With the Buckeyes coming to East Lansing this Saturday, it is time to take a look into what Ohio State brings to the table this year under new coach Urban Meyer.
Quarterback Braxton Miller has drawn a lot of early praise -- and has accounted for 14 touchdowns -- but the Buckeyes have more than just Miller going for them early in the year as they finished the nonconference season undefeated at 4-0.
To help shed some light on Ohio State, Brandon Castel of TheOzone.net was kind enough to answer a few questions for me and all of you.
Here's the questions and Brandon's answers:
1. Braxton Miller has looked like a different quarterback this season. What has been the biggest improvement in his game?
That’s a great question. A better question, if you’re looking back at that game against Michigan State a year ago would be where hasn’t he improved. By his own admission, Miller wasn’t really ready to play in that game last year, and it will probably go down as one of the worst in his career by the time he leaves Ohio State.
Where he has really improved this year is his decision-making. He still struggles to make the right read at times, but he’s finding the right spots to put the football and he’s learned when to run the ball and when to hang in the pocket. He’s such an instinctual runner that it’s hard to say he’s improved in that area, but he’s certainly much more comfortable with what he can do with his legs.
2. Obviously everyone knows Urban Meyer has taken over at Ohio State, but what is the feeling around the program with him as he heads into his first Big Ten season?
Here in Columbus, I think the feeling was that Ohio State hit the lottery. I’m not sure there was a single coach in the game of football on any level who would have been considered a bigger home run hire than Urban Meyer. Partially because he is from Ohio and he understands the culture at Ohio State, but obviously expectations were set based on his enormous success at Utah and Florida.
Personally, I think people expected him to walk on water and then turn that water in to wine during his first season. I tried to taper expectations of a 12-0 season, because that just wasn’t realistic, and I think fans are starting to see that while this team is vastly improved, it’s far from a finished product.
3. Ohio State ranks last in the conference in total defense -- allowing almost 400 yards per game -- and has had its struggles tackling and in the secondary. What will Everett Withers try to do to shore up those issues heading into this game? Any personnel changes?
The only real personnel change they might make is with their ‘star’ position in the nickel. They usually bring in an extra safety to be the fifth defensive back, but Corey Brown hasn’t really produced at that spot. If C.J. Barnett is back from his ankle injury, and it appears he will be, that should help.
It will be interesting to see how the Buckeyes handle tackling Le’Veon Bell, because they’re trying to sell fans on the idea the OSU defense is built to stop an offense like Michigan State more than one like, say, Nebraska.
4. What can MSU fans expect to see the Buckeyes to do attack the MSU defense differently after a 10-7 game last year in which the Spartans had nine sacks?
It’s going to be a completely different offensive attack this year. Not just because of Meyer and new offensive coordinator Tom Herman, but that 10-7 game was the biggest 3-point blowout I have ever seen. This offense didn’t have a chance to get a first down in that game, let alone a touchdown.
They lucked out on that late score, but the biggest difference will be Braxton Miller’s ability to run the football. He didn’t have a carry for more than three yards last season, but he’s become one of the most dynamic runners in the country at any position. I don’t think he’s going to run for 200 yards on that defense, but he is dangerous in the open field. Be prepared to see a few MSU players look silly in one-on-one situations.
5. This is the Buckeyes first road game this season and College Gameday is in town. With plenty of youngsters playing for OSU, are the Buckeyes ready for this stage?
TBD. Truthfully. I would love to give a straight yes or no answer here, but we simply don’t know. This team was pretty underwhelming in the nonconference, but it is 4-0 and there is a lot of talent. There isn’t a lot of depth, and like you said, they are playing a lot of young guys.
I think Braxton Miller is ready for this. I think having Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde back will really help the offense, but it’s going to fall on this defense. If they can contain Bell and limit what the Spartans can do in the passing game, then I think they can make it a very close game and maybe pull out an upset with a late Braxton Miller touchdown run.
If Bell gets going early, even Meyer knows it’s going to be a long, long day in East Lansing.