Eleven Warriors Roundtable: Urban's Back

By Chris Lauderback on September 21, 2018 at 10:10 am
Urban's Back

Coming off a big win over TCU last Saturday, one might normally think Ohio State would be ripe for a bit of a letdown but with Urban Meyer set to make his return to the sidelines, it's a good bet the Buckeyes will come out with their hair on fire despite squaring off with a 37-point underdog in the Tulane Green Wave. 

Besides Urban's return, the game also gives the Buckeyes a chance to iron out the defensive end rotation with Nick Bosa on the shelf as well as its ability to eliminate big plays as the offense looks to keep clicking on just about all cylinders. 

Ahead of the clash with a Green Wave outfit sporting a far superior mascot, I welcome 11W linchpins Johnny Ginter, Andrew Ellis and Colin Hass-Hill to the roundtable. 

Though it had a pair of scores, Ohio State’s defense still had its struggles containing TCU’s offense overall and certainly in limiting big plays which has been a bugaboo all season. Which facet of Ohio State’s defense concerns you the most and what is your confidence level that particular facet / position group / player will improve?

Andrew: It’s honestly hard for me to decide if it’s the overall linebacker play or the safety spot opposite Jordan Fuller. Given the coaches that are running the respective groups, I’ll say the linebacker play remains the biggest concern for me. To be completely honest with you, my confidence level isn’t all that high right now. Yes, guys like Baron Browning and Pete Werner are young and extremely talented, but Bill Davis hasn’t done a whole lot to make anyone feel confident in the unit. I’m not sure how healthy Tuf Borland is, but I suppose him getting fully up to speed is something to look forward to. They need to get better—and fast.

Johnny: The run defense in general is something that needs to be improved; long runs obviously hurt, but across the board the defense is having trouble consistently stopping opposing teams in short yardage situations. I think a big part of this falls on the linebackers and their ability to quickly and effectively diagnose plays so that a two yard run doesn't turn into an eight yard run.

Colin: Jordan Fuller came of the defense of both Isaiah Pryor and Jahsen Wint on Tuesday, saying that he did not like portrayal of them being sole reasons for the opposition’s big plays. “It's still 11 guys on defense, too,” Fuller said. Though his loyalty to the safeties is admirable, both Pryor and Wint have had ample struggles. As long as the Buckeyes must rely on them for the safety spot opposite Fuller and neither makes notable improvements, it should be a serious concern. Few have consistently been pleased with the linebacker play since Bill Davis arrived last spring, and rightly so. But at the moment, the second safety position is more concerning to me. The Buckeyes won’t truly know whether this issue has been resolved until next Saturday when they take on the Nittany Lions. In the meantime, Ohio State must do what it can — whether it be starting Wade at safety or something, anything else — to ensure that does not happen again in a big game. They survived against TCU and blew past Oregon State, but when the offense sputters, the Buckeyes simply can’t afford to allow any more 50-plus-yard gains.

I was having this debate with some friends after Nick Bosa went down so figured I would bring it here now that we’re three games in. Considering individual talent and overall positional depth, who would you select as the most indispensable player on Ohio State’s defense? I said Jordan Fuller before the year started and he’s still my pick. What about you?

Colin: As long as Nick Bosa remains out, at least some uncertainty will be present with the defensive line. The unit has oodles of talent, but losing possibly the best player at any position in college football means the line will take a hit, regardless of how many five-star prospects are waiting in the wings. But, with or without Nick Bosa, the defensive line has proven it will be impactful (the Bosa factor determines how much of a difference-maker it can be, of course). Dre’Mont Jones has gone up a level this season, Robert Landers has been a solid presence and Chase Young, Jonathon Cooper, Jashon Cornell and Tyreke Smith off the edge provide enough talent to at least partially make up for the loss of Bosa. We’ve seen what can happen when Ohio State loses Fuller. Attacking a defense without Fuller, due to the safety dealing with a hamstring injury, Oregon State dropped 31 points and took advantage of him not being a steady presence on the back end. Unless the Bosa-less defense proves incapable of pressuring the quarterback on Saturday and next week against the Nittany Lions, Fuller is the most irreplaceable player on defense.

Johnny: Yeah, it's 100% Fuller. The secondary is way too mediocre without his presence right now, and if he gets hurt or otherwise removed from a game, watch out, because other teams are going to try and replicate Iowa's gameplan from last season as often as possible.

Andrew: I completely agree that Jordan Fuller has to be the guy. The defensive ends aren’t as deep as a season ago and Bosa is the best player in the country, but I feel way more confident in Jonathon Cooper/Jashon Cornell/Tyreke Smith than I do in Isaiah Pryor and Jahsen Went. The poor angles and overall ineptitude at safety has been baffling. I’ll spend the rest of my life wondering what the hell Wint was doing on that long TCU touchdown pass. 

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
J.K. Dobbins ran for 121 yards on 18 carries against TCU. 

Mike Weber stole the show in the opener with 186 rushing yards versus Oregon State then J.K. Dobbins led the way versus Rutgers with 73 yards and kicked it into another gear with 121 against TCU. Through three games their total carries are almost identical at 45 for Dobbins and 46 for Weber. How do you feel about the distribution of rushing touches? Should one guy be a clear leader in carries? Is the staff riding the hot hand to your satisfaction?

Andrew: The distribution of carries has been much different than I expected, but I have absolutely no problem with how this has been handled. I don’t think there’s one guy that should necessarily be the leader right now and a lot of that is credit to Mike Weber. I think many of us had sort of written him off and labeled him as the backup option in the backfield, but he’s been really good this season and looked especially fast in the opener. Dobbins struggled a bit early on but he was phenomenal against TCU. They do seem to be riding the hot hand a bit and I think that’s the right move for the time being. 

Colin: Provided neither Weber nor Dobbins feel slighted due to splitting carries, it’s in Ohio State’s best interest to run both a fairly equal amount of carries in order to both keep them healthy for the end of the season and maximize production with fresh running backs. The Buckeyes are in an enviable position with both backs able start for most teams in the country. And with Haskins being a much bigger threat in the air than as a runner, it would be optimal for Ohio State not to rely on a single running back. In the more important games, the offense can afford to ride the hot hand more than it has, but there’s no reason to force-feed either back carries since both have posed significant concerns to defenses.

Johnny: I think the staff has done an incredible job at managing the carries between Weber and J.K.; we haven't seen a game where both of the guys have been "on," and yet the coaching staff has quickly figured out who is the best option to get them the most yards early, and then adjusted to spell that guy and give the other dude a shot. It's worked out really, really, really well, and props to both Weber and Dobbins for being able to jump in and kick ass whenever called upon.

A few weeks ago I got Kevin spun up hypothetically asking if you were Urban Meyer and you played Alabama this weekend, would you rather have Dwayne Haskins or J.T. Barrett under center? Kevin took Barrett while David and Kyle took Haskins. This week, I ask, assuming you’re playing Alabama on Saturday and you can have any college quarterback out there, who are taking and why?  

Johnny: Haskins. He may not be the best quarterback in college football, but I think there's a very good chance that he's the most complete, and more importantly, the best equipped to go Sexy Rexy and hurt Alabama with some bombs downfield. He's a gunslinger with a 200 football IQ. I'd take him in a second.

Andrew: Alabama’s weakness (at least the presumed weakness) is in the secondary as basically everyone from 2017 had to be replaced. I know Bama has also struggled with mobile quarterbacks in the past — which is an argument for a guy like Barrett I suppose — but if I could have anyone in the country I honestly think it'd be Dwayne Haskins. Look, I know two of his performances thus far were against a pair of the worst teams in college football, but I don’t think there’s anyone out there doubting his passing ability. He’s mobile enough to move around in the pocket even if he’s not toting the rock 25 times a game like J.T. did. Thanks for reminding me of that, Kevin. 

Colin: Let’s quickly get something out of the way. If Tua Tagovailoa can be taken off Alabama and made the starter at Ohio State, thus forcing the Crimson Tide to go with Jalen Hurts, that would be the obvious choice. But, that takes the fun out of the game. At the moment, only three options come to mind: Kyler Murray, Will Grier and Dwayne Haskins. And given how Haskins has this offense rolling, I’d stick with Haskins. The mobility of Murray makes me do a double-take and Grier’s arm entices, but Haskins has been a revelation to Ohio State’s offense. At the moment, there’s no reason to go with anyone else.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Dwayne Haskins looks like the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth through three games. 

The Big Ten stunk it up last week going 6-7 overall with losses to schools like Akron, Troy, Temple and Kansas. Do you care? Or said differently, do you place much value on how the entire conference performs? Do you feel like conference strength is largely irrelevant when looking at it through an Ohio State-slanted lens with regard to the goal of securing a College Football Playoff bid?

Colin: The Big Ten’s performance thus far, while not impressive, should not be much of a concern. At least, not yet. Maybe, down the road, the Buckeyes will be wishing the Big Ten had more depth. But quality wins are more important than depth, when it comes to the College Football Playoff. But, will Ohio State be hurt because Rutgers, Maryland, Illinois, Northwestern, Nebraska and Purdue have not impressed? I can’t imagine that will have much of an impact. Wisconsin’s loss to BYU dinged the view of the conference nationally because some felt the Badgers might take advantage of the uncertainty with Meyer and make the playoff. But since the Buckeyes don’t play them in the regular season, that shouldn’t do much to hard Ohio State. The path still remains: an undefeated Ohio State team would make the playoff, a one-loss Big Ten champion would likely make it and a two-loss Big Ten champion is unlikely to be selected. Big Ten depth does nothing to change my mind about that.

Andrew: I obviously follow the conference closely and I suppose last weekend’s performance was a bit disappointing, but it really doesn’t matter all that much to me as an Ohio State fan. The Buckeyes just need to take care of business and win the conference and then they’ll be on their way to another College Football Playoff. They already got the big win against TCU so I don’t think it will matter if one of their wins is over a 8-4 Maryland team or a 6-6 one. 

Johnny: It's funny when the Big Ten is very good and clowning on SEC teams and it's also funny when the Big Ten is very bad and losing to MAC schools, so ideally we'll get both this season come bowl time. Conference strength hurts Ohio State only if they lose a game. The potential wins on their schedule are definitely enough to get them in over any other school with a similar record by virtue of Ohio State being Ohio State.

Ohio State looks to be about a 37-point favorite on Saturday. Will the Buckeyes cover? Give us a final score and game MVP prediction.

Johnny: Hahahah yeah they'll cover. 63-13, Haskins 1st half MVP, Tate 2nd half MVP.

Colin: This shouldn't — and won't — be a struggle for Ohio State. Tulane has a competent offense, but expect the Buckeyes to pull away at some point in the first half and eventually cover, despite playing backups for the majority of the second half. I have Ohio State winning, 52-3, and Dre’Mont Jones being the team’s MVP. Given Jones’ performance through three games, I fully expect him to take advantage of the spotlight with another dominant performance. This game is not particularly interesting for the starters, though. If things go according to Ohio State’s plans, they won’t be in the game for much more than three quarters. Shaun Wade’s playing time (and which positions he plays), Tate Martell’s role with Meyer back in the fold, the linebacker rotation and the possible emergence of young players getting action in games will be areas to watch.

Andrew: I’ve got Ohio State covering by a score of 58-16. We’ll go with Parris Campbell as the MVP and I’m predicting a pick six for Shaun Wade.

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