Eleven Warriors Roundtable: The Revival

By Chris Lauderback on December 4, 2020 at 9:20 am
Justin Fields should be full throttle when Ohio State takes the field against Michigan State.

Sans head coach Ryan Day and an unknown number of players due to positive COVID-19 tests, Ohio State appears set to resume its season tomorrow in East Lansing against Michigan State. 

Associate head coach and defensive line savant Larry Johnson will attempt to fill Day's shoes as the Buckeyes look to improve to 5-0 on the season and remain in both the Big Ten title and College Football Playoff pictures. 

Before the Buckeyes take the field against the Spartans, get learned up via the educational stylings of our very own Colin Hass-Hill, Zack Carpenter and Matt Gutridge in this latest edition of the 11W roundtable. 

Justin Fields had the worst performance of his career in Ohio State’s 42-35 win over Indiana. He’s had some time to reflect – more than he’d like – and is set to face a Spartan defense ranked in the top-20 in yards per attempt (6.2) and passer rating (112.57) while holding quarterbacks to a respectable 59.1% completion rate. What kind of afternoon do you expect from Fields? If the game is canceled, would you advise Fields to throw in the towel on his 2020 college season to prep for the draft or suggest he stick with it to potentially gain more reps and film? 

Colin: With all that’s happened in the past 13 days, Fields’ three-interception game feels like it happened approximately four months ago. But, yes, that was the last time the Buckeyes took the field.

This is his first-ever bounce-back opportunity as a college quarterback. While Michigan State’s defensive numbers have been solid, as long as Fields has his core weapons around him, I’m projecting him to bounce back in a big way. What’s funny about his Indiana performance is it was generally pretty good, except he made two awful plays that led to interceptions. In what was undeniably the worst game of his career, he threw for three touchdowns and 300 yards and rushed for 78 more and a score. He has to avoid those turnovers, but there was still a lot to like about the rest of his performance. I’m optimistic about what he’ll do on Saturday.

In a worst-case scenario where the game gets canned at the last moment, I’d still tell Fields to play on – at least for two more weeks. One more canceled game isn’t an automatic elimination from the College Football Playoff, and that’s the ultimate goal. As long as a national title is on the table, I’d never advise Fields to sit out.

Zack: Fields was damn near perfect through the first three games of the season, was the Heisman frontrunner and was being hailed as a contender against Trevor Lawrence for the No. 1 pick in the draft. And now all of a sudden, after one bad game, it feels like so many think the sky is falling with him. Doesn’t make sense if you think that way. He made some terrible throws and bad decisions all day against Indiana, but after putting together the type of season he did in 2019 and then backing up with near perfection through three games in 2020, I’d chalk his last game up as more fluky than a harbinger of things to come. He’ll bounce back in a massive way against Michigan State with at least five total touchdowns. And even if Ohio State only winds up playing six total games (including the Big Ten’s final weekend in Indianapolis) and goes 6-0, I still feel good about their chances of making the CFP so a shot at winning a national title is still in the air. That’d be good enough for Fields to stay, so if that’s his goal (and we know it is) then there’s no reason to call it quits just yet.

Matt: If the weather is decent, I expect Justin Fields to have learned from his mistakes against Indiana. If so, he will likely take what the Michigan State defense is giving him and try not to force bad passes. He's had two weeks to stew on his performance against the Hoosiers and will be ready to wash that bad taste out of his mouth.

If Fields is coming to me for advice, he's in more trouble than any of us could ever imagine. He's smarter than yours truly, and I'm certain he will weigh the pros and cons of continuing to play in this God forsaken season. Being the competitor that Fields is, my guess is that he will want to go out with a better game than what he showed against Indiana. I cannot fault him for either decision. Barring injury, Fields will be a first round draft pick in the spring of 2021.  

There’s been a lot of discussion nationally about a minimum number of games Ohio State should have to play in order for the CFP to take its candidacy seriously. Is there a magic number you support? Can the Buckeyes realistically make the playoff field if they don't play in the B1G title game and instead maybe play a Wisconsin team on December 19?

Zack: I don’t think there should necessarily be a minimum number of games. If Ohio State is one of the four best teams in the country, then you put them in the playoff. The Buckeyes have the talent on their team to stake a legitimate claim as one of the four best teams in the country. But through four games, I don’t think that talent has shown them to be one of the four best. There doesn’t need to be a magic number of games, but if they only wind up playing four – after what they’ve shown, especially against Indiana – I don’t think you can put them in based on those four alone. If they can beat Wisconsin convincingly and look good doing it, that changes the discussion. 

Colin: No minimum. No magic number.

Ohio State just has to play enough games to prove it’s one of the best four teams in the country and it has accomplished enough that the idea is backed by on-field performance rather than projection. 

Even if the Buckeyes don’t play in the Big Ten title game because of a game cancellation, they would absolutely still have a shot to earn a CFP bid. They’d just have to prove they deserve it in whatever remaining games that actually kick off.

Matt: As a fan of the game, I'd like to see the Buckeyes play as many games as possible. As far as a magic number goes, the CFP committee said they don't have one, so I don't have a number either. I'm hoping they play MSU and That Team in order to make it to the B1G title game and make this question a non factor.

If they don't play in the title game, it's because games were canceled. If that's the case and The Game is canceled, I want Ohio State to play TTUN on the 19th of December instead of any opponent from the West.

Is this Jim Harbaugh’s last season in Ann Arbor despite having one more year on his contract? Assuming it is, and being realistic about replacement, who are the top two guys Michigan’s administration should consider to get the program out of the dumpster?  

Matt: I hope it's not Captain Crazy's last season, but I don't see how he can come back. As soon as the door is slammed behind Khaki Boy, Matt Campbell and Luke Fickell would be the first two coaches on the line...with PJ Fleck also on speed dial.

Zack: Go after Jeff Hafley. Michigan can shoot for Mario Cristobal if it wants, but I don’t think he would want to leave a spot that nice to repair what’s broken in Ann Arbor. I really think Hafley could get the job done there, simply from what I’ve covered in talking with recruits about him, let alone his Xs and Os reputation.

Colin: It has to be, right? Does anybody really think he’ll turn this thing around? To keep him, Michigan would essentially have to go all-in by re-upping his contract for several more years, and I don’t think that’s the route Warde Manuel will – or should – take.

My issue is I really don’t know who I’d go after. My No. 1 answer, even if Buckeye fans hate it, would probably be Luke Fickell. He has proven to be a top-of-the-line recruiter, has turned a program around and begun to sustain success, has deep regional ties and understands the rivalry and Ohio State better than almost anybody. I just don’t think he’d take the job. 

I'm split between Matt Campbell, Jeff Hafley and Pat Fitzgerald as my No. 2 guy, but I'll go with Fitzgerald. If he ever leaves Northwestern, this might be the right fit. I'm also intrigued by Lance Leipold. Honestly don't know how he'd do at Michigan, but it would be an interesting hire.

Defensive line coach and associate head coach Larry Johnson will serve as Ohio State’s temporary head coach this week which is a truly awesome thing for a whole bunch of reasons. As an assistant coach, is he Ohio State's best over the last 20 years? Give us your top three OSU assistant coaches dating back to Jim Tressel's arrival in 2001. 

Matt: Zach Smith, Nick Siciliano, Tim Beck, Jim Bollman, Billy Davis and Alex Grinch are guys not in my top three. 

Limiting the number to three is tough. Leaving guys like Mark Dantonio, Jim Heacock, Chris Ash, Jeff Hafley and some guy named Ryan Day off the list is hard. However, I'm going with Luke Fickell, Larry Johnson and Mickey Marotti. Of the assistants to choose from, Fickell, Johnson and Marotti have staying power and have delivered an incredible impact on the program. 

Colin: As a certified millennial born in 1995 who grew up rooting for West Virginia, I won’t pretend to know anything about Jim Tressel’s assistant coaches, so I’m going off of the Urban Meyer and Ryan Day eras for my trio. Plenty to choose from, but I’m going with Tom Herman, Luke Fickell and Larry Johnson.

Brian Hartline’s lurking. Ask me again in two or three years and I imagine he’ll wedge his way in here.

Ohio State is a 24-point favorite ahead of its trip to East Lansing. Can the Buckeyes cover considering all the recent obstacles from player unavailability to general rust from being off the game and practice fields? Give us your final score.

Colin: Hi, it’s me, the guy who is going to pick Ohio State to win a road Big Ten game without its head coach and several players by at least 24 points. I wouldn’t touch this line with real money, but if I’m making a pick, I’m projecting the Buckeyes cover. Provided Justin Fields and the Chris Olave-Garrett Wilson duo play, I can’t imagine the Spartans will slow down the Buckeyes’ offense, and I don’t think their passing attack will be enough to shred Ohio State through the air like Indiana did.

I’ve got Ohio State, 41-14.

Zack: For the Indiana game, my final prediction was Ohio State would cover the 20.5-point spread “easily.” Looked pretty good in the third quarter up 35-7. But I’m not picking them to cover this game. The offense hums along, the defense still looks questionable: Ohio State 42, Michigan State 21

Matt: 24 points is a large spread for a team that could be missing several starters and key players. However, Kevin Wilson, Justin Fields and the offense should put on a show. Master Teague ran extremely hard against Indiana and he might be in line for a string of 100+ yard games. 

Ohio State 52, Michigan State 17

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