Know Thy Enemy: More Than You May Need To Know About The Ohio State Buckeyes

CN went all out this week and got not one, not two, but three Ohio State web sites to respond for this week's Q&A about our new enemy, the Ohio State Buckeyes. This one is so large there's no opening photo. WoohoO! Seriously, though, there's a wealth of information about Ohio State below. 

Ian Cuevas joins us from Inside the Shoe (ITS), which he started in October of 2009. He counts as his influence other OSU sites such as Eleven Warriors and Buckeye Battle Cry. Ian started the site for the same reason most people do - wanting to reach out to fans, share his opinions, although he said nothing about attracting more women. 

Jason Priestas joins us from Eleven Warriors. Jason founded 11W in 2006, apparently for much of the same reason I started Corn Nation - our wives were tired of hearing us talk about football, and we realized that in order to keep sane all that BS had to go somewhere else. 11W has a huge staff. Really. 

Ross Fulton joins us from the SB Nation Ohio State site, Along the Olentangy. ATO was started last year by Ross and Tyler Thomas, two 'insiders' from OhioState.Scout.com. Their focus is the strategic analysis of OSU football... and honestly, they don't do too badly with Nebraska football either. 

There has been a lot of adversity with Ohio State this year. It's easy to hear about that in the media. What I want to know is what good things have happened this year?

ITS: The reason you haven't really heard a lot of good things is because...well, there aren't many good things to say. Of course, having ESPN report most of the stories on Ohio State doesn't help, what with so-called analysts such as Mark May, and Jason Whitlock (Who, if you don't know, predicted and bet his reputation on Texas beating Ohio State in 2006. No, really.) Things like this are why you hear nothing but bad from Ohio State. Of course, there have to be some good things coming out of all this, and there are.

Reason #1: The experience for these younger players that are getting playing time due to the veteran Tat Five (Minus Terrelle Pryor) being suspended, is tremoundus. While Braxton Miller, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Carlos Hyde and company may not be at the top of their games right now (managed only 1 touchdown combined for the Miami game and the Michigan State game), can you imagine the experience they will have even as juniors? This will be a great team if the NCAA doesn't give them the dreaded Death Penalty, with bowl bans, etc.

Reason #2: Recruiting. Recruiting has not been deeply affected, at least, not yet. When Jim Tressel was with the program, we would have had more top recruits looking at us, but the interest is still there, even in these down times. There are also signs pointing to a couple of star recruits (Se'Von Pittman, Adolphus Washington) that could end up in the Ohio State roster at some point.

Reason #3: Buckeye fans are spoiled, and we finally have seen why. There, I've said and admitted what most people seem to disagree with. A lot of hate was given towards Tressel's close to the vest-type playcalling which included the punt as the most important play in the playbook, which ironically, IS the most important now. Even though it may have seemed "boring" at some points in games, you can't deny Tressel's success. Even with the player suspensions, you could make an argument that Tressel would have this squad at 5-0 right now. Buckeye fans now know that they were spoiled, and are missing it badly. The clamoring for big names such as Urban Meyer, and Jon Gruden are very common amongst Buckeye fans simply because it happened in 2000 as well, when John Cooper was headed out.

11W: It's really difficult to see the silver lining right now, but it's out there. Ohio State still has plenty of talent and though it's young talent, the youth are getting quality playing time. Most of that is because of suspensions, but this team has also been hit with a double whammy of injuries.

I think the lows of this year have also reminded fans that success is not exactly a birthright. Woody Hayes once said "There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you," and there's a lot of truth in that. The younger members of the fanbase know nothing but Big Ten titles and contention for national championships. It's good sometimes to be reminded of all of the work (and luck) that's involved in achieving those goals.

Finally, the poor showing on the field could lead to a house-cleaning on the staff and within the administration, which would please a lot of fans looking for better leadership at the top and innovation on offense.

ATO: This is a tough question after a horrific offensive performance against Michigan State.  One bright spot is that Ohio State has demonstrated that they have a terrific freshman class.  In other words, OSU still has a lot of talent on this team, which will make turning things around far easier once the potential NCAA are finalized than it has been, say for Michigan.  I think it has also demonstrated how great a coach Jim Tressel was to have OSU win year after year no matter how much talent OSU had returning.  

What are your expectations for Ohio State for the rest of the year? When does the ship get righted?

ITS: By far the toughest thing about being honest to your team (or maybe pessimistic, I can't tell now-a-days) is giving a prediction. I'll say that Ohio State drops games to Nebraska, Illinois, and Wisconsin steam-rolls us, putting us at a dumbfounding 3-5 record. The loss to Illinois would be close, and I think Ohio State could pull it out, but not unless I see improvement in execution, and of course, better play-calling (yeah, like that will happen).

Moving on, the Buckeyes start turning things around with 2 straight wins against Indiana at home and on the road at Purdue. I think even in the horrid condition that OSU is in right now, by that team I have to hope that things are at least making sense in the offense, and the defense continues to play well. The season ends with games vs. Penn State and at Ann Arbor for THE Game. I think Penn State is a manageable win, but if you thought the Michigan State game was bad, prepared for a 3-0 win over the Nittany Lions as both offense's cannot score. Simple as that.

That leaves Michigan, and coming into the game, the Buckeyes should be at a 6-5, 7-5 record (Really can't decide if the Buckeyes can pull the upset over Illinois). Michigan, on the other hand will be at home, with I predict a record of 11-1. Their one loss will most likely come to @Iowa or Nebraska, though which, at this point, I have no clue. I really don't know if OSU could pull that big of an upset over the Wolverines, with this team being so green and the coaching staff looking awful. I can't say they lose either, because who says Denard lasts all the way through B1G season without getting banged up again? If he's 100% healthy, fine, I'll give them the nod (even though our defense might be a true counter to Robinson). If not, it's possible to win.

Final Prediction: 7-5, some lower-tier bowl game (OTE predicted Meinke Car Care Bowl. Sounds about right)

11W: At this point, we're all just looking for improvement on the field and something to look forward to next season. We're facing a potential 0-4 November and this team may have to fight to get to 6-6, so anything above that is a bonus.

With the NCAA cloud still looming, it's difficult to get excited for recruiting, but I think a search for a new coach will bring the excitement and anxiety associated with that process.

ATO:  Honestly, my thoughts on this issue depend a lot about what happens against Nebraska.  Not that I expect OSU to win either way, but I have to see some demonstration that the offensive coaching staff identifies why the offense performed so badly against Michigan State (insert shameless self promotion to check out my analysis of that game at AlongtheOlentangy.com), namely settling on an offensive identity and using constraint plays to prevent defenses from cheating backside players and defensive backs against the run game. 

For a very specific thing I'm looking for, watch for this during the game:  When OSU runs lead run plays from the I, watch Nebraska's backside DE.  Is he crashing down and making tackles from behind during the game?  If so, does OSU do anything to take advantage of that over-aggressiveness?  Michigan St. absolutely exploited OSU on this.  If Nebraska is able to do the same with impunity, then Ohio State's offensive coaches without Tressel are absolutely hopeless and the season is a wash.  If they handle this issue better, then there is some hope that OSU can improve.  

Who's the coach next year for Ohio State?

ITS: Urban Meyer is, without a doubt, the favorite for Buckeye fans and the media everywhere. Of course, Meyer had already released a statement earlier this year, saying that he would not be going anywhere, because he enjoys being with ESPN. I think he might end up at Ohio State, if Fickell can't pull some sort of magic trick.

Luke Fickell is still on the job. Keep in mind he had no choice but to bring back Jim Tressel's staff, and that includes Jim Bollman. If Fickell can somehow persuade the management to keep him, as long as he hires an outstanding offensive coordinator (See: Gus Malzahn) then Fickell may be able to stay on in his "dream job". That all being said, I think the Buckeyes will have Urban Meyer at the helm next season. Hopefully.

11W: Right now, Urban Meyer seems to be the choice of most fans. He and his wife are from Ohio, he spent time at Ohio State as a GA (where he met some of his staff that he later put togethre in Gainesville) and he absolutely loves the Buckeyes. His wife, Shelley, is not a fan of cold weather, but Ohio State, Notre Dame and strangely, Michigan, are the three schools she cannot veto.

Aside from Meyer, we're lucky that a lot of coaches have ties to Ohio. Bob Stoops, Bo Pelini, Jon Gruden, Josh McDaniels, Mark Dantonio, Gary Pinkel and Les Miles, among others, were all born here, while Nick Saban played his college ball at Kent State. That's not to say that all of those guys are in play, but having ties to coaches across the country cannot hurt.

While most are expecting a big name to come in, I don't think we can assume that. Before Jim Tressel was hired, the hot names in the search were Gruden and Oregon's Mike Bellotti. The Tressel hiring miffed a large segment of the fanbase, but that worked out pretty well.

ATO Urban Meyer (see a trend here).  In all seriousness, with Meyer it all really comes down to is he ready to return to coaching.  To me, there is no doubt Meyer wants to coach again.  And as pointed out above, he has all kinds of OSU ties, and OSU is a great spot for any coach simply because you have a great in-state recruiting base and no in-state rival.  So Meyer will basically get to choose.

Because of that recruiting base and tradition, OSU will have plenty of coaches looking at the situation.  It's a pretty safe bet that Luke Fickell will not be back, because he has demonstrated he's simply not ready for this level of head coaching.

Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor: Do you do it all over again knowing what you know now?

ITS: Oh man, loaded question there. I think Tressel is an outstanding coach, but an even better human being. Terrelle Pryor's freakish athleticism and dominance are already showing how missed they are in Columbus. Whether or not I would want it to happen again is no, because this is still affecting OSU in the middle of their season, and could have even more repercussions as we move forward. I think Tressel should have stayed away from Pryor, even though his success is obvious on the field, and if you think about it, a great season (12-1, B1G Co-Champions, Sugar Bowl win, first win over SEC in bowl game) was erased because of this whole situation, taking a bit away from the awesome things Pryor did on the field.

11W: Without a doubt, I'd do the Jim Tressel thing all over again. He made a pretty big mistake, but so did Woody Hayes when he slugged Clemson's Charlie Bauman in the Gator Bowl. His winning (highlighted by his dominance of Michigan), fundraising and community work far outweigh the mistake and he will be remembered fondly by most Buckeye fans. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see him back, dotting the "I" at halftime of a home game in about a decade.

Pryor is a little bit trickier. He was a spectacular talent and won a lot of games, but, as we're finding out, was also quite a toxic influence on the rest of the team. In hindsight, I'd take a pass and hope that he'd bring the Wolverines the same pain we are receiving.

ATOYes, because who could have known this would happen.  Tressel was a great coach and person.  He was put in a terrible situation by being told by an attorney about a confidential federal investigation, and he made the choice to not disclose it.  In the end, it was the wrong choice and he paid for it with his job, but he made a mistake and it does not lessen the positive impact he had upon many college athletes. 

As to Pryor, I would pretty much echo Jason's comments above.  This situation has also demonstrated, however, how talented and under-appreciated Pryor was as a football player.  Pryor stepped on the field as a true freshman and led OSU to a co-big Ten Championship and Fiesta Bowl.  Given the struggles that another talented freshman, Braxton Miller, has had, I woudl say that is pretty impressive. 

Ohio State has had more suspensions this week. They were suppose to get back all of their suspended players for the Nebraska game. What is the status of suspended players for this weekends game and how much does it hurt the team in this game?

ITS: In a rush:

- Five Ohio State players were under investigation for receiving more money than they were owed for part-time jobs.

- Only 4 players were found guilty, including Melvin Fellows, Marcus Hall, Daniel "Boom" Herron, and DeVier Posey.

- These 4 players are suspended indefinitely, but Fellows, Hall and Herron received the same amounts of money that have been suspended for 2 games, previous to before this whole NCAA ordeal.

So, basically, these players have received enough money to earn themselves 2 more games of suspension, counting this one. While nothing has been ruled yet, it may be that they serve more than this, as they are repeat offenders. The loss of Marcus Hall (an offensive lineman starter) will be pretty big, but I can't really say so for the others. We've been without their services for this long, and while Posey's routes and cuts would have been nice for some separation, I doubt he's good enough to make a difference to win the game against Nebraska. The effect is minimal for the most part, but the fact that they still cannot be on the field is a bit of an annoyance, as I'm sure Fickell and the staff were planning on incorporating some plays for singling out Posey.

11W: Melvin Fellows, Marcus Hall, DeVier Posey and Boom Herron are all out this week, with the potential for further games, particularly in Posey's case because of the amount of money he was overpaid for his summer work and the fact that he's a repeat violator.

Of these four, Posey by far hurts the most because the receiving corps was already young and struggling without him and news broke earlier this week that starter Verlon Reed is out for the season with a knee injury.

Melvin Fellows is on a medical hardship this season, so no impact there and while Boom would help in the backfield and on the leadership front, Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde have proben they can pick up the slack running the ball.

Hall had played well at guard this year, but with Mike Adams, an all-league tackle returning, this gives the staff some flexibility to move bodies along the line.

The end result is Ohio State is functioning at the same capacity it was for the previous five games, which is to say, decent on defense, but not so hot on offense.

ATO: To start with who is back, getting Mike Adams back at left tackle would obviously be a huge help to any team.  He is a legit 1st rounder as a left tackle, so they do not come along very often, at one of the two most important offensive positions.  It will make OSU's offensive line much stronger.  Marcus Hall has definitely been the weakest link on the offensive line (he was already ceding more and more playing time), and Andrew Norwell has been moved to Guard from Left Tackle with Adams' return, so his suspension will not have a large impact.  Getting Soloman Thomas back will help the defensive pass rush.  With Nate Williams and Soloman Thomas out, Ohio State has not generated a lot of pass rush from the weakside DE, and has often resorted  to playing four interior defensive linemen.

As for the guys who are suspended, obviously Posey and Boom Herron being out hurts a lot.  You are not only taking away tons of production, but guys that would have been leaders on the team.  Posey is the only reliable receiving threat, and having Posey and Boom along with Jordan Hall would start to give OSU's offense some playmakers and options.

Let's continue with that and focus on the upcoming game. Mike Adams is returning to the offensive line, and with him a lot of experience. Ohio State's offense has been rather brutal, currently ranked 108th nationally, 54th in rushing and 111th in passing. Would you attribute that to missing skill players, an under performing line, lousy quarterback play, or what?

ITS: I think the missing skill players has some to do with it. Our receivers are very young, and haven't been able to get much separation against true D-1 defense's, and our offensive line is truly offensive at this point. The addition of Mike Adams will be so helpful, that I hope he steps in as a leader, despite the feelings towards him and the rest of the Tat Five. Jim Bollman happens to run the offensive line, as well as being the offensive coordinator. Not coincidentally, both subjects have been awful, and Buckeye fans are calling for his head. Fire Jim Bollman has come online, as well as some clever Craigslist posts. Once it goes to Craigslist, you know it's got to be that bad.

Having Joe Bauserman in at quarterback will surely make your defensive coordinator smile. He is simply not capable of doing anything except being sacked (Like a Baus). Braxton Miller has to be the guy, not only for development, but because even if he didn't show it in the MSU game, Miller is a weapon on his feet, and I know he can throw the ball. The offensive play-calling is killing any shot of Braxton trying to make a play. The Spartan's defense at one point stacked it seemed nine men in the box, and we decided to run up the gut. Except, that wasn't one play, that was EVERY play. We passed when they were in pass defense, and rushed when they brought everybody.

11W: Adams will help a little bit, but with Hall out, that's kind of a push, really. What's hurt Ohio State the most has been a lack of a passing game. With Pryor's early departure, the team was left with a career backup (Bauserman) that would likely struggle to start for a MAC team and a talented freshman (Miller) that's not anywhere near ready yet.

Compounding that, the receivers are all green and with Posey out (likely for the rest of the season), they will be learning on the job. Throw in terrible offensive gameplans and you have a recipe for disaster.

I joked recently about merging the Michigan defense of 2010 with this offense and you pretty much have the worst college football team of all time. Sad, but true.

ATO Sometime's the easiest answer is the right one.  OSU was supposed to have a returning All Big Ten QB who was a 3-year starter and a Heisman Trophy candidate, and all Big Ten players at tailback, wide receiver, and left tackle.  None of those people have played, and that quarterback is not walking back through the door.  On top of that, OSU's No. 2 WR, Corey Brown, has been hurt, and No. 2 TB, Jordan Hall, was suspended for two games.  Any college team would have difficulty replacing that (think of taking Martinez, Burkhead, etc. off Nebraska). The quarterback situation is particularly difficult because no QB wanted to come to Columbus while Pryor was there.  Braxton Miller was highly touted prospect they got because he knew Pryor would be a senior, so you are stuck with a true freshman playing quarterback. 

The defense appears to be a typical Ohio State defense, 13th nationally, 23rd against the run and 30th nationally. Why is the defense still playing so well while the offense suffers and who are the guys on the defense with which Husker fans should be familiar?

ITS: Jim Heacock is a great coach, in my opinion. He and Luke Fickell (and Mike Vrabel) have been keeping the Silver Bullet tradition alive. This unit has a pretty decent defensive line that includes John Simon and Nathan Williams (who has been out due to injury the past 2-3 games) and some "veterans" in the secondary. Travis Howard came into the season at corner ready for a break out year, and while he has lacked in coverage, he has a nose for the ball and is a very good tackler. Most of this squad has learned from their mistakes, and continue to improve every game. They are young, much like the offense, but it seems they have the mindset of going in with confidence and gusto.

As far as some star players to watch, I would keep my eyes on #42 Andrew Sweat. He's an outside linebacker that has been the teams leading tackler, and although playing banged up, he has been fairly solid with only a couple blips on the film. Christain Bryant is our safety, and has been pretty good in coverage and in run support all while making plays that the safety he surpassed (Orihan Johnson) seemed to not make.

11W: Defense is what Ohio State does. Even in 10+ win seasons, the offense barely cracks the top quartile nationally, but he defense checks in as a top 10 unit. Excellent coaching on that side of the ball (and lack thereof on the offensive side) is a major reason for this disparity. The talent is largely split up equally.

You'll want to keep your eye on the Ohio State defensive front. John Simon (#54) may be the best player on the unit and Johnathan Hankins (#52) is quite adept at caving in the interior of an offensive line.

ATOJim Heacock is a fantastic defensive coach, and the Tressel tradition of building the team around defense continues.  This OSU defensive is actually not as good as previous units.  They are relatively inexperienced, particularly at linebacker, and, as I noted, their best player in Nate Williams has been out the entire year with a knee injury.  But OSU does not put the defense in bad positions, and the defense has been able to bend but not break.

Prediction?

ITS: I'm going with the Cornhuskers. Realist, Pessimist, call me what you will, I'm here to give my opinion. My opinion is that the Cornhuskers are the 2nd or 3rd best team in all the Big Ten this year. The home-field advantage, added with an offense trying to find out what the hell is going on, and a bend, don't break, defense hanging on by the skin of their teeth, is going to be too much for the Buckeyes. I think Taylor Martinez is a pretty solid QB, and is very similar to Denard Robinson's play-style. Nebraska wins 31-17.

11W: Let's see. Nebraska's first-ever Big Ten home game, and coming off a tough and embarrassing loss, playing an offense that hates points? Pelini has solved much better Buckeye offenses in the past (2007 BCS Championship game while with LSU). Huskers 27-17.

ATO:  I expect Nebraska to win 24-10.  As I noted above, my main priority is improvement from the offensive side of the football.  

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