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Ohio State vs. Oregon State 2018: Game preview and prediction

The Buckeyes are heavy favorites as they open up their 2018 campaign on Saturday at Ohio Stadium against Oregon State

Oregon State v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

The Ohio State Buckeyes looks to put a month of turmoil behind them when they open up their 2018 season on Saturday against Oregon State, inside Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes not only will be trying to replace quarterback J.T. Barrett, but they’ll also be without head coach Urban Meyer for the first three games of the season. With Meyer serving his suspension, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day will handle the interim head coaching duties.

Even with Meyer missing the first three games, expectations are sky high for the Buckeyes in 2018. Ohio State is loaded with talent on both sides of the football, and many are projecting the Buckeyes to make their third College Football Playoff in five years.

Saturday’s meeting marks just the third matchup between Ohio State and Oregon State, and first since 1984, which the Buckeyes won 22-14 in Columbus. Oregon State actually held a 14-3 halftime lead over the Buckeyes in that matchup, but our OSU was able to regroup and earn the victory in the second half. The first time these schools met left a lot less in doubt, as the Buckeyes rolled the Beavers 51-10.

The last time Ohio State opened up a season against a Pac-12 opponent was in 2003 in their first game after their national championship triumph over Miami. The Buckeyes welcomed Washington to Columbus and were able to send the Huskies back to Seattle with a 28-9 loss.

Ohio State has won 18 straight season openers, but have turned up the heat on their opponents since Urban Meyer took over as head coach. The Buckeyes have been extremely efficient in recent season openers, averaging 49.6 points per game since 2012 in their first game of the season. Ohio State is 20-2 over the past six years in September, with the average margin of victory in those wins being 33.1 points per game.

As if the odds weren’t stacked high enough for Oregon State in this matchup, the Beavers are making their farthest trip east since 2008, when they traveled to State College to take on Penn State. When Oregon State kicks off in Columbus at noon on Saturday, it will be just 9 a.m. in Corvallis, marking the fourth time since 2005 that Oregon State has had to deal with a 9 a.m. body clock kickoff. The Beavers have not fared well in the previous three early kicks, losing all three games by a combined score of 133-34.

Simba and his pride

The Buckeyes will return six starters on offense, and four starters on defense, but there is no question that Ohio State has the talent waiting in the wings to fill those open spots. The position under the biggest microscope will be quarterback, where Dwayne Haskins has been named the successor to J.T. Barrett.

Haskins has already given Ohio State a glimpse of what the future may hold, when he was forced into action in Ann Arbor last year against Michigan when Barrett exited the game due to injury. With the Buckeyes down 20-14 midway through the third quarter, Haskins’ number was called. The defining play from Haskins in the game came when he found Austin Mack for 27 yards when the Buckeyes were faced with 3rd & 13. The Buckeyes went on to finish the drive with a touchdown, and wouldn’t trail for the rest of the game.

There hasn’t been this much hype surrounding Ohio State’s passing game in years, and that is because of the group of wide receivers that the Buckeyes have assembled. Ohio State returns their top six WRs from last year, with Parris Campbell getting most of the headlines. Last year Campbell led the Buckeyes with 584 receiving yards, averaging 14.6 yards per reception. The speed that Campbell possess has many thinking that even bigger numbers will be in store for the senior this year.

To go along with Campbell’s speed, K.J. Hill has the hands that Haskins will be able to count on all season long. The 56 receptions that Hill hauled in last year led the Buckeyes, and in a tough spot it’s more than likely that Haskins will be looking the way of the junior wide receiver.

Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon, Binjimen Victor, and Austin Mack are the other four receivers who should be targeted heavily by Haskins this year. The speed of McLaurin and Dixon, along with the size of Victor and Mack should give Haskins all the tools that he needs to have a successful season as Ohio State shifts to more of a pro-style passing game.

Ground warfare

It’s hard to imagine that a team with two running backs who have rushed for 1,000 yards in a season in their careers might be a bit of an afterthought, but that almost feels like the case this year. With Mike Weber injured to start last season, true freshman J.K. Dobbins burst onto the scene and rushed for a school freshman record 1,403 yards.

With Dobbins putting together such a strong freshman season, many though Mike Weber might declare for the NFL Draft after last season, but the running back from Detroit decided to return to Ohio State. Even in limited duty last year, Weber still rushed for 626 yards and 10 touchdowns. Weber did most of his damage in the middle of November, rushing for 270 yards and four touchdowns against Michigan State and Illinois.

The combination of Dobbins and Weber will do wonders to take some of the pressure off of Haskins as he adjusts to his starting role. The running game with the elusiveness of Dobbins, along with the power and speed of Weber, will be able to open up the passing game. If teams focus too much on trying to slow down Dobbins and Weber, they’ll leave holes in the passing game which Haskins and his stable of wide receivers will exploit.

Next man up

Ohio State welcomes back just four starters on the defensive side of the football, but there aren’t nearly the concerns about Ohio State’s defense that other teams in the same situation might be going through. Some of those new starters have already seen some time on the field, so they are well aware of what is expected of them and how to reach those expectations.

Ohio State’s defensive line has plenty to replace with three starters having moved on to the NFL, but Nick Bosa returns and “Baby Bosa” is projected by some as the top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Last year Bosa led the Buckeyes with 8.5 sacks, and was named Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.

Joining Bosa at defensive end will be Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper, both who saw some action last year. Young showed late in the year why he was one of the most touted defensive end recruits in the country, registering a sack and a half against Michigan, and another sack against USC. Cooper didn’t see quite as much time as Young last year, but there is no doubt that the potential is there.

To compliment the outside pressure that Bosa, Young, and Cooper will create, Dre’Mont Jones will cause chaos on the interior of the line. Jones could have moved on to the NFL after last season, but he decided to come back to Columbus to not only make himself better, but to also help the Buckeyes win a national title.

A new crop of silver bullets

If there was an area for concern on defense, it would have to be at linebacker. Not only do the Buckeyes have to replace Chris Worley and Jerome Baker, but they also have to work with Tuf Borland’s recovery from an achilles injury suffered in the offseason. The injury could be a blessing later in the season for Ohio State, though.

With Oregon State and Rutgers on the schedule to open the slate, the Buckeyes don’t have to rush Borland back into action. There’s no sense in forcing Borland back and risking aggravating the injury and leaving the sophomore lost for an extended amount of time. Baron Browning is so physically gifted that he can fill in for Borland at middle linebacker before moving to the outside.

The outside linebacker positions— for now— will be manned by Malik Harrison and Pete Werner, but both Keandre Jones and Dante Booker will be nipping at their heels for playing time. Booker will have the most to prove, as he was a highly rated recruit coming out of high school, but hasn’t lived up to the hype, as injuries have slowed him down as of late. Now, Booker has one last chapter to write in his story at Ohio State, and he’ll try and show scouts that he is worthy of a spot at the next level.

Shifting gears

Oregon State is coming off of their worst season since 1995, posting a 1-11 record in 2017. The only win for the Beavers was a three-point victory against FCS foe Portland State in the second game of the year. It would be Gary Andersen’s final win as head coach of Oregon State, as the former Wisconsin coach resigned four games later.

Cornerbacks coach Cory Hall assumed the interim head coach role after Andersen left, and while Oregon State lost by a combined four points to Colorado and Stanford in Hall’s first two games in charge, things would only get worse as the season drew to a close. Overall, Oregon State lost by at least 14 points in nine games in 2017.

The Beavers brought a familiar face in as head coach in the offseason, hiring former quarterback Jonathan Smith. Prior to coming back to his alma mater, Smith spent the last four seasons as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator with Washington.

Smith played for Oregon State from 1998-2001, starting 39 consecutive games for the Beavers. Smith holds school records in passing touchdowns, as well as passing yardage records for a game, single season, and career. If Smith’s name might sound familiar, it is because he was the quarterback for the 2000 Oregon State team that went 11-1 and dismantled Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl.

Less than Jake

Taking the snaps for Oregon State to start the season will be Jake Luton, who started four games for the Beavers last year before injuries cut his season short. In his first year with Oregon State, Luton threw four touchdowns and four interceptions, but he didn’t have a whole lot to work with on offense.

Luton started his career at Idaho before heading to Ventura Community College in 2016 where he was a Junior College All-American. What literally stands out the most about Luton is his size, as he measures up at 6-foot-7. It will likely be a rough start to the season for the redshirt senior against a talented Ohio State defense, but with a head coach with the pedigree for coaching quarterbacks like Jonathan Smith has, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Luton find some success as the year moves along.

Experience in the trenches

At least Oregon State should be able to keep their quarterback clean. Last year the Beavers only allowed 18 sacks in 12 games, and this year they have six linemen with a combined 71 starts returning. The elder statesman of the offensive line is Blake Brandel, who is the only Oregon State player to start each game the last two seasons.

Ohio State will have to work through a lot of beef if they want to get to the quarterback, with each of Oregon State’s starting offensive linemen weighing in at at least 287 pounds. The meatiest lineman of the group is junior left guard Gus Lavaka, who tips the scales at 353 pounds. Lavaka has started 19 games for the Beavers on the offensive line.

A tough task is now even tougher

Even if safety David Morris, Oregon State’s leading returning tackler, was healthy, the Beavers would have their hands full against the talented group of wide receivers that Ohio State will throw at them. Earlier this week our own Geoff Hammersley took a look at some of the healthy Oregon State defensive backs that will have to up their game on Saturday.

Summary

F/+ Projection: Ohio State 52, Oregon State 10

Win probability: Ohio State 99.2%

Bigger favorites have lost in college football before, but the Buckeyes would have to go through a meltdown of epic proportions to fall to the Beavers on Saturday afternoon. Even though Ohio State will be without head coach Urban Meyer against Oregon State, it will likely be business as usual for the Buckeyes. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ohio State actually come out looser than normal, as they have to be itching to take the field after everything that the team has gone through over the past month.

With their multifaceted offense, Ohio State should be able to put points on the board early and often against the Beavers. The main goal for the Buckeyes should be to get the starters some work and get them out of the game and shield them from any possible injuries when the result is well in hand. The latter parts of the game would be a great time for Ohio State to take a look at some of the players they are considering redshirting, as the new NCAA rules allow for players to see more time on the field without burning a redshirt.

As the season moves along, the competition will raise for the Buckeyes, especially with games against TCU and Penn State before the end of the month, but Saturday’s game against Oregon State will be a great chance to get some of the new starters comfortable in their roles, and ready for a possible national championship season.