The Ohio State Buckeyes are 2-0 on the young season, but they face their first road game of the year against the Cal Golden Bears on Saturday night in primetime (on this coast, anyway). With plenty of storylines after the first two wins, we dove into some of the hot button issues for the scarlet and gray.
Ohio State has dropped in the polls (from #2 in both polls to #3 in the coaches’ and #4 in the AP) over the last two weeks. Is there any concern there with Oregon and Clemson in addition to Alabama shutting OSU out of a potential title game shot?
Craig: I just can’t possibly think about them at this stage of the game. Ohio State hasn’t played any of the meat in their schedule and we all know they just have to keep winning. If I take too much time thinking about the polls now and they lose some game they should have won in a week or two, then I’d feel really silly. Maybe I’ll start watching the polls if Ohio State is undefeated after taking on Wisconsin at the end of September.
Scott: I’ll be interested to see how the BCS shakes out if the top five remains undefeated. Margin of victory isn’t supposed to have much impact and that appears to be what’s forced the Buckeyes down the ranks—apparently a win is not a win.
Ben: I don’t have any real concerns with the polling at this early date. If Ohio State can keep winning, the polls will work themselves out. If they lose… I can’t imagine the polls will be favorable to them.
Rick: I’m aware that this may sound cliche or coach-speaky, but I absolutely am not thinking about the National title right now. You have to be undefeated to have a shot at playing for the title, and you need to be one of the top 3 or 4 teams in the country to have that opportunity. Right now I don’t know that OSU is one of those top teams. The defense showed me a lot more last week, but no way is this team operating at anything close to efficiency.
Mitch: The Buckyes have dropped because they have been less impressive than Clemson and Oregon. The Tigers have possibly the season’s most impressive win over Georgia and the Ducks look like they haven’t missed a beat without Chip Kelly – hanging 66 on an overmatched Nichols State and 59 on Virginia, a team some thought could possibly give them trouble. The Buckeyes faltered slightly against Buffalo and then took care of business against San Diego State. The combination of that shaky week one victory and the injury to Braxton Miller can be blamed for their drop in the rankings, but at this point those rankings are still almost purely speculative. If the Buckeyes continue falling or remain stuck behind these two teams after another five or six weeks, then I’ll begin to get somewhat worried.
Andrew: I honestly never care about the polls this early in the season. 90% of the time these things take care of themselves in the end. You just have to worry about yourself and keep winning. It’s hard to imagine an undefeated Ohio State team not having a shot at a title at the end of the season. It could happen, but I’d say the odds aren’t great. For right now I’m much more concerned about Braxton’s inability to play a whole game without getting hurt.
Kirk: Most of you are not taking much stock in the polls at this time. I’d say my concern is relatively low right now, mostly by subscribing to the “if they keep winning, things will work out” stance. However, if it comes down to schedules, conference strength, and style points, the Buckeyes probably won’t put up the argument of an undefeated Oregon team. They need Michigan and Northwestern to keep climbing the polls.
Braxton Miller got pretty banged up last week. Should he play this week and how concerned are you with his durability going forward? How much confidence do you have in Kenny Guiton?
Mitch: He should only play if his knee completely and totally checks out. Cal’s offense has looked threatening, but they still sit at 1-1 after a loss to Northwestern and a seven point win over FCS Portland State. There is no need to risk Braxton’s long-term health for this one game.
Rick: Braxton Miller needs to play every week that he is able. If that is this week, then play. I do have confidence in Guiton. I think that Miller is clearly the better athlete, but Guiton has demonstrated that he is quite capable. The difference between Miller and Guiton may only be really important for about half a dozen plays a game right now. Against the top teams, those could mean the difference between winning and losing though.
Ben: If the guy is healthy, play him. I’m content with Guiton starting this week and next week if it means Braxton plays down the stretch.
Scott: Regarding Braxton, it’s simple: If he’s healthy, he’s playing. If he’s a liability, sit him. I’m getting a bit worried that he has the inability to tell the difference between being hurt and being injured. That said, Ohio State needs him for the long haul, not Week 3.
Craig: I am concerned over Braxton Miller. Far be it for me to question a guy’s toughness or desire to play, but it seemed like Miller wanted out of the game. I might be 100% wrong here, but I found myself a bit confused with the injury situation with Braxton Miller more than anything else. I do have confidence in Kenny Guiton to fill in, but he doesn’t have that same ability to take over a game with giant plays that Miller has. He’s probably a great starter for many many college football teams, but knowing what Miller is capable of, it’d be a bitter pill to swallow as an Ohio State fan if he was forced into duty for a significant portion of the season.
Andrew: Well, I am a little concerned about Braxton’s toughness. He just sometimes seems a little less than eager to play through pain. That could be entirely unfair on my part. In truth, I don’t know how hurt he really is all the time. So I want to be as upfront about that as I can be. But I just have my doubts about Braxton’s ability to make it through this season. Which isn’t to say he shouldn’t play this week. If he can go, I would play him. He needs to get into some kind of rhythm before the Big Ten season starts. But if he can’t go, thank goodness for Kenny Guiton. Kenny G is a gamer. He’s not scared of playing and he could start for a lot of Big Ten teams. I would even go so far as to say that he is unquestionably better at running the option than Braxton is. Braxton is definitely the better talent, but Kenny G does some things really well, and that means he is more than capable of allowing the Buckeyes to have a good season if he has to play a lot. But I don’t believe they can win a title with Kenny Guiton.
Kirk: The Buckeyes don’t get to their end game goal without Braxton, but I’m okay with them being overly cautious with him at this point. If there is ANY shred of doubt about his status going into the game, I give the keys to Kenny G. I actually have tremendous confidence in Guiton to navigate this early part of the schedule and run the offense efficiently. If we didn’t see Braxton until the Wisconsin game in two weeks, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
The running game hasn’t missed a beat without Carlos Hyde. Are you impressed with Jordan Hall? How would you split the carries between Hall, Hyde, Smith, Wilson, Dunn, Ball, and Elliott?
Ben: I haven’t been overly impressed with the running game, but I’m not let down either. Ohio State is such a great program that I don’t really *ever* expect them to lack backfield talent. Once Hyde comes back I’d split the carries between him and Hall roughly 50/50… I think.
Rick: I actually don’t think this is true. They may have racked up decent yardage against a couple of bad teams, but Hyde gives this running game a dimension that they don’t have right now. No way on earth that Hyde gets stopped on fourth down against Buffalo. None. As for splitting carries, I’d be fine with Jordan Hall getting fewer reps. Let’s face it, he isn’t going to be here next season. Until we play a superior defense, let’s get everyone some experience.
Kirk: Hall has done way more in the first two games than I was anticipating. With 234 yards and 3 scores in the first two games, he’s shown an ability to run through the tackles effectively, something he hasn’t done in the past. Sure, he had the fourth down that he couldn’t pick up against Buffalo, and his skill set is probably the third down back, but I think we may end up seeing more of a timeshare with Hyde than originally expected. Hyde has to earn his spot back, after all, and Hall doesn’t seem to want to give it up any time soon. I’m looking at something around a 50-30-20 split between Hyde, Hall, and Dontre Wilson. So many odd men out (Smith, Dunn, Ball, Elliott), but with Hyde and Hall both departing at season’s end, it’s good to have that kind of quality depth.
Mitch: Jordan Hall has looked great so far, but the more bruising Hyde will be essential to the Buckeyes’ success once they begin play against the more punishing defenses of the B1G. Hyde should still get the majority of the carries once he returns. Hall should still see solid playing time as a third-down/change of pace back, but the Buckeyes will need to get him out in space in order for him to be most effective. I expect Dontre Wilson to see increased playing time in a slot or wing position as the season goes on, provided he can stand up to the physical abuse that will be coming his way in the conference schedule. He is too electric and explosive to keep off the field. Meyer will surely find a way to utilize him. The other backs, while talented, should only see time in blowouts or due to injury to the aforementioned three. I see Rod Smith as the odd man out, although, depending on Hyde’s durability and effectiveness, he could be called on to spell the starter as a more traditional power back.
Andrew: Honestly, Jordan Hall has stunned me. I’ve always like Hall as an all purpose player, but he looks like a legit feature back this year, which has definitely shocked me. When Hyde comes back, though, Hyde will rightfully reclaim the majority of the carries. Hyde is a bruiser and he is capable of taking some of the defensive punishment off Braxton’s shoulders. I also continue to be impressed by Dontre Wilson as well. There’s no way Urban can keep Wilson off the field. Dunn and Ball will fight for carries, and I kind of think Rod Smith has seen his opportunity pass him by.
Who’s been the most pleasant surprise for you after two games?
Kirk: I’m going to stick with the running game. I’ve already talked about Hall, and I know there was a lot of hype about Wilson coming into the season as the “Percy Harvin type” playmaker. Still, I’m still surprised at how him and Elliott have gotten so many snaps early in the season. I also get the feeling that Meyer is getting those two reps but not necessarily getting anything real creative on film early in the year. Perhaps we’ll see more big plays out of these guys as we roll into Big Ten play. Both Curtis and Doran Grant have looked solid on defense as well.
Mitch: I hate to focus on the offense so much, but Kenny Guiton is my most pleasant surprise thus far. We knew he was a serviceable backup – the Buckeyes had scored touchdowns on 7 of the 14 drives he either started or took over after a Miller injury entering the season – but his performance last weekend against SDSU suggested he may be even better than that. The run defense has also been impressive. Ryan Shazier and Noah Spence were known commodities, but the inexperienced defensive line has acquitted itself well. The Buckeyes have held their two opponents to a total of 137 yards rushing thus far. Freshman lineman Joey Bosa in particular has distinguished himself as a solid contributor through the first two weeks.
Rick: Hmm. I’m going to go with Michael Bennett.
Ben: Most pleasant surprise? That Guiton came in and performed adequately in place of Braxton.
Andrew: I have to say Jordan Hall here. I’m not sure I’ve really been surprised by anything else.
Cal is the team’s first road game. Their quarterback runs an up tempo style and leads the nation in passing. Any concerns with this young defense this weekend?
Mitch: Cal true freshman quarterback Jared Goff has certainly been impressive through his first two games, averaging 468 yards passing and completing almost 63% of his passes. However, he has not faced a secondary as talented as Ohio State’s. With both Bradley Roby and C.J. Barnett both set to play their second game of the season, the Buckeyes’ defensive backfield should be up to the Golden Bears’ challenge. The aforementioned run defense will need to continue their stout play against Cal running back Brendan Bigelow, who last season gashed the Buckeye defense for 160 yards and two touchdowns on only four carries in Columbus. However, you can be sure Luke Fickell’s defense will be prepared to stop any repeat of last season’s shaky performance. I expect the Buckeyes to roll by a score of 45-21.
Ben: Yea, there’s concerns with the defense. This is Ohio State’s first big test of the season and you have to be a little concerned with the D facing their first real offense. That being said, there’s concerns and there’s concerns. I expect Ohio State to be ready.
Rick: The only concern would be an injury to Shazier or one of the veterans in the secondary. I think the team will be focused and ready to play against Cal. I also think that they have all seen that kind of uptempo offense before and it won’t be as big a deal.
Andrew: Even though there’s a lot of youth in the front 7 for the Buckeyes, there’s also a lot of depth there, which always helps in an up tempo game. I think the secondary can anchor this young defense as well. So those are the positives. But yes, I am actually a little concerned about this matchup. It will be a decent road test for this defense and this could potentially be another game that causes the Buckeyes to drop another spot in the polls, if you’re concerned about that kind of thing.
Kirk: I expect the defense to look a little out of sorts with the up tempo style early. They may even give up an opening drive touchdown because of it. But, I think Fickell, Everett Withers, and company will calm the young D down through the course of the game, and the Buckeye offense will more than keep pace. I’ve got the Buckeyes winning solidly but not spectacularly 38-21.
What say you, fans of the scarlet and gray?