clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Why is this news?: Why Ohio State’s punter might be the key to another national championship

New, 2 comments

Plus, women’s volleyball continues its domination, and how the Buckeyes fared without Joshua Perry. All your Ohio State news in one helpful place.

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

"He’s unbelievable. He’s probably one of the most talented guys on our team. Coach will say ‘Kick it on the 8-yardline,’ and he’ll hit it right on the 8-yardline. He’s unbelievably talented and he’s huge for us. He can flip the field and get the defense in a great position and in turn that will get the offense in a great position."

-Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker, via Doug Lesmerises, Northeast Ohio Media Group

Everyone seems to want an Australian punter nowadays. When it comes down to the wire, those guys are tough. They can get the play off under pressure, because they are athletes first. They are used to running and kicking the ball in any situation, right?

Not so much. There have been serious questions in the Big Ten about punters this week, following a heart-wrenching loss for Michigan on the last play of the game against Michigan State on a fumbled snap, and a Penn State punter who could never quite flip the field position game against Ohio State Saturday. Both of these punters happen to be Australian.

What teams really want is Cameron Johnston--Ohio State’s Aussie punter, and quite possibly the best player on the No. 1 team in the nation. While he humbly denies any such accolades, punting has become a strongsuit for Ohio State that, despite the obvious, manages to put the Buckeyes on the offensive.

Ohio State has already punted 33 times this season. Comparatively, they punted a total of 45 times through the entire 2014 season, averaging out to 1.7 more punts per game this year. That stat is a testament to a higher rate of three-and-outs than in 2014, but given Johnston, plus an outstanding coverage team, there is little reason to panic in regards to the field position game.

Johnston consistently pinned Penn State deep in their own territory, including on the 8-yardline and the 2-yardline in succession. Penn State’s yardage through three quarters was nearly on par with the Buckeyes, but they were still down 11 points simply because they had to travel so much further down the field. Penn State’s average starting field position was their own 16-yardline, while Ohio State had a 20-yard advantage at the 36.

Johnston currently sits at No. 5 nationally in net punting at 42.2 yards per punt.

"Josh Perry is a great player, he definitely would have made up for some of the plays that they had. Dante Booker did a good job when he was in there, but he doesn’t get those reps all the time."

-Ohio State defensive tackle Adolphus Washington, via Bill Landis, Northeast Ohio Media Group

There is little doubt that Ohio State’s depth in many positions is comforting. Until Saturday, it seemed that the linebacker position was one of them, then senior captain Joshua Perry went down with an ankle injury in the first quarter. In to replace Perry was sophomore Dante Booker, who saw limited playing time in the 2014 season. Penn State immediately began attacking Booker’s coverage, which would be a natural alternative given the choice between the unknown young linebacker and Joey Bosa, Darron Lee or Vonn Bell. In particular, running back Saquon Barkley, who ended the night with 194 yards on 26 carries, but no touchdowns, seemed to gain most of his yardage against Booker’s side.

Unfortunately, Booker’s inexperience showed on many of these plays, and hesitations and missed assignments led to several large gains for Barkley. Perhaps there were some nerves being played out as well, as Booker found himself in the spotlight on defense after playing mostly special teams at Ohio State. There is little doubt that Booker will improve into a potential starter in the future as he gains more experience. But that is to be expected from a young player who doesn’t get first-team reps. What was unexpected in the situation was just how much the Buckeyes missed Perry, who is often mentioned third behind fellow linebackers Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan. As a captain, Perry is credited as being the "leader of our defense," according to defensive tackle Tommy Schutt. "He’s the kind of guy that holds us together out there."

The Ohio State Buckeyes women’s volleyball team has been dominating Big Ten play as of late, the winners of seven-straight conference matchups. The team is 18-2 overall, and 7-1 in conference play, with the only Big Ten loss to Minnesota to open the conference season. They have also risen to No. 7 nationally after starting the season at No. 14. The Buckeyes are tied atop the Big Ten standings with Minnesota and Nebraska, both of whom also have a 7-1 conference record.

The 7-1 start is the team’s best since 2004, in which the Buckeyes opened conference play with a 9-0 record, and the seven-game win streak is the longest since 2006.

The team’s most recent win came over Indiana in a 3-1 match Sunday in Columbus. Ohio State dropped the first set, but rallied in the final three to come out on top. The Buckeyes also had a five-set victory over Purdue Friday to send them to the top of the conference standings.

Eight Big Ten teams are ranked in the top 25 nationally this week, with Nebraska sitting the highest at No. 3. Penn State, which began the season at No. 1 after winning two-straight national championships, is ranked No. 5 this week.

Ohio State’s next game is Wednesday against Michigan State in East Lansing. The Buckeyes then face off against Michigan Saturday in Ann Arbor before a home-and-home matchup against Penn State.

"It’s too early to make any decisions right now. That’s the head coach’s decision, first of all. Second of all, we’ll have a consult about it. But there’s a reason we had Cardale starting, and we just have to assess where we’re at right now."

-Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warriner, via Marcus Hartman, FOX Sports

For the second time in two games Saturday, Cardale Jones was the starter at quarterback, and J.T. Barrett was the red zone guy. Barrett had one of his statistically best games of the season, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for another two, while Jones completed 9-of-15 passes for 84 yards and no touchdowns. Still, Jones’s play was concerning for many, as he tended to miss wide open receivers and overall did not seem to be on the same page the whole game. In several cases, Jones was hurried by a dominant Penn State pass rush, which has been one of the best in the country this season, and was having trouble with downfield passes.

The coaching staff gave credit to the Penn State defense, which held Ohio State to only short yardage throughout the first quarter. Offensive coordinator Ed Warriner stated that it took time to develop the offensive attack and to open up the run game,  but that Barrett "managed it very well." Warriner went on to say that the team "got a feel for what they were doing" when Barrett was on the field, citing the rhythm that Barrett brought to the table. However, the coach noted that strong play by the offensive line and tight ends also contributed to the run game opening up for Elliott, as well as strong play by the defense.

Barrett eventually took over Jones’s snaps in the second half, leading the offense for whole drives and not just in the red zone and giving the Buckeyes a much more convincing win than they had last season in double overtime in Happy Valley. He managed to open up the red zone , both for himself and running back Ezekiel Elliott, who had 153 yards on the night with one touchdown. Barrett ran for 106 yards on 11 carries, and was a perfect 4-for-4 passing.

STICK TO SPORTS