“Big Ten Tour” is back with a look at arch rival Ohio State. The purpose of BTT is to interview writers who are closely connected with their respective programs from around the conference. It’s always good to know your opponent and what people who cover them have to say.
Tony “Gerd” Gerdeman from theOZone.net took some time to answer some questions on the Buckeyes, the rivalry with Michigan, and overall expectations of this football season.
JH: When talking about the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, Bo and Woody with their “Ten Year War” are synonyms with one another. Do you feel that we are currently entering year two of another ten year war with Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer?
Gerd: Absolutely. Neither of these guys are going anywhere soon, so whether they like it or not, the battlefield is where they stand. Those outside the program will question how long Urban Meyer will be around, but being in the Big Ten, Ohio State almost runs itself. That’s not to take away from what Meyer did, because as we saw, he went undefeated last year. I don’t know of any other coach who would have done the same. But most anybody can win at Ohio State. This isn’t life in the SEC. Meyer doesn’t have to try to keep up with the Joneses because he IS a Jones. His name may as well be Urban Jones. Michigan is the same way, except for when they have a coach who can’t figure out that he is now coaching at Michigan and not West Virginia. I won’t go as far as to say that we’re back to a “Big Two” and “Little 10/12”, because I don’t believe that. There will always be senior-laden teams in the Big Ten that pop up who are going to be a bad matchup for everyone, even Michigan and Ohio State. Besides, only one of them will be able to play in the Big Ten Championship Game after this season, so there will always be another team in the mix.
JH: Talk a little bit about the offense Ohio State will be running this year. Considering it isn’t a traditional Big Ten offense, in your opinion, how can this offense beat Michigan and the rest of the Big Ten?
Gerd: Ohio State will have the same power spread running game that they had last season, but they have added more speed, which will allow them to also run east and west, as opposed to just north and south, which is what they were most of last year. They will still be a predominantly power running team, but even the threat of the wide speed game will make a defense’s middle softer. Safeties won’t be able to sit in the box as much as they did last year, and if they do, then they will be attacked. Losing Carlos Hyde for three games hurts them, but they have several other options back there, including a few like Rod Smith (after his one-game suspension), Jordan Hall and Bri’onte Dunn, each of whom had Michigan offers. There is also redshirt freshman Warren Ball, who was always impressive when we saw him get the ball. The passing game will also be improved because Braxton Miller is a year better, and so are his receivers. He has a better understanding of everything being asked of him, which means that even more can be asked of him this season. The words “night and day” have been used to compare where Miller is now to where he was a year ago. As far as how this offense will attack Michigan, they will attack all over the field. They want to stress an entire defense, so they won’t just concentrate on one area. They will always be able to provide a mismatch, and when they have a matchup that they like, say Brennan Beyer in the game instead of Cameron Gordon, then they may go after him with a slot receiver or running back, and then they’d go no huddle and keep him on the field. They had success with the no huddle against this team last year, and they all remember it. After The Game last year, the offensive linemen talked about how they were gassed, but they kept telling Tom Herman and Urban Meyer to stay with the no huddle because it was affecting Michigan a great deal. That all being said, the bells and whistles are nice, but if the Wolverines can’t stop the running game, then you can always expect a healthy dose of between-the-hashes running. And if that’s not a traditional Big Ten offense, then I don’t know what is.
JH: Even though Ohio State ran the table last year, they had trouble with teams like Michigan State, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Teams that Ohio State should handle pretty easily. Is the Big Ten really Ohio State then everyone else? Or is the competition level much closer than what everyone wants to believe?
Gerd: I’ve always been a believer that the road is a great equalizer, and the games that you mentioned were all on the road. They also struggled with Purdue, but as I’ve said in the past, Purdue is Ohio State’s kryptonite for some reason. The Boilermakers are an outlier for the Buckeyes, it can’t be explained. I do believe that Ohio State has a talent advantage over everyone in the Big Ten right now. Part of that is having a junior quarterback and four senior offensive linemen, as well as Ryan Shazier and three of the Big Ten’s best defensive backs in Bradley Roby, C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant. The defensive line is untested, but they have done well in practice, and I’m not sure there’s a single team in the Big Ten that Ohio State’s front four wouldn’t start on. I’m not saying that Frank Clark is sitting if Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence transfer over, I’m saying if either of them was placed on Michigan’s roster, they’d be starting. After all, if Brennan Beyer can play strongside linebacker, I’m guessing Noah Spence can as well. Talent doesn’t always win, however. If this team doesn’t have the intangibles that great teams need, then there will be games where they look absolutely ordinary.
JH: Talk about some playmakers on the offensive and defensive side of the ball that Ohio State fans and writers are buzzing about heading into the season?
Gerd: When I ask coaches questions about this, they’ll mention freshman running backs Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott as two guys with electric speed and outstanding vision and agility. But then they’ll go back to the fact that everyone who is returning from last year, Braxton Miller, Rod Smith, Jordan Hall, Devin Smith, Philly Brown, Evan Spencer, they’ve all improved. Miller said recently that the one thing he has improved on most in fall camp was his timing and ball placement. He’s hitting receivers in the numbers, and he’s doing it when they need him to. Spencer has made the biggest jump of the OSU receivers in the offseason, and he’s the team’s #3 receiver. Smith and Brown spent the offseason becoming complete receivers, and it has shown up in every practice. I will just add that everybody on the team is talking about Dontre Wilson, so if there is one player who has people buzzing more than any other, it’s him. And quickly getting back to Jordan Hall, he was the best player on the field on the first day of spring practice, but then dealt with some nagging injuries. He’s finally healthy, and the staff has big plans for him. Defensively, the coaches seem completely confident in Washington and Spence at the ends. Michael Bennett will be at the three technique, and Michigan fans may remember him from last year because he had a pretty good game against the Wolverines in the Shoe. Ryan Shazier has said himself that he’s been up and down in camp, but he missed most of the spring with a hernia situation. There are no worries about him, but he’s putting a ton of pressure on himself because of the questions at linebacker. Will that pressure become too much? We’ll see.
JH: What are your expectations for the team this year? With another weak non-conference schedule, is another undefeated season a realistic expectation?
Gerd: As realistic as expecting an undefeated season can be, then yes, I believe it is realistic to expect an undefeated season. That doesn’t mean it’s expected, just that you don’t need to spend the afternoon being asked to look at ink blots if you actually believe they’ll go undefeated. This is, essentially, a two or three-game schedule, with two of those games being on the road at Northwestern and Michigan. Barring an upset, they’ll be favored in every game they play this season, with the possible exception of The Game. So if you look at the question in terms of, “Do you think Ohio State will win the games that they’re favored to win?”, then yes, expecting an undefeated season isn’t outrageous.
JH: Anything can happen between now and the end of the season, but do you feel this team can win a National Championship right now? Are they better or at least on the same level than the Alabama’s of the world?
Gerd: Alabama could have finished last season with three losses. Ohio State could have lost six different times last year pretty easily. Notre Dame needed Denard Robinson’s worst game ever to remain undefeated. Pitt took them to three overtimes. Purdue lost to them by three points. I think anybody who makes it to the BCS National Championship Game can win, because there are no perfect teams. Alabama is certainly deeper, but you can only play 11 players at a time. I don’t think I would pick Ohio State against Alabama right now, but I’m not going to pretend that anybody is unbeatable.
JH: There’s no hiding the fact that Braxton Miller is a very talented quarterback who has made great strides over the years. But are the strides big enough to win the Heisman and other major accolades this season?
Gerd: I believe that he can absolutely win the Heisman this season, and if he’s completing passes at a 67-70% clip like Tom Herman wants, then I would think he’d be in the top three pretty easily. He will likely run less this season, but he’s always going to be a highlight package, and that counts for something. That’s the main reason why Jadeveon Clowney is a Heisman favorite right now. Miller could be in line for a huge year. I expect him to easily break the Ohio State record for total offense, which he set last year (3,310 yards) while only running the offense at 60% of what the coaches want.
JH: In your opinion, as of right now, who is winning The Game this year? Also, is there a possibility fans could possibly see The Game in back-to-back weeks in the conference championship as well?
Gerd: I’m sorry, you’re breaking up. I missed that first part. Regarding the second question, I think a rematch is unlikely because the team that loses will likely get passed by somebody in their division. With the Legends Division so congested, every loss will be big, and once the tie-breakers get involved, who knows. Ohio State’s main competition is obviously Wisconsin, but they should beat the Badgers since the game is in Columbus. However, the Wisconsin schedule is pretty easy, so they may be able to stay step for step with the Buckeyes, waiting for a stumble.