With exactly 100 days left until The Game, and with my excitement for this OSU season currently at a Spinal Tap 11, I thought that I'd throw out three of my favorite matchups to watch for this year between these hated rivals.
(Note: While I realize that Brady Hoke vs. China Dynasty's buffet on West Lane is a much-anticipated battle, it will not make this list.)
Jake Stoneburner (WR/TE) vs. JT Floyd (CB)
When he’s not making headlines for peeing on stuff, Jake Stoneburner is a dynamic player with a tremendous work ethic, and has the potential to earn his way back into a crucial role on the OSU offense. The coaching staff recently reported that Stoneburner may still line up occasionally as a tight end, but will spend the majority of time as a wide receiver. Stoneburner was named to the John Mackey Award watch list, given to the best tight end in the country, but will aim to move his athleticism out wide for his senior season.
JT Floyd, like many current Wolverine players, came in during the dark days of Rich Rod in 2008 (or ‘bye weeks’ as OSU fans refer to them). Despite not being heavily recruited by many other programs, the South Carolina native has decent speed, has improved his coverage skills with each passing year, and should continue to improve again under the current coaching regime. Floyd led the Wolverines with 2 interceptions and 8 pass breakups, had 48 tackles, and a forced fumble.
What makes this matchup intriguing to me is that UM does not have a tremendous amount of size in their defensive backfield, so adding another tight end to the field and moving Stoneburner to wide receiver could help OSU exploit that weakness. Measuring in at 6’, Floyd is the tallest starting DB for the Wolverines, while Stoneburner is currently listed at 6’5”.
Aside from the height advantage, Stoneburner will be much more of a load to bring down than previous wide receivers that Floyd will have faced, since he will be giving up about 60 pounds to the former tight end.
If TSUN decides to try and cover Stoneburner with anyone other than a corner (especially a linebacker), this will create some horrific matchups in speed, as he can still run even with most other wide receivers.
The final component in this matchup is the fact that both players are heading into their senior seasons, and both will have similar, but different goals in The Game. Floyd will be hoping to keep UM's chances for a B1G title alive and looking for a potential BCS bowl game to cap his year, and Stoneburner will hope to play spoiler, send the Wolverines home with an 'L', and boost his NFL draft stock simultaneously.
Key matchup stat – Jake Stoneburner - 6’5”, 245 lbs VS. JT Floyd - 6’, 183 lbs
Johnathan Hankins (DT) vs. Kyle Kalis (LG)
We often read about recruiting battles between OSU and UM, and they typically refer to a HS player from Ohio who has offers from both schools. However, in the case of Johnathan Hankins, a.k.a. Big Hank, the Buckeyes were able to go up north and steal a defensive line prospect from Dearborn Heights, MI. At 6'3" and 317 lbs, "Big Hank" is a fairly easy nickname to come by, but it's his freakish quickness and agility, not just his size, that make him difficult for the offensive linemen to block. Hankins has worked over the past two years to drop weight and improve on his quickness and stamina, and is already listed as a preseason All-American selection and is on the Bednarik Award watch list. In fact, as of May, Mel Kiper's 2013 NFL Mock Draft has Hankins listed as the highest ranked B1G player and the number 11 overall draft pick. Regardless of hypothetical draft scenarios, one guaranteed fact is that with the boost in defensive line talent and depth at OSU this year, Hankins will be a handful for any opposing lineman to match up with, especially a freshman....which leads me to...
Kyle Kalis, the man, the myth, the freshman. Kalis, an Ohio native, made big waves last year with his decommitment from OSU and subsequent commitment to TSUN, and continued to keep the waters choppy with comments about/to OSU fans. In his defense, he had made his commitment to Jim Tressel, so the impending sanctions and "resignation" of the coach were certainly reason enough to leave. However, when he received Twitter comments in poor taste and threats from the 1% of OSU fans that sit in their basement yelling at their mom to bring them meatloaf, he decided to lash out. The comment that drew the most criticism (read: "laughter") from Buckeye fans was, "November 24th is going to be ugly. There will be blood on the field and it won't be mine." As for Kalis' ability on the field, well, it's yet to be seen. He was more than impressive against high school opponents in northern Ohio, but could get a chance to walk the walk very soon against NCAA competition.
So what makes this matchup one of my favorites? Ohio boy turned Wolverine vs. M*chigan boy turned Buckeye, upperclassman vs. true freshman, preseason All-American vs. 5* recruit, etc...
However, it should be noted that Kyle Kalis will be battling to earn a spot on the field. He is currently as low as 3rd and as high as 1.b on the depth chart for the left guard position, so he has his work cut out for him in August. If he is unable to earn a starting job, then we'll switch this matchup to Kalis vs. OSU fans on Twitter, and assume that he will have to spill the blood of MAC opponents in his limited playing time.
Key matchup stat – Johnathan Hankins has roughly 6 quarts of blood...Good luck, Kyle
Braxton Miller (QB) vs. Denard Robinson (QB)
Hopefully this one doesn't come as much of a shock to you...and yes, it's technically cheating since they don't line up against each other on the field, but this is my blog entry, so let it go.
OSU's mobile quarterback had some magnificent highlights in 2011, but also struggled within an offense that kept his hands tied for most of the year. Look no further than the Illinois game in which Braxton managed to complete just one pass on four attempts and somehow sneak out a victory, thanks simply to more talent up front than their opponents. Now, enter new head coach, Urban Meyer and new offensive coordinator, Tom Herman, and we're looking at a whole new world of possibilities for Miller. Herman has a history of getting the most offensive production imagineable out of his players, and Meyer's proven track record of winning with a dynamic spread offense speaks for itself. Combine that with the talent that we know is there with Braxton Miller, aside from just his scrambling abilities, and we hopefully will see an immediate difference in production from 2011 to 2012.
Although he still hasn't learned how to tie his shoes, Denard Robinson has proven that he has an uncanny ability to find a small gap in a defense and turn it into a huge play. His speed is unquestioned, except for when he claims that he's faster than Usain Bolt but that's another story, and his agility and elusiveness make him a defensive coordinator's nightmare. There are flaws with his game, namely the passing part of it, but his constant threat of bringing the ball down and running helps keep defenses on their heels and gives him more time/opportunity to throw.
While the other matchups could certainly play a huge role in determining the winner in 2012, nothing competes with the Braxton vs. Denard battle. The 2011 battle had both teams scoring at least a touchdown more than their average point total, and Miller and Robinson destroying their rival's defense with their feet and arms.
Furthermore, Braxton wants to prove that he is the guy that Urban Meyer dreams of coaching at the QB position, and Robinson wants to put UM on his shoulders for his senior campaign and go out on top. This QB matchup in The Game should be one that will be remembered for years to come.
Key matchup stat – 337 total yards for Denard Robinson vs. 336 total yards for Braxton Miller in 2011
What other matchups are you looking forward to in The Game?