It’s hard to believe that the summer is almost over. The halcyon days of cookouts and pool parties will soon fade, tone and tint, into the golden halls of memory. Thank God. We’re all tired of being hot and it’s finally time for football. What better way to end our B1G previews than with a rousing review of the B1G’s premiere program, brought to you by the best unpaid writing staff in America? Buckle up, kids and boys, and get ready for Uncle Urban’s 5-Star Roller Coaster of Emotion
About Last Season
The 2016 campaign was (to put it mildly), rather interesting. We saw the full-time return of the B1G’s touchdown king in J.T. Barrett, another OSU victory over Michigan (in dramatic double-OT fashion), and a crushing defeat at the hands of eventual champion Clemson in the College Football Playoff. There was no shortage of drama, either. With eventual 3-loss Penn State fans jeering that they were the “rightful” playoff contender and Michigan fans feeling the icy embrace of a world where Dave Witvoet can’t put his thumb on the scale, the Buckeyes ruined many an opponent’s dreams of reaching the mountain-top.
To be fair, the Buckeyes were not a great team in 2016. Rather, they were a very good team made up of many great parts. The offense was loaded with seasoned stars and up-and-coming playmakers, but couldn’t find a rhythm all season. The bend-but-don’t-break defense found itself breaking more than any Buckeye fan would’ve liked.
The net result of Urban’s 5th year as the head man in Columbus was a perplexing season where the Buckeyes seemed so close to breaking through, only to fall back into the same on-field miscues and head-scratching play calls the next week. That tendency to follow a step forward with a step back ultimately led to the two-headed-beast of Tim Beck and Ed Warinner “seeking other opportunities” after the Buckeyes’ season ended in a smoking zero-shaped crater at the feet of Dat Boy Swinney.
Contrasting the offense with Penn State’s numbers from last week, the Buckeyes ranked an abysmal 115th in explosiveness but made their hay with overall efficiency (success rate). For most fans, these numbers are the technical backup to their frustrations with the offensive product we saw last year. The Buckeyes could obviously score points and win games with an offense that ranked 23rd in the nation at season’s end, but that same offense frustratingly lacked the ability to press the ball downfield and take the top off a defense. When Ohio State moved the ball, the yardage typically came on the ground or in yards after a short recption. Redshirt Freshman Mike Weber became the third OSU freshman in history to top 1000 yards and, more notably, the fourth OSU running back in a row to do so. The jokes about Urban Meyer never having 1000-yard backs are well and truly dead now.
The passing game, though? Well that was another matter entirely. If you were searching for somewhere to hang the blame for Ohio State’s unimpressive 64th-place passing campaign, you’re spoiled for choice. Some point to the lack of a true “franchise” receiver. Others note that Barrett seemed nervous in the pocket and whiffed on downfield throws to receivers when they did get open. To this writer’s eye, it’s a combination of those factors and poor schemes by the offensive headshed, who relied too much on the pure athleticism of Curtis Samuel to substitute for coherent gameplans, while also somehow managing to forget his existence for entire halves of games. Impressive in their incompetence, really.
For the Buckeyes and their fans, 2017 brings a host of questions about the direction of the offense under new OC Kevin Wilson (did I mention Urban hired Kevin Wilson?!). Aside from the need for much better "Xs and Os," there’s the issue of the next set of “Jimmies and Joes.” With Urban’s football empire launching another highly successful class to the pro ranks, the Buckeyes will be without the playmaking talents of Curtis Samuel, Dontre Wilson, or Noah Brown this season. Together, they accounted for 133 receptions, 849 yards on the ground, and 28 touchdowns. Even if you didn’t like the tenor of the offense last year, that’s no small amount of production replace—especially when you consider that nearly 25% of Barrett’s throws were aimed at the multi-talented H-back Samuel. Meyer’s previous offenses have featured the H-back heavily, which has led to the annual The Next Percy Harvin™ branding effort. This year, that gunsight appears to be aimed squarely at Demario McCall. Early indications indicate that Parris Campbell, Binjimen Victor, and K.J. Hill l will be battling in the X receiver rotation, while Terry McLaurin and the oft-injured Johnnie Dixon work for top billing in the Z spot. The question, of course, is who among them can become a household name on Saturdays.
If there was a wonderful bright spot on defense last year, it was watching Malik Hooker do anything. He probably ties his shoes in some ridiculous, lightning-fast, one-handed manner. Defensive Coordinator Greg Schiano will be hard-pressed to replace his coverage abilities or his production (58.5 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 7 INTs) in the defensive backfield. The same can be said for middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan, whose leadership and 75 tackles anchored the Buckeye interior for most of the season.
Judging by the spring game, the biggest challenge for the 2017 iteration of the Silver Bullets will be in shoring up the secondary. Not only is Hooker gone, but his exceptionally talented colleagues Gareon Conley (who moved from outside CB to the nickel spot without missing a beat) and Marshon Lattimore will only be seen on Sundays from now on as well.
Things look much better up front, where OSU will field what is likely the best defensive line in the conference. Veteran QB-menacers Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes will share rotational duties at the weak side DE spot, with 2016 B1G Defensive Lineman of the Year Tyquan Lewis and the Baby Bear Nick Bosa working the strong side. The interior will feature the equally threatening combo of Tracy Sprinkle, Michael Hill, and Dre’Mont Jones. Suffice it to say, facing the Buckeye defensive line doesn’t look like a fun proposition this season.
Familiar names Jerome Baker and Dante Booker look make appearances at the outside linebacker spots, with former outside man Chris Worley supposedly moving the Mike spot, per Urban Meyer’s springtime remarks.
The secondary...well that’s anyone’s guess at this point, aside from lone returning starter Damon Webb at safety. Otherwise, a slew of talent is fighting for spots. Expect to see JuCo transfer Kendall Sheffield roaming the downfield turf this fall.
Whoever can kick a field goal without getting the m@*&#$%&@#er blocked.
Do Mention: The opener against Indiana, the showdown with Oklahoma at home, Kevin Wilson, the September 16th game against Army, the umpteenth victory over Michigan, the spot was good, and the fact that OSU’s lowest-ranked recruit (3-star Marcus Hooker) outranks every Iowa recruit this year. Hell, while we’re at it just mention Kirk Ferentz’s paycheck because that whole situation is hilarious regardless of the topic at hand.
Don’t Mention: Clemson, Dabo, Charlie Bauman, Clemson, field goals, the CFP, or Clemson
Upcoming This Week
- Potlucks Galore
- Kevin Wilson
- Traditions from Jimmy Buckeye
- Lots of PSU and Michigan angst