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Better Know The Enemy: A Q&A With Ohio State

We continue the preseason Q&As with the Buckeyes.

Oregon State v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The Ohio State Buckeyes had perhaps the most tumultuous offseason of any college football team (along with Maryland, due to the death of redshirt freshman Jordan McNair and accusations against them of running a toxic football program).

Matt Tamanini joins us from the SB Nation Ohio State site to answer questions about Urban Meyer and the 2018 Buckeyes.

Please give us an honest assessment of the Urban Meyer situation, the decision by the powers that be, and what, if anything you’d wish they’d done different.

Starting with the last part of your question, what do I wish they’d done differently? Everything. This entire fiasco has been mishandled at every turn, starting back in 2011 when Urban Meyer initially hired Zach Smith for his Ohio State staff.

I don’t want to get into the minute details, but I firmly believe that even if Meyer did everything that his contract and university policy required of him, as the highest paid state employee in Ohio, as the most visible figure for the university that I love, as someone who asks parents to send their sons to Columbus under his guidance in part because of his “Respect Women” core values, he should have done more; either to protect Courtney Smith, the university, and/or his players.

Unfortunately, we will never really know exactly what happened between Zach and Courtney Smith, nor will we know the true motivations for the actions that Meyer took, but from my personal perspective, I would rather the head coach of the Ohio State football program act with an almost irrational abundance of caution when it comes to accusations of domestic or sexual violence in the program. If that means suspending a coach or player until you are 100% sure that he is innocent, so be it.

We know that Meyer has previously espoused a zero tolerance policy when it comes to domestic violence, as evidenced by his dismissal of Bri’onte Dunn two years ago . I wish that he would have held Smith to this same standard. There are people in the Ohio State fandom who argue that Smith never actually committed domestic violence, and that this is some sort of revenge plot completely fabricated by Courtney.

I of course have know way to know whether or not abuse actually occurred. However, everything in this situation reads like a textbook example of how domestic violence almost always plays out. It seems obvious to most onlookers that both Zach and Courtney have demons that they need to deal with. However, one does not have to be perfect to be the victim of domestic violence.

Do you think the Urban Meyer situation is resolved?

I honestly don’t think that this situation will ever completely be resolved until Meyer’s time at Ohio State is over. If I had to guess, I would say that this will drastically shorten the length of his tenure with the university to the point that I would not be surprised if he decides to step away from coaching within the next year or two.

While that is just long-term conjecture, in the short term, I don’t think that his suspension will have much, if any, impact on the team’s production on the field. The Buckeyes open up this weekend against Oregon State, who went 1-11 last season. After that, Meyer will be able to return to practice, but will be suspended for the next two games.

Putting aside the ridiculousness of that toothless punishment, Meyer is not a playcalling head coach. One of OSU’s two offensive coordinators, Ryan Day- now the interim head coach- was already set to call plays for the offense, and one of OSU’s two defensive coordinators, Greg Schiano, will call them for the defense.

So, other than in-game management, Meyer’s gameday impact is small compared to what he will be able to bring to the team during the week. So, while the Week 3 matchup with TCU in Arlington, Tex. will certainly be a challenge, unless it comes down to a timeout, or a decision to go for it on fourth down, I don’t think that who is, or who is not, on the sideline for Ohio State will be the deciding factor.

Who is going to replace quarterback JT Barrett and how much drop off do you think there will be between last season and 2018?

Dwayne Haskins will be Ohio State’s starter for the season barring injury or some other unforeseen circumstance. He has been described as a throw-first, dual-threat quarterback; almost a hybrid of Barrett and Cardale Jones. He has similar arm strength to Jones, but with far more accuracy than “12-gauge” ever had. He also has the ability to run, when needed, but it will not be his first (or even second) option, like it was with Barrett.

The Buckeyes will still be a spread-run team, and you will still see some of the zone-read that Barrett used to his advantage throughout his career. However, I would imagine that it will more often than not evolve into a run-pass option scenario.

Thanks to an injury to Joe Burrow (who now appears to be the starter at LSU) in last season’s fall camp, Haskins got the opportunity to be Barrett’s backup last year, and saw a lot of time, as the Buckeyes often put games away early. But, it was his performance in the comeback victory over Michigan that got most Buckeye fans excited. In relief of an injured Barrett, Haskins went 6-for-7 for 94 yards through the air, and picked up another 24 on three carries.

While not always playing with the first-team in 2017, and often being there just to hand the ball off, Haskins had a 70.2 percent completion percentage and averaged 10 yards per attempt. I don’t know that he can keep that up for a whole season, but I would be a little surprised if he didn’t throw for at least 3,500 yards this season. And, if that does in fact happen, I would imagine that Ohio State will be breaking in a new starter at QB this time next season as well.

Do you have any sympathy whatsoever for Jim Harbaugh? Not even a teensy bit? If we put you in a witness protection program, would you change your answer? (Come on, he has to remind you of a crazy relative that you have a soft spot for?)

The only sympathy that I have for Jim Harbaugh comes from the fact that in the “Saved by the Bell” Cinematic Universe, he is Samuel “Screech” Powers’ cousin, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

In all honesty, I probably don’t hate Michigan as much as many of my fellow Buckeyes do. My first job after graduating from Ohio State was at the Big Ten office then in Park Ridge, Ill., so you end up having a bit of affection for even your most bitter of rivals while working there.

But, while Harbaugh hasn’t resorted to the lame “Ohio” taunts of Brady Hoke, he’s a guy who purposely tries to get under the skin of everyone he interacts with. He did it at Stanford, he did it with the 49ers, and he’s doing it now in Ann Arbor. I assume it is partly just his personality, but also, at least a little, some sort of mind game.

Fortunately for Ohio State fans, it hasn’t really worked, as he has yet to finish above third in the Big Ten East during his tenure at Michigan, and the Wolverines have lost 15 of the last 17 games in the rivalry. So, I feel about as bad for him as I’m sure Michigan fans did for John Cooper in the 1990s.

Do you see this year’s game against Nebraska being closer than last year’s game? Even though it’s a long ways away from November, give us a prediction on what you think will happen.

I am really excited to see what Scott Frost can do in Lincoln. I actually live in Orlando, Fla., so I got to see a lot of what he was able to accomplish at UCF. According to most pundits, the Big Ten East is the best division in college football, with four teams that I think could make the College Football Playoffs (Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State, in alphabetical order), but most are predicting Wisconsin to be the runaway leader in the West.

That might be the case this year, but I am hopeful that Frost can help Nebraska take the next step to being a conference and, eventually, national contender. It would be fantastic for the B1G, and for college football as a whole, if Frost was able to bring even just some of the excitement that he had in Central Florida to Lincoln with him.

As far as a prediction goes- oh man, that’s so far away- I would say that if Haskins ends up performing like I think he can, and there are no significant injuries on either side, I would pick OSU to win fairly handily, especially since it is in Columbus; maybe by 3-4 touchdowns?

Now, I do think that Frost will be able to turn the program around, but it will likely take him a couple of years to mold the program in his image.

Name a new offensive player and a new defensive player (either freshman, first-time contributors, or transfer) that fans are most excited to see on the field.

The easy answer on offense is Haskins, but since we’ve already talked about him, I am going to go with a freshman running back named Master Teague. One reason for that is that OSU doesn’t have a lot of new faces on offense. Other than tight end Marcus Baugh, the Buckeyes return every player who caught more than five passes last year, and both J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber return after having combined for 2,029 yards on the ground last season.

Despite the dominance that Dobbins and Weber are capable of, Teague is a true freshman who enrolled early and made a big impact throughout spring practice. Because of the investigation-induced media blackout surrounding fall camp, we don’t exactly know how much he figures into the offensive plans just yet, but with Weber likely headed to the NFL after this year, and Dobbins after the 2019 season, there seems to be little incentive to redshirt Teague; especially considering that top-level running backs rarely stay in school longer than they have to when their careers are so limited due to the physical nature of the position.

On defense, this might be a little bit of a cop-out, but I am going to go with sophomore middle linebacker Tuf Borland. It might be a cop-out because, over the weekend, he was selected as one of the team’s seven captains.

The linebackers were almost certainly the weakest unit for the Buckeyes last year, however, thanks to some injuries, Borland started seeing some playing time with the first team late in his true freshman season, and came up huge in four of Ohio State’s biggest games. Against Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin in the B1G Title Game, and USC in the Cotton Bowl, he combined for 30 tackles, including 18 solos.

He was always expected to start this season, but after suffering an Achilles injury in March, that was put in doubt. However, throughout summer and into fall camp, reports were that he was progressing quickly, and should be able to contribute early in the season. What that exactly means, we still don’t know.

But, being named a captain would seem to indicate that he has done enough to win the starting MLB job. Now, I don’t know that I would risk putting him against a likely overmatched Oregon State team unless he was absolutely 100% healthy, but I would be shocked if he wasn’t starting against Rutgers in Week 2, or against TCU at the latest.

What is the best food I can get at Ohio Stadium? What’s the best bang for my buck?

Ironically, over the weekend, the university’s in-stadium restaurant partner announced some new options for the season. However, if I’m being honest, other than a box of popcorn, I’m not big on eating at the games. As the season goes on, and everyone bundles up, space gets limited, and it becomes more difficult to move, let alone carry food back to your seat without getting it knocked over.

However, there is some great food around the stadium for pre and post-game consumption. There are a bunch of great pizza places on campus, Tommy’s (also fantastic subs), Adriatico’s, Catfish Biff’s. There is also the legendary Varsity Club just across the street from the stadium. If the game ends up being a noon kickoff, you should definitely hit up Buckeye Donut on your way to The ‘Shoe.

So much of the off-campus area has changed since I was in school that it’s tough to keep up with what’s come and what’s gone, but it’s hard to go wrong with most of the options around campus.

What is so special about “dotting the I?” I’ve heard you need to be there to experience it. And that it’s really special for the student who gets to do it. But is there something I’m missing?

I would imagine that it similar to a joke; if you have to explain it, it loses some of the impact. I’m sure that the Huskers have similar traditions that wouldn’t translate well to those of us outside of the Big Red fanbase.

However, the longevity of “Script Ohio” almost certainly plays a major factor in it being beloved; it was initially debuted by the Michigan marching band back in 1932. It also likely has to do with how unique it is; the intricacies of the formation are incredibly cool to watch.

Ohio State’s marching band is the largest all-brass and percussion band in the world, and has its roots in the university’s land-grant military origins. So, when you watch the precision of the band’s movements, it is almost mesmerizing how exact and measured everything is.

Anyway, back to the actual dotting of the “i,” only upperclassmen band members who play the sousaphone (the marching version of the tuba) get the honor. So, it is an especially moving moment for those students, and honestly, all Buckeye fans. It is one of those things that is ingrained in your fandom.

The marching band is not simply called “The Pride of the Buckeyes” because it’s a nice little tagline, they are called that because it is absolutely true. From the moment you are old enough to learn about and respect football in Ohio, you are old enough to learn about and respect the marching band.

While “Script Ohio” and the dotting of the “i” are cool, for me the band’s ramp entrance will never not make me tear up. Ohio State fans love their band as much as they love their football team; if not more. I mean, I’ve never been disappointed by the band’s performance, but I sure have been by the football team.

What do you expect out of this year’s Nebraska game?

Like I said before, more than two months until the game, I would expect that Ohio State would have the advantage, especially playing at the Horseshoe. The Huskers struggled mightily against the run last year, and even though Haskins will likely be a huge improvement in the passing department over Barrett, this is still an Urban Meyer-coached Ohio State football team, so they will live and die by the running game.

Therefore, while I wouldn’t expect the final score to be as lopsided as it was last year, I could see Ohio State winning by a score in the ballpark of 45-21. However, I reserve the right to modify that prediction in either direction as we get closer to November!

[I guess we asked the same question twice. Yeesh - Jon]