Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
The Indiana Hoosiers open a tough October slate with a trip to Ohio State. The Buckeyes will at least be a top-three team in the nation at worst and could be the number one team in the nation by the time the Hoosiers roll into town. The Buckeyes have dominated this series and the Hoosiers have not knocked off the Buckeyes since 1988, but IU has given OSU a scare over the past six seasons however the Hoosiers haven’t been able to get over the hump.
Week Six: Ohio State Buckeyes
Date & Time: Saturday October 6, 2018, TBD
Venue: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
Buckeyes at a Glance
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Entering his 17th Season Overall and 7th at Ohio State
Overall Record: 177-31
At OSU: 73-8
Buckeyes Last Season: 12-2 (8-1) Big Ten Champions, Beat USC in Cotton Bowl 24-7
Buckeyes Returning Leaders
Passing: Dwayne Haskins (70.2 pct. 565 yards 4 TDs 1 INT)
Rushing: J.K. Dobbins (194 att. 1403 yards 7.2 YPC 8 Total TDs)
Receiving: Parris Campbell (40 rec. 584 yards 14.6 YPR 4 Total TDs)
Tackles: SS Jordan Fuller (70 tackles 3 TFL, 2 INTs, 4 Passes Defensed)
Athlon’s: 1st in Big Ten East
Lindy’s: 1st in Big Ten East
Street & Smith’s: 1st in Big Ten East
Phil Steele: 1st in Big Ten East
Impact Newcomers for the Buckeyes
1. Jeremy Ruckert, TE- Ohio State loses the services of tight end Marcus Baugh who caught 28 balls for 304 yards and five touchdowns as a senior. The Buckeyes have a couple experienced tight ends on the roster in Rashard Berry and Luke Farrell, but incoming freshman Jeremy Ruckert could very well find his way into the two-deep before it’s all said-and-done. Ruckert was a four-star recruit out of Lindenhurst, NY. He’s 6’4” 240 pounds and was the top tight end coming out of high school last in the 2018 class.
2. Antwuan Jackson, DT- One would think that Ohio State wouldn’t need JUCO help along the defensive line but having as many studs as OSU does it comes with a price when the NFL draft comes along. This year’s D-Line will be stacked as well, but it needed some depth reinforcements and Jackson is just that at tackle behind Robert Landers. Jackson originally signed with Auburn out of high school before ending up at junior college. Jackson, only a sophomore, at 305 pounds, gives the Buckeyes another space eater in the middle of the defense.
3. Nicholas Petit-Frere, OT- Petit-Frere is just another five-star recruit that Urban Meyer landed. The Buckeyes will have their five starters cemented along the offensive with guys who have more experience but the 6’6” 272-pound true freshman out of Tampa can make his way into the rotation. He will need to bulk up and there’s little doubt that he wouldn’t be able to do that.
The good news for the rest of the Big Ten is that the Buckeyes lose their top passer, second leading rusher and their defensive back that led the team with five interceptions. The bad news is that Urban Meyer still coaches at Ohio State and he recruits with the best of them as the Buckeyes have finished 2nd,2nd,4th and 7th nationally in the last four recruiting cycles according the 247 Sports.
So J.T. Barrett’s record setting career is over in Columbus as he has finally graduated and redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins is primed to take over the starting position. While a starter has not officially been named, Haskins impressed so much in the spring that Joe Borrow transferred to LSU leaving Haskins and Tate Martell as the two choices for Urban Meyer.
Replacing Barrett’s 12,697 total yards and 147 total touchdowns will be difficult however the Buckeyes offense could add a different dimension if Haskins is indeed the opening day starter. Haskins got his feet wet in 2017 playing in eight games and throwing for 565 yards and four touchdowns. He also looked so good that he had Ohio State fans’ clamoring for a quarterback change. Haskins brings a stronger arm and the potential for the Ohio State offense to be more successful in the downfield passing game but he is not the runner that Barrett was.
Here is where OSU’s offense could become tricky as backup quarterback Tate Martell, a former Gatorade National Player of the Year in high school, is an elite runner and reminds people a little bit of Johnny Mazel. One would expect at least a package for Martell during the season to keep opponents honest.
It’s not as if the Buckeyes struggle running the ball though. The Buckeyes have the best running back duo in the country in J.K. Dobbins and Mike Webber. Dobbins ran for 1,403 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman and should be able to put up similar numbers this season. He may be a short running back but at 212 pounds can handle the pounding of a Big Ten season. Mike Webber cracked 1,000 yards during his true freshman season in 2016 and rushed for 626 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games last season. Webber is not as quick as Dobbins but is no slouch. He should be over his hamstring issues that held him back at the beginning of 2017. If both backs stay healthy the Buckeyes have an excellent shot at having two 1,000-yard running backs in 2018.
Ohio State’s wide receivers may have gone under the radar a bit over the past few seasons as nobody (outside of Curtis Samuel who was listed as a H-Back) has cracked 700 yards since Michael Thomas in 2015. That has more to do with the nature of the passing offense with Barrett than it does with the talent the Buckeyes have at wide out.
The Buckeyes return their top six pass catchers from 2017 including speedster H-Back Parris Campbell who finished with 40 catches and 584 yards in 2017. He can score from anywhere on the field and should be able to stretch the field on deep routes with Haskins throwing ability. He has had some bad drops in the past, but the senior should be primed for a big final go-around in Columbus. Junior K.J. Hill caught 56 passes in 2017 and is back for 2018 but will have to battle Campbell for the H-Back position and senior Johnnie Dixon for reps at wide receiver. Dixon is a fast as anyone and averaged 23.4 yards per catch last season. He is a legitimate deep threat for the Buckeyes. Fort Wayne Native Austin Mack and junior Binjinmen Victor round out the rest of the two-deep for the Buckeyes at the wide receiver position. They combined for 47 catches and nine touchdowns in 2017.
Making this offense go are the big guys up front. The Buckeyes will have to break in new starters at center and right tackle. They do get Brandon Bowen who started six games in 2017 back from injury. Fifth-year senior Brady Taylor will try and fill the shoes of former All-American Billy Price at center. Taylor has playing experience as he has appeared in 29 games and the staff thinks very highly of him.
Ohio State will also have to replace left tackle Jamarco Jones. Isaiah Prince will slide over from after playing the last two seasons at right tackle while sophomore Thayer Munford will step up into that role.
A trio of freshmen Wyatt Davis, Josh Meyers and Nicholas Petit-Frere as well as senior Demitrius Knox, who started in place of the injured Bowen in 2017, will be in the offensive line rotation. Junior Joshua Albi will be backing up Price at left tackle.
After fielding a defense that finished the 2017 season ninth in the country in total defense, the Buckeyes should be just as good in 2018 despite losing much of their talent to the NFL. The Buckeyes should field one of the best defensive lines in the country which should allow for an inexperienced linebacking group learn on the run and give a secondary that lost two starters a safety net.
The defensive line is headlined by junior defensive end Nick Bosa who led the team with 8.5 sacks in 2017. He added 16 tackles for loss and totaled 34 tackles as well. Nick is a carbon copy of his brother Joey who wrecked many quarterbacks in his time in the Big Ten.
Along with Bosa, the Buckeyes will return Dre’Mont Joines, who could have left for the NFL, and Robert Landers back at the tackle positions. They combined for 10 TFLs and a sack. Bookending Bosa will be sophomore Chase Young who had 3.5 sacks and six TFLs as a freshman. Junior college transfer Antwuan Jackson will be added to the rotation at tackle as well as sophomore Haskell Garrett, while a pair of juniors, Jonathan Cooper and Jashon Cornell will be backups at the end positions. Ohio State’s listed second-team d-line combined for 32 tackles, four sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.
Where the Ohio State defense will need a little bit of time to develop into an elite unit is in the linebacking corps where the Buckeyes must replace two starters. Back is sophomore Tuf Borland who made 58 tackles in 2017 as he played his way into the starting role during the second half of the season. Borland did suffer an Achilles injury during spring practice which could keep him out of fall camp, but he should be able to play in 2018. If Borland cannot go sophomore Baron Browning and junior Justin Hilliard could fill the middle linebacker role until he returns. Ohio State opens the season with home games against Oregon State and Rutgers so if Borland is not 100-percent, Meyer will probably be OK with holding him out until the TCU game.
The replacements at the outside backer positions look to be juniors Malik Harrison, who recorded 36 tackles, three TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 14 games and Keandre Jones who made 15 tackles while playing in 11 games in 2017. Yes, these players are a bit inexperienced, but they are not untalented and giving them a few games to get their feet under them will help their development.
Depth could be an issue at linebacker too as Browning is listed as the back-up for both the middle and outside backer position and senior Dante Booker will be back for a fifth year to add a veteran presence to that group. Booker made 31 tackles in 10 games in 2017 and has played in 36 games in his career making 62 tackles.
The Buckeyes saw their best cover corner taken fourth overall in the NFL draft and they also lose the services of safety Damon Webb. Those two combined for 98 tackles, four TFLs and 18 passes defensed including seven interceptions. That’s a ton of production to replace.
Good news for the Buckeyes, they return starters Damon Arnette at corner and Justin Fuller at safety as well as Kendall Sheffield who played a lot in 2017. Sophomore safety Isaiah Pryor will start at the other safety position. In the secondary rotation will be sophomores Jeffery Okudah, Jahsen Wint and Brendon White along with freshman Shaun Wade. The youth in the secondary will be helped by an elite pass rush led by Nick Bosa.
Special Teams Preview
If I were ranking the three units on the Ohio State team, special teams would be third. It’s not that they weren’t good, because they are. You can’t win the Big Ten and have a truly bad unit, but it is clearly something that is not as consistent as the offense and defense. Also, the Buckeyes are probably the team that will be affected the most by the NCAA’s new kickoff rules where a returner can call fair catch inside the 25-yard line and have it act as a touchback. Urban Meyer’s team like to coffin corner kickoffs, which back fired at times as they had seven kicks go out of bounds, but it allows Ohio State’s elite athletes run down and bury opponents in poor field position. Having opponents able to fair catch these kicks could really even up the field position battle.
Sean Nuernberger returns as the place kicker, but only handled 15 kickoffs, the majority of those went to freshman Blake Haubell who will have to prove he can keep the ball inbounds after booting five out-of-bounds in 2017. Nuernberger hit 17-of-21 field goals and was perfect on 71 extra point attempts. If he stays healthy, dealt with a groin injury in 2016, he is a very good kicker.
Junior Drue Chrisman will be back to handling the punting duties after averaging 44.2 yards per punt on 51 punts. He clearly has a strong leg and should be one of the better punters in the nation in 2018.
Receiver K.J. Hill will be back returning punts after a solid, but not spectacular, 2018 campaign where he averaged 5.4 yard per return. On kickoff returns, the Buckeyes will likely rotate players but H-Back Parris Campbell gives them their best home run threat after averaging 36.6 yards per return. However, he only had nine opportunities to return kickoffs.
Check back next week as we preview the Hoosiers next opponent, the Iowa Hawkeyes.