We will have two Q&As for you this week, as we were able to talk Advocare Classic with two exceptional blogs covering Ohio State. First up is Dan Hope of Eleven Warriors, one of the biggest team blogs in the land.
Dan knows Ohio State as well as anyone, and, let’s just say - he’s pretty confident in his 2-0 team taking it to the Horned Frogs in Arlington. Let’s dive in.
FOW: Ohio State has played a couple of “Power Five” teams to open the season, but neither Oregon State or Rutgers presented much of a challenge. What have you gleaned about the 2018 Buckeyes from these early contests, if anything?
Dan Hope: Well, Ohio State’s offense has certainly stood out, scoring 129 total points and accumulating 1,300 total yards in those first two games. New starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins has more than lived up to the hype, and the rest of the offense around him has looked great, too, both in the passing and running game. Certainly, the competition hasn’t been overly challenging, but there’s still a different look and feel to the Buckeyes’ offense that suggests it will be one of the best offenses in the country all year long.
Ohio State’s defensive line has more than lived up to the hype, too – again, the competition hasn’t been particularly tough, but it still appears obvious that Nick Bosa, Dre’Mont Jones and company are going to cause problems for opposing offenses all year long. The rest of the defense played much better against Rutgers than it did against Oregon State, but that could have had more to do with the Scarlet Knights’ lack of ability on offense than anything else, so it’s too early to draw any conclusions about the linebackers and secondary yet.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Ohio State hasn’t shown any signs whatsoever of being distracted or hampered by the suspension of Urban Meyer. With acting head coach Ryan Day and an experienced group of assistant coaches leading the charge, it’s felt like business as usual for the Buckeyes on the field, inspiring confidence that they will be among the top national championship contenders this year.
FOW: Dwayne Haskins is the next in line of a long lineage of successful quarterbacks in Columbus... based on what you have seen so far, what makes him different/special than the guys who preceded him?
DH: Haskins might very well be the best pure passer that Ohio State has ever had, or at least in the past couple decades. That feels like a hyperbolic statement after just two starts, but while the Buckeyes have had many successful quarterbacks over the years – with Troy Smith and J.T. Barrett being the two most prominent recent exampls that come to mind – most of them have not been elite-level passers that go on to be early-round NFL draft picks. Haskins, however, absolutely appears to have those traits, showing an ability to throw the deep ball with accuracy and complete passes into tight windows that will make pro scouts salivate. The trade-off, compared to most of Ohio State’s other recent quarterbacks, is he isn’t much of a running threat. But his ability to stretch the field vertically as a passer is helping open to up the running game for Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins.
FOW: Tate Martell has also played some, and Ryan Day spoke highly of him after the Rutgers win. Do you expect to continue to see both QBs play, or was that happening strictly because of the scoreboard?
DH: Truthfully, that’s one of the biggest questions I have going into Saturday’s game. Day (and Meyer before his suspension) have consistently said that the plan is to play Martell, but they’ve also been consistently vague about how much he’ll play. Personally, I think the Buckeyes should stick with Haskins in close games as long as he keeps playing as well as he has so far this season, because there’s no reason to mess with a good thing going. My hunch, though, is that the Buckeyes will find a way to continue involving Martell in the offense – even if it’s only for a few plays in some games – because he brings a very different skill set to the position as an athletic running threat, and they will want to force defenses to prepare for the challenges of facing both quarterbacks. Meyer also has a known affinity for having a quarterback running element in his offense, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Martell’s role grows once he returns from suspension – no matter how well Haskins plays.
FOW: What adjustments did you see the defense make between Oregon State and Rutgers? How do you expect the front to handle the Horned Frogs run game – one that features three very capable backs that have a mix of size and speed?
DH: The biggest difference from the Oregon State game to the Rutgers game is that there weren’t any defensive plays in which the Buckeyes clearly busted and gave up big plays. While the Buckeyes gave up 31 points and 392 yards to Oregon State, 82 percent of those yards came on seven plays of 20+ yards. Against the Scarlet Knights, they didn’t give up any plays of more than 15 yards. Whether that was a result of playing better defense or worse competition, though, I’m not sure. It was probably a combination of both, but either way, the Buckeyes will face a much tougher test this Saturday.
Up front, I expect Ohio State’s defensive line to control the matchup with TCU’s offensive line. The question I have, however, is whether the linebackers and defensive backs will make the plays they need to make on the rare occasions that the Horned Frogs’ backs are able to break into the second level of the defense. My guess: the Horned Frogs will break off two or three big runs, but otherwise, they’ll be stopped within two or three yards of the line of scrimmage on most plays.
FOW: The Frogs have a young QB and a relatively inexperienced offensive line. The Buckeyes have one of the best defensive players in the country. But Nick Bosa is just one man, and it’s certainly a talented front across the board. How will Ohio State look to exploit this matchup?
DH: The problem with double- or triple-teaming Bosa, which most opponents try to do, is that the Buckeyes have a multitude of defensive linemen – some of whom don’t even start – who tend to win more often than not when they’re single-teamed. Chase Young gives the Buckeyes another elite talent at defensive end opposite Bosa, while Dre’Mont Jones and Robert Landers are disruptive interior defensive linemen. The Buckeyes also have deep rotations across the defensive line, which helps keep the top players fresh, and their backups are capable of blowing up plays in the backfield too. So I’d expect Ohio State to have plenty of success getting after the quarterback on Saturday. The question will be whether they remain disciplined enough to avoid being exposed for big plays when Robinson decides to tuck and run the ball.
FOW: Based on the first two games, do you see an area where TCU might have an advantage when it comes to the matchups?
DH: I don’t see any clear-cut advantages for TCU, but one matchup I’m really interested to watch is that between Ohio State’s offensive line and TCU’s defensive line. The Buckeyes’ offensive line has been excellent in their first two games this season, but they haven’t really been tested, and they have two new starters – Thayer Munford at left tackle and Malcolm Pridgeon at left guard – while Michael Jordan is in his first year playing center. And I think TCU’s defensive line is talented enough to expose any flaws that the Buckeyes might have in that offensive line.
FOW: Give me one player on each side of the ball that TCU fans should know, but may not be as familiar with, and tell us why they might be the key to victory?
DH: An unheralded but important player on offense is K.J. Hill. While he’s not one of the most gifted receivers in Ohio State’s six-deep receiver rotation, he tends to be a security blanket out of the slot when Haskins need to check down and make a short or intermediate pass – which I think TCU’s defensive line will force him to do more than the Buckeyes’ first two opponents did. Other receivers like Austin Mack and Parris Campbell offer more big-play ability, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Hill ends up leading the Buckeyes in catches on Saturday.
Defensively, Jordan Fuller is a key player at safety whose importance to Ohio State’s defense was certainly noticeable in the first two games, as he missed the Oregon State game with a hamstring injury before returning for the Rutgers game. He’s the only experienced player the Buckeyes have at the position, and a really good talented who plays a crucial role in patrolling the back end and preventing big plays. His contributions might not necessarily jump off the screen, but the Buckeyes need to have to be at his best to keep the TCU offense in check on Saturday.
FOW: And finally... how do you think this game plays out? Ohio State wins if... TCU wins if... and your score prediction.
DH: If Ohio State can play up to its ability on both sides of the ball, I believe the Buckeyes will win this game, and they could win it comfortably. When Haskins is passing the ball efficiently and the offensive line is opening up holes for Dobbins and Weber to hit, the Buckeyes’ offense is tough to stop. And if Ohio State’s defensive line is firing on all cylinders, I believe they will be able to put heavy pressure on Shawn Robinson and force him to make mistakes.
That said, this is Haskins’ first game away from home as Ohio State’s starting quarterback. It’s also Day’s first game away from home as the Buckeyes’ acting head coach. And it’s by far the toughest test that the Buckeyes have faced all year. Ohio State still has to prove that they can handle those variables without Meyer – and without experienced players from last year like Barrett – and if they aren’t ready for the bright lights and fall into a hole, the Horned Frogs will have a chance.
Ohio State is the more talented football team, though, and the Buckeyes really haven’t shown any reason to be concerned about their ability to handle the spotlight. I expect TCU to hit some big plays, but I don’t think the Horned Frogs will have a consistent answer for Ohio State’s offense or defensive line. My final score prediction: Ohio State 42, TCU 24.