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Behind Enemy Lines Q&A: OSU blog Land-Grant Holy Land

We get the perspective of SB Nation’s Land Grant Holy Land on ‘The Game’

Ohio State v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

‘The Game’ is almost upon us, and before it transpires, we needed last minute detail on the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Luckily, Matt Tamanini of Land Grant Holy Land was able to help us answer some questions. Be sure to stay ‘til the end of the Q&A if you’re headed to Columbus, as Matt has food recommendations. Also, give the guys at Land Grant a look, they’ve put out a lot of quality content this week.

Behind Enemy Lines Q&A

Q: OSU has been phasing in QB Tate Martell more, especially on 3rd downs where he can run the read-option. Should Michigan expect a steady-dose of Martell, or will Haskins do it all? It is worth noting Haskins ran more than he has in a while last week vs Maryland.

A: I wish I could answer this question for you, but the truth is, I have no idea, mainly because, I don’t think that the OSU coaching staff has any coherent plans on how and when they want to use Martell. Before the season began, I assumed that Martell would have a package of plays that he could come in and run at multiple points in the game, either with Haskins still in the game or not.

In the early season, we did see Martell get a series with the first team offense before halftime, but that faded away eventually. Recently, as you note, the coaches have been bringing him in to run random plays in short yardage and the red zone. It’s worked to a certain extent, but it also has led to confusion amongst the offensive line, running backs, and just general disorganization at times as well.

I am personally not a fan of bringing Martell in exclusively for short-yardage and red zone attempts, mainly because the OSU coaching staff has not yet shown a willingness to allow him to pass in those situations. Obviously having a dynamic runner at quarterback changes the numbers-game at the line of scrimmage, but Ohio State’s best offensive players (other than Haskins) are their wide receivers, and if the coaches are going to completely take them out of the equation in these high-value situations, I think it is doing the offense a disservice.

Q: Jim Harbaugh said about OSU “has a great record, you are what your record says you are”. Is that true in OSU’s case? A win is always a win, but is it fair to say they could have at least a couple more losses? (52-51 over Maryland), (36-31 over Nebraska), (27-26 over PSU)

A: Oh, we’ve see this very same mentality in our mentions for weeks, as we’ve been pointing out the monumental shortcomings of this team, and more accurately of the coaching staff.

Certainly there is an incredible value in being 10-1 in college football; that is a very difficult thing for any team to do, and it allows you to be within arms length of your ultimate goals. But not all 10-1s are created equally.

Buckeye teams coached by Meyer (not to mention Jim Tressel) have often been accused of “playing down” to their opponents, mainly because OSU teams in the recent past ran more grind-it-out, run-first (and second) offenses.

However, those games ­– as annoying as they could be – rarely felt like OSU was in true danger of losing, and they almost always felt in control. This season, however. though is a different story. I don’t think that OSU was “playing down” to Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland, etc., I just think that in a lot of ways, they are on the same level.

This fall, the Buckeyes feel like they are always flying by the seat of their pants, and could give up a backbreaking score at any point. So, while I am very happy that this year’s team is 10-1, I am also painfully aware that it is a 10-1 that doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny.

Q: OSU has given up over 25 points seven times this season, do you think they can keep Michigan under 25 points on offense? And do you see OSU hanging over 25 on Michigan’s defense.

A: In terms of Ohio State’s defense stopping Michigan from scoring: not a chance in the world. Look, certainly there will be an extra level of emotion for the home team on Senior Day, so that might help the defense stiffen up, and finally look like a unit worthy of playing in the Big Ten. But I’ve been fooled by reports of “improvements” before; so, until I see them do it, I’m not going to believe that they can.

In terms of Ohio State scoring, I do think that they can keep up, assuming that Meyer gets out of the way on the play-calling. If Ryan Day is allowed to run the offense the way that he did in the first three games (against admittedly much lesser opposition) with tempo and an emphasis on quick, short passes, I think they will score.

Will it be enough to keep pace with what their defense gives up? Who knows, but I do think that they can score. I can’t imagine that it will be the 41+ that they are averaging, but if given the chance to do what they do best, Haskins and company should be able to at least keep it close-ish.

Q: If OSU is to have success on offense and defense vs Michigan, what should the gameplan be?

A: On offense, I mentioned it above. Haskins is at his worst (like most QBs are) when he is under pressure, so if the Buckeyes can get the ball out of his hand on one to three step drops, that should be able to maximize Haskins’ accuracy, while also negating the strengths of UM’s pass rush.

The best way for the OSU defense to stop the UM offense, in my opinion, is to have fired the defensive coordinator Greg Schiano about a month ago, but that didn’t happen. The OSU linebackers are by far the worst unit on the team, and put added pressure on both the D-line and the secondary. If Tuf Borland, Malik Harrison, Pete Werner, Baron Browning, Justin Hilliard, et al., can all of a sudden learn to take proper pursuit angles, not miss tackles, and maintain outside contain, that would go a long way.

Just to be clear, I have zero confidence in that happening, but that’s the only way that this defense is going to improve to the point of being competitive with Michigan.

Q: Have you been able to scout Michigan at all? Give us some strengths and weaknesses if you could.

A: Well, what’s scary is that the Wolverines don’t have a ton of weaknesses this season, but watching games and looking at the advanced stats, the one area that I think that Ohio State can take advantage is in finishing drives.

Despite all of their indecision in the red zone, OSU has done a pretty good job of getting points in scoring opportunities, which is something that UM has struggled with stopping. If the play calling is able to use Haskins – and potentially Martell – efficiently, I think that this could be an opportunity for the Buckeyes to gain an advantage.

On the other side of the ball, because of Harbaugh’s traditional offense, the Wolverines haven’t been great in third-and-long situations (only converting 25 percent of the time). Granted, they don’t get off schedule often, but if the OSU defense can get some stuffs on early downs, that should be very helpful in limiting UM’s opportunities for extended drives.

Q: Who are some players on both sides of the football Michigan fans might not know but could greatly help OSU?

A: On offense, keep an eye on H-back/wide receiver Parris Campbell. He is definitely Ohio State’s most dynamic playmaker, but he’s been a bit quiet for a few weeks. If OSU is going to try to do some different things in order to get that aggressive defense uncomfortable, it might be with Campbell.

It will also be interesting to see how they use running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber. Dobbins had an insane game against Maryland last week as Weber sat with a quad contusion. However, Weber has been cleared and is averaging almost one more yard per carry than Dobbins. You’ve also got to account for the fact that Dobbins is coming off of a 37-carry game last week.

On defense, tackle Dre’Mont Jones and end Chase Young are the guys to watch out for in terms of getting pressure on Shea Patterson. If they are able to generate a rush without the coaches having to bring additional blitzers, that should allow the DBs to support the linebackers, who need as much help as they can get.

Q: What is the general feeling from Buckeye fans? Is there more optimism or pessimism heading into this matchup?

A: I think if this was any other team than Michigan, but with the same players, same coaches, and same stats, most fans would be pretty resigned to the fact that OSU was probably not going to win the game. However, because it is “The Game,” hope springs eternal in Columbus.

I do think that most non-insane fans recognize that this isn’t a perfect Buckeye team, and that the Wolverines are obviously having the better season; but for some reason a lot of folks seem to think (or maybe it’s just hope) that some how – after 11 games – the players and coaches are going to find a magical way to fix what heretofore has been unfixable.

Q: How do you think this game will unfold?

A: Look, I think that Ohio State has a legitimate path to victory. If they play call to the pass-first strengths of the offense, and scheme to prevent giving up obscenely long plays on defense, I think that they have the talent on the field to win.

However, your question is asking what I think actually will happen, and I don’t think that’s it. If I had to guess, I’d say that Michigan’s offense will more or less score at will, and while the Buckeye offense will get its share of yards and points, I don’t think that they will be able to keep up with the points that their defense allows.

So, while the fan side of my brain is saying, “Buckeyes 35, That Team Up North 31,” the logical side is saying, “Michigan 38, Ohio State 24.”

Q: Any food recommendations in Columbus? There are going to be some Michigan fans wanting to enjoy the local fare.

A: Absolutely. The campus area has changed a lot since I was in school, but in terms of food, that’s been for the better. Since it is a noon game, I figured I’d include some breakfast spots along with some places to grab pizza and to sit down around campus. Also, depending on if folks are staying downtown, there’s a few very high quality, even iconic places as well.

On Campus

Breakfast: Hangover Easy, Buckeye Donuts, First Watch

Pizza: Tommy’s, Catfish Biff’s, Adriatico’s

Casual: The Varsity Club, Mama’s Pasta N Brew, Cazuelas Grill

Downtown Columbus

Schmidt’s, Katzinger’s Deli, North Market, Short North Food Hall, Northstar Cafe