Miami (OH) RedHawks at the #18 Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State has nothing to play for. Not a division title. Not a conference crown. And alas, no bowl, not even a consolatory thanks-for-not-being-sub-.500 one like they garnered a year prior. And yet, they enter Saturday's affair with the Miami RedHawks as many as a 25 point favorite in some places.
Urban Meyer's greatest challenge as Ohio State's first year caretaker may not so much be the opposition but rather mastering the war within. Ohio State's de facto general has admitted as much that there's something to the not knowing: when the physical and mental wear and tear of September and October have taken their toll, how do you push through and find that extra gear when the end goal is less tangible than anything you're accustomed to?
There's a difference between the talking point cliché "take things one game at a time" and a Leach/Belichick-ian philosophical adherence to making such a way of life. Win one, get to two. Win two, get to three. Repeat twelve times. This is Ohio State's creed in 2012. Beat the team lining up across from you. Beat them in all aspects of the game. WIn. On to the next one. But before the next one comes the first. The first in the long series encompassing the 2012 football season is the Miami (OH) RedHawks. No B before A and no two before one, so with it Miami is the genesis. Urban's Ohio rebirth. 2012's launching point. Where everything we know about the this new era of football at Ohio State begins.
Miami is led by the venerable Zac Dysert. The fourth year senior has seen action in each of his four seasons in Oxford showing marked improvement in each season. One season ago Dysert completed just under 66% of his passes for 3513 yards, 23 TDs, and 11 picks. From an aggregate statistical perspective, Dysert is rather understated. From a Q score vantage, Dysert is perhaps even more overlooked (both at the conference and national levels) but could have a chance to leave 2012 as the most decorated passer in RedHawks history.
On the receiving end of Dysert's passes are a talented wide out corp lead by Nick Harwell, who Urban Meyer has gone on record saying could start anywhere in the country. Joining Harwell are Chris Givens, Andry Cruse, Dewan Scott, David Frazier, and Willie Culpepper ,who give Dysert a variety of means to distribute the rock around the yard. It's probably a good thing for Ohio State's sake that Meyer said on his Thursday radio show that the trio of Bradley Roby, Travis Howard, and Doran Grant at corner ranked as the most athletic of any unit on either side of the ball for the Buckeyes. Tight end Steve Marck, who was hampered in 2011 by a knee injury, could also find himself a target of Dysert's.
Miami also benefits from returning three of their top four running backs, but just how much is open to debate. Nearly seventy individual tailbacks outrushed Miami's season aggregate 886 yards a year ago. Junior Erik Finklea returns as the RedHawks' leading rusher, but totaled just 328 yards last season. While not a correlation/causation scenario, it's worth noting that Finklea missed the RedHawks' final five games of the season after suffering an injury against the almost-beat-Ohio State Toledo Rockets. Robert Williams III, a sophomore walk-on, is widely expected to start after impressing during both the spring and fall camps. Justin Semmes, Spencer Treadwell, head coach Don's son, and Jack Snowball are also expected to see plenty of touches. While Ohio State has the good depth problem of having three or four backs who can legitimately carry the load, Miami's six headed monster may not be what most coaches who idealize going that deep at tailback might speak glowingly of.
New offensive line coach Ed Stults comes over from Pete Lembo's staff at Ball State and hopes to improve on a shaky group that saw Dysert thrown to the turf 46 times last year. Going left to right, left tackle Zach Lewis and left guard Marcus Matthews both started as freshmen, but Lewis suffered a concussion during fall camp and isn't likely to play against the BuckeyesParticularly in lieu of Ohio State's girth of weapons on the defensive line, RedHawks fans will have to hope these two are a season better and not merely a year older. One of last year's two tackles, Brad Bednar now assumes the right guard duties, while last year's other, Matt Kennedy, has gone the reverse Reid Fragel, moving to tight end. Following Lewis' injury, however, Kennedy finds himself back on the o-line, and at just under 270 pounds, this is probably the kind of thing that has any number of Ohio State d-linemen licking their lips. This leaves either junior Josh Harvey or fellow third year Andrew Muller to man the right side of the line. Having or's like that at this juncture of the process with the likes at this of Nathan Williams or a Noah Spence coming against you can't possibly reflect well on the amount of time Zac Dysert will have to find that core of receivers.
One year ago, Miami's defense found themselves 75th overall in the country. Advanced metrics would have the Miami d-line more than hold its own, factoring in to the top fifth or so nationally. Senior ends Jason Semmes and Luke Kelly (who combined for a dozen tackles for a loss) along with tackles Mike Johns and Austin Brown (fifteen between them) aid a defensive effort to take advantage of Ohio State's own question marks on the offensive line. Junior DE Wes Williams, who missed the final three-fourths of 2012 with a significant leg injury, returns to action and should factor into the rotation as well. The good news for Ohio State is pedestrian numbers aside, the RedHawks greatest bouts of inconsistency often came against teams with spread rushing attacks. Should the Buckeyes deliver the sort of veer-esque down hill bombardment on the ground Urban Meyer's been alluding to, the defensive line could find their relative lack of depth exposed.
The other prominent change coaching wise is a shuffling of staff which saw co-d-line coach Nick Siatras become the sole occupier of the job with his former partner in crime Jay Peterson assuming the linebackers duties. The players under his tutelage include senior Pat Hinkle, junior Chris Wade, senior Evan Harris, and the lone returning starter, middle linebacker Jaytee Swanson. Miami's departures from 2011 aren't irreplaceable, but time will tell whether or not the new regulars are any better than those they succeeded.
With two new starting safeties, week one might be the perfect opportunity for Ohio State to build their way up to competency in the passing game. Brison Burris and D.J. Brown are expected to be the men responsible for keeping the likes of Jake Stoneburner, Philly Brown, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, and Mike Thomas from reaching the end zone after blown coverages. Juniors Dayonne Nunley and sophomore Chrishawn Dupuy have the thankless chore of matching up across the line of scrimmage with Stoneburner and Brown.While Nunley had three picks to his name in 2012, pending a total telegraph or mental lapse, week one probably won't be his best opportunity to build on said resume. Dupuy, a former tailback, may at times be joined in the defensive backfield by Orne Bay, who also used to play running back for the RedHawks.
A team who struggled at times against the run in 2011 with a number of questions in the front 7 going against one in transition who, if nothing else, can use the tandem of Carlos Hyde and Zach Boren (who Urban Meyer said Thursday will get carries out of the backfield) as battering rams has all the spellings of a boat race. Getting the opportunity to work out the kinks and fine tune an offense Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman aim to be balanced may prove to be death by a thousand chainsaw cuts for an athletically overwhelmed RedHawks side.
The best chance for Miami might just be an early arrival of the post-Hurricane Isaac showers to slow down Ohio State's up tempo offense and reduce the impact the crowd has on the game. If Ohio State's 2011 secondary rears it's ugly head again and Miami's raw-ish offensive line can stand up to the test of what could be the nation's best d-line, Zach Dysert will make plays. If anything other than that (and maybe the OSU offense being stagnate as they struggle to make things click in their theatrical debut outside of rehearsal) plays out, Miami might not have a prayer.
PREDICTION: Holy Diver -- Miami will be out punched and, in all likelihood, physically overmatched. This one ends in an early TKO.
Ohio State 41 - Miami 13