With a momentum win against Michigan, the Ohio State Buckeyes have another game to play in 2018. And with this being game week, we are back to the routine; a one component of the routine is Urban Meyer’s briefing with the media.
Another Monday has passed, and that brought another press conference inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes head coach answered a litany of questions from the press, ranging from the play of quarterback Dwayne Haskins, to the status of his offensive line, to the defense, and previewed a little bit of what the Northwestern Wildcats will bring to the field on Saturday in Indianapolis.
Let’s take a look at the five biggest takeaways from Meyer’s presser, and see what they mean for the Bucks as they look for back-to-back Big Ten Championships.
1. “Wyatt Davis will get a start. And Josh Myers is so close, he’s had a great month and half of practices. And Branden Bowen was the starting right guard before he got hurt...So this is a big week for all three of those guys.”
One of the storylines from OSU’s blasting of UM was the injury of right guard Demetrius Knox, who went down with a leg injury in the waning moments of Saturday’s 62-39 win against the arch-rival.
Filling the spot may have been a problem a few weeks ago, as the offensive line didn’t have much depth to it due to injured personnel. Now, however, things have gotten a little bit better—and guys have stepped up and practiced better.
With that being said, Meyer announced that Wyatt Davis would be seeing time in filling that starting spot. The redshirt freshman from California will be playing in a critical role, as the Buckeyes need to not only win on Saturday, but need to have an unequivocal showing of their true potential. Another game like Michigan, or better yet, like the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game where they blanked Wisconsin 59-0, and sent them packing to a whole new dimension.
Offensive line play is one component of showing off how good you can be. If Haskins gets time and the running game can develop, then OSU will be off to the races. If the line shows cracks, and another Maryland or Nebraska game resurfaces, then you’d have to figure the College Football Playoff committee may be skeptical at bringing the Bucks into the playoff.
2. “It hasn’t been decided. I’m a Tate Martell fan. So I’m pushing it real hard. And we’re going to do what’s best.”
The goal line situations still are still a mixed bag. It can either be a Haskins keeper, or a Tate Martell zone-read. Most of the time, though, the Martell packages haven’t been yielding touchdowns. There’s been times when Martell has come up short of getting into the end zone—with the ball being within the five- or six-yard line; other times he’s been stopped.
The same goes with the Haskins packages, at least that was the case until the Maryland game. Dwayne has been putting his shoulders down and taking off with the ball, and has the moves to shake off defenders en route to the end zone on those short-yardage plays.
But, we are creatures of habit. Regardless of where he’s been, Meyer has had a QB that, for the most part, could be a threat on the ground. From Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida, to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett at OSU, he’s had a mobile quarterback. Martell brings that to the table, and better yet, he’s shown that he can throw the ball, too.
Putting Martell into the game is still a situational thing, so at least it’s not being forced. However, with this being game 13 of the season, if it hasn’t worked yet, what makes you think it’ll work now?
3. “They keep it in front of you. They’re very smart guys...They’re primarily a zone-coverage team.”
Here we have a little preview of the impending opponent, the Northwestern Wildcats. Though they dropped games to Duke and Akron in the early part of the season, Chicago’s team has been a terror in the Big Ten West. In their last 16 conference games, Pat Fitzgerald’s squad has captured 15 wins.
As they search for their 16th Big Ten win in 17 tries, the zone coverage defense could ground Air Haskins. A smart, disciplined team that knows where they are supposed to be and—more importantly—trusts each other could be what causes the Wildcats to go to the Rose Bowl. Last week, Michigan was torn to bits underneath in pass coverage, as the mesh route was a reason for the explosive passing effort.
Northwestern has had extra time to prep, and even though they were probably prepping for the Wolverines, they now have another data point at what OSU can do.
Time is the greatest factor, especially when you get more time than another team. Northwestern punched their ticket to Indy a couple weeks ago; Ohio State had to beat their nemesis to get there.
4. “But that’s not the way we treat it. We treat it: You will not play a down at Ohio State until you contribute on special teams. It’s three phases of the game...And every great player -- I’m willing to say every great player we’ve ever had started on a special teams phase and had to play well in it.”
Special teams is something Meyer has always taken seriously. Arguably, you can say the coaches that take special teams seriously, rather than just another gimme play, tend to be the ones that do pretty well. Frank Beamer’s special teams at Virginia Tech was known at being game changers; the same can be said with Meyer.
Just look at what happened on Saturday with the blocked punt in the third quarter.
BUILD THE OLAVE STATUE RIGHT NOW pic.twitter.com/5MZ593yOI1— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) November 24, 2018
That play changed the game, and it was done by guys making great strides in their Buckeye career. Chris Olave flashed glimmers of what he could do against Maryland and Michigan State, but his big game was against that team up north. He hauled two receptions for touchdowns, but made the play of the game by blocking that punt.
Additionally, Sevyn Banks fielded that punt, and ran it into the end zone like his life depended on it. Meyer puts guys on this third facet of the game before they see the “real” action on offense and defense. So far, it’s worked incredibly well.
Granted, drops are still a problem on the receiving side of special teams, but we’re starting to see stars blossom. Olave may make some more noise this weekend, so you should keep an eye on him.
5. “The priority is about freshness, knowing what you’re doing. Right when I get out of here, me and Mick are going to plan the whole week to make sure that happens.”
Freshness may be the most important thing any team needs to have heading into championship week. Between the wear and tear over the course of a season, to injuries, the hopes and dreams of a select handful of programs rests on how they play this weekend. Especially for those with CFP ambitions, it all comes down to one more game.
With rivalry week pushing teams to the edge, it’s hard to keep the momentum up while also staying fresh. Fortunately, OSU has one of the best in the country when it comes to strength and conditioning. Last season, Barrett was able to play against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game after suffering a leg injury against Michigan. That’s all attributed to the support staff—finding ways to get guys healthy and game ready.
Mickey Marotti has done great things since coming to OSU, and I expect more of the same this week.