It didn’t take much of a scouting report to predict that Ohio State’s first two opponents of the season, Oregon State and Rutgers, would be overmatched by the Buckeyes.
Ohio State’s third opponent of the season, however, has the potential to present a much tougher challenge.
Unlike Oregon State, which won just one game in 2017, and Rutgers, which has been blown out every time it has played Ohio State, TCU is projected to be one of college football’s best teams this year, currently ranking in the top 15 of both the AP Top 25 and USA TODAY Coaches Poll.
The Horned Frogs got off to a slow start in their second game of the season this past Friday against SMU, but scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to ultimately earn a 42-12 win in the Battle for the Iron Skillet. They started their season with a 55-7 win over Southern.
Neither of those teams are anywhere near as talented as Ohio State, so we really don’t know how TCU will stack up against top competition yet. But the same can be said for the Buckeyes.
After earning a 77-31 win against the Beavers and a 52-3 win against the Scarlet Knights, Ohio State is ranked No. 4 in both major polls and enters the week as a double-digit favorite to beat the Horned Frogs on Saturday night (8 p.m., ABC) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Still, TCU is a team that the Buckeyes cannot afford to take lightly, making the upcoming week of scouting and game planning a very important one for Ohio State’s coaching staff.
Here’s our look at the Horned Frogs’ roster and what the Buckeyes should expect to see from each position this weekend.
3 Shawn Robinson – 6-2, 228, Sophomore
A first-year starter after playing in six games as a freshman, Robinson is a dual-threat quarterback who shows real ability to make plays with his feet as a runner, carrying the ball 10 times for a team-high 112 yards and three touchdowns in TCU’s first two games this season.
Robinson also has the arm to challenge defenses downfield, throwing for 328 yards and four touchdowns so far this season, while he uses his athleticism well to maneuver away from pressure. He’s been inconsistent with his accuracy, though, completing just 61.5 percent of his passes and leaving a good amount of his throws low and/or behind receivers, forcing them to adjust to have a chance to make the catch. He has only thrown one interception, but he’s had some other close calls that he’ll be less likely to get away with against the Buckeyes.
6 Darius Anderson – 5-11, 212, Junior
33 Sewo Onilula – 6-3, 231, Junior
Anderson and Onilula give TCU a strong one-two punch of running backs who each offer different skill sets, though their production so far this season has been nearly identical. Anderson has rushed for 105 yards on 17 carries, and Onilula has rushed for 102 yards on 16 carries, while each has caught two passes.
That said, Anderson – who led TCU with 768 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns last season – is an explosive, shifty back who can make tacklers miss with his quickness, though he’s been a bit limited to start the season after missing time in fall camp due to an injury. Onilula – who had 64 carries for 330 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017 – is a bigger back whose size and ability to break tackles can also lead to big plays in the running game.
1 Jalen Reagor – 5-11, 195, Sophomore
2 Jaelan Austin – 6-2, 198, Senior
22 Jarrison Stewart – 6-0, 200, Senior
25 KaVontae Turpin – 5-9, 157, Senior
4 Taye Barber – 5-9, 186, Freshman
The players to watch in TCU’s receiving corps – and really, the top two players to watch on the entire offense – are Reagor and Turpin, both outstanding athletes who give the Horned Frogs a pair of home-run hitting playmakers.
Reagor, who led TCU with 576 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 33 catches and earned Big 12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors in 2017, is the deep threat of the group. He has demonstrated ability to outrun cornerbacks downfield with his speed and to make spectacular catches, and will be the best receiver that Ohio State’s secondary has faced yet this season.
Turpin tends to catch more short passes than long balls, but he’s a threat to break for daylight any time the rock is in his hands, as he showed against SMU on Friday, when he scored a 78-yard punt return touchdown and a 42-yard catch-and-run touchdown. That makes him a player the Buckeyes will need to be prepared for any time he’s on the field, both on offense and on special teams.
Outside of Turpin, who has eight catches for 111 yards this year, and Reagor, who has seven catches for 90 yards this season, no other TCU receiver has caught more than four passes this season, though they rotate several receivers into the lineup who have flashed playmaking ability, including Barber and fellow true freshman Derius Davis.
88 Artayvious Lynn – 6-6, 265, Redshirt Sophomore
84 Cole Novak – 6-6, 260, Redshirt Senior
A 9-yard catch for Lynn against SMU last week was the first career catch for either of TCU’s top two tight ends. They’re both big tight ends who offer solid blocking ability when they’re on the field, but neither poses a significant threat in the receiving game. Since the Horned Frogs run a spread offense that often puts four wide receivers on the field at once, they often don’t even have a tight end on the field.
56 Austin Myers – 6-5, 303, Redshirt Sophomore
70 Cordel Iwuagwu – 6-3, 311, Redshirt Junior
55 Kellton Hollins – 6-2, 292, Redshirt Sophomore
52 Trey Elliott – 6-4, 294, Redshirt Senior
77 Lucas Niang – 6-7, 328, Junior
This offensive line has exceeded expectations in its first two games of the season – allowing no sacks while leading the way to an average of 5.7 rushing yards per carry on the ground – yet remains one of the Horned Frogs’ biggest question marks going into Saturday’s game, as Ohio State’s defensive line will provide an enormous step up in competition from Southern and SMU.
Iwuagwu and Niang are the stars of the group, but Myers, Hollins and Elliott are all new starters this season, meaning Saturday’s game will be their first real test against a top defensive line. Hollins had a botched snap that SMU recovered for a fumble on Friday. This unit is going to have its hands full with Nick Bosa, Dre’Mont Jones and company, but they’ve performed solidly enough in their first two games to warrant some confidence that they can hold their own.
15 Ben Banogu – 6-4, 249, Redshirt Senior
42 Ty Summers – 6-2, 235, Redshirt Senior
A first-team All-Big 12 defensive end last season, Banogu is the star of TCU’s defense. A skilled pass-rusher who uses his hands well and also has the agility to beat blockers around the outside, Banogu recorded 16.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 2017, and forced a fumble that led to a defensive touchdown against SMU.
Summers, one of the most experienced players on the Horned Frogs’ defense, is a converted linebacker who moved to defensive end to address a need at the position this year. Even though it’s not his natural position, Summers has started the season strong on TCU’s defensive line, showing solid strength at the point of attack while also utilizing his athleticism to make plays in the backfield, recording three tackles for loss with two sacks among seven total tackles.
94 Corey Bethley – 6-2, 290, Sophomore
54 Joseph Broadnax – 6-0, 294, Senior
TCU’s defensive line took a massive hit before the season began when nose tackle Ross Blacklock, the Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2017, suffered an Achilles injury that will sideline him for the entire year. Broadnax, who took his place in the starting lineup against SMU after being suspended for the season opener, is an experienced player who shows his ability to hold occupy blockers in the middle of the line, but isn’t nearly as massive as Blacklock (6-4, 329), nor as disruptive.
The Horned Frogs still have one young standout at defensive tackle, though, in Bethley, who has shown excellent ability to penetrate the backfield and make plays so far this season, recording seven total tackles with four tackles for loss and three sacks. Named a True Freshman All-American by 247Sports in 2017, Bethley’s athleticism will make him the toughest matchup of the season yet for Ohio State’s interior offensive line.
7 Arico Evans – 6-2, 206, Senior
30 Garret Wallow – 6-2, 212, Sophomore
23 Alec Dunham – 6-1, 220, Senior
Evans and Wallow are the starters in TCU’s defense, which primarily plays out of a 4-2-5 alignment, but Dunham also sees regular playing time off the bench. Evans and Dunham lead the Horned Frogs with 10 tackles each this season, while Wallow has recorded nine.
Evans, who played the third linebacker role for the Horned Frogs in 2017, was their most active defender against SMU, recording nine tackles in that game as the starting middle linebacker.
Wallow, who began his TCU career at safety, is now the starting strongside linebacker after Summers’ conversion to defensive end. Wallow’s athleticism and playmaking ability is evident – as he also has 1.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup this year – but he’s had some issues with missed tackles, as evidenced Friday when he whiffed a tackle that led to a 51-yard touchdown for SMU running back Braeden West.
Dunham is another small but athletic linebacker who scored a touchdown on a 25-yard fumble return last week, and has also recorded 1.5 tackles for loss.
12 Jeff Gladney – 6-0, 183, Redshirt Junior
24 Julius Lewis – 5-10, 169, Redshirt Junior
An All-Big 12 honorable mention selection last season, Gladney is the Horned Frogs’ No. 1 cornerback, possessing top-notch long speed and the ability to provide consistent coverage on the outside. He had two interceptions in 2017 and has two pass breakups this season, though opponents often avoid throwing his way.
Lewis was limited to just nine games over the past two seasons due to injuries, but he’s also gotten the year off to a strong start, recording six tackles and providing steady coverage. He doesn’t have the playmaking track record of Gladney, however, and he’ll have to overcome a size disadvantage against most of Ohio State’s wide receivers.
31 Ridwan Issahaku – 6-1, 196, Senior
6 Innis Gaines – 6-2, 203, Junior
2 Niko Small – 5-10, 183, Senior
TCU starts three safeties on its defense, and all three starters have shown playmaking ability. The most experienced player of the group is Issahaku, who finished second on the team with 66 total tackles last season, and has already recorded eight tackles and an interception this year.
Gaines is the most physically imposing safety of the group, and he’s emerged as one of the defense’s top playmakers so far this year, recording nine tackles, a team-high four pass breakups, an interception and a tackle for loss in the Horned Frogs’ first two games.
Scott, who plays furthest away from the ball as the free safety, has also recorded eight tackles and two pass breakups this season and been a steady presence on the back end, though his ability to patrol the deep field will certainly be put to the test by Dwayne Haskins and Ohio State’s athletic receiving corps.
With Reagor and Turpin offering big-play ability at wide receiver (and Turpin also bringing that skill set to the return game) and Anderson and Onilula running the ball, TCU has plenty of offensive playmakers that can put Ohio State’s defense to the test. Robinson’s ability to run the ball will be a variable from the quarterback position that the Buckeyes haven’t had to face yet this year, either.
On the other side of the ball, Banogu, Bethley and Summers lead a defensive front that will be easily the best Ohio State’s offensive line has faced this year, and will likely put more pressure on Haskins and the Buckeyes’ backfield than either Oregon State or Rutgers did. Gladney and a talented trio of safeties give the Horned Frogs a group of playmakers on the back end who can take advantage if Haskins makes any mistakes throwing the ball, too.
TCU is clearly more talented than either Oregon State or Rutgers, and should give the Buckeyes their toughest of the year to date in all three phases of the game: Offense, defense and special teams.
Still, the Horned Frogs’ overall talent doesn’t quite stack up with the Buckeyes, and there isn’t any one position where TCU has a clear edge over Ohio State.
If Ohio State’s talent plays up to its ability on Saturday, the Buckeyes should be victorious in AT&T Stadium once again. Should the Buckeyes fail to bring their A-game to Dallas, however, Gary Patterson’s squad is talented enough to push for an upset.