It’s time to stretch. Not in the sense of limbering up, although the Frogs need to do that too. Rather, it’s in the sense that Gary Patterson is looking to see where is TCU team is in comparison with one of the best teams in the country.
In preparation for this game we sat down with Matt Tamanini of Land Grant Holy Land, SB Nation’s Ohio State blog, to ask him a few questions about the Buckeyes. A big thanks to him for such thorough answers.
You can also read my answers to his questions here.
Jamie Plunkett: There have obviously been a lot of opportunities for distractions with the dark cloud around Urban Meyer/Zach Smith this offseason. How has the team maintained its focus in the midst of all that stuff?
Matt Tamanini: It’s a vague cliche in sports to talk about a team’s “culture,” but that’s what OSU’s players and coaches have talked about in the weeks since the media blackout surrounding the team was lifted. Whether it was due to injuries dating back to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett going down before and during the national championship season, or star players routinely leaving early for the NFL, this Ohio State program has regularly repeated the “Next Man Up” mantra for years, and in a certain way, that’s how they’ve handled this.
Everyone has claimed that things were more or less business as usual as Ryan Day took over as the interim head coach for training camp. Obviously being without a coach as successful and talented as Urban Meyer is not ideal, but with the help of Greg Schiano and Kevin Wilson— both former head coaches— Day appears to have navigated it fairly well. He has shown himself to be more than capable of being a head coach right now, I just hope that when that eventually happens, that it is in Columbus, and not somewhere else.
I also think that it’s a testament to the players. While I am sure that they all have very strong opinions about what went down, they have been steadfastly focused on their work, and even though their first two games weren’t exactly against top-flight competition, they don’t seem to have missed a beat. I also think that this has given them a bit of a chip on their collective shoulder; an “us vs. the world” mentality.
It’s a little ridiculous, considering that all of the issues have come from within, but all coaches find ways to spin even the smallest of slights into motivational tools, so I’m sure it’s being done here. Even though everyone is publicly stating that Meyer’s suspension has had little effect on the program, I wouldn’t be surprised if it has brought an extra ounce of motivation when everything is said and done.
JP: Everyone knows about Nick Bosa, but Ohio State’s defensive line rolls much deeper than just him. Who are some other names along the line that TCU fans need to know about heading into Saturday?
MT: This is a great point. Back in 2015 when Nick’s brother Joey was playing his final season in Columbus, he got so much attention from opposing offenses– thanks to double and triple teams– that his numbers declined significantly. However, his line-mates reaped the benefits by having a clearer path to the quarterback. We haven’t seen that as much with Nick yet, mainly because he’s only played the first halves of games thus far, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens more as the season progresses.
Anyway, the Buckeye that will likely benefit the most from this is Chase Young, the other defensive end. He is probably even more athletic than Bosa is, but is nowhere near as refined and in control. He was ejected from the Rutgers game for two unsportsmanlike penalties (one for spiking the ball after a sack, the other for running onto the field to celebrate). While that excitement and passion can get him trouble with penalties, it’s also part of what makes him so dangerous. He is quick, he is powerful, and he is raw.
(Here’s a video of one of his sacks against Rutgers, it’s a pretty good example of the type of player he is: https://streamable.com/uzl21)
The other starters on the line will be Dre’Mont Jones and Robert Landers. Both are exceptional interior linemen, and will have their share of sacks and TFLs this season, but when it comes to dominant, game-changing players that should be accounted for at all times, it’s Bosa and Young.
JP: Defensively, Ohio State’s secondary gave up some big passing plays against Oregon State when they were missing Jordan Fuller, but looked much better against Rutgers. What impact does Fuller have on Ohio State’s secondary?
MT: Fuller’s return made a huge difference for the back seven of the defense, not only because he’s the best DB on the team, but because he is also a captain, and the most experienced player in the secondary, so his presence is valuable in a lot of areas.
Over the past three or four years, Ohio State has sent a steady stream of defensive backs into the NFL; part of that is coaching (especially Kerry Coombs who is now on Mike Vrabel’s staff with the Tennessee Titans), and part of that is recruiting. The Buckeyes don’t have a deficiency of talent when it comes to the secondary, but they do have a lack of experience in the defensive backfield. With Fuller out, you had junior corners Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield, who split a starting spot last year, and a handful of sophomores at safety who played sparingly, if at all, last year.
So, just in terms of an attrition battle, having someone who has played as much, and at a high level, as Fuller has been important. In the Rutgers game– and, again, with the caveat that it was against Rutgers– he was able to shut down his side of the field, giving his fellow DBs— not to mention the linebackers— the ability to play a little tighter in man coverage, not afraid that if they got beat, they were all alone.
He also just appears to be a calming influence on the secondary. As the veteran in the room, he brings a leadership that the position group is going to need if it is going to improve enough throughout the season to get to where previous secondaries have been for Ohio State.
JP: TCU has more team speed than Oregon State or Rutgers. While Ohio State doesn’t fit into the stereotype of being a slow Big 10 school, it’s one thing to be fast, it’s another to have to defend it. Do you see TCU’s speed on offense giving Ohio State problems Saturday?
MT: At this point, it goes without saying that for many reasons, offenses in the Big Ten do not look like offenses in the Big 12, and the way that offenses look dictate the way that defenses look. So, I think that both teams have potential advantages because of that, and it will depend on which side makes the most of it. I think that Ohio State has plenty of speed on offense, both from running backs and wide receivers, so I think this mostly applies to OSU’s defense vs. TCU’s offense.
If TCU is able to create opportunities for skill players to get the ball in space, that is where Ohio State’s defense is the most vulnerable. That goes for Shawn Robinson as well. If he sees opportunities to scramble, I would worry about OSU’s linebackers being able to stop him before he gets to the next level of the defense. While that definitely has to do with speed, it also has to do with scheme. If it’s a straight foot race, while the Buckeyes might not win every time, they will keep it close enough to make a play. But, if Gary Patterson can put players in opportunities to have room to move, that’s where it could become problematic for OSU.
This is where the impact of Jordan Fuller comes in. Ohio State’s defense cleaned up their big play problems against Rutgers, but they have yet to face a dual-threat quarterback at all this season, let alone one as athletic as Robinson. So, keeping him contained will be big for the Buckeyes. Also, if he is able to get the ball out quickly, negating the dominant pass rush, that should also give his skill players room to maneuver.
The one thing I will say about speed though is that I think the perception of the big, plodding Big Ten teams is at least partially rooted in about a decade-or-so old view of the conference. While there are certainly still teams that prefer to play the grind-it-out style of football— most notably Wisconsin— since Urban Meyer has come into the league, not only has he changed the recruiting practices at Ohio State, but for everyone else in the B1G as well. Over the past four recruiting cycles (since OSU won the National Championship), Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State have consistently been in the Top 5 or Top 10 in class rankings, with schools like Michigan State, Maryland, and Nebraska knocking on the door.
And, since Ohio State is usually one of the top two or three schools in recruiting rankings and in sending players to the NFL, even if the Big Ten competition isn’t the fastest, the Buckeyes are usually practicing against players with plenty of speed, which might even be more valuable in terms of reps. So, not since Urban Meyer was beating OSU in a national championship game have I worried tremendously at a speed and talent disadvantage for the Buckeyes. However, there is always plenty of other things to worry about.
JP: Dwayne Haskins certainly looks like the real deal two games into the season. What makes him so dangerous, and how should TCU try to knock him off his game Saturday?
MT: I know that this will sound hyperbolic, and more than a little bit like an unhinged fanboy, but Dwayne Haskins quite possibly could be the best passer in the history of Ohio State football. While that is admittedly an outrageous claim to make two games into the season, when you step back and look at it, most of Ohio State’s best quarterbacks— especially of recent vintage— have been more of the run-first variety (Les Horvath, Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor, Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett).
You have to look at someone like Art Schlichter in a different era in the late 1970s/early 1980s, or Joe Germaine in his junior season in 1998 to find anyone who can even compare to Haskins’ ability, and even then, I don’t think it’s close. Granted he’s only started two game this season— and he didn’t really play in the second half of either game—, but he played a decent amount last year, including leading a comeback in Ann Arbor for an injured Barrett, so he’s not starting the season completely green.
The difference that has been obvious with him compared to other Buckeye quarterbacks is not only his arm strength, but his accuracy as well. In the 2014 postseason run, and the ensuing mess to start the 2015 season, Cardale Jones showed an incredibly powerful arm, but after receivers like Michael Thomas and Devin Smith left for the NFL, it was painfully obvious that without elite pass-catchers to make up for his errant throws, more often than not, Jones was just throwing the ball deep and hoping for the best.
That has not been the case with Haskins. In Week 1 against Oregon State, the Beaver defense was giving him the underneath routes, so he took advantage of that, leading receivers on crossing routes, allowing them to catch the ball in stride and turn up field. Against Rutgers, who playing more man coverage, he was able to find opportunities to throw receivers open.
For example, on his first touchdown against Rutgers, not only did he throw a seemingly effortless 46-yard ball to Johnnie Dixon in the end zone, but he also dropped it into Dixon’s arms perfectly. Those types of passes are not things that Buckeye fans are used to seeing… at least not from Ohio State quarterbacks. (Video of that TD: https://streamable.com/x69o0)
So, while I am sure that his stats will come back down to earth a bit when he plays better teams like TCU, Penn State, etc., he has the skills to be really special.
However, since he is less of a running threat than many of his predecessors, the most likely way to get to him is to get in his face. Haskins is probably accurately described as a throw-first, dual-threat quarterback, but he’s not going to beat you with his legs. He has two rushes this season for a total of 24 yards, and they were both scrambles. So, while he can run when need be, he is much more comfortable throwing the ball. Both last season and so far this year, he has proven to be a remarkably adept decision-maker, especially when given time, so I think there are a lot of questions still to be answered about how he will hold up against a pass-rush that disrupts his timing.
JP: Prediction time - what do you think happens on Saturday?
MT: I think that TCU finds opportunities to gash the Buckeye defense, but that OSU gets enough stops to win. On the other side of the ball, I think that Haskins has just too many playmakers to be kept out of the endzone, so I am going to go with Ohio State 41, TCU 24. I also predict at least one muffed punt turnover for OSU, setting up the Horned Frogs for one of their scores.