11W: No doubt, the expectation entering the season is winning every game and lifting a crystal football in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State fans have high expectations every year, but the hiring of Urban Meyer lifted those hopes to almost unprecedented levels. Coming off a disastrous 6-7 season in 2011, a lot of people looked at last year as a chance to go unbeaten, and unbelievably it happened. But now that really set the bar high for 2013. I don’t view this season as national championship or bust. Winning every game is extremely hard. There’s a reason few teams – sometimes none – do it. Ohio State has only had six perfect seasons (no ties) and 10 with zero losses. Asking for 26 consecutive victories is an awful lot. Look at the Purdue game last season. Yes, the Buckeyes pulled out the miracle finish, but it just shows how easy it is to have one slipup. But certainly, any more than one loss this season would be viewed as a failure by most observers.
LTP: Braxton Miller. Clearly he’ll get Heisman consideration should OSU maintain its lofty preseason rankings which include multiple sources having them as the #1 team in the land. I’ve read he’s been really working on his passing with QB master George Whitfield. What’s the prognosis on his improvement with the passing game this spring?
11W: Everything points to an improved quarterback, with the emphasis on the word quarterback. Despite all of his heroics a year ago, Miller was more of an athlete or running back that happened to touch the ball on every play. But he came to the football facility on the Monday after the Michigan game and immediately began working to improve his passing, footwork, etc. His desire to work with George Whitfield in December was lauded by his coaches, though they shied away somewhat as to whether Whitfield is a quarterback magician or not. But you could see the improvements in Miller’s game throughout the spring. There was less panic when the pocket collapsed. He wasn’t just taking off downfield. Instead, he’d sidestep trouble or dropback and continue looking downfield. He was also much improved in the area of going through progressions with each possible passing target. Accuracy was a bright spot. He was able to find receivers when the window wasn’t large or he’d hit a guy who was blanketed downfield.
LTP: If there is a question mark in Buckeye Nation it seems it would point to the extremely talented, but relatively green front seven on defense. Explain where the holes are on this defense and which specific position battles you’ll be keeping an eye on this summer.
11w: Urban Meyer has made it a point to decide all the position battles in the spring, so there shouldn’t be too much movement when fall camp arrives. Linebackers Curtis Grant and Josh Perry are two guys to keep an eye on. If there’s anyone who could slip down the depth chart, it’s one of them. But most things are shored up. As for the front seven as a whole, it was by far the No. 1 area of concern entering the spring. It’s not often you only have one of those seven starters back and you’re still considered a prime national title contender. Somehow, Ohio State pulled it off, and the reasoning was seen all spring – they’re really good. It went from mysterious to a strength quickly. Ends Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence were virtually unblockable the entire spring, and that was going against the starting offensive line. Tackle Michael Bennett is a guy who played outstanding his freshman season but was hobbled last year by injuries. He is now healthy, so there isn’t a tremendous amount of drop off at that position. Obviously Ryan Shazier is one of the top linebackers in the country. If there’s still a concern, it’s depth. While the top seven guys are all immensely talented and can produce at high levels, the backups leave a lot to be desired. Any significant injuries could lead to a lack of production.
LTP: Let’s cut to the chase. October 5, 2013. It’s a night game in Evanston and if we both hold serve in non-conference and you beat Wisky in your B1G opener it will be a likely ESPN Gameday presence for the ‘Cats-Buckeyes in primetime. I saw that 11Warriors recently ranked this game the #2 night game of the entire B1G season and even made a case for it to be #1. If your blog is a litmus test for Buckeye fans’ sentiment, it would seem the respect factor has increased for NU. How key do you see this particular game being for OSU’s season and why?
11w: I’ve thought since last season ended that this would be the toughest game on the schedule. Once it was confirmed as a night game that sealed the deal. Two other games stick out – Cal and, obviously, Michigan. The Cal game is the first road game of the season, which is always tough. Factor in the fact that the Bears nearly won at Ohio Stadium last season and new head coach Sonny Dykes runs a very successful offense and it could get interesting. I don’t even need to tell you why the Michigan game will be difficult. But Northwestern tops both, in my opinion. First off, the Wildcats are good and have been for several years under Pat Fitzgerald. The work he’s done in Evanston has been nothing short unremarkable. Coming off a 10-win season with several key parts returning, heck, Ohio State and Northwestern could play twice next season. The Buckeyes have struggled some at Ryan Field in the past, and even though there will be plenty of scarlet and gray in the stands, it’s still a road game at night in a rabid atmosphere. If Ohio State leaves undefeated, it is mostly clear sailing until the season finale at Michigan.
LTP: Name the top three players we may not have heard yet, but should be a focus with the binoculars by October 5.
11w: Washington and Spence are two players that all of Ohio State’s opponents will grow tired of. They might not be as dominant as they were in scrimmages, but the tools and potential are there for them to lift the Buckeyes into the elite category when it comes to defensive lines. An offensive player to keep an eye on is wide receiver Michael Thomas. Even though he didn’t get the starting nod this spring, I see him being a solid piece in the receiving corps. He’s the nephew of Keyshawn Johnson and possesses size that allows him to go up and grab the ball out of the sky. Almost every time he lines up, he has a significant height advantage over the defensive back.
LTP: How has the culture changed from the Tressel-to-Fickell-to-Meyer regimes? Give us a concrete example.
11w: It’s much more straightforward when it comes to the message. I wouldn’t say Urban Meyer calls kids out, but he has no problem pointing out their shortcomings to the media, whereas Tressel and Fickell would be hush-hush. Tressel very rarely, and maybe never, criticized a kid publicly. It’s been extremely refreshing to cover a head coach who is so candid. Meyer is a master motivator and his message to the media and behind closed doors has certainly resonated with the team. Some cringe at it, but I think by and large he’s received positive reviews for how he handles things.
LTP: Which types of teams do you anticipate giving Ohio State the toughest match-ups from a schematic perspective?
11w: I honestly don’t think there are many defenses out there that will hamper Ohio State. The Buckeyes will certainly have off days and some defenses will have more success than others. But just look at Meyer-coached teams of the past, if a team finds a weakness, Meyer just goes another route and finds and area where his offense will score. Defensively, though, a team like Northwestern that spreads it out and has athleticism all over the field could prove difficult to slow down. That’s the same reason why Cal could have success, as it did last season. The Buckeyes are trying to boost its defense to SEC level, but it’s not there yet.
LTP: Most overrated Buckeye? Most underrated?
11w: It’s hard to call someone overrated, but I’d go with Curtis Grant as the most underwhelming. He’s only a junior, so he has time to prove otherwise. But he’s been a total bust thus far. We’re talking about someone who was the No. 2 overall recruit in the country and in two seasons, he’s hardly seen the field. He began the season as a starter last year, but that quickly fizzled out. He’s been given the same opportunity this season. In the spring, he finally started showing glimpses of the player he was in high school. Running back Rod Smith came to Ohio State with a lot of hype, some going as far as to calling him the next Eddie George. Those proclamations quickly fizzled out after he came down with a case of fumble-it is, which interestingly also happened to George early in his career. Last season, Smith rebounded with 215 yards, a 6.7 yards per carry average, and two touchdowns. He’s been elevated to No. 2 status and should factor in nicely for the Buckeye offense this fall.
LTP: Specific unit area of strength that you’d stand up for now? Biggest question mark unit?
11w: I’ll take the layup and say offense, most specifically the backfield. It’s hard to top Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde as a package. They gained well over 4,000 total yards last season and they could shatter that mark this year. Meyer has never really had a running back built like Hyde before, so people don’t factor in that aspect of the Ohio State offense. But Meyer’s spread has always been based on power. There aren’t many mysteries on either side of the ball, but linebacker is probably the most unsure position. If any area could lack in production – aside from Ryan Shazier – it’s linebacker. Curtis Grant and Josh Perry have never had sustained success or playing time. Now they are being asked to be key cogs on a defense that should contend for a national title. The thing that I can guarantee you is on the coaching staff’s mind is depth – on both sides of the ball. The starters are solid all around, which is to be expected. But there are plenty of positions that don’t have as much depth as Meyer and Co. would like.
LTP: Thanks Kyle. We really appreciate the insights. I look forward to reconnecting as we get closer to the season. Until then, best of luck.
LTP Ticket Madness – Project Protect This House
Nothing like an Ohio State segue to drum up ticket support. I’ve learned that season ticket space is filling up fast and we’re now in to the corners of Ryan Field for season tickets. All the more reason to step up NOW. We’re also doing a fantastic job with specifically the single game tickets for the Ohio State game, but we’ve got a long way to go. Folks, this isn’t some type of spin on my part…the time is now to lock in your tickets, especially if you want to improve your seats for next year.
Season Tickets – Eric Yeh gets the shout out of the day as he added a pair of season tickets and a slew of single game tickets. We’re only 90 shy of our goal of 200 NEW season tickets. Say it with me now…with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Syracuse headlining a 7-game home slate on the heels of a 10-win season, now is the best time to get on board with season tickets. Simply call 888-Go-Purple and ask for Mike Zoller, then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll give you a shout out. The ‘Cats play three night games (Syracuse, Western Michigan and Ohio State) this season and it is sure to crank up the level of fun for tailgating as well. You can also order NU season tickets online – click here to get right to the order page.
Single Game Tickets (aka Project Protect This House vs OSU, Michigan) – Season ticket holders are afforded the exclusive right to gobble up as many as 10 single game tickets for ANY game, including Ohio State and Michigan. Eric Yeh added EIGHT single game tickets to the Ohio State and Michigan games combined and I’m helping Brian Furtak out with a pair pushing us to 138 on our way to a goal of 500 SINGLE GAME tickets in hopes of blocking the sea of Scarlet & Gray and Maize & Blue.
You too can help us defend Ryan Field and box out the Buckeyes and Wolverines by purchasing single game tickets and start recruiting friends, neighbors and co-workers to join you for a one game experience that will whet their appetite for taking the plunge. We’ve just added a NEW scoreboard to track the single game tickets that you folks are starting to gobble up. Email us your wins of buying single game tickets and we’ll give you a shout out. Simply email us at email@example.com.
IF ANY OF YOU ARE WILLING TO BUY TICKETS FOR DISPLACED CATS FANS IN NEED EMAIL ME. I have a ’95 alum looking to buy 10 single game tickets, but he lives in San Francisco. Also, start using the LTP exchange for THIS reason.