#5 USC’s new defense.
I don’t know if anyone has noticed this amidst the gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair in the aftermath of the Navy game, but USC only has three returning starters on defense this year.
This isn’t the same defense that throttled the Buckeyes last year.
I am not saying that USC can’t be good, or even great, on defense this year, but there will be a lot of new faces, and they will be playing in a high pressure environment on the road (some for the first time) in the second game of the year, and they will be trying to tackle Terrelle Pryor.
USC recruits better than anyone in the country, so you know that all of the new faces are going to be good, and they do have quite a few players who have started some games, but you can’t teach athletes to handle the immense levels of pressure that they are going to face in this game.
This defense has not proven itself in the type of environment or under the pressure that they are going to see on Saturday night and that is a good thing for Ohio State.
#4 Matt Barkley is a true freshman.
I don’t care how good this kid is, if Ohio State pressures him he will make mistakes.
you break the huddle, run up to the line and get under center, it is 3rd and long, the crowd is so loud you can’t hear yourself think, your ears are ringing and your shoulder is still stiff from the hit you took from Thaddeus Gibson on the last play (a screen pass which Brian Rolle blew up for a two yard loss), you scan the line, is the middle linebacker showing blitz? are the corners in press coverage or zone? oh god, Gibson knows we are passing, here he comes again *oh wait* I am supposed to be reading the coverage right now, shit, are they showing man coverage? wait, they are dropping back, this must be zone, am I supposed to call an audible when that happens? damnit, I wish this crowd would quiet down, jesus, my receivers can’t hear the audible anyway even if I did call one…oh well… HIKE!
Yeah, welcome to The Shoe Matt Barkley, I think you will find it a little tougher than running up a ramp, ass.
#3 The Shoe
The Shoe can be a pretty intimidating place (see my awesome reenactment above and the pretty photo). It is one of the top 5 most intimidating atmospheres in college football and if the crowd is fired up and into the game, the home field advantage that is experienced by Ohio State is going to be huge.
#2 Terrelle Pryor
Last year, Terrelle Pryor was thrown into the fire and he performed remarkably well for a true freshman. What makes Pryor’s performance last year even more remarkable is the fact that he did it in an offense that had practiced for the entire offseason (not to mention the entire 2007 season) handing the ball off to Beanie Wells.
A lot of people have criticized Jim Bollman and Jim Tressel for a lack of creativity on offense. Well, when you have Beanie in the backfield (not to mention Todd Boeckman at QB) who can blame them for pounding the ball between the tackles.
This year, the handcuffs come off. It may seem like a long time ago, but if you will recall the 2006 offense was quite dynamic. Bollman and Tressel can get creative if they have the right personnel. If Terrelle Pryor isn’t the right personnel for some creativity on offense I don’t know what is.
So, with an entire offseason to mold the offense to take advantage of Terrelle Pryor’s skill set (last year it was a work in progress/hybrid between taking advantage of Beanie and Pryor the entire year, which partially explains the lack of production in my opinion) I expect some creativity a la 2006 and a much more dynamic offense this season.
Think about how much defenses struggled to stop Pryor last year in an offense designed for Todd Boeckman and Beanie. Think about an off season of work molding the offense for Pryor. Think about Pryor’s improvement as a passer. Smile.
#1 USC struggles on the road.
You read that right (gasp!), USC struggles at something. In fact, I went back and looked at USC’s road games over the last two years and found some interesting results.
In 2008 USC lost on the road (at night) against a 9-4 Oregon State team in front of 46,000 fans. They also won a close game (17-10) on the road against an 8-5 Arizona team in front of a whopping 56,000 fans.
The rest of their road games last year were against 5-7 Virginia, 2-11 Washington State, 5-7 Stanford, and 4-8 UCLA. If you see any challenges in there let me know.
In 2007 USC lost on the road to a 9-4 Oregon team at Autzen Stadium. While Auzten is known to be one of the louder venues in college football, it still only holds 54,000 fans.
They had trouble with a 4-9 Washington team (you know, that awful team that we took so much heat for having the audacity to schedule) pulling out the close victory 27-24 at Washington in front of a crowd of 72,500.
They also struggled to put away a 7-6 California team on the road in front of 76,000 fans, eventually pulling out the victory 24-17.
The rest of their road games in 2007 were against 5-7 Nebraska, 3-9 Notre Dame (haha), and a 10-3 Arizona State team that they beat 44-24 (wow, that seems like it might be a quality road win!).
So, uhhh, notice a pattern here.
First of all, they haven’t played in front of nearly as many people or experienced nearly the crowd noise that they will on Saturday (see #3).
Second of all, USC has clearly struggled on the road over the past two seasons. Combine that with #5 and # 4 and you will have to excuse me, but can someone please remind me why we are the underdogs again?
I don’t know what is getting into me, but as this game approaches I am starting to feel pretty damn confident.
As we continue our countdown until gameday, Jeff was kind enough to let me highlight someone other than a kicker. The training wheels are off, I guess.
Day seventeen brings us a recent grad- quarterback Todd Boeckman. Todd’s two years personify the expression “grace under pressure”.
As a gray shirted junior, he was asked to fill the shoes of Heisman Trophy winner, Wolverine killer, “should have his jersey retired soon” QB Troy Smith.
He responded by leading his team through a one loss Big Ten season, conference championship, and berth in the MNCG. I was lucky enough to see him play against Washington; my wife’s first Buckeye football game.
As a senior, he lost his Heisman Trophy candidate running back during the first game of the season. Playing behind a line that never seemed to live up to expectations, he eventually lost his job to the young gun freshman phenom.
During the season, the offense continued to struggle, inspiring whispers of controversy in the locker room as players chose sides behind “their” quarterbacks.
But through it all, he was a Buckeye leader and captain. He took direction from his coaches, worked to make his replacement and team better. He was, and is, a “team first, me second” student athlete who exemplified the Tradition, Honor, and Excellence that Ohio State football stands for.
To celebrate day seventeen, here are highlights from what many feel was the greatest game of his career: a victory on the road at night, against a very strong Penn State team.
Todd, thank you for representing yourself, your team, and your University with class.
EDIT by Jeff at The BBC – I will openly admit that I was angry at Boeckman’s problems at QB, and I began calling for Pryor to take over around halftime of the USC game. That interception he threw for a TD was all I could stand. Until that point, we were only down 14-3, but that broke our backs.
Boeckman had a string about seven games long ( spanning two seasons) that he struggled a lot in. We all knew Pryor was the future of the team and he needed the work. I believe that Jim Tressel made the right call.
But MaliBuckeye is right. Boeckman handled it with class to the very end. He mentored his own replacement and stood by his side through every play.
Looking back at his career, it is a fitting conclusion that Boeckman’s final TD as a Buckeye was thrown to Terrelle Pryor.
In my last post, I looked at the linebacker situation at Ohio State. Talking LB’s is one of my favorite topics and I think Ohio State’s linebacker tradition stacks up against any team in the country (I’m looking at you Penn State).
While it is fun to envision our LBs running around laying the smack down on some hapless Big Ten offenses, the position that will have the largest impact on the outcome of the upcoming season is offensive tackle.
Unfortunately for Buckeye fans, play along the offensive line has been lackluster for several years now, and in particular the play at the tackle positions has been a huge liability. Whenever the Buckeyes played against a top defense with highly regarded ends (Florida, LSU) chaos in the OSU backfield was sure to ensue.
I would even go so far as to say that less than stellar play at tackle has been the #1 cause of Ohio State’s recent big game woes and was the #1 contributor to the premature end of the Todd Boeckman era at quarterback. Once Beanie went down, teams could tee off with the pass rush and our tackles were helpless to stop them. The results of this unfortunate situation was less than ideal for poor Todd Boeckman,who’s inability to get rid of the ball quickly didn’t help matters.
Now it is time to turn the page as both tackles from a year ago have moved on. LT Alex Boone has moved on to the west coast (undrafted free agent to San Fran) and RT Bryant Browning has made a slightly shorter move west to RG. While it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Browning will find his way back to tackle, I think it is safe to say that he will spend the rest of his time in Columbus comfortably away from open space on the inside.
That means that both tackle positions need to be filled sometime before the start of the season. How well the new players step in and perform at tackle will go a long way towards helping or hindering the development of a guy named Pyror (maybe you’ve heard of him?). While Pryor is clearly more mobile than Boeckman could ever dream of being, running for his life the entire season is a less than ideal situation for both Pryor and the team, which means that improvement at tackle despite the turnover is a must.
While I have no doubt that the Buckeyes can win a majority of the games they play this year based entirely on Pryor’s ability to scramble, for Ohio State to finally get over its funk and win its biggest games (see USC, Penn State), Pryor needs to be able to sit in the pocket and pass the ball. Not only will this keep opposing defenses from committing everything they have to stopping the run, it will also make Pryor’s ability to scramble even more lethal when other teams drop back to defend the pass and see a 6’6″ blur of scarlet and gray fly past them.
So, who is going to step in to the most important position for improvement on offense and hold the fate of the upcoming season in their hands? Below I will look at the two main candidates competing to play at each tackle position and then briefly go over some dark horse candidates.
Left tackle is the most important position on the offensive line and behind the quarterback is probably the most important position on the entire offense. The left tackle protects the QBs blind side, and when they don’t do a good job, bad things happen.
[insert picture of Boeckman getting sacked that none of us really wants to look at]
Alex Boone manned the LT position for the last four years at Ohio State (’05-’08, 36 starts), and while his off the field issues prevented him from ever reaching his potential (I contend that he was no better as a senior than he was as a true freshman), he at least brought consistency to the position and even earned First Team All Big Ten honors last year. Despite his status as a four year starter and All-Big Ten tackle, Boone was also consistent in getting man handled in bowl games against the SEC. For proof of my hypothesis that tackle play was one of the largest contributors to our big game letdowns, look at the results of bowl games in which Boone played well (Notre Dame, Texas) compared to the ones in which he got burned (Florida, LSU).
Fast forward to this year. It has been a two horse race to see who will replace Boone at left tackle, Mike Adams (#75) and Andy Miller (#55) have been battling each other since Spring ball to earn the spot, and they will continue to battle into fall camp (hopefully a leader emerges before too long).
I am looking for whoever emerges to bring increased athleticism and focus to the position and to compete at a high level against even the best DE’s in the country.
We’ll start by looking at Miller, who could be considered the underdog in the competition to start. He came to Ohio State as a tight end in 2006 and has bulked up enough to be moved to tackle. He is currently a redshirt Junior and is listed at 6’6″ and 280 pounds. Miller has played sparingly in his career thus far, but he did play significant minutes at guard last year in the USC game when starter Steve Rehring went down with an injury.
While it is entirely possible that Miller is capable of handling the starting spot at left tackle, I almost feel bad for really hoping that he doesn’t win the job. Miller is the type of hard working team player that all fans love to root for, but if he ends up starting, that probably means that Adams is failing to live up to his massive potential, and that is not a good thing for Ohio State.
So that brings us to Mike Adams, who was compared favorably to Orlando Pace coming out of High School (see what I mean about massive potential?). At 6’8″ and around 300 lbs. Adams has prototypical size for a tackle and has been the heir apparent at LT since he committed to Ohio State.
The fact that he was unable to separate himself from Miller during spring practice may be cause for concern. Throughout the spring there were reports floating around that Adam’s didn’t play with the type of tenacity that you typically like to see from your offensive lineman, and that is what was holding him back.
The explanation for his lack of separation from Miller may have been due more to physical limitations rather than psychological ones, however. It is a very real possibility that Adams was rusty during the spring after shoulder and foot injuries limited the amount of playing and practice time that Adams was able to get his freshman year (he only played in four games). Adam’s himself seems to subscribe to this belief, saying (when speaking of his injuries last year and the time he lost):
“That really set me back,” Adams said. “I feel like that was a time where I really could’ve come into myself.”
Now it appears that Adams is back 100% and he is saying all the right things.
When asked how badly he “wanted it” at media day, he had this to say:
I wish I could say, but it might not be appropriate for the newspapers.
Sounds good to me.
Additionally, Adams has apparently been hitting the gym as well.
Adam’s said he’s playing at about 300 pounds, losing 40 pounds from a year ago and then putting a little weight back on in a healthier way.
“I feel faster,” Adams said. “I can move better all around. It was something I decided to do for me, just try to get my body ready and help my chances of playing more this year.”
Oh, and about that tenacity thing, Adams has been listening to the criticism and has this to say:
“One thing that makes you more aggressive is knowing what you’re doing,” Adams said. “I definitely know the plays better, and that allows me to play better and play harder.”
Once again, check and check next to the things I would like to hear Mike Adams say.
So, it seems like Adams is doing and saying all of the right things this offseason, now we just have to wait and see if it translates on the field. In the end (especially given all of the quotes I just quoted) I expect Adams to win the starting job and to perform well. How well Adams handles the pass rush of elite teams will go a long way in determining what type of year is in store for the Buckeyes, so uh, no pressure or anything.
Ah, right tackle. Last year Ohio State had to replace four year starter (’04-’07) Kirk Barton, and the man chosen for the task was redshirt sophomore Bryant Browning. Browning didn’t perform terribly throughout the season (he started all 13 games) but he did not have his best games against elite pass rushers to put it mildly.
[insert picture of Browning in the Penn State game that none of us really want to look at]
So it is safe to say that it is back to the drawing board at RT going into 2009. Like LT, there appears to be two main contenders to start; 5th year Senior Jim Cordle (#64) and true Sophomore J.B. Shugarts (#76).
Cordle is a versatile lineman who has 26 career starts. He started the entire 2007 season at center and began ’08 at center before moving over to LG for the final 10 games of the season following the injury to Rehring at USC . While Cordle was at LG, freshman Michael Brewster took over at center and will continue to play there this season, leaving Cordle without a position and a candidate for the RT spot. The coaches (and fans) are hoping that Cordle’s quickness and superior knowledge of the game will allow him to play well on the edge despite the fact that he is a bit undersized for tackle at 6’4″ 300 lbs. and has little experience in space.
Football, being the unpredictable sport that it is, decided to throw a little kink into the competition at RT when Justin Boren injured his knee on Friday and will have to sit out at least a week. This means that Cordle may move back to LG (where, you’ll remember, he spent most of the season last year) to take Boren’s place while he recovers. If this move occurs, the door will be open for the other candidate at RT, J.B. Shugarts.
Like Adams, Shugarts was highly regarded coming out of high school (he’s from Texas), was slotted to play RT from the moment he arrived on campus, and was unable to play in six games last year due to a shoulder injury which also kept him out of spring ball after off season surgery. This lost time has prevented Shugarts from stepping into the RT spot that everyone assumed would be his.
While Cordle has intelligence and experience, Shugarts brings raw ability and size (6’8″ 300 lbs.) and is a natural tackle where Cordle is a bit out of position. Once again, I am rooting for the young guy (Shugarts) to win out the RT competition, not because I dislike Cordle, but because I think if Shugarts wins out the competition that gives the offensive line the best opportunity for improvement (hopefully to the point of dominance). While I think Cordle has the ability to be serviceable at tackle, Shugarts has the ability to dominate and that is what I would like to see happen.
My ideal situation at the start of the year would be to have Mike Adams at LT and J.B. Shugarts at RT, but only if they earn their spots by living up to their massive potential.
Beyond the players I listed above, there are a few more candidates for the tackle spots, but if any of them start it would be a pretty big surprise.
Jack Mewhort (#74).
Mewhort is a true freshman (listed at 6’7″ 290 lbs.) who enrolled early for Spring ball which could give him the extra experience he needs to crack the starting lineup at one of the tackle spots.
Marcus Hall (#79)
Hall is the highest rated incoming freshman along the offensive line (6’5″ 300 lbs.). He could see playing time at tackle or at guard. I would imagine that he needs to refine his footwork in order to handle elite pass rushers on the edge, so I predict that if he makes contributions this year it will be at guard. Then again, I am no expert, and I wouldn’t really be surprised if he got playing time at tackle either.
Regardless of whether or not Hall and Mewhort start or even get significant playing time this year, they are definitely guys to keep an eye on going into the future.
Another player that will probably be in the two deep at tackle is Josh Kerr (#73). Kerr is a redshirt Junior (listed at 6’4″ 285 lbs.) who has been a perennial backup and has been unable to establish much of a reputation due to injury plagued seasons in each of the past two years. He is probably the longest shot to crack the starting lineup, but I look for him to provide quality depth and experience at both tackle positions if needed.
So that’s it for my look at the tackles. All in all I think we are in pretty good shape. If Adams and Shugarts can live up to their billing than we are probably in better than pretty good shape. The real test will come on September 12th, after that game we will really know how well our play at tackle has come since last year.