After a brief hiatus, Urban Meyer is set to return to the Ohio State sideline Saturday against Tulane. Overall, things have gone quite well for the Buckeyes despite the head coach's absence.
The 2018 campaign is off to a 3-0 start as Ryan Day, Greg Schiano, and the rest of the team and staff just passed the first test of the season Saturday night in Arlington. Day fielded offers in the offseason before electing to stick around Columbus, but he's officially transformed himself into one of the nation's top head coaching candidates; perhaps even the top candidate.
Still, things haven't exactly been perfect for the program and there are plenty of matters that Meyer – and the rest of the staff – will need to prioritize upon his full return. Some of the issues at the top of our list are more team/scheme related while others involve Ohio State's 2019 recruiting efforts.
Minimizing the Big Plays
I considered making a separate section for the linebacker and safety play, but then I figured it could all be tied together since those position groups have been responsible for the vast majority of the chunk plays. Simply put: the Oregon State and TCU performances have raised all kinds of concerns regarding Ohio State's back seven.
Getting Jordan Fuller back in week two was huge for Greg Schiano and Co., but the play at the other safety position has been far from optimal. Isaiah Pryor has looked lost at times and seems to really struggle with taking the correct angles, and Jahsen Wint has looked far from competent in the secondary. Wint's efforts on TCU's 51-yard touchdown pass may have been the worst I've ever seen at the position. (Note: Wint has been great on special teams)
There's still time for things to click – and we've seen defensive backs like Gareon Conley struggle in the past before putting it all together – but it needs to happen sooner rather than later. Pryor is in his second season while Wint is a redshirt sophomore. A lot of folks are wondering if Shaun Wade gets a shot at safety, but that remains to be seen.
At linebacker, it's a young and inexperienced unit and that's shown numerous times with missed assignments and over-pursuing. Having Tuf Borland back at 100 percent should certainly help, but Baron Browning, Pete Werner, and Malik Harrison all can and should improve. Bill Davis hasn't exactly been a fan favorite in Columbus and his unit has to get better before the Buckeyes head to Happy Valley.
Prepping for Happy Valley
If you ask a coach about a game that's two weeks out then you're almost always going to get a response saying "the most important one is the next one" or something to that effect. Tulane isn't going to challenge Ohio State and everyone in the Big Ten and across the country has their sights set on the Sept. 29th showdown at Penn State.
Trace McSorley and Penn State have been rolling lately after a sluggish start against Appalachian State. The senior quarterback is only completing about 51 percent of his passes this season, but he's more than capable of doing some damage with his legs. For the Buckeyes, it was probably good to get a taste of TCU and Shawn Robinson before making the trip to State College.
The Nittany Lions' receivers aren't what they were a season ago and obviously losing Saquon Barkley would hurt any offense, but this one is likely to be Ohio State's toughest test of the season. Questions surrounding Nick Bosa's health could add some uncertainty to the Buckeyes' defensive line rotation as well.
Smoothing Things Over
Switching over to the recruiting front, Ohio State only lost one commitment during the recent ordeal and that came in the form of four-star linebacker Kane Patterson. Everything seems pretty status quo with the current crop of pledges, but we're still thinking Jordan Battle is the one who's probably wanting a sit-down conversation with Meyer; or at least a lengthy phone call.
Battle is the Buckeyes' top-rated defensive back pledge, but schools like Miami and Florida remain in hot pursuit. It's not looking like there's bad news on the horizon or anything like that, but a phone call to the Fort Lauderdale area may have been one of the first things on the itinerary when Meyer returned to practice a few weeks back. This one is probably still worth watching, but again there's absolutely no reason for panic at this point.
The Finishing Touches
Four-star St. Louis native Jameson Williams remains the top wide receiver on Ohio State's board. He's a speed demon who's being courted primarily by the Buckeyes, Ducks, and Crimson Tide. Williams tweeted last week that he was nearing an announcement, and we continue to hear that a commitment could come within the next week or two; and potentially even by the end of this week as Meyer and Hartline look to nab another top wideout.
think i’m coming real close to a decision..
— juiceman (@juicedupjameson) September 9, 2018
Most of the remaining 2019 recruiting needs appear likely to be addressed, but right now it's not looking like there's an offensive tackle out there that the Buckeyes are in great shape for. Dayton Dunbar's Jonathan Allen appears far from a priority target, and the Buckeyes still have plenty of work to do on guys like Trevor Keegan and Darnell Wright. The latter looks unlikely at the moment while Keegan seems destined for Michigan, Georgia, or Ohio State.
The Buckeyes are off to a hot start with two top tackles committed for 2020, but landing another 2019 prospect should be high on the priority list for Meyer and Greg Studrawa.
Winning the Zach Harrison Sweepstakes
We don't know what's going on with Zach Harrison and I feel it's become obvious that no one knows what is going to happen with that one. There was an interview after his game last weekend and you could just tell the kid absolutely loathes the recruiting process. It was painful to watch as it was obvious that there were about a million other places he'd rather have been than standing there talking to Ohio State and Michigan reporters.
Regardless of how things are going and the general level of disinterest, the five-star is going to sign with Ohio State, Penn State, or Michigan, and a commitment is going to happen at some point over the next three or four months if he keeps his plan to enroll in January. We'll see if he pops up on any campus in the coming weeks, but even if that does happen we may not even know about it. He's not exactly the most talkative kid in the world, and to be quite honest that's actually somewhat refreshing given how outrageous others have been.
This is the one that Urban Meyer and Larry Johnson have to win. Outside of what's happening on the field, the Zach Harrison recruitment may very well be priority No. 1 for Meyer and the staff.