Eleven Warriors Roundtable: Prepping for the Playoffs

By Chris Lauderback on December 13, 2019 at 8:35 am
Ohio State takes on Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal matchup after defeating Wisconsin to capture the B1G crown and a No. 2 ranking.

Ohio State may not be taking the field this weekend but the 11W roundtable never sleeps. 

In this latest installment, our very own Ramzy Nasrallah, Kevin Harrish and David Wertheim take their seats to take stock of the Buckeyes' season-to-date. 

Boys, do your thing.. 

Ohio State has three weeks to get healthy and attempt to shore up any problematic areas. At present, what is the most pressing thing the Buckeyes need to address, improve or change if they want to beat Clemson?

Ramzy: It’s got to start with pass protection and QB progressions. Clemson hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in a game this season - now granted, they played Furman 13 times - but if I remember correctly Rutgers got in the end zone multiple times against the Buckeyes. In order to rattle a team that’s murderized everyone it’s faced for two full seasons, you need to batter them with diversity. JK all day and Zone Six all night. For the latter, pass-blocking needs to improve and Fields needs to be decisive. Avoiding interceptions is great. Bonus points and possibly a trip to New Orleans for avoiding sacks.

David: The Buckeyes absolutely cannot get into a first half hole like we saw against Wisconsin and even against Michigan. If you give Clemson anything “extra,” they will crush you. Ohio State has to come out fast and ready on both sides of the ball. 

Kevin: No disrespect to Quintez Chephus, who is fine, but if a Wisconsin receiver finishing with seven catches for 122 yards on your defense right before you play a collection of receivers decidedly better than that, that's not exactly the world's most fantastic sign. To be fair, most of that came in the first half when Jeff Okudah was on the sideline, and the Buckeyes shut him the hell down in the second half. But if I'm looking for a reason to be nervous, it's that, because Trevor Lawrence and those receivers are by far the best passing attack Ohio State has faced this year.

Justin Fields and Chase Young were named Heisman finalists earlier this week and J.K. Dobbins is having of the most under-recognized seasons in school history. Through 13 games, who is Ohio State’s most valuable player?

Kevin: In terms of replaceability, it's Fields and it's not close. If you don't believe me, think about how you viewed Ohio State's national title chances when there was concern Chase Young might be ineligible the rest of the season. Now remember how you felt went Fields grabbed his knee against Michigan. I think Young has had the best season overall and Dobbins has had the best offensive season, but Fields is the most valuable player to this team because there's just no way they're where they are without him. And I'm not sure you can absolutely say the same about Dobbins or Young.

David: These last two games have to show you that it is Fields. His gutsy play in the Michigan game where he came back in to throw a dart immediately. Leading the comeback against Wisconsin. He is Ohio state’s most important player. If I had to rank the others, I’d go Dobbins followed by Chase Young.

Ramzy: It’s Chase Young, who alters opposing strategies in a matter so significant it impacts field position, game cadence and offensive line psyche. You can go back through this season and count the number of tackles who were evaluating their life choices during the middle of a game. Defense really does win championships, and part of the reason Ohio State is equipped to score buckets of points quickly on offense is because of how demoralized its defense can make a sideline.

You just gave us your most valuable player, now what about most improved? Did your selection surprise you with this improvement or did you see it coming?

Ramzy: I’m giving it to an entire position room: Linebackers. Tuf Borland wasn’t going to get faster, but he’s every bit of the captain, leader and tackler he’s capable of being. That unit in 2019 showed how criminal its management was in 2018. As for if this was a predictable jump in performance, yes. The moment Bill Davis went back to his NFL journeyman life and an actual college linebackers coach like Al Washington took his place, I expected a whiplash turnaround. 

Kevin: It's DaVon Hamilton and I'm really not sure there's a close second. He went from a fringe starter and one of the most forgettable contributors on the roster to a legitimate NFL player and a force on the inside. No honest person expected DaVon Hamilton to be the most productive defensive lineman outside of Chase Young, and that's pretty much where we're at right now.

David: The whole defense. I mean, wow. Did anyone expect Shaun Wade or Damon Arnette to possibly go in the first round? The linebackers have been very solid, and Chase Young was a monster for most of the year. The only “problem” is that there hasn’t really been another great rusher outside of Young. And no, I did not see this coming. 

After the B1G title game, Ryan Day was vocal about the fact he felt Ohio State deserved the No. 1 seed whereas LSU’s Ed Orgeron took a neutral stance basically saying his team would play anyone, anywhere. Is one talk-off better than the other from an optics standpoint? Are you in the camp that prefers the Buckeyes would have avoided Clemson and instead played Oklahoma in the semis? Maybe you’re in the beat the best be the best camp? Or maybe you hate camping?

David: Yes, I would’ve absolutely rather have played Oklahoma. Numbers and the eye test don’t usually lie, and both of those show that Clemson is far more dominant than Oklahoma and a team that should be more feared. Orgeron can say whatever he wants, but he knows how grateful he should be to the committee for giving him a cake first round matchup. 

Ramzy: I have no problem with what Day said, and I share Orgeron’s position. The two positions can coexist. If you want to believe this Ohio State edition is an historic college football team, you can’t get picky about where it’s slotted in the Final Four. It should be good enough to beat anyone, anywhere. Playing Clemson first and the LSU/Oklahoma winner second would serve to be the proof of that concept, and arguably be the most impressive national championship in the FBS of all time with two previously-undefeateds, the defending champion coming off a 15-0 season and the number one team in its own state. Give me that. 

Kevin: I think both coaches were fine in what they said. I also think you can be willing to play anyone, anywhere and still think your team deserves to be the No. 1 seed  – and I think that's where Ryan Day was. I think Oklahoma is certainly the easier team to play, but at the end of the day, I genuinely think this is the best and most complete Ohio State team I've ever seen. If I'm right, it won't matter, they won't need help winning the national title and I'm fine with the toughest path possible to leave no doubt.

If Ryan Day quit tomorrow and you could only choose between Ed Orgeron, Dabo Swinney and Lincoln Riley to take over in Columbus, who’s your pick and why? 

Kevin: The answer is Jeff Hafley, but I'll play – give me Lincoln Riley because he seems like a generally fine individual and is the closest thing to Ryan Day. Dabo is objectively the best choice, but I'm just not sure I could stomach that for any number of wins.

David: It’s Dabo and it’s not close. Orgeron has had only one elite season, is old, and who knows how good he’ll be with a quarterback that isn’t Joe Burrow. Riley is the youngest of the three, but is almost certain to go to the NFL soon. Dabo is a relatively young, dynasty-starting winner who has 2 championships in the last 3 years. 

Ramzy: I would choose bourbon. Then I would choose Lincoln Riley because of his general tolerability. Then Orgeron. Then more bourbon. Then someone else.

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