Welcome to I Got Five on it, the weekly Ohio State football column where I sometimes make horrendously incorrect predictions, but *always* have fun breaking down Ohio State’s upcoming game, and give you five things to watch for. If you’re a returning reader; Thank you. If you’re new; I’m sorry in advance.
It’s been a long time since we last talked, and the less time spent reminiscing about the Clemson debacle, the better.
Anyway, expectations for Ohio State are as high as ever, and it all starts tonight in Bloomington, Indiana. Can the Buckeyes win a second national championship in four years? Or will we have to settle for another 11-win season and act like the program is in shambles from December to next August? We’re about to find out.
Here are five things to watch for as Ohio State takes on Indiana:
Flexin’ on my ex
The first time you run into your ex is almost always an awkward experience. Hurt feelings are masked, lies are told about how you’re actually doing great, and it just ends up badly for everyone involved. That is, unless you can completely stunt on them. Tonight, new Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson gets the chance to do just that.
Wilson was fired before Indiana’s bowl game last year due to concerns over player mistreatment, as IU Athletic Director Fred Glass cited “philosophical differences in how to run a football team.” Despite the rocky exit, Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith and Urban Meyer felt comfortable enough with Wilson’s behavior to hire him, and as fate would have it, his first coaching assignment is against his old team.
I’m not convinced this will be the blowout Vegas thinks — especially given how close this series has been of late— but it’ll be interesting to see what happens if Ohio State gets a big second half lead. Meyer has a history of keeping it extremely petty, and although this isn’t really his battle, Wilson may receive the go-ahead to get his pound of flesh for the way his tenure in Bloomington ended if the opportunity presents itself.
(The main takeaway here? If you run into an ex and are confronted with the choice; To stunt, or not to stunt? STUNT. ALWAYS.)
You may have heard already, but Ohio State’s defensive line is nasty. Everybody up front is back, and in Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa, Dre’Mont Jones and Jalyn Holmes, the Buckeyes return 18.5 sacks, 18.5 non-sack tackles for loss, and 138.5 total tackles.
Those five should put up stellar numbers once again, and will probably even top them due to a change in the defensive line’s scheme. What will really put the defense over the top, however, is the depth behind them.
Robert Landers is a mainstay at defensive tackle, while Michael Hill (currently suspended), and former blue-chippers Jashon Cornell and Jonathan Cooper will also play key roles in the rotation. Lastly— but certainly not least— true freshman Chase Young is already looking like the grownest of grown-ass men:
The returning production, depth, and new talent leaves Ohio State at least 10-deep along the line, and maybe even more, depending how things shake out. Defensive Coordinator Greg Schiano has his work cut out for him in the best possible way in trying to figure out how to get everyone involved. Keep an eye on how he is rotating his linemen and the situational packages they trot out against the Hoosiers.
Speaking of Landers; He might be the best Buckeye that no one talks about. Landers doesn’t have the size of Jones, the seniority of Tracy Sprinkle, or the recruiting pedigree of newcomer Haskell Garrett, but all he does is make plays:
Landers’ small stature allows him to leverage the hell out of offensive linemen, and his 7.5 tackles for loss were good for fifth best on the team last season. Not bad for a redshirt freshman in limited playing time. With more opportunities and another year in the program under his belt, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Landers emerge as one of the stars of the defense, starting tonight.
Making house calls
It’s been almost seven years (!) since Jordan Hall scored this touchdown against Michigan. What does that have to do with anything, you ask? It’s the last time Ohio State had a kick return touchdown.
The Buckeyes’ return game has been good lately— they’ve ranked 30th and 8th in kickoff return success rate the past two years— but they still haven’t scored in the Meyer era. This, despite having an ungodly amount of speed at returner, a host of former blue-chip recruits to block for them, and Meyer’s reputation as a special teams ace. Look for that to change soon.
Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill are slated as this year’s return duo, and both have the ability to end the drought. Campbell nearly did it against Indiana last year, and it’s only a matter of time before it happens again.
The new guy
There’s been a considerable amount of excitement surrounding freshman running back J.K. Dobbins leading up to the start of the season. The La Grange, TX product was the first member of the 2017 recruiting class to lose his black stripe, was a standout in practice, and is now listed as co-starter at running back with Mike Weber due to the latter’s minor injury issues.
I’m intrigued to see how much Meyer and the coaching staff trust him in game one, especially since it happens to be a conference game. True freshmen at the skill positions haven’t ever really been counted on as of late —Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson being the minor exceptions— and that includes eventual stars like Ezekiel Elliott and Jalin Marshall. Dobbins is going to get the opportunity to change that.
Maybe he gets 15 carries. Maybe he only gets two. The one thing that’s clear is that he’s going to play, and if his performance in the offseason was any indicator of what’s to come, Ohio State could have a pretty devastating duo at running back this season.