“We didn’t play perfect by any stretch. I thought our guys did a good job of keeping their composure and making the plays we had to make coming down the stretch.”
That Matta used a great variety of lineups--18 of them, to be exact--in Ohio State’s surprising 70-66 win over Michigan Saturday to give the Buckeyes their first win at Michigan in six years. That level of looks is a stark contrast to the lineups that Matta has been using for much of the season, especially in conference play, when he has relied mainly on the starting five to play in a mainly consistent formation. With point guard C.J. Jackson starting in place of the injured JaQuan Lyle (who still saw minutes Saturday) and Jae’Sean Tate getting into foul trouble early, Matta started switching things up early and managed to find a number of lineups that were successful in unique situations against the Wolverines.
Against Michigan, bench players played 50 total minutes, and eight players were on the floor for more than 10 minutes individually. While the points were not extreme (the bench combined for just 13 points), center Micah Potter and forward Andre Wesson brought different roles off the bench to contribute to the Buckeyes’ different lineups. While he was not used against Michigan, center David Bell has proven to bring a different kind of specialization which could be useful in other situations down the stretch. And Jackson, used in conjunction with Lyle or solo as point guard, gives different options for Ohio State for a smaller lineup.
More players on the court in more looks seemed to create a more engaged team as a whole, which is something that has been lacking throughout the season. While individual players have shown sparks of promise, the lineup as a whole has not been able to rely on talent alone to win games this season. Given the success against Michigan, Matta has a number of looks to rely on throughout the rest of the conference season which will be successful against different teams in different situations.
“The one area, too, that they see is these kids not only leave this program and go to the NFL, they start ... I’m watching the Pro Bowl, a Buckeye carries the ball, a Buckeye is blocking for him and a Buckeye tackles him.”
Having signed the second-ranked recruiting class in the country, the Ohio State Buckeyes have all the resources they need to continue to bring the best recruits in the country to Columbus for years to come. Two trips to the College Football Playoff, a national championship in the past three years and a track record of sending Buckeyes to the NFL all provide credibility for a historic name in college football with a proven (and current) winning program. Urban Meyer, a talented recruiter on his own, has been able to capitalize on the Ohio State brand, especially given the recent success of the program.
And while it is certainly a selling point to send players to the NFL (including the even dozen taken in 2016), perhaps the greater factor is the playing time former Buckeyes receive once they do make their respective rosters. Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Michael Thomas and Eli Apple all turned heads as rookies, with Elliott even making it to the Pro Bowl after leading the NFL in rushing in the regular season.
The preparation gained especially by early enrollees has offered an advantage in getting on the field early at Ohio State, though the winter and spring conditioning programs at Ohio State are a challenge unto themselves even for the top recruits in the country. Still, the benefits--like getting noticed by NFL scouts--are proven for those who can make it through the program.
Other Meyer initiatives, including “Real Life Wednesdays,” internships and job fairs, have helped set up Buckeyes for success even off the football field, lending even more appeal to Ohio State as a program.
All of these factors together, along with the continued success that comes with recruiting and developing some of the best recruiting classes in the country, have helped Ohio State to reload and build even more outstanding classes each successive year.
“This isn’t going to be the last time I have to compete against the best out there.”
Freshman Tate Martell knows that he has a tough road ahead of him if he has any hope of playing the quarterback position at Ohio State, especially given the fact that Urban Meyer has already been confirmed as the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes. Even looking ahead to next year, when Barrett completes his final season of eligibility, Martell still has to contend with the duo of former four-star recruits in Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins, as well as Emory Jones, a verbal commit from Georgia.
Now Martell, a four-star recruit himself, is one of nine early enrollees entering winter conditioning with the football program as he vies for a chance at the backup spot for Barrett--a position that is wide open. He is not concerned about fighting for the starting spot next year before he earns his role for this season with Haskins and Burrow in the mix.
Meyer appreciates Martell’s competitive drive--something that helped the quarterback to not lose a single game as a starter in high school--which is Meyer’s top criteria for a quarterback recruit. “The way we evaluate quarterbacks, I understand is a lot different than others, but he’s a winner. That’s where he fits,” said Meyer. Even with his size, standing at 5-foot-10, 203-pounds, Martell was the No.2 dual-threat quarterback in the 2017 recruiting class and plays a different style than the other quarterbacks currently on the Ohio State roster.
Beyond Ohio State, Martell has aspirations of making an NFL team, and says that this will not be the last time he has to compete against excellent competition to earn his role: “...if you want to make it to the NFL, you’re not going to be competing against average guys. You’re going to be competing against the best anyway.”