We welcome you back to the final edition of our Opponent Q&A series.
While (once again) unforeseen circumstances prevented us from discussing Indiana, we wrap it all up with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Follow along as Matt Tamanini of LandGrantHolyLand.com and myself discuss heisman candidates, record predictions, and more.
Josh LaFond: With JT Barrett — finally — moving on, who will the Buckeyes turn to as their QB for now and for the future?
Matt Tamanini: This year it will be Dwayne Haskins, and I don’t see that changing for as long as he’s in Columbus. However, since he is a red-shirt sophomore, that might not be long, depending on how well he does this season. As was evident last season when he spelled Barrett, Haskins is a different kind of quarterback than the Buckeyes have seen under Urban Meyer, with the exception of Cardale Jones’ time under center.
Haskins will never be a run-first QB like Barrett or Braxton Miller. Sure, he can run when needed, but he is a more traditional pocket passer. He has the ability to make just about every throw on the tree — like Jones — but like we saw last year, his accuracy isn’t where Buckeye fans would want it yet, also like Jones.
However, he does have a dynamic arm that should only improve as the offense is catered more to what he does well. Even though he was incredibly successful backing up Barrett last year (not to rub it in), he was kind of like putting a square peg in a run-first hole.
He’ll absolutely have big shoes to fill, replacing Barrett, but it looks like he’s going to be trying to fill them in a slightly different way.
Josh: Is JK Dobbins the real deal?
Matt: A year ago, if you would have told me that Mike Weber would be supplanted as the top running back in Ohio State’s backfield, I wouldn’t have believed you. But Dobbins is a special back, and it benefits the Buckeyes that his skill set is not the same as Weber’s. Dobbins is the more elusive of the two, showing an ability to get to the outside and run away from defenders.
In his freshman year of 2016, Weber had a tendency to be always a shoelace away from breaking a big run. He’d bust through the middle of the defense, but get caught from behind almost every time. He did show an increased burst last season after returning mid-season from injury, but he is still more of the between-the-tackles runner for the Buckeyes.
That being said, I think having a stable of two top-line running backs (not to mention a handful of solid H-backs and a stud freshman RB named Master Teague) will limit the potential for Dobbins or Weber to have the type of season that will land either of them in New York for the Hesiman Trophy ceremony, barring any unforeseen injuries, of course.
However, with a new starting QB, Meyer and his co-offensive coordinators might find themselves more inclined to rely on the running backs this season than in years past. I would imagine that Dobbins will be in strong contention for the Big Ten’s first-team, but unless he dominates the workload —which I don’t foresee — I can’t imagine him walking away with any national individual awards.
Josh: What will Ohio state look to do on offense in offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson’s 2nd year?
Matt: What’s most interesting about the offense this season is that I don’t think it will be one with Wilson’s fingerprints most definitively on it. In the offseason, Meyer hired Ryan Day to be the new QB coach and co-offensive coordinator. The word is that it will be Day that handles most of the play-calling. Many people in Columbus have speculated that either Day, or new co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, would be groomed to replace Meyer when he eventually retires, so it is expected that the offense will more tilt to Day’s sensibilities this season; a more traditional pocket-passing quarterback and a move away from the zone-read.
You shouldn’t expect massive changes to OSU’s base scheme, however, they will still build upon Meyer’s run-first spread, but I don’t imagine that we will see the 15-20 QB carries that we are used to. However, there will likely be a shift to more run-pass options with Haskins under center. How that actually manifests on the field is yet to be seen, but this will be a different Ohio State offense than we’ve come to know over the past decade dating back to the Terrelle Pryor days.
Josh: It always seems like Ohio State turns out elite talent at the cornerback and secondary positions in verbal for that matter. Who will lead the corps this season?
Matt: The likely answer will be cornerback Kendall Sheffield. He started three games last season, and has shown consistent improvement since coming to Columbus after a red-shirt year at Alabama, then a spin at a JuCo. He’s insanely fast, in fact, he was a member of OSU’s indoor track team during the offseason, and set a new school record with a 6.63 60-meter dash. So, he certainly has the physical skills to take the mantle and run with it…no pun intended.
You’ll also likely have Damon Arnette starting on the opposite side of the field. He got a good amount of playing time last season, but was inconsistent. I wouldn’t be surprised if last year’s special teams star Jeffrey Okudah works his way into the rotation more and more as the season progresses.
Jordan Fuller and Isaiah Pryor will likely be the starters at safety, but coming out of spring practice, Meyer said that the field safety spot (which is where Pryor would slot in) was the team’s No. 1 concern. So, there could be some tumult there as well.
Josh: Do you see the battle for the Big Ten East coming down to The Game in Columbus, or is another scenario in your minds eye?
Matt: I think that the Big Ten East — as it has been for the past few years — is the best division in college football. So I could see Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, or Penn State representing the division in Indianapolis for the conference title game. The fact that OSU has to play PSU and MSU on the road this season is certainly of concern for Buckeye fans, especially since the game in Happy Valley is in September, so not nearly as much time for the new quarterback to get his footing as they would like.
And, while the Wolverines get the Nittany Lions in Ann Arbor, they do have to travel to East Lansing, and I would assume that is a game that Jim Harbaugh will desperately want to win.
All that being said, had you asked me this question on April 26, I would have said no chance; that UM, despite being very talented, would be on the outside looking in on the Big Ten East race.
However, that all obviously changed when Shea Patterson was deemed immediately eligible. The Wolverine passing game was pretty underwhelming in 2017, but I would have to assume that that will change in a big way now.
So, like I said before, I would not be surprised if any of the four heavy-hitters in the division ended up winning the East, but I always hope that The Game carries as much weight as possible (as long as Ohio State wins!)
Josh: At the end of the season what will Ohio State and Michigan’s records be?
Matt: I’ll take off my homer hat for this one and say that because of the depth of the division, neither is coming out unscathed. I would love to pick the Buckeyes to go undefeated — and I think that could happen — but in the regular season, I’ll say Michigan will finish 9-3 and Ohio State will be 10-2.