As the season keeps moving on, so do the routines. The Ohio State Buckeyes played—and won—their Saturday contest, this time a win at Michigan State, and now prepare for their next opponent. But before the coaches and student-athletes get knee-deep into preparation, head coach Urban Meyer stood at the podium on Monday and answered questions from the media.
Once again, a wide array of topics were discussed. From the passing performances of Dwayne Haskins, to offensive line play, to Brendon White’s presence on the field, to the Maryland Terrapins, Meyer keyed in the assembled press (and viewers online) about the current state of the Buckeyes.
A decent presser length with a slew of decent answer, let’s take a look at the five biggest takeaways from Meyer’s conference, and see what they mean as the Bucks prepare to secure their 10th win of the season.
1. “I don’t want to get deep into injuries, but he’s probable for this week.”
The ‘he’ in this question refers to sophomore linebacker Baron Browning. The former Kennedale (TX) star was injured last week, and did not play in Saturday’s win against Michigan State.
So far this season, Browning has appeared in eight games (starting in three) and has produced 22 total tackles. He’s also collected 3.5 tackles for loss, with those happening in games against Tulane, Penn State and Nebraska.
Since Tuf Borland returned from an Achilles injury in Week 3, Browning has been the backup LB. Even though Browning hasn’t been a bonafide starter, he’s still producing. For the Buckeyes, having fresh guys in the game is gonna limit wear-and-tear, and may even limit on the whiffed tackles. While Browning’s injury wasn’t directly unveiled, an injury nonetheless effects the Buckeyes’ depth behind the line of scrimmage.
With a slugfest against Michigan being stared down, you don’t want guys being worn down after a trip to College Park. Especially if Maryland feels like playing inspired football, you don’t want to be exposed underneath on short passes—and deal with the inevitable chases. Browning’s best game of his career happened last season against Maryland, where he recorded six tackles. Getting him back in action this Saturday against UMD may be a hidden upside in the long term as OSU prepares for The Game on Nov. 24.
2. “Just emphasis. And, man, I love those two guys. They’ve done it in practice. That’s the only thing I’ll say about our offensive line now is that: Are we where we need to be? No. Do they grind and work and fight and spit and everything they can?”
Ah yes, the offensive line/running game were addressed for another week. Meyer reiterated his admiration for running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, however, he brought up the progress of the O-Line. The head coach has stated before that he tries to get the five best guys on the line for each game, which in turn should help pave the way for the RBs to flourish.
There was some flourishing in the rushing attack against the Spartans, most notably in the fourth quarter. Weber had a 58-yard performance in the final 15 minutes in East Lansing, Mich., however, some of those yards came after receiving fantastic field position from the Spartans. For the first three quarters though, it was a three-point contest—and the running game was having a tough time gaining traction.
Dobbins had a less than stellar day inside Spartan Stadium, as he picked up 28 yards on 14 carries. On most of the rushes, it seemed like the Texas native was running into a brick wall.
If holes aren’t opening for the running backs, then it’s going to be a tough afternoon for any sort of ground game. O-Line play has been one of the areas lacking in this edition of the Buckeyes, but it has steadily improved since the bye week. When the likes of Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott have had monster seasons on the ground, we’ve come to expect that a rusher will break free every season. Even in past seasons with Weber and Dobbins, they’ve been able to burst onto the scene because of phenomenal blocking. While this O-Line is still one of the most dominant in the country, we’ve come to expect more; in a way, their biggest pitfall isn’t themselves—but history. Sprinkle in some injuries to Branden Bowen and Brady Taylor, and move Michael Jordan to center, and now you have a formula for an even more out of place line.
3. “I think we can play a little bit better. That was a rugged day now. That was -- it’s not exactly where we need to be. But I think I am satisfied with where we’re at. The next guy in would be Wyatt Davis.”
Continuing with the O-Line questioning, I think this response from Meyer carries some weight. He named dropped Wyatt Davis as a potential next guy in.
With all the marbles being on the line against Michigan, it wouldn’t be too far fetched to believe that O-Line spots will be going through an audience phase against Maryland. Meyer wants to have his best guys on the field in, arguably, the biggest game of the season, and showing what you got against UMD is one way to gauge the state of the line. If Bowen and Taylor are near ready, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them get a few snaps in College Park.
Whatever curveball Meyer can throw at the Wolverines, he may take stock of it against the Terrapins. And one of those curveballs could be a stronger, more reinforced offensive line via late-season, wholesale changes.
4. “Pistol behind the tailback behind the center. It’s all game-specific. There’s really not that much difference in -- I guess I shouldn’t -- it’s not that much of a difference in what we do. That’s Kevin [Wilson], Ryan [Day] and they present to me and I listen.”
Formation changes always give insight into how an offensive is operating. Instead of sticking with the tried and true method of doing things, Meyer is at least taking input from Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson.
If anything, we know that Meyer isn’t micromanaging how his units operate; he’s at least willing to listen to game plan critiques. Granted, as he states, the Pistol formation doesn’t change the process of OSU’s offensive too terribly much, but the change did show some effects. Last week, we saw Haskins have a return to earth with a 227-yard passing day. Was that directly tied to the formation? Debatable. But it does change (a little) how the offense will go about their way on the quest for points.
My big question: if the strategies are game-specific, then what strategy will be shown against a hungry, revenge induced Michigan squad?
5) “Once again, I personally have, I believe, but I just see he’s playing well. And we’re tackling. He’s done a nice job with that. Like I said, this is the challenge. The challenge is coming up.”
After a 13 tackle effort against Nebraska, defensive back Brendon White came back down from the stratosphere in East Lansing. While he didn’t break a double-digit tackle total, he did record five against the Spartans. For those wondering: only Pete Werner (7) and Tuf Borland (6) had more tackles against MSU than White.
Tackling has been one of the problems plaguing the defense, and against the Cornhuskers, White appeared to be the answer to all those problems. (Personally, I think his performance saved OSU from a loss to the Scott Frost program). But, the big challenge is coming up on Nov. 24. This will be the true test to whether or not White was a one-game wonder, or if he’s here to stay. Seeing how he does against Maryland may be a decent indicator of how teams are preparing for him, too.
Either way, more elite play from No. 25 will be what holds the defense upright—and may even keep dreams of a College Football Playoff berth intact.