OK, I'll admit, I'm obsessed. I analyze every scrap of information coming out of Ohio State camp for insight on who's going to be under center this year. Wednesday night brought a particularly unfortunate bit of information with news that up-and-coming receiver Noah Brown broke his leg, most likely ending Brown's season.
With Brown's injury, Ohio State's already thin receiving corps for the Virginia Tech just got a lot thinner. Whatever Dontre Wilson, Corey Smith and Jalin Marshall did to get themselves suspended for that game, it just became a lot more harmful to the team.
Ohio State's left with Michael Thomas, Braxton Miller and a group of generally young but freakishly gifted athletes at wide receiver. Thomas is a known quantity - he's a top NFL prospect and the most experienced receiver on the Buckeyes roster. Miller has yet to catch a live pass, but provided he can run a decent route and can catch, I'd expect him to make a big contribution in Game 1 as well. There's been talk that Curtis Samuel will see some time at H-Back as well, but that's not his primary role, and he's not tremendously experienced as a receiver. (2014 stat line: 11 receptions for 95 yards)
But outside these three, "Zone 6" has a lot of question marks, red-shirted players who have seen only limited playing time in the last year. But take heart! - what these receivers lack in experience, they make up for in pure physical attributes. Just look at this height - Johnnie Dixon's the shortest at 5'11", and Jeff Greene and Torrance Gibson could play for Thad Matta.
Virigina Tech has one free safety over 6-feet tall, and no cornerbacks that can match up to Gibson or Greene in terms of height.
Gibson, Parris Campbell and Johnnie Dixon are also freaky fast. Our recruiting analyst loved Gibson's ability to get to top speed quickly, with a great ability to elevate to jump balls. Campbell can run a 4.41 40-yard dash and played tailback in high school. Dixon has been compared to Jalin Marshall as a fast, explosive athlete who can produce from multiple positions. Virginia Tech's secondary is talented, but if all these speed demons are on the field at once, along with Braxton Miller, it's going to be difficult to pick a poison.
So does this mean the Buckeyes should simplify the passing playbook? These tall, speedy receivers could blow the top off a Bear-style, run-blocking defense. Chuck it long and let these young bloods out run the Hokie defensive backs or simply win a jump ball. Collectively, this group adds up to Devin Spencer, a long-range specialist who relied on his speed and nose for the ball to burn defenses that cheated in on the run.
What does this mean for Ohio State's QB battle? At least for game one, I'm still with Ian Boyd, who said Cardale Jones gives Ohio State the best chance to win against Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech returns both corners and moves Clark to free safety, rather than nickel. If the Buckeyes are going to pass, to prevent the Hokies from playing their 46 again, they'll need to find a WR to run deep routes on new nickel Greg Stroman. And they'll need to do a better job of getting the ball to that receiver.
Of course, they'll be missing Jalin Marshall and Corey Smith in this game, and it'd be a lot to ask Braxton Miller to feature prominently in his first game at receiver. Meyer may need to be creative with his remaining load of skill talent, but there's an obvious way to improve the prospects.
With a big-armed passer, they can threaten to take the top off like they did against Alabama, which lures more defenders from the point of attack than a second ballcarrier can.
Now that Ohio State is going to have to rely more on raw physical skills rather than tuned and timed short- and mid-length receiving routes, the threat of Cardale Jones launching missiles into the Hokie deep secondary for Dixon, Campbell, and Gibson will be critical to opening up running lanes for Elliott, H-back plays for Miller and Samuel and, if necessary, some good old fashioned 12-gauge trucking.
JT Barrett might be the best bet for the full season, but until Ohio State has its full compliment of experienced receivers back, it will be difficult to depend on these young, green receivers to run the more complex routes that take full advantage of Barrett's laser precision.
Cardale has proven he has the ability to throw the long ball, effectively hand the ball off to Elliott, and keep his composure during high pressure games outside Ohio Stadium. In the context of the Virginia Tech game, that's exactly the recipe for a Buckeye win.