Update, 3:53 p.m.: Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence, expected to return from suspension, is now out indefinitely.
Ohio State and Urban Meyer will try to regroup this week after seeing their 25-game regular season winning streak come to an end last week at the hands of the Virginia Tech Hokies. The loss was the first non-conference home loss for any Urban Meyer-coached team. The Buckeyes were smothered by constant pressure from Bud Foster's Hokie defense, which resulted in seven sacks on J.T. Barrett and three interceptions. It may sound strange to say that Barrett actually seemed to play well since he only completed nine of his 29 passes, but considering how he constantly had Hokies in his face, it is amazing he completed that many passes. Luckily for Barrett and the Buckeyes, they shouldn't face quite the amount of pressure that Virginia Tech unleashed on them.
While the offense of the Buckeyes sputtered on Saturday night, there were a couple of bright spots that came out of the loss. When Braxton Miller went down for the year due to injury, it was known that there was going to be a considerable drop-off in how the Buckeyes would use the quarterback to run the football, but Barrett looked pretty good when scrambling against Virginia Tech. The redshirt freshman was tops in rushing for the Buckeyes on Saturday with 70 yards on the ground, and that is taking into account the 54 yards he lost due to the seven sacks.
After being a spring game all-star the last couple years, Michael Thomas has finally started to live up to the hype on the field in the regular season. Saturday saw him catch six of the nine passes that Barrett completed, with one of those catches being a touchdown grab. So far this season Thomas is leading the Buckeyes in catches with nine, and now has a touchdown catch in each of the first two games. While Devin Smith provides the deep threat for the offense, Thomas is looking like he's the receiver that Barrett has the most chemistry with right now.
For the most part the Ohio State defense played well on Saturday night, but their downfall was not being able to get the key stop when it was needed. Although the defense was able to force three turnovers in the game, the Hokies were able to go 9-for-17 on third downs to keep drives moving and keep the Ohio State offense off the field. The extended time that Virginia Tech was able to hold on to the football could have had an effect late in the game. With Ohio State having just tied up the game at 21-21, it was on the defense to get a stop and give the ball back to the Buckeyes with a chance to take the lead. That didn't happen, as the Hokies drove down the field in just six plays to score the game-winning touchdown.
The last time the Buckeyes squared off against the Golden Flashes was early in the 2007 season when Ohio State thoroughly dominated their in-state foe on their way to a 48-3 victory in Columbus. A lot has changed for both teams since that meeting. At the time Jim Tressel was coaching Ohio State, and one of his assistants was defensive backs coach Paul Haynes, who now is the head coach for Kent State. Haynes took over in Kent for another former Buckeye assistant, Darrell Hazell, and has struggled since taking the position, accumulating a 4-10 record in his first year-plus at the MAC school.
The season for Kent State hasn't exactly gotten off to the start that Haynes and company had hoped for, as the Golden Flashes have dropped each of their first two contests. The opening weekend saw Ohio narrowly defeat Kent State 17-14 by a field goal as time expired. The Golden Flashes shot themselves in the foot numerous times in the game, recovering fumbles by the Bobcats on four straight drives to start the second half, which they weren't able to turn into any points.
Last week Kent State was hoping to get their first win on the season, but they suffered a 23-13 loss to South Alabama, who are in just their third year as an FBS participant. Kent State dug themselves a hole against South Alabama, trailing 16-0 in the second quarter, that they just weren't able to dig themselves out of. Even with the loss, Kent State has been very stingy on defense over their past five games. Against South Alabama, the Golden Flashes' pass defense only allowed 30 yards to the Jaguars in the second half, but they just didn't have enough offense to catch up.
Not only will Saturday be a return to Columbus for Paul Haynes, but former Buckeye defensive back Najee Murray will also make his return to Ohio State. As a true freshman in 2012, Murray played in six games for the Buckeyes before suffering a season-ending injury. Haynes was the defensive backs coach at Ohio State when the Buckeyes recruited Murray, so it was only natural that he would follow Haynes to Kent State when Haynes took the head coaching job. Murray is listed as a starter at cornerback on the Kent State depth chart, so the Buckeye wide receivers should see a lot of their former teammate on Saturday.
|2014 Kent State Schedule|
|30-Aug||Ohio (L, 14-17)||108|
|6-Sep||South Alabama (L, 13-23)||92|
|13-Sep||at Ohio State||10|
|4-Oct||at Northern Illinois||51|
|25-Oct||at Miami (Ohio)||121|
|12-Nov||at Bowling Green||60|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-12.3% (95)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||110|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-4 / -5.4|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (7, 6)|
|2014 Ohio State Schedule|
|30-Aug||vs. Navy (W, 34-17)||65|
|6-Sep||Virginia Tech (L, 21-35)||19|
|25-Oct||at Penn State||37|
|8-Nov||at Michigan State||13|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||24.8% (9)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||2|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||5 / 8.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||10 (3, 7)
Kent State's biggest advantages
The devil that you know. The biggest weapon that Kent State might have on Saturday won't actually be in uniform for the Golden Flashes. Head coach Paul Haynes has incredible familiarity with playing at Ohio Stadium and also with the defensive coordinators for the Buckeyes. Haynes served as an assistant coach on Jim Tressel's staff from 2005-11, coaching with Luke Fickell in Columbus, and then coaching with the other co-defensive coordinator, Chris Ash, in 2012 at Arkansas.
Haynes should be at an advantage since he knows the tendencies of Fickell and Ash and the type of schemes that they prefer to run. But knowing what the Buckeye defensive duo likes to run and actually stopping it are two different things. It should help a Kent State offense that has struggled to put points up on the board early this season. Through two games, the Golden Flashes have only scored 27 points, so they'll take any help that they can get.
OSU-Kent State Advanced Stats Preview
Kent State does not have a good football team. In fact, it's almost as bad as Purdue (and that's not really a joke -- the Golden Flashes' F/+ is -11% and the Boilermakers are at -15.7%. Fun fact: the F/+ difference between Kent State and Purdue is roughly the difference between Ohio State and Michigan).
So why should you care about this game? This game was always scheduled as a post-Virginia Tech recovery game for the team: time to get backups some work (this might have been the original debut of J.T. Barrett, even) and iron out any schematic issues before the start of Big Ten play. The Buckeyes are obviously the huge favorite, with Vegas listing the Buckeyes as 32 point favorites and Brian Fremeau's FEI projecting a 26 point win with a 98% probability of the Buckeyes winning. The game's outcome shouldn't be in doubt.
However, what will be worth watching is whether the Buckeyes can sort out the offensive line, quarterback, and schematic issues that plagued them during the first two games this season. Kent State won't be the best barometer for how much the offense has improved necessarily, but it will both build players' confidence and give us a clue how the coaching staff plans to adapt their gameplan now that the Buckeyes' serious weaknesses have been exposed.
Along with having a grasp on Fickell and Ash's defense, Haynes can also give some insight to his team on what it'll be like trying to handle the 100,000+ people who will be in the crowd at Ohio Stadium on Saturday. The Golden Flashes did get some experience last year going up against rowdy crowds on the road when they traveled to LSU and Penn State on back-to-back weekends last September.
The hangover effect. After last week's 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech, what happens to the players and the crowd if Kent State jumps out to an early lead? While there might not be many areas where Kent State has an edge over the Buckeyes, one area could be between the ears. If the Golden Flashes can put create any doubt for the players and quiet down the crowd at The Horseshoe, the longer they'll be in the game.
Ohio State is a fragile team mentally right now. The questions with the Buckeye team started when Braxton Miller needed another shoulder surgery and was declared out for the season. Even though the coaching staff and team said all the right things going into the season, it is evident they are still trying to find their identity. In the season opener against Navy, the Buckeyes were pushed to the limit and didn't pull away until late.
Last Saturday against Virginia Tech was the ultimate blow to the psyche of the Buckeyes, having not only their regular season winning streak snapped, but also having a lengthy home opener winning streak and an even longer streak against non-conference unranked opponents ended. The youth that the Buckeyes have at their skill positions could be an advantage in the future, but at the moment they look to be struggling with the expectations and turmoil that they have endured so far this year.
Bend don't break. Kent State might not have much firepower on the offensive side of the ball right now, but what they do have is a defense that hasn't given opponents much in their last five games. Dating back to last year during that span, the Golden Flashes have only allowed opponents to score 15 points per game. While this will be a step-up in competition for Kent State compared to some of the opponents they faced over that five-game period, Paul Haynes is quietly building a very solid defense in northeast Ohio.
Even though Kent State wasn't able to beat South Alabama last weekend, the secondary really buckled down in the second half last week and held the Jaguars to 30 yards passing. In their season opener against Ohio, the Golden Flashes were able to force the Bobcats into fumbles on four consecutive drives, and they might have been able to win against their MAC foe had the offense been able to convert those turnovers into any scores.
The player to watch for Kent State will be sophomore safety Nate Holley, who registered 18 tackles against Ohio, and is tied for the national lead with 27 tackles after two weeks. Against Ohio, Holley was responsible for one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. With the rate at which Ohio State turned the ball over against Virginia Tech last week, if Holley can help the Golden Flashes force an early turnover, it could give Kent State a bit of momentum, provided the offense can make something happen with the football.
Ohio State's biggest advantages
MACvincibility. The Big Ten had issues not only last week (thanks so much, Purdue and Northwestern!) but over the past decade. A MAC school has now defeated a Big Ten team at least once in the last eight seasons. One team that has been nearly immune to the upset bug from MAC schools is Ohio State. The Buckeyes are 29-1 against current MAC schools, with the only loss coming back in 1894 to Akron. Most of the meetings with MAC schools lately have been pretty lopsided in the Buckeyes' favor, with the closest recent game coming in 2011 when Ohio State squeezed by Toledo 27-22.
There is a big talent discrepancy between what the Buckeyes will trot out onto the field and what the Golden Flashes will have to offer up. Ohio State needs to take advantage of that gap early and often. Kent State has some good players who could have a shot to make it at the next level, but they don't have nearly the depth that the Buckeyes have. Two areas where this is shown is on the defensive line and with the wide receivers/H-backs.
The defensive line, which is already stout to begin with, will have Noah Spence as a backup this week as the junior returns from a suspension. While the defensive line will have Spence at the end spot as a backup, in the middle they have tackles like Tommy Schutt and Rashad Frazier, who have already made some good plays so far this season.
With the wide receivers and H-backs, names like Devin Smith, Michael Thomas, Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, and Johnnie Dixon are ones that should be able to spread out the Kent State defense. The Golden Flashes have Murray and safety Nate Holley in the secondary, but there is a lot of youth in their defensive backfield. This game would be the perfect opportunity for Barrett to spread the ball around and start to build a comfort level with some of the talented receivers that he has at his disposal.
Small sample size theatre (but a reason for optimism). Sure, Ohio State hasn't faced anybody yet this year that is going to be confused with Texas A&M in terms of throwing the football, but in the times that teams have passed this year, the Buckeye secondary has been solid. So far this season the Buckeyes haven't allowed a pass play of more than 20 yards through two games, and last week forced Michael Brewer into a couple of interceptions.
Vonn Bell and Eli Apple both collected interceptions last week against Virginia Tech, and have shown some signs of improvements over the past year. Kent State hasn't had much success moving the football at all this year, and when they have it has been through the air. The leading rusher for the Golden Flashes this year is sophomore Nick Holley, who has rushed for 53 yards through two games. With the strong front seven that the Buckeyes possess, it'd be surprising to see Kent State have much success on the ground.
The work that the defensive line does up front should allow for the secondary to gamble and take a few chances that could result in turnovers. Much like how Virginia Tech pressured J.T. Barrett into turnovers last week, Ohio State should be able to do the same to their opponent this week. The Buckeyes know that Kent State will want to try to find receivers Ernest Calhoun and Chris Humphrey, so the secondary should be able to lock down on them and possibly make some plays to give the struggling offense a short field to work with early.
Rebound game. Many will peg this as a weakness for Ohio State, but in this game the offensive line could be a strength for the Buckeyes. Ed Warinner's unit has to be sick and tired of the criticism that they have been on the receiving end of in the early part of the season. The offensive line is currently the second-youngest offensive line in the country, with only 30 starts between the five starters. The only offensive line with fewer starts than the Buckeyes is Tennessee, which has 16 starts among their starters.
The Ohio State offensive line took another hit early in the week when it was announced that graduate transfer Chad Lindsay was stepping away from football due to injury. While Lindsay didn't see any time on the field in his short stint in Columbus, this can only add to the togetherness of the offensive line. Being short a lineman means that each player has even more responsibility week in and week out.
With a bye week on tap next Saturday before taking on Cincinnati, the Buckeyes know they need a solid performance to keep Barrett clean and to open some holes to kickstart a struggling running game. It was expected that the Buckeye offense was going to be down this year after the loss of Miller and Hyde from last year's team, but it was hard to imagine that a performance like last week was going to happen. Bud Foster provided the blueprint on how to attack the Buckeyes, but Kent State doesn't have the talent that Virginia Tech has. The Buckeyes get back on track and the offensive line extinguishes some of the heat they've been taking from critics.
F/+ Projection: Ohio State 36, Kent State 12
Win Probability: Ohio State 93%
The question for Saturday shouldn't be whether or not the Buckeyes can win, but how much they'll win by. Ohio State has the edge in pretty much every facet of the game, so if the game isn't decided by halftime then Buckeye fans will be getting restless. This is a bounce-back game for the Buckeyes and they need a big performance to instill some confidence in the team with a tough game against Cincinnati coming up in two weeks.
Ohio State has won 38 straight games against in-state opponents, and there shouldn't be too much of an issue with extending that streak to 39 games. The more interesting aspect of this game is seeing how Ohio State makes adjustments from having dropped three of their last four games. While a win on Saturday isn't going to cure all for the Buckeyes, a complete performance will help to at least quiet some of the criticism that the team and Urban Meyer have taken the past week.
Winning is the ultimate goal for the Buckeyes on Saturday, but also coming out of the game healthy should be near the top of the list of objectives for the team. With tight end Jeff Heuerman still not fully recovered from a foot injury, and the loss of Miller and Lindsay for the year, any more injuries will set the Buckeyes back even more as they try to regroup heading into Big Ten play. A bye week after the Kent State game will give the hobbled players a little extra recovery time, but the Buckeyes just hope not to add to the list of those who are already suffering with injury problems.