Monday, January 29, 2007

The 2007 quarterbacks, Part Three: Antonio Henton

Antonio Henton, Redshirt freshman
6'2" 210 pounds
Career Stats:

Henton will enter camp as the fan favorite to get the job, despite the fact that the vast majority of Ohio State fans, much like myself, have never actually seen him play in person. However, Henton's high school film has more than made the rounds at various internet message boards, and what most people see when they watch his highlights is potentially the next Troy Smith. Much like Smith, Henton is a pass-first quarterback that has the ability to scramble when needed. However, Henton is a tad taller than Smith (6-2 to Smith's 6-0), which leads many to the assumption that he will not suffer from Smith's recurring problem of seeing over the line and having passes knocked down by defensive tackles. Henton posts a 4.65 forty time, which may seem slow, by watching his film it is quite apparent that his so-called "game speed" is much faster. By game speed, I am referring to his ability to run in pads while also making cuts, and not necessarily in a straight line, either. Also, I do believe that the adrenaline rush experienced during a football game is much greater than one forty yard sprint, which definitely plays a big role in it all. As a high schooler, his impact on his team was unparalleled. Henton missed the first three games of the season, all of which were losses, then he came back and the team won every single game for the rest of the year until the state-title game. Obviously, how this will play out in college remains to be seen, but from what limited evidence we have, this guy appears to bring wins with him wherever he goes, which is never a bad thing.

Of the three quarterbacks, Henton lacks experience the most, having redshirted his only season thus far. And, as everyone this side of Colt McCoy knows, inexperience kills when it comes to starting quarterbacks. Very few quarterbacks have success on a consistent (key word being consistent) basis at any level of play when being thrust into the starting role, especially one at a place of high expectations such as OSU. In fact, if he is put into the starting role next season, the only direction he can go is downwards. The fans that I have talked to personally that want Henton to be the starter next season expect him to be the second coming of Troy Smith. As a matter of fact, I remember recently reading a piece about Henton (it may have been somewhere in the blogosphere I can't remember), and the author said something along the lines of "The next Troy Smith? Or the first Antonio Henton?" with an incredibly optimistic tone, as if to say he'll blossom into something more than Troy. Giving these expectations to a kid that is yet to hit his 20th birthday is only going to set him up for failure. He will try to make throws that redshirt freshmen don't make, and as the mistakes pile up, his confidence very well could be shattered before he even gets a chance to mature. Granted, the kid is going to have to learn to deal with adversity at some point, but it's best that he does it in situations that don't jeopardize the team's record, or perhaps even as a sophomore, when he will have another year under his belt to mature a tad.

Speaking of maturity, another thing that really bothers me about Antonio at this point is his attitude. Sure, he seems to have exceptional work ethic, and has done all the right things in practice to impress the coaches thus far, but if his comments in the Dispatch are any sign of this kid's humility, then he clearly has a long way to go when it comes to understanding Tressel's philosophy as a coach:
"I think our style is very, very the same," he said. "I think he’s a little bit better passer than me right now, but during the offseason, I’m going to be in the weight room hard, and try to get my arm strength to where his is at."

No, not that quote. That was Tressel-talk at it's finest. This is what I'm talking about:
"I think if I win the job and I have four years (to start), there’s no doubt that I (will) be the next Heisman winner at Ohio State," he said. "That’s right, no doubt,"
Okay, Antonio, I'm sure you've already got a talking-to from the Sweatervest about that, but I'll just throw in my two cents on it: I don't care if you've been on the team for 1 year or 100 years, you do not, under any circumstances, ever say that. Ever. I might cut some slack to someone who, you know, has played a down or two at the collegiate level, or is even a preseason Heisman candidate, but a redshirt freshman? You have got to be kidding me, Antonio. Watching Troy Smith must have jaded his views on what things are easy to achieve, and what things are difficult. Not counting walk-ons, there are 10,115 Division I college football players, and only one of them will win the Heisman. I hate to break it to you, Antonio, but the odds aren't in your favor, so you better keep your mouth closed and do what your coaches tell you.

The Bottom Line:
Henton's potential is unlimited, that is undeniable. However, potential doesn't become unleashed over one night, or even one season. It takes time. It took Troy Smith 5 years to fulfill his potential, and he's still capable of more, as the National Championship showed us all. We're going to see plenty of good out of Henton this upcoming season, and probably just as much bad as well. He'll get his fair share of opportunities, and will be used in situations when his legs are needed, but when push comes to shove, is there really any doubt as to who the coaches will choose to lead the team on that last-ditch effort to win the game; the mature, seasoned Boeckman, or the raw Henton? I really hope I'm wrong about Henton, if only because there's nothing better than a person overcoming his doubters to achieve true success. However, it won't happen this season, and we may not even see it until (heaven forbid) his senior year. We'll have to be patient with Henton, and his time will come. Just not yet.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A recruiting post: Because everyone else is doing it

The 2007 recruiting class for the Ohio State Buckeyes has been disappointing to say the least. However, there was some good news on the recruiting front this week when the "Glenville Pipeline" expanded by one with the commitment of LB/ATH Jer'Male Hines. Despite his low ranking, Jer'Male has a great chance to contribute greatly to the team in the near future. He possesses good speed for an outside linebacker, and is pound-for-pound one of the most athletic guys in this class. Here is a quick look at how things are playing out as the recruiting season wraps-up.

The "Star" Player
Eugene Clifford, Safety
Out of Cincinnati Colerain, Clifford has long been considered one of the top players in the state, and is expected to be the next great Ohio State defensive back, if he even ends up staying there. There is no doubt that Ohio State produced one of the top-overall classes when it comes to members of the secondary, and Eugene also has experience as a wide receiver. Although it's unlikely that we'll see a Ted Ginn-like transition from high school to college, it's not totally out of the question. Clifford possesses an incredible mix of pure athleticism on top of being a great football player. His greatest strength defensively is in pass-support, but his ability to stop the run is not to be overlooked as he has great instincts and is a very physical player with great closing speed, as is evidenced by his 147 tackles as a junior. As his video highlights would suggest, his greatest attributes are clearly his instincts, toughness, and vertical. His ability to go up for jump balls on vertical routes will make him an excellent weapon on either side of the ball.

The "Early Impact" Guy

Brandon Saine, Running Back
Brandon Saine was named Mr. Football in the state of Ohio this past season, after racking up 1,895 rushing yards with 27 touchdowns, while being named to the All-Ohio team. Most people expected him to commit to Michigan following his junior season, but surprised everyone when he picked Ohio State in the end. Saine very well may be one of the fastest running backs in recent memory to set foot in Ohio Stadium, as he boasts a 4.4 forty time and is also a state track champion. However, don't be fooled by his speed, he is also a very powerful runner who is great at moving the pile. It's too bad he's going to have to settle for playing behind Chris Wells, because when I see Saine's film, I see a bigger and faster Antonio Pittman, with just as many moves. However, the departure of Pittman and the sudden rumors of a Maurice Wells transfer could leave the running back position incredibly thin going into next season as Chris Wells would be the only scholarship back with any playing experience. Realistically, Saine could be as high as number 2 on the depth chart by the opening game of the season. Although that may leave many people fearful, as this is a team that will rely heavily on the running game next season, Saine is undoubtedly one of the most college-ready players in this class. Although he's bound to make freshman mistakes (Remember, Chris Wells did, too), his ability to hit home runs could more than make up for it.

I reccommend you take a look at this kid's video also, because it is very, very impressive. Here's the YouTube collection, and then there's also three videos on BuckNuts, which I can't get to work on Firefox for one reason or another.

Player to keep an eye on Donnie Evege, Cornerback
Evege may perhaps be one of the more overlooked members of this recruiting class. Not necessarily because of his rankings (#16 cornerback in the nation via Rivals), but perhaps more because he is being overshadowed by an incredibly group of guys in the secondary. However, of all those defensive backs, there is really only one other true corner (James Scott) and the rest are all safeties. The reason to keep an eye on Evege is because he will be graduating high school early and will enroll in time for the start of spring practice, and if past results are any indication, you can kiss Evege's redshirt goodbye as the extra practice should prepare him enough to see the field as early as week 1. As far as the type of player that Evege is, he is a burner with 4.4 speed and great athleticism. He could also potentially make it as a running back in college, as he played both sides of the ball in high school, but it would take much refining of his skills and he would most likely begin buried down on the depth chart, thus most people believe he'll be a cornerback from the get go. The biggest thing he needs to work on at this moment is his tackling ability, which seems to be a common theme for Ohio State defensive back prospects, both past and present.

Other key players:
Dane Sanzenbacher, Wide Receiver - Despite low rankings on the scouting websites, he has impressed the coaches greatly in his showings at camps and on the field. Has drawn many comparisons to Gonzo, and may be a real steal when it's all said and done.

Devon Torrence, ATH - He is being recruited as a safety, but could very easily move to his natural position cornerback, or even end up as a wide receiver. He has great size for a defensive back and is a physical player, but is also incredibly fast. He is still a bit raw, and may need a year of redshirting before becoming a consistent contributer, but he is a guy we could be seeing on both sides of the ball in the near future. His commitment will pave the way for his younger brother, who some are saying is the #1 player in the state for the class of '08, to come to Ohio State as well.

Boom Herron, RB - Herron may essentially be considered the anti-Saine. As opposed to Saine's electrifying speed, Herron keeps it simple and would probably be Woody Hayes' favorite player if he played back then, due to his lower-the-shoulder mentality (Yes, that is where the nickname "Boom" was created). He's only around 200 pounds, but he is the kind of guy that clearly gives 100% on every play and cannot usually be brought down with just one opposing tackler on him. Realistically, he could be right up with Saine on the two-deep when the season begins.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Behind Door #2: Rob Schoenhoft

I continue my look at the new Ohio State quarterbacks with part two of a three part series. Last week, I took a look at Todd Boeckman, and today is my "inspection" of redshirt sophomore-to-be Rob Schoenhoft.

Rob Schoenhoft, Redshirt Sophomore
6'6" 240 pounds
Career Stats:
1-1 5 yards

Schoenhoft will enter the 2007 as the least-known of the three quarterbacks in the eyes of the fans. While that may appear to be a negative trait, it puts him in as much of a low-pressure situation that an Ohio State quarterback could possibly be in. He won't be expected to manage the game like Boeckman, and he won't be expected to spark the offense like Henton. Despite the low expectations, he should be able to do a mix of both of those things. Although he won't be in his fifth year with the program, he has spent a year under a redshirt, and also has an additional season of experience on top of that, which should prove to be just plenty in the long run.

Standing at 6'6'' and 240 pounds, Robby might as well be a tight end playing quarterback. As a matter of fact, Schoenhoft's high school coach is even on record as saying that Robby would be a premier tight end prospect if it weren't for his quarterbacking abilities. Despite his size, however, Schoenhoft is no slouch at running with the ball, either. He is extremely capable of scrambling for yards if need be, and his running style has actually been compared to that of Craig Krenzel, which isn'although it isn't anything worth writing home about, I think we all remember the numerous times Krenzel's legs have saved the offense when a play breaks down. As far as his arm is concerned, Schoenhoft's is arguably the strongest of the three candidates, which is evidenced by the following quote from his old high school quote (courtesy of Rivals):

"I haven't seen quarterback with a stronger arm. We actually have to make him ease off so his receivers can catch the ball."

That is incredibly impressive considering that Schoenhoft didn't play for any regular suburban team with average talent. For those of you unfamiliar with Ohio high school football, Cincinnati St. Xavier (Schoenhoft's high school) is year-in and year-out one of the most talented teams in the state, and is annually in the mix for the state title. Now I'm sure he doesn't have a Brett Favre-like supernatural arm, but having to ease off of some of the best wide receivers in the state is pretty praiseworthy in my book.

One area other than arm strength that especially works in Schoenhoft's favor as he's battling for a spot this offseason is that he is a student of the game. Various reports (again, these are just reports, nothing that I can attest to personally) have stated that the coaching staff has been quite impressed with his ability to quickly grasp the offense in his short time here, and also for his ability to take command in the huddle. Although much of that may just be the coaches' way of praising him publicly and may not have much of an effect when things get serious, it's not everyday that you hear those kinds of things getting said by a kid who has only thrown one competitive collegiate pass.

Rob Schoenhoft was also an excellent basketball player in High School, leading his team to the state finals his senior year, another testament to his athleticism.

Perhaps the biggest negative at the moment is that at the moment he is all-upside, with no legitimate playing time to at least show off his abilities. Every judgment being made of Schoenhoft is purely based off of what he did in High School and what members of the media are saying about him. At this moment, we really don't have any choice except to believe what they are saying until the Spring game rolls around, then he can show what he is capable of when playing with (and against) numerous other legitimate starters. His performance in last year's spring game gave me the initial impression that he would be a long-term project at quarterback (9-28, 109 yards and one interception), but after watching more closely, it was apparent that his offensive line was much inferior to the opposing defensive line, as he was given almost no time whatsoever to throw the ball. Also considering that he had Beanie Wells on his team, so when he [Wells] wasn't getting handoffs, it was usually the offensive coaches experimenting with play-action, which gave him even less time to throw. His scrambling ability was apparent, but it clearly wasn't enough with the lack of protection/time.

Of course, there is still the ever-present problem of finding that quarterback who seems to have that so-called "it" factor of leading the team to victory in tight games. Just like with Boeckman, we won't know with Schoenhoft until he gets just as many opportunities in close games as Boeckman and Henton do. I'm positive that one of these three guys has "it," just because it would be totally uncharacteristic of Tressel and Co. to recruit three guys who don't have it, and have them all on the roster at once. As of this moment, it appears to me that that guy very well may be Schoenhoft, but no one will know until he, and not Boeckman or Beanie, is asked to win a game all by himself.

I'll come out and say it right now: Rob Schoenhoft is the guy I'll be rooting for to become the next starting quarterback at the Ohio State University. And although Boeckman will be given the first chance, and the fans will put the pressure on the coaches to play Henton, just from reading about Schoenhoft and watching him play in limited action (spring game), if he can maximize his potential, we'll have a guy with Hoying's arm, Krenzel's smarts and mobility, and Smith's killer instinct. Of course, only time will tell if he has any of those things, but I feel his style definitely makes him the right guy for this team (remember, we lost our four biggest offensive playmakers in Smith, Ginn, Gonzo, and Pittman; things are going to be much more 2002-ish than 2006-ish). He won't come in and wow us all immediately, and may take a year of seasoning, but in what I expect to be a rebuilding season anyways, we might as well see what we're getting out of this guy.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

QB Comparison: Because it's never too early

Sure, it's only January. And sure, the season ended a mere week ago. But hey, what better way to forget about that catastrophe last than to talk about what the future holds for the Buckeyes? Sure, I dove into it briefly a few days ago, but there's still that one topic that is going to be fluttering throughout everybody's minds from now until next season: Just who will be the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes next season? Sure, there are plenty of other interesting position battles at Wide Receiver, in the secondary, and along the defensive lines to name a few, but none are nearly as compelling as the one under center. The difference between the quarterback spot and the other positions is that we actually know what we're getting from those guys to an extent. The most that any of the three quarterbacks have played came in so-called "garbage time" against minuscule opponents.

The Columbus Dispatch discussed the issue earlier in the week with a story and a brief comparison of the three candidates. The comparisons are scary (and not in the good way), with Boeckman, the most experienced of the three, only having 10 career pass attempts. It really begs the question, why did Tressel continue to play Zwick so much at the end of games when two other guys needed the game experience more (Henton redshirted)? Obviously, it seemed like the logical thing to do at the time, but looking back on it, I think everyone would be willing to sacrifice one unhappy player (a benched Zwick) for one or two players better fit to play late in games (a playing Zwick/Schoenhoft).

Here's my first of a three-part series on the three quarterbacks

Todd Boeckman, Redshirt junior

6'5'' 235 pounds

Career Stats:
6-10 86 yards, 1 TD
4 rush, 14 yards 1 TD

Boeckman will enter Spring Practice listed as the #1 guy on the team's depth chart, and barring any injury, will most likely be the starter for the opening game of the season. This isn't because he is any more talented than the other quarterbacks; it's just due to Tressel's reputation of going by seniority when it comes to naming starters in tight position battles. Boeckman, surprisingly, is in his fifth year with the program, despite only being a junior. Boeckman greyshirted in 2003 (Intentionally earning less than 12 credits in one academic year. This allows for players to work with the team without playing, but not sacrificing their redshirt either), and then Redshirted during the 2004 season (You may remember a slight controversy during the 2004 Alamo Bowl when Troy Smith was suspended, and Justin Zwick had a pulled hamstring, in which Tressel had to decide whether or not to tear off Boeckman's redshirt in the final game, or put Ted Ginn in at quarterback). Boeckman has been able to gain experience despite a lack of playing time, something which is crucial for anybody expecting to be a Division-I quarterback, especially at Ohio State. As far as actual playing ability and measurements are concerned, the most noticeable contrast that you will see from Troy Smith to Boeckman is in his size. At 6'5", Boeckman also has some meat on his bones with his 235 lb. frame. Boeckman's deep ball is his greatest asset, as he has the needed touch on his throws to be accurate in the vertical passing game, which was a bit of an inconsistency in Troy Smith's game. The only time Boeckman has really had the opportunity to display this was in the opening week of the 2005 season against Miami, in which he hit Ted Ginn in stride for a 42 yard touchdown pass. He is mobile enough to escape trouble, and can occasionally be used in the running game. Interestingly enough, when Boeckman was in the game over the course of the season, there was an increase in the number of times the Buckeyes ran the option. One time, Boeckman scored a touchdown off of an option out of Shotgun against Northwestern.

Right now there are two serious questions surrounding Boeckman other than the obvious lack of game-experience:

1) Can he overcome the injury bug that has followed him ever since his High School career?


2) How reliable can he be when we need him most?

Obviously, neither of these questions can be answered as of this moment. However, they are both worth addressing. As a senior in High School, Boeckman sprained his MCL, and missed much of the season. During the jersey scrimmage over the summer, Boeckman suffered from an undisclosed injury, and missed some practices. Boeckman also suffered from an injury trying to run with the ball late in the game against Cincinnati last season. Although none of those injuries are to be considered major, he does seem to be banged up quite a bit compared to Buckeye quarterbacks of the past. Troy Smith and Craig Krenzel took a ton of hits during their respective tenures as Buckeyes, and the only injuries to come from them were an injured thumb and an injury against Penn State in 2003 which escapes me at the moment (concussion perhaps?). Both quarterbacks had the tendency to leave the pocket, and often found themselves out in the middle of the field with nowhere to go but into the arms of an awaiting linebacker. Boeckman often likes to scramble around at times, and I'm going to be cringing twice as hard when I see him get tackled, just because of his history of frailty.

Question #2 is the serious wild card here. Although he has been in the system for five years, and is a smart enough player to make proper reads, he's still started as many D-1 college football games as you or me. Although he hasn't had any Saturday opportunities to prove himself as either a "big time player" or a "big time choke," various scrimmages do not necessarily leave a positive image in the eyes of a fan. In multiple jersey scrimmages, Boeckman has been described as "shaky," whereas his counterpart for who he will be forever compared to, Rob Schoenhoft, has appeared much more confident in the pocket (that is based off of various reports I have read, as I have never actually witnessed a jersey scrimmage). In his only other opportunities for competitive play (Spring Games), Boeckman is a hardly awe-inspiring 15-34 for 200 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions for his career. I know they're only scrimmages, but it would be nice to see some positive signs in competition. I'll reserve final judgment on him regarding this issue until the season is underway, however.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Moving on with life: Gonzo leaves, Outback Bowl '08 imminent

Well, that wasn't what anyone was expecting. I'd love to sit and chat about that debacle on Monday night, but I feel that there are less painful things to do, such as lighting my shorts on fire and/or drinking the stuff under the sink.

So, as if this week wasn't already depressing enough, the Junior that had the best chance at returning has decided to go pro. Anthony Gonzalez announced earlier this afternoon that he will enter the NFL draft. Although he is the first to announce it, he is more than likely to be joined by teammates Ted Ginn and Antonio Pittman. As a matter of fact, the only thing that is going to hold back Ginn from declaring is his ankle, which was reported today to be "just a sprain." Assuming it heals without any odd complications, he should be able to work out for the scouts and boost his draft stock.

Going back to Gonzo, he said that the deciding factor in his decision to go pro was the risk of a career-threatening injury which would obviously cost him millions of dollars. I have no problem with him looking out for himself in this situation. He's clearly given the team everything that he possibly could in his three seasons here, and although he finally got some much-deserved attention this season, he was still being greatly overshadowed by his teammates. Also, his so-called "draft stock" is about as high as it ever will be right now. Although he'd be far and away the #1 target on the team next season, he'd have adjust to a more conservative-style offense and a quarterback platoon (wooo!!). He's a tad undersized compared to most "prototypical" wide receiver prospects (Calvin Johnson and Dwyane Jarrett to name a couple), but I have faith in him that he can make it work at the next level. Chances are, he'll have to begin with getting a spot as a punt returner to hold on to his job, but as he adjusts, he very well could be one of the better receivers in the league in a few seasons.

Looking to Next Season:
Key Losses
QB Troy Smith (Graduation)
C Doug Datish (Graduation)
G TJ Downing
WR Roy Hall
DT Quinn Pitcock
DT David Patterson
DT Joel Penton
DE Jay Richardson
S Brandon Mitchell
CB Antonio Smith
G Tim Schafer
FB/TE Stan White Jr.
QB Justin Zwick (Graduation)*
LB John Kerr (Graduation)
WR Ted Ginn (Early Entry)
WR Anthony Gonzalez (Early Entry)
RB Antonio Pittman (Early Entry)
RB Maurice Wells (Likely transfer)
*denotes backup

What it Means: Wow. Let that list sink in for a minute. 18 key contributers will be gone next year, 13 of which are starters. Of those 13 starters, the seven that are on the offensive ball are going to be much more difficult to replace than on defense. Obviously, one of those guys is a Heisman trophy winner and will NEVER be replaced. The two lost wide receivers will absolutely kill the depth at Wide Receiver. Brian Hartline has earned quite the reputation as a hard worker and has rocketed up the depth chart, and he will finally get his chance to start alongside Brian Robiskie. Robiskie, of course, is a bit more of a commodity, often times coming up with clutch touchdown passes in big games from Troy Smith this season (the final TD against Michigan and the infamous reversing-field pass against Penn State to name a couple). If he continues to play with that "it" factor that he has displayed over the course of the season, his contributions will be thought of as that much more important.

Defensively, there are going to be huge shoes to fill at the defensive tackle position. The likely candidates at this point to step up and take the starting role are Todd Denlinger and either junior-to-be Alex Barrow or sophomore-to-be Doug Worthington, both of whom are converted defensive ends that are capable of creating an effective pass-rush from the middle. At the moment, Worthington has more of the "tools" to become an excellent player, but he has had to battle through injuries whereas Barrow has remained relatively healthy and has much more in-game experience. John Kerr will be the least missed of the starters, just because the team played in a Nickel formation so much, and his ineffectiveness when he was in the game. It will be interesting to see how the secondary pans out. The potential is definitely there, with Andre Amos, Donald Washington, and Nick Patterson all battling for the corner spot. Patterson also has a shot at landing the void at the safety position left by Mitchell. What will make the secondary that much more interesting is the impending return of Anderson Russell. Before tearing his ACL on a touchback (?) against Iowa, Russell was establishing himself as a key member of the secondary with a nose for the ball.

The Replacements:

Who should be able to step up, even if not quite at the level of their predecessor:
RB Chris Wells (Pittman)
LB Curtis Terry/Larry Grant (Kerr)
DE Lawrence Wilson (Richardson)
WR Brian Robiskie (Ginn)
FB Dionte Johnson (White)
DT Todd Denlinger (Pitcock)

Need some work:
WR Brian Hartline (Gonzalez)
G Kyle Mitchum (Downing)
C Jim Cordle/Tyler Whaley
QB Rob Schoenhoft/Todd Boeckman (Smith)
CB Donald Washington/Andre Amos (Smith)
S Nick Patterson (Mitchell)
KR Ray Small/Brandon Saine* (Ginn)
DT Alex Barrow/Doug Worthington (Patterson)

QB Antonio Henton (Smith/Zwick)
RB Brandon Saine/Boom Herron (C Wells as Backup)*

S Eugene Clifford (Mitchell)*

*-Denotes 2007 recruit

What does it mean?: First off, I'd like to state that the "Should be able...." group doesn't necessarily mean that those guys will be able to make people forget about the guy before them, it just simply means that those are the guys who I think are the backups that are most ready to start immediately. For example, Todd Denlinger will probably be a very average Defensive Tackle next season, possibly even a bit above average. However, he has been down in depth chart for quite some time now and has made the most of his limited opportunities (see: domination in Scarlet and Gray game). That doesn't also mean that these guys are bad football players, either. That is simply due to the fact that bad football players do not start at The Ohio State University. As long as Jim Tressel is the head coach, he will almost always get the most of his players on a weekly basis. The "Need Work" category are the players that I view as the biggest hit/miss prospects that could start next season. Fortunately, a lot of them are battling for jobs, which means that the odds of finding a "hit" player are much greater than they would originally be if one of them were to just get the job handed to him. Competition will only make these players better, and I feel that the coaches will pick the right guy in the end. As far as the "Someday" category is concerned, those are the players that will need to work their tails off in order to get significant playing time this season, simply because they are put at the disadvantage of being either buried in the depth chart, an incoming freshman, or both. I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one of those guys make an emergence next season and positively impact the team on the field, but the odds are against them initially.

On that note, I'd like to say that I hope to make a more elaborate post in the near future about the quarterback situation. I would promise that the post would get made, but when I make promises on here, they always get broken.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

My 5 Keys to the game

5. Don't make Florida a pass-first team
Make them a pass-first, pass-second, and pass-third team. The one thing Florida has drawn the most criticism about over the season is that they don't have much of a run game whatsoever. Their leading rusher, running back DeShawn Wynn, only has a grand total of 630 yards rushing this season. However, he's only had one game this season in which he has carried to football more than 15 times. In fact, the Gators as a whole only average roughly 33 rushing attempts per game. This is compared to the Buckeyes, another "pass first" team, who have almost 40 more total carries in one less game this season.

Don't be fooled by the stats, however. Ohio State may be ranked 16th in the nation in rush defense, but you have to remember that this is a team that has showed they are vulnerable against the run. Mike Hart had 142 yards and three touchdowns against us. Garrett Wolfe had 171 yards against us (and that's not even getting into the screen passes). Texas abandoned the run early, but Selvin Young still averaged 8.55 yards per carry in that game. Now, fortunately for us, Wynn isn't in the same tier of ability as those guys, so the chances of him going ballistic are minimal. However, the majority of the Ohio State defenders have no experience facing an offense designed to spread out defenses and create mismatches, so there's always that chance that the defense falls flat on its face when trying to defend the run.

4. Use your head!
We're playing against Urban Meyer, and he has had a month to prepare for the biggest game of his professional life. You think we're going to see some trickery? The last thing any fan wants to see in any game is a big play where the defense made some sort of elementary mistake such as a defensive end losing backside contain or a cornerback running in the wrong direction. This is where the issue of the 51 day layoff really comes into play. Guys are going to be a bit raw, especially as fatigue sets in and the game wears on. It won’t be a surprise to see players fall into the most basic of traps, and then BAM! Before you know it, Percy Harvin is throwing a deep route to Dallas Baker with no one around, and Florida gets seven points, just like that. That's why this falls completely on how Tressel and the assistants treated their players after the Michigan game. Were they soft on the guys? It's doubtful, but if they were, then you're going to see a lot of mentally-weak players out there not finishing plays and not defending their assignments.

3. Pull out all the stops
In his tenure as head coach, especially in the post-Krenzel era, Jim Tressel has become known for opening up the playbook and doing a lot of non-Tresselesque things in the bowl games. Whether it's lining up Ted Ginn at quarterback, running option reverses, or just simply being more vertical in the passing game, there's no question that the play-calling becomes much more aggressive as the season wears on. My biggest concern at this moment is that Tressel opened up too much of the playbook one game too early, and perhaps gave the Florida scouts a bit more information than one would be comfortable with. ESPN addressed the issue somewhat earlier in the week when they attempted to breakdown our 5-wide set which was used 24 times with great success against Michigan. I'm sure that this set is going to get its fair share of looks as the game wears on, but to say that it will be the primary offense like it was back in November is highly irrational. Remember, for each of the "big" games this season (at Texas, at Iowa, and Michigan), the offense went through vast changes from the prior week. Against Texas, we saw a multitude of what appeared to be pre-determined shifts at the line of scrimmage, especially early on, which clearly confused the Texas defense and allowed for some big plays (most notably the pass to Ginn over the middle which went for a big gain). Against Iowa we implemented a motion out of the backfield which resulted in either Antonio Pittman or Beanie split wide right. Although neither of the backs were huge factors in the passing game, they opened up the middle of the field for Gonzo to have a huge game. Against Michigan, of course, were the aforementioned 5-wide sets.

So what does this game hold for the offense? Only time will tell, but if I had to guess, I would have to assume that it would have quite a bit to do with implementing Ted Ginn into all aspects of the game. Catching, running, returning, and dare I say throwing?

2. Win in the trenches
Sound familiar? I listed this as my #1 key to beating Texas, and as the biggest reason why Ohio State would defeat Iowa back in September. In fact, both times, I gave it the same title as the one here. The fact of the matter is that in any football game, when the talent level is so equal, the deciding factor is always on the lines. Just take a look at the three games this season where the offensive line has had the biggest impact on the outcome. Against Texas, Troy Smith had all day and then some to throw the ball, and the result was a complete thumping of the Longhorns in their own home stadium. The reason the Iowa game was so one-sided was for the same exact reasons. Iowa was incapable of creating an effective pass rush without blitzing, so when they did blitz, the big passes came much easier. How about Michigan? LaMarr Woodley and Alan Branch are both All-American-caliber players, yet in that game they totaled six tackles, zero sacks, and one fluke interception combined. It's no coincidence that in all three games, the offensive line dominated for the majority of the game and that the Buckeyes came out victorious pretty easily (yes, Michigan game included) each time.

I'm pretty content with the situation for tomorrow. One of Florida's glaring weaknesses is that they have unable to create a pass-rush this season. The one question mark that remains is Alex Boone's ability to create backside protection, as he has been inconsistent with it all season long. In fact, the reason as to why he remains a starter over Tim Schafer is his ability to absolutely dominate in the running game with his ability to get to the second level. The latest depth chart reveals Steve Rehring as the starting left guard, which is something I have been supporting for quite some time now. He's one of the biggest lineman we have, as opposed to Schafer, who is relatively undersized for his position (a converted defensive lineman, he is only listed at a somewhat generous 290). One would argue that it may create vision issues for the already vertically-challenged Troy Smith, but when he’s spending the majority of the game out of shotgun, I don’t see cut-off passing lanes being an issue. On the other side of the ball, things should also weigh in our favor. The defensive line is extraordinarily deep, and this extra time off should only help to get everyone healthy. In fact, Tressel recently stated that the entire team is at 100%, with the exception of linebacker John Kerr, who is battling an undisclosed injury.

1. Troy Story, a happy ending?

Since the BCS's inception, the Heisman trophy winner has played in a BCS bowl game every season except for 1998. Only three times has the winner of the Heisman won that bowl game, and only once was that in a National Championship game (Matt Leinart in 2004). History is against Troy Smith tomorrow night, but looking back on his life, when have the odds not been against him? We've all heard it a million times before, but why not bring it up one more time? Here is a kid that was orphaned at a young age when his mom had drug issues, he was the final scholarship offer from the 2002 class, was brought in as an athlete, spending time at kick returner and running back, then was moved to quarterback before the 2004 season. In that season, the man he was battling for the quarterback spot, Justin Zwick, was repeatedly chosen over him, and Troy never got a real shot at it until Zwick went down with an injury. Then, as it looked like things were finally turning in Smith's favor, leading the Buckeyes to a victory over the heavily favored Wolverines, the infamous $500 dollar handshake occurred, and he was suspended for the Alamo Bowl and the season opener the next season. Yet, with all of that against him, he was able to rise up to the top and has forever cemented himself in Buckeye eminence. Now, he has one final game. A last hurrah, if you will. Will he do as so many other past Heisman winners have done and drifted into invisibility when it matters most, or will he rise to the occasion one last time? It all depends on Troy's state of mind. Is he content with all he has accomplished, has he let the accolades get to his head, or does he want a National title to call his own? I think I speak for everyone here when I say that we're all hoping and praying for the latter, because we know that without Troy, we don't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning this game. But I and the rest of the Buckeyes have seen the man that Troy has become since 2004, and I'm confident in knowing which Troy will show up tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Battle of the Blogs: Championship edition

You may remember back during Michigan week that ran a little feature known as "Battle of the Blogs" where each day, one blogger representing Ohio State squared off against a Michigan blogger debating over a miscellaneous topic regarding the two teams. My performance that week was mediocre at best, as the general consensus surrounding my debate was that I got shellacked by the boys at M-Zone.

I've spent the time since then hoping at a chance for redemption, and as it is now officially "Florida Week," CSTV has decided to bring me back for a championship edition of Battle of the Blogs. My topic? Which school has the better fan-base: Ohio State or Florida? Despite nearly forgetting about it, I put in my best effort at the 11th hour, and 1,000+ words later, I think redemption was served. My initial reaction when seeing my opponent was an expletive, as I had the tall task of going against Orson Swindle of EDSBS, one of the most prestigious blogs out there. However, he said nothing much other than Florida fans are loud. The only area he really points out that Florida fans have our number in is in the area of standing. I've gotten yelled at multiple times for standing up. He also adds a bit more humor in than me, but that wasn't the angle I wasn't going at there. Judge for yourself as you read,