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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #2 Ohio State

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 26, 2014

#2 Ohio State Buckeyes

 

2013 Recap:

Urban Meyer had this team thinking National Championship after being shut out of the picture in the year prior. After starting 11-0 it looked like the Buckeyes were going to have their chance. Yet Michigan State had other ideas and defeated the Buckeyes 34-24, and then Ohio State proceeded to lose to Clemson 40-35 in the Orange Bowl.

 

Coaching:

When you win your first 24 games at a school it doesn't matter where you're at, you are doing something right. Meyer hit a bit of a bump in the road near the end of 2013, but there is no doubt that this team should be considered a favorite to win the Big Ten and be eligible for the 4-team College Playoff.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

J.T. Barrett is a name not many football fans knew until just a few days ago when it was announced that Heisman Trophy candidate and senior quarterback Braxton Miller would miss the entire season with a shoulder injury. Barrett is mobile but asking a freshman to be as elusive as Miller is ludicrous. It will take some time for Ohio State to gel with a quarterback thrust into a difficult spot and the National spotlight.

Ohio State will need the running game more than ever, and the loss of 2nd round draft pick Carlos Hyde seems almost as unbearable as losing Miller. Yet the Buckeyes have long been known for having a long history of bruising runners that have been very successful from Archie Griffin to Eddie George to Hyde. Ezekial Elliot and Rod Smith give them a pair of reliable options out of the backfield. Expect Smith to be more of a 3rd down back as we see him  more in the passing game, while Elliot should wind up as the top rusher. Ohio State is still a top tier team due to the immense presence along the defensive line but the offense suddenly has questions. 

Best Draft Prospect: Braxton Miller QB 5th Round 2015 (unless he redshirts this year)

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

The Buckeyes have been some very good receivers in their history as well like Cris Carter, Terry Glenn and Santonio Holmes. There are some capable receivers on this squad although the leading receiver from last season Corey Brown has departed. Evan Spencer and Devin Smith had 66 catches between them a season ago and they will be manning two of the receiver spots. Ohio State usually uses three receiver sets and runs out of the spread formation with the running back or a running quarterback. Dontre Wilson should be the third receiver we see in most cases and he will primarily be the slot receiver.

Regardless of the receivers tight end Jeff Heuerman is the X factor and the man who causes mismatches and problems for opposing defenses. Heuerman averaged close to 18 YPC a season ago and don't let his relatively low 4 touchdown total fool you, as he is a wonderful red zone target. Heuerman is a mid round prospect for the draft and he could move up since the class for tight ends for the upcoming season looks to be weaker. The pass catchers on this team now need to elevate their game fast with Braxton no longer on board this year.

Best Draft Prospect: Jeff Heuerman TE 4th Round 2015.

 

Offensive Line:

There is a lot of turnover on the line for Ohio State this season with only a lone returning starter. The starter looks to be a dandy though in junior Taylor Decker who looks like he could be a first round prospect, although he will probably stay until next season to solidify his draft position.  Pat Elflein looks like another potential star at the guard position who also has some center experience. Chad Lindsay is in for a season after graduating from Alabama and he will likely be the center this season, followed by Elflein holding down the position for the following pair of seasons. Nick Vannett is the backup tight end behind Heuerman but Ohio State will go to some running looks and use double tight end sets or even split Heuerman out leaving Vannett as an extension of the offensive line and more of an extra tackle-like asset.  Listening to Buckeye faithful you hear a lot of doubt and worry about the line but it's not the doom and gloom they would have you believe.

Best Draft Prospect: Taylor Decker OT 2nd Round 2016.

 

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

Let's start by saying on paper you won't find a better defensive line in the Big Ten or America for that matter. In fact, the line that is closest to Ohio State is likely right in conference with Michigan State. You start with the defensive ends, Joey Bosa and Noah Spence. The junior and sophomore combined for 96 tackles with a staggering 28 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks. One reason the ends could be so effective was the consistent pressure that was coming from the interior of the line in the form of Michael Bennett, the best prospect of them all at this time. Bennett is an undersized defensive tackle and the senior had 11.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks last season when he was perhaps the most effective defensive tackle in the Big Ten. Bennett currently carries a 1st round grade while both Bosa and Spence have 2nd round grades, although that could easily improve with another monster season from one of both prospects. There is a good chance that Spence goes pro after this season. Even more amazing is the 91 tackles for a loss Ohio State had as a team, a number that was #1 in the nation and most of which came from departed linebacker Ryan Shazier with 22.5.  The fourth starter will be Adolphus Washington. The junior is starting for the first time this year but contributed 36 tackles with a pair of sacks in a reserve role last season. This could be the best defense in the nation and it all starts up front.

Best Draft Prospect: Michael Bennett DT 1st Round 2015.

 

Linebackers:

Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant are back at linebacker as the team copes with Ryan Shazier leaving early and being drafted in the middle of the first round by the Steelers. Perry takes over the weak side spot after 64 tackles and a season that looked stronger and stronger as the season progressed.  Curtis Grant had 52 tackles playing in the middle with 4 tackles for loss. Grant is a senior who is a little limited athletically but he understands the Buckeye system and is a great communicator for the defense. Darron Lee takes over the strong side linebacker spot and the sophomore is ready to break out after an injury ended his freshman season very early. Lee was a great two-way player and an All-State quarterback in Ohio. Lee is an athletic freak and seeing how he bounces back after missing nearly a whole season will be interesting to watch.  There are a lot of able bodies backing up the linebackers but they are all freshman and sophomores with little playing experience, so we will see how Ohio State gets them involved throughout the campaign.

Best Draft Prospect: Joshua Perry LB 4th Round 2016.

 

Secondary:

Doran Grant is the feature after Bradley Roby left early and was another NFL first round pick. Grant nearly had the same stats as Roby and is quite the threat to opposing offenses. Each player fed off having the other capable player located on the other side of the field. Armani Reeves is now starting on the other side and he is not quite the same athlete as Roby but has experience. Grant had 58 tackles with 13 passes defensed and 3 interceptions. Grant is currently listed as a 4th round prospect for this draft but he could go as high as the second round with consistent play.

The safety spots are a little more troubling as Ohio State has a pair of new starters. Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell are the new starters and while they are proven in the passing game, defending against the run is another story. There are some questions and concerns as to how effective they will be in run support. As long as Ohio State is able to sure up the safety spot, this defense should be well off and able to take care of business. Even with the terrific aptitude in the secondary Ohio State was #110 against the pass a season ago, although that number is a little misguided as Ohio State played the run so well that passing seemed to be an opponent's main option. Ohio State finished #9 against the run so the Buckeyes would like to see more balance in those numbers this season.

Best Draft Prospect: Doran Grant CB 4th Round 2015.

 

Special Teams:

There are no set return men as the Buckeyes have ample players with experience and are able to make tacklers miss in the open field. Kick coverage will once again be the focus. The kicker at Ohio State is brand new in Sean Nuernberger and the punter Cameron Johnston would like to build off a very successful freshman season. Ohio State is always very sound on special teams, finishing near the Big ten in nearly every category imaginable.

Best Draft Prospect: Corey Grant WR/PR 6th Round 2016.

 

Schedule:

The Virginia Tech home game during the second week of the season will be a nice defensive battle. Ohio State will go on the road to face Michigan State in November as they try to extract revenge from the Big Ten Championship game a season ago. Had the Buckeyes won that game they would have been playing for the National Championship instead of playing and losing in the Orange Bowl against Clemson. It doesn't matter what the records are, when the Buckeyes and Michigan tangle at the end of the season, both teams could play spoiler to the other, as we've seen over the years.

 

Draft Outlook:

The defensive line at Ohio State looks like an NFL roster and watching how that shakes out over the next few years will be fantastic. Doran Grant is trying to become the next big Buckeye cornerback, an institution that has sent a number of big time prospects to the NFL at the cornerback position. Braxton Miller had potential to truly rise up draft boards this year, in spite of his 6'1" size, yet the injury put him in Aaron Murray mode; A second half draft pick to sit behind an established started.

 

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