Chicken Counting

By Johnny Ginter on June 3, 2014 at 11:00a

I am, admittedly, completely horrible at determining anything about the future in sports. I usually just go with my gut based on what I've seen, heard, and most importantly, whether I'm in a particularly gloomy mood or not.

It's not especially scientific, but that's okay because neither is sportswriting. Unless you're a Nate Silver or a Ken Pomeroy, most sports analysis comes down to who looks best in their uniform, whether we like it or not. In the past I've made fun of various writers for their over-reliance on intangibles, and while basing an analysis of a player on whether or not they have the "clutch gene" or "real guts" is mind bendingly stupid, it's also not leagues worse than saying that a player or a team "is due" for success or failure. It's all pretty much the same concept, just dressed up in different ways.

Anyway, because these are the long, dreary months of the offseason, predictions are en vouge. We can't avoid them, because until I start my slow descent into madness that'll involve a weekly analysis comparing The Simpsons to brands of Nerf Footballs, football downtime means that writers generally are in the business of convincing readers that they know what they're talking about. And the best way to do that is though lazy predictive articles that people will hopefully forget about in a few months.

We've done that to ourselves more than a few times, most notably with regard to the cornerbacks. Ever since Malcolm Jenkins, we've been in the business of anointing subsequent No. 1 corners as the next big thing after relatively decent years, only to have it blow up in our faces. Remember Howard Island? Of course you don't! It was stupid!

Here's the case study for the point that I'm making today: the 2011 Ohio State defensive line.

For months leading up to the 2011 season, we knew precious little about the football team in general. Tressel was gone, Joe Bauserman was hilariously considered to be the best option at quarterback, and Carlos Hyde was about to get all of 13 carries in the final four games. The real strengths of the team had obviously yet to be sussed out.

Except that defensive line. Boy howdy were we high on the defensive line.

Plus, any of three incoming freshman ends -- Kenny Hayes, Chase Farris or Steve Miller -- could make a quick impact. If the front seven can get to the quarterback a little better, it can counteract a downgrading of the secondary from "nation's best" to just "very good."

The DL for the Buckeyes is going to be a strength again for this team.  They return half their starters back, the vast majority of the rotational players who were all super talents, and reloaded another level of talent behind that group.  The Bucks third string DL is full of guys that would be seeing the field in the bulk of the Big Ten this year. Their depth up front is better than just about any team in the nation.

The defensive front loses some key parts with Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore gone, but there are some nice pass rushers back on the outside and enough good, young, big players ready to fill in the gaps. This is a versatile group that should be a rock against the run ...

Hankins has that and more, and should he get his conditioning in order he looks like Ohio State’s next great defensive lineman. Still, Hankins is unproven. Where he lines up depends greatly on junior Garrett Goebel, who could play nose tackle, giving Hankins more freedom inside. If Hankins is as good as advertised – and I realize he’s still inexperienced – Ohio State could be terrific up front.

So: great against the run, might have a nice pass rush if some guys develop.

That's a nice bit of measured, completely wrong analysis, but it's also worth pointing out that Hankins and Simon were hailed as demigods before the season (and in 2012 Urban Meyer very nearly sacrificed a ram on the Block O in Ohio Stadium to Si'Mon the Lord of Intangibles). Let's see how that turned out in 2011.

Yards per game (rank) YPC Allowed (rank) Total Yards Allowed (rank) Sacks (rank)
141.5 (51) 3.84 (48) 1840 (52) 23 (70)

By all accounts, uh, not awesome.

It's not awful really (although a damn sight worse than the kind of run defense that Ohio State is accustomed to fielding), but the real issue is that a lot of the hype surrounding guys like Hankins and Simon and Williams was actually warranted. They were all talented players, and people could be forgiven for extrapolating their success into even greater future success. And while it happened for some of them individually, it didn't happen for the unit as a whole.

I recently saw an argument online where a STEM academics fanboy tried to call out people in the Humanities disciplines for not using all that observation and data that they collect to be more predictive of human behavior. In other words, a math nerd got mad at history dudes for not creating a model to predict when wars will happen.

Obviously that's stupid. People are weird, unpredictable animals that frequently act against their own self-interests and will often do the opposite of what's expected of them.

The same applies for sports. This year, the Ohio State defensive line is primed to be excellent. They have a legit star in Bosa, several guys who are MAYBE a step behind him, and decent depth. They also have the potentiality for injury (as happened with Nate Williams), and of course dismissals/transfers that further deplete the roster.

The extremely high expectations that we have for that unit and others should remain in place, but proclamations that they're going to be the best in the country should wait until the ball is kicked off in late summer.


Comments Show All Comments

Ahh Saturday's picture

To extend your metaphor, let's just say these eggs have hatched, and we know what we've got. The DL will be one of the best in the country, no apologies here, and no equivocation. 

-1 HS
acBuckeye's picture

Remember Howard Island Bradley Roby?

+2 HS

DL needs to stay healthy. That depth we have is going to play huge because if the LBs and secondary struggle again the DL is going to be the only thing that can keep our heads above water. Hoping very hard that the secondary gets fixed by Ash. It will make the DL that much more potent.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

+1 HS
acBuckeye's picture

I cut the 2011 defense (and D-line) some slack. Nobody predicted that they'd be making up for the single worst Ohio State offense in school history. Considering the awful situations that offense constantly put the defense in that season, I think they more than held their own.

+7 HS
Rogabone's picture

The big difference is that the entire 2014 starting D-Line have already proven that they can get it done on the field. We just need the supporting cast in the back to do their jobs to ensure effective pass rush on a QB that can't get the ball to a receiver because (we hope) they're blanketed by silver bullets. And Yes, I'm still having nightmares about Wide Receiver Screens from the Orange Bowl.


Atrocious Defensive schemes last year.

"Who is that madman?" the new arrival asked St. Peter.

"That's God," St. Peter replied. "But he thinks he's Woody Hayes."

+6 HS
NuttyBuckeye's picture

Our D-line should be one of the best in the nation this year.  With that said, it SHOULD make our LB corps good, but the LBs will need to play much better AS A UNIT than last year.  While Shazier was a monster, he could not help out the other LBs on the field.  On paper, our LBs are pretty darn talented.  Now, it is time for the players to step up.

I still feel our defense will be a top 30 or better overall D.   That is my gut feeling.... or it could be the spicy ham sub I just devoured...

What's round on the ends and high in the middle? Tell me if you know!

+1 HS
d5k's picture

As a math nerd and one who appreciates logical arguments I disagree with the statement "Obviously that's stupid." The weather is way more unpredictable and chaotic than human behavior or the behavior of competing countries and we model the bejeezus out of that.

One of these human behaviors that is predictable is basically what you are describing with groupthink.  We hyper-inflate expectations in the offseason because we are wired to do so, especially when you have nothing else better to talk about.

+2 HS
Barnsey69's picture

This D-Line will be better than 2011...and you can take that to the $bank$.

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

+1 HS
Unky Buck's picture

These offseason predictions seemingly are a can't lose argument for many writers. If they end up calling it correctly, they can look, point, and say "See, I called that!" If they end up calling it incorrectly, they can attribute any numerous factors that changed the course of the prediction, thus nullifying it because it was predicated on certain criteria that wasn't met, likely injuries to players. Regardless of the outcome, they will justify their prediction one way or another.

Personally, it's easy to think that we're going to have a stellar line based on previous performances, but I would rather withhold judgment until we actually see what the collective starting unit is capable of after a few games.

Rock over London; Rock on Chicago. Timex: It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'

Blackbeards Delight's picture

In the top 10 at mid season. No Spence for a few games/new scheme/offense finding itself. End of season, top 5. 
Will Washington play end the first few games or stay at tackle while Steve Miller starts at viper. I know Washington is more of a strong side guy but with Spence out two games and Marcus gone, what's up? Jalyn Holmes?

"Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23yr, it's what's for breakfast"

- Me


SLVRBLLTS's picture

Pretty sure I read Washington has moved inside for good, and while Spence is out the starting job at end is miller's job to lose. But let's not forget Larry Johnson's style. He likes playing his two-deep on a rotation. Watch Penn St games of recent years, you'll see D line subs on almost every play.

"Because we couldn't go for three"

Tom57's picture

The DL needs one/both of the "true DT's" in the 2 deep to step up.

If Schutt and  Hill don't establish themselves, 2014 will be the photo negative of the 2011 and 2012 DL's that didn't have effective rush ends when Williams got hurt and never recovered, and Simon was still built like a DT in '11 and then he got hurt too in 2012.

I'm sure LJ will maximize the talent, but at some point ya gotta stuff the A gap and neither of the starting DT's are built to do that and neither one of them showed they could do that in 2013.

nrbuckguy's picture

Carter has the size to plug those holes, He could be key to freeing up our bevy of pass rushers.

In Urban We Trust

Seth4Bucks's picture

I recently saw an argument online where a STEM academics fanboy tried to call out people in the Humanities disciplines for not using all that observation and data that they collect to be more predictive of human behavior. In other words, a math nerd got mad at history dudes for not creating a model to predict when wars will happen.

It sounds like someone's been reading some Foundation series from Isaac Asimov. Psychohistory anyone?

RedsBuckeyeBoy's picture

"Tressel was gone, Joe Bauserman was hilariously considered to be the best option at quarterback, and Carlos Hyde was about to get all of 13 carries in the final four games."

This sounds like the opening line of an epic novel. Charles Dickens probably wishes that he could have set a stage so bleakly! (Well, you know, if he hadn't died almost 150 years ago.)

+2 HS
Shangheyed's picture

Season was a disaster... do we really need to examine the play with most players (and certainly starters moved on).  Trying so hard to forget this stuff is not good for my selective memories!!  Let's just hope history NEVER repeats itself.

PoKeY21's picture

I think after you watch so much pro sports you can just see the special players. All the great ones have it, it can't be explained but they just have something that puts them head and shoulders above everyone in their craft. Jordan, Gretzky, Montana, Crosby, LeBron, Brady you can't point to one thing so people just say intangibles because theres no words for it, just greatness.

Its a lot harder to judge in college though. A player can be great one year and awful the next, or awful for 3 years and great for one. It makes many "experts" cringe because its so hard to predict. Hopefully Bosa keeps improving but you never know with all the weight on his shoulders, and some forgotten soul like Steve Miller could blow up. Calling any one player or team "the best in the country" before 1 ball is even snapped is just playing with fire.

"It was a woman who drove me to drink, come to think of it I never did hang around to thank her for that"

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

This years D Line will be the real deal!  The D as a whole will step it up big time.  Time to get back to the days of the silver Bullets!

Go Bucks!