Countdown To THE GAME 2014

Friday, October 24, 2014

2014 OSU Football ~ Buckeyes @ Nittany Lions Will Be "Happening" Valley

Ever since the loss to Virginia Tech on September 6th, Ohio State has been rolling offensively.  Proof?  Ohio State has averaged 56 points a game over its last four opponents (Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland, and Rutgers).  Granted, none of those opponents are considered to be college football juggernauts, but it would be fair to state that Ohio State has exorcised the demons (I figured Halloween is right around the corner, so why not be a little colorful with the analogies?) that plagued them as the 2014 college football season began.

Conversely, Penn State seems to be going in the opposite direction.  Penn State began the season with a stirring last second victory over Central Florida (26-24) in the season opener, and the Nittany Lions concluded the first month of the season with a 4-0 record.  The positive momentum was surprisingly blunted by visiting Northwestern (27-6), then Penn State lost at Michigan (18-13).  Considering Penn State had a bye that preceded its visit to Ann Arbor, and still lost to a struggling Michigan team, had to be disconcerting to Penn State coaches, players, and fans.  For what it is worth, Penn State is coming into this game with Ohio State off another bye week.

Here are the three areas I will concentrate upon as the kickoff begins at 8pm EST on ABC:

1.  Can Penn State's Defense Slow Down Ohio State's Offense?  - Penn State's defense has been keeping the team in games, ranking 6th in the country at points allowed (average 15 points a game).  The strength of the Penn State defense is the run defense, while Ohio State prides itself on a powerful running game.  With those statistics in mind, keep in mind that these are the opponents Penn State has played up until this point - Central Florida, Akron, Rutgers, Massachusetts, Northwestern, and Michigan.  Penn State defeated Rutgers 13-10, largely behind five interceptions of Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova; Ohio State just thrashed Rutgers 56-17.

2.  Will Penn State's Offensive Line Be Able To Protect Christian Hackenberg?  - Even Penn State coaches and fans recognized going into the 2014 season that the Penn State offensive line was the decided weak link of the team.  It would be generous to say that Penn State has struggled to run the ball; Penn State ranks 121st in the country at rushing the ball.  Against Michigan, Christian Hackenberg was continually under siege.  Ohio State's defensive line, led by stalwart Joey Bosa, may be extremely difficult to slow down, let alone stop.  Will Penn State head coach James Franklin move Hackenberg out of the pocket in order to keep the Ohio State defensive line in check?

3.  Ohio State Gets A Sizable Lead; Send In The Backups? - As stated up above, Ohio State has averaged 56 points a game over its last four victories.  While it has been rewarding to witness the continuing maturation and development of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, it has also been somewhat disappointing that the Ohio State coaching staff has not been giving backup players such as backup quarterback Cardale Jones more playing time.  Perhaps I am concerning myself too much on possible negative consequences, but Jones is literally only one play away from having to run the Ohio State offense, yet has had little to no playing time this season.  Will Ohio State play its backups and rest its starters if the Buckeyes get a commanding lead over Penn State?

Penn State Head Coach James Franklin will be using the night game atmosphere to his advantage, relying upon the 106,000 fans in Beaver Stadium to impact and disrupt Ohio State with as much noise as possible.  As stated up above, Penn State had a bye weekend, so perhaps Coach Franklin has figured out a few things that will keep Ohio State off balance defensively this game.  Then again, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas have installed the Buckeyes as 13.5 point favorites, and I always believe there is a reason why there are new buildings and casinos continually being built out there by these individuals.  I have it Ohio State 56, Penn State 17.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Buckeyes Prepare For First Rumble Against Rutgers

Rutgers University is off to a surprising 5-1 start to its 2014 season.  With a surprising victory in the first week over Washington State, an inspiring victory at Navy, and a scrappy victory in its first B1G contest against Michigan, Rutgers is poised to make the second half of its inaugural season as a member of The B1G Conference quite successful.

While Ohio State has been established as a strong favorite (Ohio State is close to a 20 point favorite), it would be wise for Ohio State fans to not necessarily count this game as being a sure thing.  One need only reminisce back to the second week of the season, when Virginia Tech entered Ohio Stadium as an underdog, only to be rejoicing happily upon the conclusion of that game.  Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer will certainly be emphasizing the "don't be cocky" theme to his well-rested squad this entire week.  Both Rutgers and Ohio State come into this contest off a bye week.

The three primary areas of concern I have for this game are as follows:

1.  How Will Ohio State Handle A Strong Rutgers Pass Rush? - While undersized by traditional B1G standards for defensive lines, Rutgers has strong pass rushers led by Darius Hamilton and Kemoko Turay.  Turay was the player responsible for blocking the Michigan field goal that culminated in the Rutgers victory over the Wolverines.  While the Ohio State offensive line has been improving since the struggles versus Virginia Tech, will the Buckeyes be able to adequately protect QB J.T. Barrett against what should be a blitzing Scarlet Knights pass rush?

2.  Will Ohio State Be Able To Pressure Rutgers QB Gary Nova? - Nova has improved tremendously this season under the tutelage of new Rutgers offensive coordinator/QB coach Ralph Friedgen.  Friedgen is a veteran college and NFL coach, who may have some tricks up his sleeve to help Nova with what promises to be a fearsome Ohio State pass rush, led by DE Joey Bosa.  Will Ohio State be able to pressure Nova into mistakes, as Penn State was able to in what turned out to be the only loss for Rutgers this season?

3.  Will Ohio State Be Able To Run The Ball Offensively? - The improvement of the Ohio State offense since the Virginia Tech has coincided with the emergence of sophomore RB Ezekiel Elliott as Ohio State's primary ball carrier.  While undersized, look for Rutgers to stack the box against Ohio State.  Will Ohio State be able to capitalize upon this strategy if Rutgers pursues it?

Even with all of my concerns, I believe Ohio State is starting to find its rhythm both offensively and defensively.  The improvement along both lines of scrimmage, as well as within the secondary, will be too much for a talented Rutgers team making its first visit to Ohio Stadium.  This game should be close until the second half, but Ohio State has too much size and speed for Rutgers to keep pace with the Buckeyes.  I have it Ohio State 42, Rutgers 21.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

25 Years Ago Today: The Great Trade Robbery (video link)

Twenty-five years ago today, then-Dallas head coach Jimmy Johnson orchestrated one of the best trades in NFL history.  I remember being in college, watching then-Browns owner Art Modell on an NFL pre-game show expressing interest in trading for Herschel Walker.  Considering how badly Johnson fleeced the Minnesota Vikings, the Browns were tremendously lucky.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Grading 2014 Ohio State Football, At The Bye

While I agree with Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer that having a bye week at this point in the season is not necessarily wanted or welcomed by the coaches, players, or fans, it does provide an opportunity to assess how Ohio State is doing after the first third of the season.  (Technically, Ohio State was at the 1/3 point after the Cincinnati game, but this bye weekend gives me a chance to evaluate the team, without an opponent to preview against.).  Let us begin with the various position groups:

  • Quarterbacks:  A solid 'B', but could rise to an 'A' by the conclusion of the season.  Redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett was unenviably thrown into the starting position when projected starter Braxton Miller's shoulder injury was season-ending.  Barrett struggled immensely against Virginia Tech in week two, but has had three straight sterling performances versus Kent State, Cincinnati, and Maryland.  Will Barrett be able to continue his strong play as Ohio State continues B1G competition for the remainder of the season?  Cardale Jones has played sparingly as a backup so far this season.

  • Running Backs:  B+.  Ezekiel Elliott has seized the starting position, and looks to be in the Carlos Hyde mold of being able to wear an opposing defense down.  Senior Rod Smith figures to be a complimentary player for the remainder of his Ohio State career.  Coach Meyer has praised Bri'onte Dunn as being worthy of more playing time.  True freshman Curtis Samuel is presently battling an ankle injury.  The coaching staff seems to have concluded that Dontre Wilson is best used as a perimeter player running the ball; the same for Jalin Marshall.  Warren Ball has battled injuries this season, and gets little playing time.

  • Wide Receivers:  B-.  This position group is kind of a mixed bag.  The talent is there, but has not established itself on a consistent basis.  Michael Thomas, Corey Smith, Evan Spencer, Devin Smith, Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson - all play, yet none have seized the starting positions with a commanding performance.  Senior TE Jeff Heuerman has battled injuries, but may have turned the corner.  Nick Vannett has also played capably this season.

  • Offensive Line:  B+.  Considering where this group started, how the players were being mixed in and out of the lineup, with inconsistent results...This offensive line may be the most pleasant surprise on the team.  Losing four starters, and moving the only returning starter with Taylor Decker to left tackle, meant the offensive line was completely unsettled and incohesive.  The offensive line is only going to get better by the season's end.  Senior Darryl Baldwin has been singled out by Coach Meyer for his continuing development at right tackle.  Jacoby Boren has taken a firm grasp of the starting center position.

  • Defensive Line:  B-.  Joey Bosa is staring down a first team All-American selection after this season.  The suspension of Noah Spence has hurt Ohio State's pass rush.  Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington, and the combo of Steve Miller/Rashad Frazier have played well, but have not been nearly as dominant as expected by the fan base.  An opportunity to dominate the opposition looms when the Buckeyes travel to Penn State on October 25th.

  • Linebackers:  B.  True freshman Raekwon McMillan may have clinched the starting middle linebacker position by the season's end.  Darron Lee was the player of the game in the season opener versus Navy.  Joshua Perry has been relatively quiet on the playmaking front.  Will this group be able to step up with physical rushing opponents such as Michigan State and Minnesota on the horizon?

  • Secondary:  C.  A true work in progress.  While improving, this is the weak area of the team.  How much of it is scheme, and how much of it is personnel?  Eli Apple may have turned a corner, no pun intended, with his performance at Maryland last weekend.  This position group may improve with better performances at Penn State and Indiana.

  • Special Teams Units:  B+.  True freshman Sean Nuernberger has been better after two missed field goals against Virginia Tech in the second game of the season.  Will Nuernberger be able to come through if needed to make a game winner?  Cameron Johnston is quietly reliable at the punting position.  Coach Meyer stresses the importance of special teams as being a gateway to playing time, and the coverage units have been solid.

Conclusion:  If 2014 Ohio State football were a stock, this would be a solid buy acquisition.  Ohio State should be 7-1 heading up to East Lansing, MI, for what should be a B1G East Division elimination game.  "Should be" does not mean "will be", especially after Virginia Tech came into Ohio Stadium and defeated the Buckeyes in week two of the season.  If Ohio State can defeat a very good Michigan State team in front of a national television audience, it is not far-fetched for Ohio State to possibly emerge as a playoff participant.

Ohio State Video