Eleven Warriors Roundtable: Buckeyes About To Lick Some Toads

By Chris Lauderback on September 14, 2018 at 10:10 am
Nick Bosa and his defensive line mates could be the key to Saturday's battle with TCU.

Off to a 2-0 start, Ohio State has gutted a pair of inferior opponents, outscoring Oregon State and Rutgers by a 129-34 count while outgaining the two by 774 yards. 

Dwayne Haskins has looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate completing 79% of throws with nine touchdowns against just one interception while the defense overcame some gashes in Week One to hold Rutgers to 134 total yards and three points. 

As good as the Buckeyes have looked, the competition hasn't been fierce so all eyes are on Ryan Day's squad as they hit the road to take on Gary Patterson's 14th-ranked TCU Horned Frogs in Jerry World. 

To get your mind right ahead of kickoff, we welcome 11W's own Dan Hope, Andy Vance and Jake Anderson

Pass the #takes gents. 

TCU lives and dies with the dual-threat production from quarterback Shawn Robinson. Through two games, he has 440 total yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. Knowing Ohio State hasn’t faced much dual-threat action yet this year, what must the defense do in order to effectively slow down Robinson and the Horned Frog attack?

Dan: All defenses should play to their strengths, which in Ohio State's case is certainly its defensive line. If its defensive line can continue to play up to its elite talent against TCU's inexperienced offensive line, the Buckeyes should be able to put heavy pressure on Robinson. If they can force Robinson into sacks and poor throws, that will be the most effective way to slow down TCU's offense. Of course, it's equally important for Ohio State's linebackers and secondary to be disciplined and play their assignments properly – which, as we know, hasn't always been the case recently – because the Horned Frogs have plenty of big-play threats, including Robinson's ability to run it himself.

Jake: A first-year starter at TCU, sophomore Shawn Robinson is an athletic player with a strong arm. He throws the ball well on short-to-intermediate routes and can hurt defenses with the read-option and his ability to scramble. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, he's a big body that will be hard to take down if he gets into the secondary.  

To stop him, Ohio State's linebackers have to show up. Through two games, the unit has shown flashes of impressive play but remains the clear weak link of the defense. Malik Harrison looks to be the best of the bunch, but the play of Tuf Borland and Pete Werner has disappointed. Baron Browning is young and looks to have limitless potential, but his inexperience could come back to haunt the Buckeyes against their first true test of the season. The linebackers play against the run is decent as they consistently make the right reads but fail to finish the play. The defensive line makes up for some of their mistakes in the run game, but that may not be the case on Saturday against one of the best offensive lines in the Big 12. As for pass coverage...let's just say the linebackers need a lot of work in that department. Ohio State has not played any great passing teams this year yet the linebackers are consistently out of position and failing to stay on their man. Malik Harrison and Baron Browning must play well for Ohio State to win this game.

Andy: This may sound like a “well yeah, obviously” sort of answer to the question: maintain discipline. Ohio State's defensive line is one of the best – if not the best – in college football, but the linebackers remain something of an unknown variable given the level of competition they’ve faced thus far, and the not insignificant number of points surrendered in week one versus the Beavers. So maintaining discipline, hitting their assignments, and everyone staying on the same page will be critical against the most dangerous signal-caller they’ve faced in quite a while. 

Robinson has picked up three touchdowns and an average of 11.2 yards per carry on just 10 rushing attempts this season, so it’s clear that while he may not be a “run-first” dual-threat, he’s still very potent on the ground. He’s not the most accurate passer in the world, with a sub-60% completion rate, but like noted dual-threat superstar Joe Thomas Barrett the Fourth, he doesn’t throw many picks or make many mistakes. If Ohio State’s secondary can step up and keep the downfield passing game in check, Larry Johnson’s death squad up front should be able to take care of business.

The TCU defense lost a key guy when Ross Blacklock suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in fall camp but the unit still has 16 TFL and seven sacks through two games. How confident are you in Ohio State’s ability to keep a clean pocket for Dwayne Haskins this weekend? Any concern that Thayer Munford nor Malcolm Pridgeon have been tested much yet?

Andy: Haskins has had an ideal pocket fairly consistently through two weeks of play, even in ugly conditions last week versus Rutgers. His line should have worked out the early-season jitters, but it’s clear that they haven’t faced athletes of the caliber they’ll see in Arlington. Even without Blacklock, TCU features defensive end Ben Banogu, an All-Big 12 player who led the conference in sacks last season, and the line is clearly one of the team’s best units overall. That said, I still see Ohio State having the upper hand here, in terms of both size and talent along the line. Munford and Pridgeon haven’t been bloodied yet, but I expect they’ll acquit themselves well this week.

Jake: Ohio State’s offensive line has had an incredible two games to open the season, allowing just two sacks and one hurry. But Ohio State played Oregon State and Rutgers, which are not exactly the best opponents the Buckeyes will see this year. TCU possesses one of the best defensive lines in the country and posted a formidable second-half performance against Southern Methodist. The left side of the Buckeye’s offensive line is inexperienced, but Ohio State’s coaching staff has done well to put them in positions to succeed. I expect this trend to continue and Ryan Day may utilize Mike Weber as a blocking back if the left side cannot get the job done.

Dan: I think that should be a very real concern, and I do think Haskins will face significantly more pressure against TCU than he did against Oregon State and Rutgers. That's not to say that I specifically believe Munford, Pridgeon or anyone else on the offensive line will be a liability, but TCU's defensive line is much better than Oregon State's and Rutgers', making this the first real test for Munford at left tackle, Pridgeon at left guard, Michael Jordan at center and this entire line as a unit. So I'd be surprised if there aren't some missed blocks up front, and in turn, Haskins will have to prove he can continue to deliver accurate passes under pressure without allowing that pressure to force him into mistakes.

Thayer Munford
Left tackle Thayer Munford's first big test of the season comes tomorrow night. Is he ready? 

Nick Bosa looks like maybe the best player in college football with a ton of pressures, five TFL, three sacks and two fumble recoveries through two games. Where does he rank in the history of pass rushing specialists in school history? Give us your top four, in order.

Jake: I'll go with Mike Vrabel at No. 1. He holds the career sack record at Ohio State at 36.0. Vrabel recorded 25 sacks in two seasons, the best stretch in school history. The two-time All-American is one of the most dominant Buckeyes of all time.

The 2-hole is reserved for Joey Bosa. One of the most memorable Ohio State defensive players in recent history, Joey was an absolute monster. As Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2014, the two-time All-American had the second-most sacks in a single-season with 13.5.

No. 3 is Nick Bosa. With 16.5 sacks in 28 games as a Buckeye, Nick will likely end his career with as many sacks as his brother Joey. He was first-team All Big-Ten and won the Smith-Brown Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year last season. An argument could be made that Nick is better than his older brother, but Joey’s accolades and 13.5 sack mark push him over the top.

Rounding out my top four is Vernon Gholston. Gholston was a three-time Big Ten Champion and two-time All-Big Ten selection. Gholston recorded 14.0 sacks in 2007, winning him Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year and giving him the school record for sacks in a season.

Andy: Mike Vrabel sets the standard in my mind. I’m not old enough to have seen guys like Jim Stillwagon play, and I don’t want to let recency bias cloud my answer by just rattling off names from the last five or six years, but Vrabel’s name is all over the Ohio State record books with good reason. Bosa comes in a close second, even with my caveat about recency bias, because he was the ideal of the modern pass-rusher… although Smaller Bear Bosa appears to be on track to be an improvement on the prototype. After Vrabel and Bosa 1.0, I’ll go with Big Daddy Dan Wilkinson and the late Will Smith, two guys I loved watching play the game, and who were absolutely dominant at the position in their time.

Dan: Honestly, I'm too young to be able to definitively rank the best pass-rushers in Ohio State history, but the first four names that come to mind for me are Mike Vrabel, Joey Bosa, Vernon Gholston and Will Smith. Vrabel is Ohio State's all-time leader in sacks (36). Gholston is unfortunately best remembered for being an NFL bust, but he was a tremendous pass-rusher for the Buckeyes, holding the single-season school record for sacks (14). Smith and Joey Bosa helped the Buckeyes win national championships and were both dominant forces at defensive end. 

Saying that Nick Bosa is better than Joey Bosa feels like living in the moment – because it shouldn't be forgotten how good Joey was, often drawing double- and even triple-team blocks on a defensive line that wasn't quite as loaded as the one Nick has around him – but as well as Nick has played in the first two games of this year, I honestly think he is better. He's not quite as big as Joey, but he's a little bit quicker, and while Joey's technique was excellent too, I think Nick's skill set is even more advanced at this stage in his career. And if Nick can continue to play as well as he has in Ohio State's first two games for the rest of the season, I think he might very well stake his claim to being Ohio State's best defensive end ever by the end of the year.

Through two games what is the most surprising thing – good or bad – you’ve seen from this Ohio State team?

Dan: I honestly haven't been too surprised by anything that's happened in Ohio State's first two games – when you're on the beat every day, you like to think you have a pretty good of what's going to happen, and everyone expected them to blow out Oregon State and Rutgers – but one player who comes to mind as a player I don't think a lot of people expected to make a big impact this year, but has performed well so far, is Pete Werner. With more experienced linebackers like Keandre Jones, Justin Hilliard and Dante Booker all in the mix for starting spots, I was a bit surprised when Werner was named a starting outside linebacker for the season opener. But he's been the Buckeyes' best linebacker so far this season, in my opinion, and it's easy to see why he's drawn so much praise from Urban Meyer and his other coaches since arriving on campus. Based on early indications, I expect the true sophomore to remain a fixture in the lineup, and I think his future over the next three years at Ohio State could be very bright.

Jake: Jordan Fuller fell ill during Week One before Oregon State and was dearly missed. As a result, Ohio State allowed runs of 80 and 78 yards; while this cannot be entirely blamed on the absence of Fuller, it is clear that his presence could have been helpful. Fuller is one of the best tacklers on the team and can act as a sweeper in the secondary.

It was great to watch him play against Rutgers. Fuller recorded just three tackles in the lopsided affair, but the Buckeyes did not allow a play over 20 yards. His presence was felt in his pass coverage and commanding of the defense. His versatility to play both to-the-field and to-the-boundary will also help the coaching staff fill the safety spot next to him. Jordan Fuller has proved that he is one of the most valuable players on Ohio State’s defense, something that I did not expect in August.

Andy: Good: Zone Sicks Six is good, actually?!? Many of us joked to friends that the offseason coaching change in the wide receivers room should lead to a new-and-improved unit, but man, the seemingly overnight transformation of a unit that reminded me way too much of the “clown show” Urban Meyer referenced in his early days in Columbus into one of the nation’s best receiving corps has been nothing short of mind-blowing. Players are open! They can catch! It’s amazing! Some will say this has as much to do with the passing ability of Dwayne Haskins, and that is certainly a factor, but I have to credit Coach Hartline for getting this unit ready to show out on Saturdays, and finally walking the walk instead of just talking a whole lot of big talk.
Bad: Ohio State allowed Oregon State to score too many points. Yeah, I know, scores of 77-0 don’t grow on trees, but I was surprised that a team as poor as Oregon State put 31 on the board in The Horseshoe. I’m not entirely convinced the linebackers are ready for primetime, but they’ll need to have their best performance to date if the defense is to hold TCU in check.

Terry McLaurin
Terry McLaurin leads Ohio State with 172 yards and and three touchdown grabs through two games. 

Michigan got into the win column with a win over Western Michigan and Penn State dumped Pitt to move to 2-0 while Michigan State fell to Arizona State in the desert. From what you’ve seen so far, rank the top four teams in the Big Ten East. Which poses the greatest threat to the Buckeyes?

Andy: I'll go with this order: 

  1. Ohio State
  2. Penn State
  3. Michigan
  4. Michigan State

I almost threw Maryland in there for giggles because the Terps have the best win thus far in the East, with their upset of Texas Tom Herman and the Longhorns. Fun fact: Maryland and Indiana are both 2-0, while the two Michigan teams have the same record through two weeks as Rutgers.

Penn State is still the biggest threat to the Buckeyes in my mind at this point. Sparty should have taken care of business at Herm Edwards Motivational Academy for Athletes, and Michigan looked like it was barely breathing two weeks ago at Notre Dame. If those two teams can’t muster a functioning giveadamn in primetime fights against Power 5 opponents under the lights, why should I worry about them upending the defending Big Ten Champs?

Jake: I'm thinking the top four looks like this: 

  1. Penn State. The Nittany Lions are easily the biggest threat to the Buckeyes. Though they looked shaky against Appalachian State, Trace McSorley is a legitimate Heisman candidate. Penn State’s offensive line is still strong, but their run game is obviously not the same with Saquon Barkley. Going into Happy Valley for a whiteout game will be another huge test for Ohio State.
  2. Michigan. Shea Patterson is starting to adjust to the Big Ten and Michigan defense has found its footing. Their secondary is experienced and may be the best Ohio State faces this season. By the time the Wolverines come to Columbus in late November, Michigan could pose the role of spoiler for the Buckeyes.
  3. Michigan State. The top three is predictable, but it’s the right. Since Brian Lewerke has arrived on Michigan State's campus, the Spartans have looked to be a pass-first team. With only 63 total rushing yards against Arizona State and less than 225 on the season, Brian Lewerke may have to carry the offensive load this year. Michigan State is not overly talented this year, but Mark Dantonio will have his team ready to play by the time Ohio State travels to East Lansing.
  4. Maryland. For the second year in a row, Maryland started 1-0 with a win over Texas. While this win was impressive, Maryland simply does not have the coaching nor the talent to hang with Ohio State. Just like Iowa, right?

Dan: Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State have all underwhelmed me so far this season – with Michigan losing to Notre Dame and Penn State almost losing to Appalachian State in week one – but right now, I'd rank the top four teams in the Big Ten East as: 1. Ohio State 2. Michigan 3. Penn State 4. Michigan State. I've said all along that I expect Michigan to be Ohio State's top competition in the division this year, and although I expected a much better performance from the Wolverines against the Fighting Irish, I think their defense can still be one of the best in the country and that Shea Patterson will get better over the course of the season as he gains experience in Michigan's offense. 

Going into the year, I would have ranked Michigan State ahead of Penn State, as I expected the Nittany Lions to take a step back (and still believe they have based on their struggles in the season opener). But the Spartans really haven't been impressive through their first two games of the season, making it hard to believe that they will make a serious run at the Big Ten East title this year.

Ohio State heads to Arlington as a 13-point favorite over TCU. Do the Buckeyes cover? Give us your final score and game MVP predictions.

Dan: While I expect TCU to provide much tougher competition than Ohio State faced against Oregon State and Rutgers, I also expect another strong showing from Dwayne Haskins and the Buckeyes offense, and while I think the defense will give up a few big plays, I think it will play better than the season opener. So while I think this will be a competitive game, I think Ohio State will ultimately be able to take control of the game and win by two touchdowns or more, covering the spread. I'm going with a final score prediction of 42-24, with Haskins having another big day to lead the way and thrust himself into the forefront of the Heisman Trophy conversation.

Andy: Ohio State 38, TCU 21

Ohio State is simply the better all-around team, and Jerry World has been an outstanding neutral site for the Buckeyes. It will be as close to a home game as it gets for a team 1,063 miles from home, and the road warriors will cover and advance to 3-0.

MVP: Dwayne Haskins. His offensive line will do the deal, and he’ll rise to the occasion, continuing to pass with Barrett-like efficiency most of the time and exhibiting his exceptional arm talent from time to time when he inevitably lets a Sidewinder off the chain.

Jake: Ohio State 45 - TCU 31. Binjamin Victor gets going for the first time this season as he dominates the Horned Frog’s secondary with 90 yards and two touchdowns on five catches. Chase Young adds 2 sacks and a late-game forced fumble to effectively end the game.

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