This Saturday, the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes are heading into, arguably, their biggest game of the regular season. Facing No. 9 Penn State on the road, Big Ten East—and College Football Playoff—implications will abound in primetime at Beaver Stadium.
But before we get to Saturday, we have to get through the week. Monday brought us some insight into the Buckeye program, as Urban Meyer held his weekly press conference. A slew of questions were answered, ranging from the offense’s change of philosophy behind quarterback Dwayne Haskins, to the status of Nick Bosa.
Let’s take a look at the five most important takeaways from Monday’s presser.
1. “I just saw [Mike Weber] this week. Yeah, he’ll play this week”
Against Tulane, Mike Weber exited the game in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury and did not return. While it may have been against the Green Wave, Penn State was on the horizon—and losing a key component of the Buckeye running attack would’ve been a blow to the offense’s game breaking ability.
Fortunately, Meyer announced on Monday that the 2,000-yard rusher will be ready for action on Saturday night. Even though the running game hasn’t been called upon to be spectacular, Weber posted a career-best 186 yards in Week 1 versus Oregon State. On the season, the Detroit native has 299 yards and three touchdowns.
Over the past two games, J.K. Dobbins has been the primary rusher for the Bucks. With Weber back in the saddle, the thunder and lightning of Ohio State’s top two rushers will most likely be utilized as a way to equal out the passing attack by Haskins.
Meyer mentioned that Brian Snead didn’t travel to TCU, nor was he suited up against Tulane because of a violation of team rules. With Snead’s status uncertain against PSU, the brunt of handles will come to Weber and Dobbins. That was probably going to happen anyway, but with Snead out, it’s not a certainty.
2. “And Nick Bosa is still not ready. It’s going to be a few more weeks, but we expect him back. And then B.B. Landers will play this week. So that’s good news.”
Having Weber back answered only one of the burning questions about Ohio State’s personnel. The biggest question revolved around the status of defense lineman Nick Bosa—which only evolved as Monday went on.
At the podium, the Bucks’ head coach said that Bosa would be out for a few more weeks. However, by the afternoon, some reports surfaced that the All-American defenseman would be out until November. If that is the case, then Bosa would at least miss contests against Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, and potentially Nebraska—in addition to Penn State. He exited the TCU game on Sept. 15 with an apparent leg/groin injury, and later had surgery to repair a core muscle injury.
On the bright side: Robert Landers is slated to return against the Nittany Lions.
The junior tackle was projected to start last week, but was held out. With him being greenlit to see the field in Happy Valley, the Buckeye defense will, hopefully, be well on its way to getting healthy again.
Ohio State won convincingly last week, but it wasn’t a good litmus test for determining how much of an effect the absence of Bosa had. The Buckeye defense had 13 tackles-for-loss and four QB sacks, but against an overmatched option-esque offense, it was going to be a big day for the defense in the statbox no matter what.
A true litmus test for the Buckeye defense—and especially the D-line—will come on Saturday.
3. “You equate numbers a handful of different ways. And in the pro-style traditional guy like Dwayne, you equate it by throwing.”
With the tandem of Weber and Dobbins on the ground, Meyer has to equalize the offense by going to his quarterback’s ability to throw the ball. In years past, the zone-read game headed by J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller, enabled the offense to reach equilibrium through the quarterback. You didn’t know when Barrett was going to keep the ball and run, or pull away from the option and air it out.
As Haskins is a bonafide passing threat, defenses know that he won’t be the primary runner. That responsibility falls to the running back. Outside of the short lived Cardale Jones era, Meyer has been a big proponent of balancing the run and the pass. This year, his team’s philosophy has been modified.
Through four games, that modified philosophy is on pace to shatter OSU passing records. The catch, though, is how will opposing teams catch on to the adaptation of the Buckeye offense. TCU gave the Bucks a good fight for about three quarters; Penn State, unlike TCU, will take the fight wire-to-wire. My rationale for that is because this is OSU’s first true road game of the season, and Penn State’s white out is no joke.
A balanced performance by the OSU offense is coming, but how effective will it be in one of the biggest games of the season?
4. “He’s one of the most improved players we’ve ever had here. One of the most improved players I’ve ever been around. His leadership is incredible...And I can’t be more proud, and his family should be very proud, too”
It’s been a long and winding road for Isaiah Prince. During the College Football Playoff run of 2016, he faced criticism for his inability to block and protect the quarterback. Things have changed though in just a couple years.
In Week 1, he chased down a defender that intercepted Haskins. And then last week, he did this to a poor defensive lineman.
Meyer has taken note of the improvements he’s made on and off the field. This week, one of the under-the-radar guys to watch on offense will be Prince. With Haskins being a thrower, he’ll need time to make throws. If Prince can help supply the time, the Heisman campaign for the “Dwayne Train” will have an easier path to and from State College, Penn.
5. “Last week was more of a wishbone-style triple option. This will be a true spread quarterback...It’s a much different mindset. You’ve got to make sure you always account for it.”
Penn State’s offense revolves around QB Trace McSorley. The senior captain can do it all—just look at the Nittany Lion history books. With just 503 more rushing yards, McSorley will hold the top spot as the school’s leading QB rusher. The leader in career passing efficiency at Penn State? None other than McSorley.
No matter who’s on the field for the Ohio State defense, they’ll have to have one eye on McSorley at all times. Tulane’s wishbone offense kept the eyes of the defense in the backfield. As evident by the tackles for loss, the Buckeyes had no problem with the wishbone.
If McSorley gets cooking, the Buckeye will have their hands full.