Countdown To THE GAME 2015

Friday, December 2, 2016

For Ohio State's 2016 Playoff Hopes, "The Waiting Is The Hardest Part"

Oh baby don't it feel like heaven right now
Don't it feel like something from a dream

As Curtis Samuel sprinted into the end zone for the winning touchdown against That Team Up North on November 26th, the natural euphoria and bedlam erupted at my brother-in-law Scott's home.  Hugs, celebratory high fives, and complete exhilaration were enjoyed by all at the tremendous comeback 30-27 double overtime victory over That Team Up North.  The revelation that Jim Harbaugh decided to blame the officials in his postgame press conference could not dampen the celebration that seemed to completely fill up the great state of Ohio.

November 29th gave Ohio State fans even more reason to celebrate.  The latest College Football Playoff rankings that were released kept Ohio State at number two, despite the fact that Ohio State would not be playing for The B1G Championship...

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card

With all due respect to Tom Petty, Ohio State coaches, players, and fans will be counting down the minutes until the afternoon of December 4th, when the final College Football Playoff rankings will be released.

You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

Could Ohio State find themselves on the outside looking in, despite being ranked second?  Could Penn State or Wisconsin vault past the Buckeyes, after The B1G Championship?

As Ohio State is not playing this weekend, there is little to nothing the Buckeyes can do.  There is no sense in being anxious or nervous, as the Buckeyes truly have no control over when or if they make The College Football Playoffs.  I plan on enjoying the various conference championship games, as these will have impact upon the entire college football bowl season.  Until then, I am going to rely upon the wisdom of Tom Petty, and...

Don't let it kill you baby, don't let it get to you

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Black Friday Wish List For THE GAME

Belated best wishes to you and your loved ones for a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.  I sincerely hope you all enjoyed the holiday, and were able to celebrate in a manner that rivaled these fine folks.

Black Friday is one of those unofficial events during Thanksgiving weekend that I have never found a desire or need to participate in, as my beautiful wife, Mom, and sisters do, year after year.  In the vein of Black Friday, I am going to propose a wish list for THE GAME...

For those of you who actually have tickets to THE GAME, best wishes that you have actual tickets.  Better safe than sorry...


For Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer, a wish list to not become predictable and overly conservative on offense.

For all of the talented recruits who are scheduled to attend THE GAME, a wish list that this weekend will conclude with several of these young men deciding to become Buckeyes, beginning in 2017...

Here's my Black Friday wish list, in the form of what I hope to see during THE GAME...
  1. Ohio State throwing deep against TTUN's secondary ~ This sounds like a broken record, but Ohio State needs to throw deep in order to open up the intermediate passing game.  Even if the pass is not completed, this will force the vaunted TTUN secondary to quit crowding the line of scrimmage, and that leads me to...
  2. Run the ball with Mike Weber early and often ~ It has become so predictable whenever J.T. Barrett is going to keep the ball on the zone read plays that Ohio State has within its playbook.  Weber will find the interior of the TTUN defense tough to run against, but Ohio State's offensive coaches need to be patient.  Weber will be able to gain positive yardage, especially in the critical second half.
  3. Tight coverage on TTUN's Jake Butt ~ TTUN has talented wideouts in Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, but I have confidence that the Buckeye secondary will be able to match up with them throughout the course of the game.  Considering John O'Korn is likely to start, and Wilton Speight is less than 100% healthy, it would make sense for Butt to be the primary focus of the short to intermediate passing game against Ohio State.  Regardless of whether Ohio State uses a linebacker, or spies on Butt with Malik Hooker, Butt will be the player to watch whenever it gets to third down against Ohio State.
Prediction:  Maybe it's because the scars of the 1990s run long and deep, but I have learned to never overlook TTUN, no matter their record.  This game is going to be tough, physical, and hard-hitting on both sides.  Whichever team makes a mistake, the other team will likely be able to capitalize to their advantage.  Special teams will be crucial, as they often are in games of this magnitude.  I look for Ohio State to be able to ride the positive momentum within Ohio Stadium to a win, and probable berth in the College Football Playoff.  Look for it to be close throughout, with the Buckeyes pulling away with a late touchdown in the fourth quarter.  I have it Ohio State 28, That Team Up North 17.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Buckeyes Look To Conquer Spartans

Can't really say I blame you, Coach Meyer.  Last year's 17-14 defeat at the hands of Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans in Ohio Stadium was tough to take.  I know - I was there too.

So many people are quick to point out to me that Michigan State this season is not the same team as last year's team.  Quite true.

I will merely point out something that many Ohio State fans have either conveniently forgotten, or are denying - Urban Meyer has only lost five times since taking over as Ohio State's head coach in 2012.  Do you want to guess which team can claim responsibility for two of those losses?

Yep.  Michigan State.

Want to hear something else that may make you pause your enthusiasm for this one?  Check out the below tweet from Ramzy Nasrallah of Eleven Warriors...

Lastly, and this is something that Mark Dantonio is a master motivator at exploiting...There are 29 Ohioans on Michigan State's roster.  Several of these players were recruited by Ohio State, such as L.J. Scott or Justin Layne, and chose Michigan State over Ohio State.  The reality is the vast majority of these players were not recruited by Ohio State, and Dantonio seems to be able to get those players to truly rise up and play their best against the Buckeyes.  A case in point ~ Spartan quarterback Tyler O'Connor, who came into the starting spot last year, and played well enough to help the Spartans upset the Buckeyes.

Now that I have your attention, below are three areas I will be focusing upon when the game kicks off at 12pm EST on ESPN...
  1. Ohio State's running game vs. Michigan State's rush defense:  Last year, Ohio State inexplicably did not give the ball to Ezekiel Elliott, and it hurt the Buckeyes tremendously.  This year, Ohio State has Mike Weber, Curtis Samuel, and J.T. Barrett in their arsenal to battle the Spartans.  It will bear watching to see if stud defensive lineman Malik McDowell will play against the Buckeyes; McDowell was listed as questionable heading into this contest.
  2. Has Michigan State figured out its offensive woes?  Last week against Rutgers, the Spartans raced out to an early lead, eventually winning against the Scarlet Knights, 49-0.  The aforementioned O'Connor played well, but has battled consistency throughout 2016.  Ohio State was able to sack Maryland's quarterbacks five times last week.  Will the Buckeyes be able to generate the same kind of pass rush against O'Connor?
  3. Will the weather be a factor?  As I write this, the weather forecast is calling for a windy, rainy, and possibly snowy day...eerily, that screams to me of the 2015 contest.  Look for field position to be at a premium, with both teams looking to capitalize upon mistakes by the special teams units.
Prediction:  Mark Dantonio has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by embracing a riverboat gambler mentality against Ohio State.  Knocking Ohio State out of the playoffs would be quite soothing for what has been a disappointing season in East Lansing.  Urban Meyer seems to play closer to the vest against the Spartans, and that could make this game much closer than the Las Vegas oddsmakers are anticipating.  I see this as a slugest, with the Buckeyes slowly pulling away in the fourth quarter.  I have it Ohio State 31, Michigan State 17.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Buckeyes Look To Avoid Being Tripped Up By Terrapins

Fresh off a dominating 62-3 victory over Nebraska, Ohio State travels to College Park, Maryland, to take on the 5-4 Maryland Terrapins.  Maryland, led by first-year head coach D.J. Durkin, is coming home after two straight losses, one of which was to That Team Up North by a score of 59-3.

Durkin faced former boss Jim Harbaugh last week in Ann Arbor, and now gets to face former boss Urban Meyer this week.  When asked about facing Durkin, Meyer replied, "We're all professionals. We all coach our teams and move on.".  Considering the way Meyer and Ohio State responded earlier this season when facing Rutgers and Chris Ash, Durkin probably realizes that Meyer is not going to take his foot off the gas, no matter their previous professional coaching relationship.

Below are three areas I will be focusing upon when the game begins at 3:30pm EST on ESPN...
  1. Will Ohio State Continue Building Its Deep Passing Game?  It was tremendously gratifying to see J.T. Barrett connect with Curtis Samuel on a 75 yard touchdown pass at the beginning of the second half versus Nebraska.  While throwing deep is a lower percentage completion play, the mere threat of it within the Ohio State offense will force opposing defenses to play their safeties back, thus opening up the middle of the field for other playmakers within the Ohio State offense, such as K.J. Hill, Parris Campbell, and Marcus Baugh.
  2. Curtis Samuel As Ohio State's Punt Returner ~ No disrespect to Dontre Wilson, but every time Wilson was back awaiting a punt, it was the very definition of anxious.  Urban Meyer recognized a change should be made to Samuel.  I wonder if anyone else besides Samuel will get opportunities against Maryland.
  3. Playing Time For Joe Burrow ~ With such a commanding lead against Nebraska, J.T. Barrett was done after three quarters, giving backup quarterback Joe Burrow an opportunity to play for the fourth quarter.  As trivial as this may sound, the more playing time Burrow is given, the greater the possibility that the Ohio State coaching staff will be able to use its full playbook, if J.T. Barrett is unable to play down the stretch run.
Prediction:  Maryland is coming off two tough losses, and injuries are starting to mount across their roster.  D.J. Durkin is going to make the Terrapins more competitive, especially with players such as RB Lorenzo Harrison.  Maryland is going to do their very best to keep pace with the Buckeyes, but right now, the Terrapins just do not have the same level of depth or speed that the Buckeyes have.  I am calling it Ohio State 35, Maryland 10.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Buckeyes Look To Show Huskers 'Stripes' Of A Winning Program

Before my prediction on the upcoming game between Nebraska and Ohio State, I want to take a moment to express my disagreement with the recent B1G decision to play football games, beginning with the 2017 season.  High school football is such a staple of life, especially within the state of Ohio, and this decision by Jim Delany and the B1G seems to be spitting in the eyes of high school football coaches and players.

I was able to have productive discussions via Twitter with various college football media members, and below is an example of a conversation that summarized my feelings...I will merely say that as decisions go by Jim Delany, this one makes the ill-fated "Legends and Leaders" divisions look like a genius move.  Major props to programs such as Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin for coming out much more forcefully than Ohio State has with this announcement.

On to Nebraska.  For the first time since 2012, the Cornhuskers will arrive in Ohio Stadium.  Unlike Nebraska's last appearance, Mike Riley will be on the sidelines guiding the Cornhuskers, as Bo Pelini was Nebraska's head coach in the last two battles between Ohio State and Nebraska in 2011 and 2012.

Ohio State was able to get back on the winning track with its 24-21 victory over Northwestern last weekend, but the Buckeyes have been sputtering offensively for the past month.  Ohio State has been able to run the ball, but any semblance of a downfield passing game have not been seen by Buckeye fans.

Ohio State will be unveiling special uniforms for the Nebraska game.  Advertised as honoring the 1916 Ohio State team that featured Buckeye legend Chic Harley, the Buckeyes will look to feed off the night game atmosphere, while also hoping to impress the large contingent of recruits who will be in attendance.

Below are three specific areas I will be concentrating on when this game kicks off at 8pm on ABC ~
  1.  The Nebraska passing game vs the Ohio State secondary:  Critics will point out the inconsistency of Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong, but Armstrong's strong arm and mobility will be a challenge for the Buckeye defense.  Nebraska wide receivers Stanley Morgan, De'Mornay Pierson-El, and Jordan Westerkamp all average better than 14 yards a catch.  Keep a close eye on whichever Buckeye defender is assigned with Westerkamp.  Ohio State struggled last week against Northwestern's Austin Carr; Westerkamp is a comparable player, so it will bear watching if and how Ohio State decides to defend Westerkamp.
  2. The predictability of Ohio State's offense:  Recognizing that I have been making this statement over and over, but will Urban Meyer begin throwing downfield?  Will the Buckeyes quit running J.T. Barrett on third and short yardage plays with the quarterback draw?  Fans actually booed the Ohio State offense late last week against Northwestern - will they boo again if the offense is too easy to defend?
  3. The mystery of Curtis Samuel:  As a hybrid player, Samuel can run or catch the ball within the Ohio State offense.  Fans are wondering why Ohio State seems to struggle involving Samuel sooner within the offensive game plan than the coaching staff has these past few games.  Referring back to point 2, defenses are keying upon Samuel whenever Ohio State attempts a speed option, as Indiana, Wisconsin, and Northwestern were all able to eliminate that play from the Ohio State game plans in recent weeks.
Prediction:  Night games within Ohio Stadium are always a great time for the fans and the players.  The weather forecast for Columbus looks like a beautiful November night, and the Buckeyes will look forward to performing well for a national television audience.  Nebraska will come into Ohio Stadium with tremendous confidence, having battled Wisconsin last week in a close game.  While Ohio State has struggled offensively these past few weeks, the Buckeyes will have too much depth for the Cornhuskers in a raucous Ohio Stadium.  I see it Ohio State 35, Nebraska 20.