"Everybody is going to use those last three games as a measuring stick, but it's just not realistic. We are playing well, we're just not beating everybody by 70 -- which is just not going to happen."
- Ohio State OL Taylor Decker, via ESPN.com's Austin Ward
In a shocking twist, it appears that the people with the soberest, most carefully-considered viewpoints on Ohio State's 2015 season are the players and coaches themselves. In this story by ESPN's Austin Ward, both Urban Meyer and Taylor Decker give voice to extremely reasonable ideas about, among other things, the measuring stick being used on the defending national champions.
As Ward points out, five of Ohio State's seven wins have been by 18 points or more. Those are hardly the same kind of wins that the Buckeyes were putting up at stretches last year, hanging 50 or more points on opponents week after week, but that may not end up mattering. The Ohio State of the last two weeks seems more like the real version of the team, imposing its will on the ground, letting its stable of explosive playmakers work, and getting after the quarterback with a vengeance.
If the Buckeyes go 12-0 in the regular season, taking down a heart attack-inducing Michigan State team and a hardnosed, reinvented Michigan squad, Northern Illinois won't matter. Indiana won't matter. The last month of the season tells us an awful lot more about the true character of a team than the first. And if there are hiccups along the way? As Boren tells Ward, "it's not a perfect science, and at the end of the day, if you win by one or you win by 100, you still win."
"There are a few similar -- though not exact -- parallels to one of the most unique quarterback situations in history."
- Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com
Perhaps the biggest storyline in college football this week was J.T. Barrett officially supplanting Cardale Jones as Ohio State's starting quarterback (you may have heard about it). There's little doubt that Barrett earned the right to start for the Buckeyes over the course of his last two performances in relief of Jones, who has struggled with his accuracy all season. But unique as this situation is (and unresolved as it still may be, if Barrett appears to struggle at all), the situation is not entirely unprecedented -- for Ohio State or for Urban Meyer.
Dodd points out that Buckeye coach John Cooper was faced with a similar dilemma in 1996, when Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine brought radically different skill sets to an OSU offense that had national championship potential. Jackson, a talented runner, locked up the starting job for most of the season, but ended up replaced by Germaine as Ohio State faced Michigan. Cooper's team dropped that game, torpedoing their championship hopes. In what hopefully won't serve as a painfully prescient moment for this season, Jackson later said, "I think we would have won it all if he had picked either guy and stuck with him."
Urban Meyer is no stranger to QB controversy, either. His 2006 Florida team (I'll pause while you go throw up) had two talented signal-callers with different skill sets, in Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. Leak was already the established starter, Tebow a heralded freshman. Meyer found a perfect marriage of the two, with Tebow as a red-zone sledgehammer that could bowl over defenders and throw the occasional jump pass. Given that history, it's no stretch to imagine that Cardale Jones might pop back up under center situationally in the season's second half.
"No question. They'll play half and half. That's my goal...but both are going to play a lot of football."
- Ohio State DL coach Larry Johnson, via Doug Lesmerises, Northeast Ohio Media Group
One of this season's defensive stalwarts for the Buckeyes, Tommy Schutt, is going to be out for the next several weeks following wrist surgery. He actually broke bones in his wrist against Maryland, but decided to tough it out against Penn State before having the procedure done. So who replaces him as Ohio State heads to Rutgers this weekend?
Defensive line coach Larry Johnson has a couple of options, and he plans on using them both. One choice is redshirt sophomore Michael Hill, one of the candidates for the starting DT spot in the preseason before being beat out by Schutt for the honor. Hill has seen sparing snaps this season, but has made the most of them, recording six tackles so far. Fifth-year senior Joel Hale is Johnson's other option for the starting spot. Hale has played on both sides of the ball in his long career in Columbus, but now sticks to defense. He has nine tackles in a reserve role this year.
The Buckeyes are nicked up in more than one place on defense. Weak-side linebacker Joshua Perry, second on the team in tackles, is questionable for tomorrow's game after suffering an ankle sprain against the Nittany Lions. One way that Ohio State might mitigate their losses on defense is by using a heavier dose of the "Rushmen" package, which they've used situationally this year. Hill/Hale will come off the field in that case, with Joey Bosa moving inside, Sam Hubbard entering the game as an extra outside rusher, and Tyquan Lewis and Adolphus Washington bullying linemen on the other side of the line. It's an incredibly dangerous look, though not one that the Buckeyes will use predominantly, because, as Lesmerises explains, it wouldn't make sense to replace Schutt full-time with Bosa, given the wildly different traits they bring to the D-line.
"We really have seen progress, and we're pleased with how he's working."
- Rutgers coach Kyle Flood, via FOXSports.com
If you only know Rutgers QB Chris Laviano from the now-infamous 4th-down spike that cost the Scarlet Knights a chance at upsetting Michigan State a few weeks, you're doing the young man a disservice. Laviano has had a banner year for an otherwise milquetoast Scarlet Knights squad (Leonte Carroo notwithstanding, obviously), and coach Kyle Flood has been on the record praising Laviano's continued progress this season.
As skeptical as most reasonable people should be of anything that comes out of Coach Flood's mouth, the numbers don't lie. Laviano leads the Big Ten in completion percentage, with a robust 69.3 (nice). He's also second in the conference in passer rating, coming in at 156.14. His game last week against Indiana -- a 25-point comeback victory, by the way -- was perhaps the best of his career, as he finished with 386 yards and three TD passes.
Ohio State's secondary likely won't be as welcoming as the Hoosiers' was, but given this defense's penchant for giving up the occasional home run play, it's not crazy to think that Laviano might still impress, even if he can't keep pace with a Buckeye offense that looks to be firing on most, if not all cylinders again.
STICK TO SPORTS:
- HOMAGE is debuting a line of plain shirts and sweats, for those days when obscure Ohio sports references just aren't enough.
- New Albany, Ohio was just named the best suburb in the United States (we like to think it's because of Darron Lee)
- Denard Robinson was EA Sports NCAA Football's last cover subject, and he still misses the game as much as anyone.
- The Main Street Bridge in Columbus IS INFESTED WITH THOUSANDS OF SPIDERS