point conversion was a success thanks to a beautiful touch pass to TE Jeff Heuerman and the teams played some free football. In the overtime, Guiton brought the Bucks to the goal line and Carlos Hyde scored the go-ahead TD. Four incompletions later, Ohio St finally ended the dreaded Figgs/Andy game-watching losing streak.

The Buckeyes cruised through victories the next two weeks against Penn St and Illinois. The most memorable thing about those games was against the Illini, in which I was in attendance, when the Bucks had a big lead late and 110,000 people stuck around waiting for the myth that is Kenny G to enter the game. I’ve been in Ohio Stadium a dozen times, and I don’t know if I ever heard it louder than when he finally came in. It was epic.

When I said four conference games stood out in my mind, for some reason the 21-14 overtime victory over Wisconsin wasn’t one of them. I don’t know why, but this was the only game I had to look up what happened to jog my memory. Then I recalled Ryan Shazier’s body count, and his heroic hit and forced fumble on Montee Ball at the goal line to seemingly seal the Buckeyes W. Badger QB Curt Phillips had other ideas, however, leading a game-tying TD drive with eight seconds left. Hyde scored his second game-winning OT touchdown of the season, and OSU went into The Game at a perfect 11-0.

Two things carried the Buckeyes to ANOTHER victory over that school up north to complete the unblemished season – Carlos Hyde and 30 minutes of the best football the OSU defense played all season long. Hyde rushed for 146 yards and pounded wolverine defenders all afternoon, while the Buckeye D forced three turnovers and shut down bitchigan in the second half to secure a 26-21 victory. Unfortunately, that was the last time we saw our Buckeyes.

The Schedule

Uncle Frank is this a joke? You can’t take anything for granted, and the Browns fan in me hates how optimistic I’m looking at this, but are you seeing what I’m seeing? Do you think I could get a good deal if I booked a flight to Indy for December 7th now? The non-conference schedule is the easiest I have ever seen as an Ohio St fan. Buffalo, San Diego St, Cal, and Florida A&M. That’s it, that’s the list. Joe Bauserman’s one-armed twin brother could go 4-0 there.

As far as Big Ten play goes, what I’m not seeing is Michigan St or Nebraska. They are both off the schedule this year. Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn St are all at home. So what’s left? Northwestern, Purdue, and Illinois are all formidable opponents on the road, but don’t pose giant threats. And of course, there is a date in whore arbor, but that’s the most automatic win of the season. This schedule just screams 12-0. If the season comes to a close and Ohio St isn’t playing in the Big Ten Championship for a shot at Pasadena, I will be surprised.

The Offense

The Buckeyes come into the 2013 season with a full cupboard on offense. Nine starters return to a unit with a wealth of talent and experience. I’ll start where everything starts with this Buckeye team, and that’s the quarterback position, manned of course by Braxton Miller. The reigning B1G Offensive Player of the Year, #5 improved by leaps and bounds in his first year in Urban Meyer’s offense. It’s easy to look at Brax’s jaw-dropping highlight reel for proof of a successful season, but his quietly efficient passing numbers (58% completion percentage, over 2,000 yards, 15-6 TD-INT ratio) is why I’m all on board for Miller’s 2013 Heisman campaign. But of course, it is still fun to look at his out-of-this-world rushing numbers, which stood at 227 attempts for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns. The scary thing for the NCAA – he’s only 20 years-old and still improving.

Entrenched in the runner-up role at QB, is the aforementioned Purdue-hero and smooth sax player Kenny Guiton. Incoming highly-touted prospect J.T. Barrett tore his ACL at the end of his senior season and will spend the year rehabbing as a redshirt, leaving redshirt freshmen Cardale Jones and Levi Ratliff to fight over the clipboard.

The Buckeyes came into last season with some question marks at the running back position, and were dealt another blow early when Jordan Hall was injured (and subsequently dealt with nagging injuries keeping him on the sideline the majority of the year). Then Carlos Hyde went H.A.M. and they ended the season and head into 2013 as one of the deepest backfields in the nation. When an “alleged” incident this offseason involving Hyde’s fist and a female counterpart’s face threatened to see Carlos tossed from the team, those question marks suddenly started to rise again. Thankfully, the charges were dropped and Hyde will only see a manageable three-game suspension.

After a slew of injuries last season, Jordan Hall is ready to return and will have the opportunity to show off his game-breaking ability early and often, as he is penned in to start in Hyde’s absence. Even when Hyde returns from his suspension, Hall will see plenty of time in Meyer’s “pivot” position, made famous by Percy Harvin in Florida. Rod Smith will share the load with Hall…starting in game two, as he is also suspended for the opener with Buffalo for violating team rules. Sophomore Bri’onte Dunn suddenly finds his name second on the depth chart for this week’s battle with the Bulls, and has the opportunity to prove he deserves more than the 13 carries he received last year.

In addition the four backs with experience already mentioned, Ohio St welcomes three explosive freshman into the backfield mix. Redshirt Warren Ball is the most ready and fits the Hyde bruiser mold, so he should see a decent amount of carries in the non-conference slate. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman insists that speedster Dontre Wilson will see plenty of touches, both as the backup to Hall at the pivot position as well as getting the first crack on the team to return kicks. I would have expected a redshirt due to all the talent in from of him, but Ezekiel Elliot remains on the roster as his talent will waste away on the bench. The Buckeyes will forgo a fullback position this season in favor of Meyer’s pivot.

The pass-catchers lost red zone threat Jake Stoneburner to graduation and also saw Verlon Reed transfer to D II Findlay before T.Y. Williams was dismissed from the team. Stone’s big frame will be missed near the goal line, but the Reed and Williams departures aren’t very relevant. Five experienced receivers return, with Corey Brown and Devin Smith solidly hanging on to their starting positions along with Evan Spencer and Michael Thomas behind them and Chris Fields expected to see some time in the pivot.

Brown was Mr. Reliable for Braxton last season, and will continue to serve as his go-to-guy this year. Smith will also renew his role as the big-play receiver when the Buckeyes begin play this weekend, but needs to limit his drops and become more consistent in order to be as truly effective as his is capable of being. Spencer has impressed this spring and will push Smith for targets should his case of the dropsies continue.

Should any of the veterans falter, JUCO transfer Corey Smith has all kinds of speed, and will fight for playing time along with true freshmen James Clark and Jalin Marshall. Clark should see some opportunities to returns kicks, and Marshall could battle fellow freshman Wilson for touches at the pivot position.

TE Jeff Heuerman will be a big factor in the receiving game as well, as he was too talented to keep off the field last year and eventually pushed mainstay Stoneburner to WR. Backup Nick Vannett will see some targets as well, and in a surprise move, former defensive lineman J.T. Moore has also been getting reps at tight end.

While Braxton Miller’s running style will always make him vulnerable to injury, he shouldn’t have too much to worry in the pocket, as Ohio St boasts one of the top O-Lines in the country. Four starters return to a line that surprisingly dominated the conference in 2012. When Urbs came to Columbus, he was critical of several Buckeye players. One of his biggest targets was Center Corey Linsley, who accepted the challenge and promptly got his act together off the field and straight dominated on it. He’s back to anchor the hogmollies up front and should have his sights set on the Rimington Trophy. Next to Linsley are two fellow senior returning starters, Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall. Norwell was quietly just as effective as Linsley was last season. I say quietly because he was rarely mentioned, mostly because he was never penalized. Hall was almost kicked off the team in 2011 after coming in outrageously overweight and having off-field issues. He slimmed down to a petite 325 as a junior and while committing far too many holding penalties then desired Hall was nothing less than solid at the right guard position.

Protecting Braxton’s blindside and forming the best left-side duo on the line since Orlando Pace was inventing the term “pancake,” is senior Jack Mewhort. If you’re a pass-rusher on an opposing team, either line up on the other side or just save your energy and take a seat, because Norwell and Mewhort are going to keep Brax’s jersey so Scarlet that Hester Prynne would be jealous. The only lineman not back this season was converted tight end and surprisingly awfully effective RT Reid Fragel. After losing his spot to Fragel in 2012, 6’7 315 lbs. sophomore Taylor Decker will get a second chance. With only inexperienced underclassmen behind him, Decker was just given the job. Hopefully he doesn’t take it for granted and comes to play. The most talented and recognizable name behind these five on the depth chart is Jacoby Boren, but he’s best suited at Center where he won’t see a snap all season long barring a Linsley injury.

The Defense
Much has been made this offseason about the losses on the defensive front seven for the Buckeyes, as only one starter returns. I’m a lot less worried than most people. While the departures of John Simon and Johnathan Hankins, among others, is tough to swallow, there is a lot to be optimistic about this defense. Most importantly, the one returning starter is LB Ryan Shazier, who has All-American written all over him this season. Secondly, the defensive line was the deepest position on the team, so even though all four starters from 2012 squad are gone, there are plenty of guys ready to step up, most notably sophomores Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence. Also, the secondary behind them is one of the top in the nation.

Since we’re on the subject, we’ll begin with the d-line. Simon was one of the most fun players to watch during his tenure at OSU, and will always be a fan favorite. Big Jon Hanks was a man in the middle and will surely be missed, as will Nathan Williams and Garrett Goebell. That being said, I’m real excited to see what Washington and Spence can do with a full opportunity.

On the inside, juniors Joel Hale and Michael Bennett will bring plenty of backup experience into the starting roles. With Se’Veon Pittman “leaving” (being kicked off) the team and the bizarre move of transforming J.T. Moore to TE, the line isn’t very deep. DT Tommy Schutt is the only one with any experience, although it’s minimal, and will be first off the bench. Sophomore Chris Carter has the name and the size (340 lbs) to be effective, and freshmen Michael Hill and Joey Bosa will also get their shot. Jamal Marcus and Steve Miller will backup Spence at the Viper position.

Zach Boren saved the linebacking corps last season when he moved from fullback a few weeks in and played beyond any expectations we could have had for him. He is out, as is Etienne Sabino. There is good news, as Ryan Shazier returns to mammoth expectations. I would argue that Shazier was the best player on this defense last year, with all due respect to Simon, Hanks and Bradley Roby. If he can stay on the field for 12 games, he’ll no doubt be coming home with some hardware. Freshman Trey Johnson should be the first to spell Shazier in the rare times he’s not on the field.

Getting a third and final chance, senior Curtis Grant will replace Boren in the middle. Grant was in this same position last year, then played so badly that Meyer was forced to move his star fullback to defense to replace him. It’s been said that Grant has been making strides in the offseason, but with his track record I will not be convinced until I see it when it counts. The other unsettling part about having to move Boren to the other side of the ball, was not only that Grant couldn’t handle being a starter but also that they didn’t have another ‘backer on the team that could take his place. Those same depth issues occur this year, as green sophomore Joe Burger and true freshman Mike Mitchell are behind Grant on the depth chart.

If you look at a depth chart, Joshua Perry would be penciled into the starting linebacker spot opposite Shazier, but if you watch an Urban Meyer coached game, you’ll see that he uses the “Star” position with an extra defensive back much more often than a third LB. But Perry will be the guy in those times when a traditional defense is on the field. Sophomore Camren Williams will most likely see time at all three positions.

The secondary is the strength of this defense and could develop into one that tops the country. Bradley Roby will serve a one-game suspension against Buffalo, but when he gets onto the field he is something special. He turned down a lot of guaranteed money in the pros to come back for one more shot at something big at Ohio St. The other CB will see a drop off from “Howard Island” to Doran Grant, but Grant brings plenty of experience and should be fine, especially with Roby next to him locking down the opposing team’s #1 wideout.

A pair of seniors are back to start for their third consecutive year at the safety positions, and as long as C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant don’t have multiple embarrassing missed tackles (as they did last year), they form the best duo in the conference. Fellow senior Corey Brown is the top backup and could start for just about any other team in America.

A slew of freshman defensive backs come in immediately ready to play. While Eli Apple and Cam Burrows were rated higher in the recruiting process, it looks like Tyvis Powell will get the first crack at the Star after a phenomenal spring. Vonn Bell will also get time and rounds out an astounding group of DBs.

Drew Basil is back to kick for his third and final season. While he won’t win the Groza award, we could be a lot worse off. Basil has a booming leg and can hit from 50+, but needs to be more accurate in shorter yardage situations. With Ben Buchanan finally gone (THANK GOD!), there is a chance Basil might get a chance to use that big leg in the punting game as well. Right now freshman Cameron Johnson is slated for the punting duties, but if he can’t cut it Basil is the only other option. Dontre Wilson, Jordan Hall, Philly Brown, and James Clark will all see opportunities to return kicks, with Wilson seemingly in line to get the first shot.

The Outlook
Buckeye legend Craig Krenzel said it best on his radio show last week when he was asked if it was hard playing/cheering for Ohio St where every year you have expectations of a National Championship when he said, “If I wanted to play for a school where winning a Conference Title is enough, I would have gone to Wisconsin.” Well this year is no different, as anything less than a berth in the BCS title game will be considered a failure. They have the coach, the star QB, the playmakers, and a favorable schedule to make that happen. Let’s get it done, gentlemen.


1 comment:

Andy said...

Figgs is back and so are the Buckeyes!

I'm glad to see "dicked all over" make its triumphant return to the pages of FCF.


I'm glad the Figgs/Francis streak finally ended. That was starting to get pretty grim.

Probably the best Scarlet Letter reference I've seen here in some time.