"Headed toward spring practice, there are rising sophomores, juniors and seniors penciled in to fill the starting voids But for depth, the Buckeyes will have to lean on their redshirt freshmen…"
With just a handful of returning starters on both sides of the ball, the Ohio State Buckeyes will need its redshirt freshmen to step up. Last season, there was no such void for freshmen to fill, given the myriad of returning talent available to the coaching staff. Now, however, with nine underclassmen having declared for the NFL Draft, along with the departure of several key seniors to graduation, the starting lineup from last year has been severely decimated.
On offense, quarterback J.T. Barrett is back for his junior season, and is supported by Billy Price and Pat Elflein on the line. Junior running back Curtis Samuel got carries as a backup last year while also lining up as a slot receiver, but his role for the 2016 season remains a mystery. As a result, redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber could see significant carries from the backfield. Receiver Noah Brown, who was expected to play last season following his redshirt year, has recovered from the broken leg he suffered prior to the 2015 season, and should be able to land a starting spot in 2016.
On defense, linebacker Raekwon McMillan is back, along with defensive end Tyquan Lewis and cornerback Gareon Conley. One incoming freshman who could step up opposite Lewis is Nick Bosa. Though still recovering from knee surgery, Bosa would have a chance to start as a true freshman and make an impact on a young defense. Linebacker Justin Hilliard, a five-star recruit coming into his freshman season, redshirted, but could make his case to be a solid backup to start the season.
The Ohio State wrestling team had a busy weekend, facing off against not one, but two top-25 teams in conference matchups. The Buckeyes first travelled to No. 22 Indiana Friday and won a decisive 27-9 victory behind redshirt sophomore Nathan Tomasello’s 25-pound weight class win. Tomasello is undefeated on the season, and is the top-ranked wrestler nationally in his weight class. Redshirt senior Johnni DiJulius also won his match in his team-high 110th career win.
The team then travelled to West Lafayette Sunday to take on No. 24 Purdue, where Tomasello continued his streak, earning his 15th win of the season and 32-straight wins dating back to last year. While redshirt freshman Micah Jordan won his match 14-3 with a major decision, the rest of the team struggled against the Boilermakers, who were trying to avoid their fifth conference loss. Losses by DiJulius and freshman Myles Martin closed the gap in favor of Purdue. Still, the Buckeyes rallied for a 20-17 win.
Ohio State, who is ranked No. 9 nationally, has now won eight-straight against both Indiana and Purdue. With the two wins over the weekend, Ohio State moves to 9-2 overall and 6-1 in conference play on the season. The team will head to No. 1 Penn State Saturday before returning to Columbus for its final two matches of the regular season.
"We just gotta make sure that we’re on the same page. When we do get the stop, we can’t relax. It’s a two-sided game and even though we were playing good defense, we kind of slowed up the tempo and I think that hurt us. We gotta continue to be better in practice when we do get the stop, to execute on the other end."
The stagnant offense that Ohio State has been experiencing all season is what drove the nail in the Buckeyes’ coffin down the stretch in their closer-than-expected matchup against eighth-ranked Maryland yesterday. Despite strong defensive play against a potent offense, Ohio State was unable to capitalize on opportunities on the other side of the ball at the end of the game. Nonetheless, after a 35-point blowout loss just a couple weeks ago, things could have turned out much worse. Ohio State was marred in the last matchup by issues on both sides of the ball as well as a severe lack of effort throughout the game, but managed to solve most of those problems heading into yesterday, thus putting the Buckeyes in the surprising position of having a chance to win the game in the last few minutes.
The resulting five-point loss is disappointing because of what could have been if Ohio State had been able to produce on offense. The season-low 35.6 field goal percentage along with 10 missed free throws throughout the game show the points left on the court. Inconsistent play from the point guard position between JaQuan Lyle and A.J. Harris means that the offense as a whole couldn’t find a rhythm, and, after Harris started the game, Lyle struggled to get in his own groove when he came into the game in the second half, missing his only two field goal attempts and looking hesitant to shoot when he got looks. To make matters worse, Marc Loving, Keita Bates-Diop and Lyle had a single field goal attempt between the three of them in the last six minutes of play yesterday. With less than half of the Big Ten schedule remaining, someone will have to step up to become a leader on offense down the stretch.
Both the Ohio State men’s and women’s tennis teams were in action this weekend, with both recording wins over strong opponents. The No. 16 Ohio State women’s team topped No. 12 Michigan in Ann Arbor 4-2 Sunday, while the No. 8 men’s squad defeated No. 26 Texas in a 4-0 sweep at home.
With the win, the women jump to 5-0 on the season on their way to the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Madison next week. Outstanding freshman Francesca Di Lorenzo, who won the Buckeyes’ first-ever individual national title in the National Collegiate Indoor Championships in the fall, clinched the match for Ohio State with a 7-6, 6-4 two-set victory in singles. The Buckeyes won the doubles point, winning two out of three matches, and went 3-2 in singles matches. This victory breaks a 16-match losing streak against Michigan dating back to 2003.
The men’s team now sits at 7-0, having swept every match this season 4-0. The Buckeyes won their doubles point in three matches, having split the first two, before sweeping the three singles matches. Two of the squad’s singles players, Ralf Steinbach and Mikael Torpegaard, have yet to drop a single set this season in five individual matches played. The team will face No. 18 Virginia Tech next week at home before themselves heading to the ITA National Team Indoor Championships.