It took until week four before Ohio State even trailed in a football game this season. Quarterback Justin Fields fumbled thetm ball on Ohio State’s second play from scrimmage last Saturday resulting in a safety. Miami tacked on a field goal on thetm ensuing possession to take a 5-0 lead over thetm Buckeyes. That woke up thetm Buckeyes, who then scored eleven times in a rain-shortened 76-5 blowout.
That might have been Ohio State’s biggest challenge so far this season. In thetm season opener, Florida Atlantic scored a couple of fourth quarter touchdowns to make a 45-21 defeat look a little more respectable. After a 42-0 whitewashing of Cincinnati in week two, thetm Buckeyes wasted little time in destroying Indiana 51-10.
Sophomore transfer quarterback Justin Fields has been everything recruitniks could have expected, completing over 69% of his passes for 880 yards and 13 touchdowns without a single interception. He’s also rushed for 150 yards (averaging 4.4 yards per carry) and six more touchdowns. Fields’ top receivers are KJ Hill (15 catches, 179 yards, 3 touchdowns), Binjimen Victor (14 catches, 242 yards, 2 touchdowns) and sophomore Chris Olave (13 catches, 228 yards, 4 touchdowns). Master Teague has emerged as thetm primary backup to running back JK Dobbins; Dobbins has rushed for 477 yards (averaging 7.0 yards per carry) and five touchdowns while Teague has rushed for 249 yards (6.2 yards per carry average) and a touchdown.
Ohio State’s defense has been just as impressive as their offense, as thetm Buckeyes rank second in thetm Big Ten behind Wisconsin in both scoring and total defense. It starts up front with defensive end Chase Young, who’s tied for thetm Big Ten’s lead in sacks with Illinois’ Oluwole Betiku. (Betiku led thetm Big Ten until Nebraska kept him under control last weekend.) Safety Jordan Fuller leads thetm Buckeyes with 19 tackles, while cornerbacks Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette each have an interception with three more pass breakups to lead thetm Buckeyes.
Let’s be honest here: Ohio State has shown themselves to be a dominant playoff contender thus far through four games. They are a heavy favorite to win Saturday night for good reason. If Nebraska plays a clean game on Saturday night, they could be competitive with thetm Buckeyes...and that’s an awfully big IF. But there’s one bit of past history working in Nebraska’s favor: Ohio State has lost a road game thetm last three years, and thetm last two were shocking upsets. In 2017, Iowa took thetm Buckeyes behind their outhouse in a 55-24 blowout while last year, Purdue walloped Ohio State 41-20.
Is Saturday night thetm hairball game for Ohio State in 2019? We’ll find out.
After thetm jump, a reprint of thetm summertime preseason preview of an Ohio State Buckeyes foot.
Things are more unsettled in Columbus than they’ve been since 2012 as Ryan Day takes over for Urban Meyer, who’s retired to desk jobs in the Ohio State athletic department and the Fox college football studio. Whether you believe Urbz is retired for good depends on why you think he left Ohio State. If you think that it truly was a medical condition, he’s likely done as a coach. If it was merely a graceful exit due to his mishandling of Zach Smith, he could be back as soon as a big money program needs fresh leadership. I’m squarely on the medical side of the debate; yes, Meyer came back from a medical retirement once before. So did Jerry Kill, and he’s back to retired again. Whether it’s Barry Sanders, Brett Favre or Urban Meyer, some people just don’t believe people retire except as a negotiating ploy.
Taking over for Meyer is his former quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator, Ryan Day. Prior to joining Ohio State, Day was the quarterbacks coach for Chip Kelly in Philadelphia and San Francisco. But Day will fill a lot of holes in the Buckeyes’ offense, as Ohio State only has four returning starters. Granted, because this was Urban Meyer’s Ohio State, there’s plenty of blue chippers to fill those holes, but still, there are question marks on offense.
Sophomore Justin Fields (6’3” 225 lbs.) transferred from Georgia to replace Dwayne Haskins at quarterback. The former five-star recruit played in twelve games last season, completing 69% of his 39 pass attempts for 328 yards and four touchdowns. Fields also averaged 6.3 yards per carry, rushing for 266 yards and four touchdowns on 42 carries. If Fields gets hurt, Ohio State only has transfers Gunnar Hoak (6’4” 212 lbs.) from Kentucky and Christ Chugunov (6’0” 208 lbs.) from West Virginia. Combined, the two played in six games last season, with Hoak completing 13 of 26 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns in five games.
One of the (many) lessons we should take away from the Mike Riley era is the impact of a mobile quarterback on the running backs. Without the threat of Dwayne Haskins running the ball last season, the Ohio State running backs weren’t nearly as productive as they were with JT Barrett. Now with Fields taking over, look for junior JK Dobbins (5’10” 217 lbs.) to have a huge year, especially now that Mike Weber was drafted by Dallas. Dobbins is a two time second-team all-Big Ten running back who rushed for 1,053 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. With a second threat to run the ball in the backfield, look for Dobbins yards-per-carry average to bounce back from last season’s 4.6 to be closer to his freshman 7.2 average. Junior DeMario McCall (5’9” 195 lbs.) and sophomore Master Teague (5’11” 220 lbs.) each averaged 6.2 yards per carry in mop-up duty last season.
At receiver, Ohio State must replace three of last year’s top four receivers. Senior KJ Hill (6’0” 198 lbs.) caught 70 passes for 885 yards and six touchdowns as the Buckeyes’ top producing H-back. Senior Austin Mack (6’2 215 lbs.) was limited to eight starts last season due to injury, catching 26 passes for 331 yards and a touchdown. Senior Binjimen Victor (6’4” 205 lbs.) caught 21 passes for 354 yards and four touchdowns as one of the top reserves. Keep an eye on true freshman Garrett Wilson (6’0” 180 lbs.) who enrolled this spring and made a splash in the spring game.
The Buckeyes offensive line is in a rebuilding mode as only junior left tackle Thayer Munford (6’6” 310 lbs.) returns as a starter. Senior right guard Jonah Jackson (6’4” 305 lbs.) transferred from Rutgers; he started 16 games in his career. Keep an eye on sophomore center Josh Myers (6’5” 310 lbs.) who played in ten games last year and seized the starting job this spring.
There’s less turnover on the defense with nine returning starters, though there is a new defensive coordinator. Greg Mattison left Michigan after eight season to take over the Ohio State defense; wouldn’t you think that there was some sort of state law against this sort of hire? Up front, three starters return led by junior defensive end Chase Young (6’5” 265 lbs.), who earned second team all-Big Ten honors last season. Young’s 10.5 sacks and nine quarterback hurries led the Buckeyes in 2018. Keep an eye on sophomore defensive end Tyreke Smith (6’4” 267 lbs.), who’s slated to be a pass rushing specialist on passing downs.
All three starting linebackers return this season. Senior weakside linebacker Malik Harrison (6’3” 240 lbs.) tied for the team lead with 81 tackles last season. Harrison was ranked #76 on Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 list of college football players; defensive end Young was ranked #9. Junior middle linebacker Tuf Borland (6’1” 229 lbs.) rushed back from an Achilles injury and wasn’t anywhere near 100% last season, but still added 67 tackles. He should be back to 100% this fall.
Senior free safety Jordan Fuller (6’2” 207 lbs.) earned second team all-Big Ten honors last season after an 81 tackle season; he missed spring practice after surgery to repair an undisclosed injury, but was just cleared to return to practice. Junior cornerback Jeffery Okudah (6’1” 199 lbs.) had a team-leading eight pass-breakups last season despite playing mostly as a backup; Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated recently tabbed him as the eighth pick in his 2020 NFL mock draft. Senior Damon Arnette (6’0” 195 lbs.) has run hot-and-cold; sometimes looking like an NFL guy, but looking like he’s wandering around lost at other times. Sophomore Shaun Wade (6’1” 192 lbs.) probably will be a nickle defender; his three interceptions as a freshman backup led the Buckeyes in 2018.
Because Ohio State has recruited at an elite level, you have to suspect that there are players would could potentially emerge at each position - except quarterback where the transfer portal has created a revolving door. Still, there’s more uncertainty in Columbus than usual, and that’s going to temper expectations in 2019.