THE KICKING GAME
Take a good look at Mike Nugent this season. Unless something changes radically from 2002 and 2003, Buckeye fans are being treated to the greatest display of field goal kicking in the history of Ohio State. He routinely boots field goals of over 50 yards in practice, splitting the uprights. If there is one player who will not return in 2005 who is irreplaceable, it is Nugent. Like a master painter – only when he is gone will he be truly appreciated.
The punting game is still not functioning as a well-oiled machine, but in practices the media has been allowed to see, it has shaken out like this:
Kyle Turano has fantastic hang time. Several punts on Tuesday hung up in the air up to six seconds. That virtually assures the coverage unit will be able to surround and contain anyone trying to field the ball and return it if they stay in their lanes.
Freshman walk-on Matt Ciepiela from Alpharetta, Georgia has a fantastic leg. The only problem is he just boots the ball. He appears to struggle with control and low trajectory. His kicks shoot off of his foot and travel so quickly that it would allow for a return to be set up by the opposition. He also is inconsistent. The punts that do not travel 55-65 yards often don't go farther than 40 yards off the side of his foot.
Tyson Gentry, another walk-on (from Sandusky, Ohio) is similar in most respects to Ciepiela. His leg is a hammer that smashes the ball long distances. However, it is not just kicking but controlling that kick that is crucial. One of these two might earn a scholarship with enough work because they have the leg.
Josh Huston. When he is consistent, he will almost remind you of B.J. Sander. When he is not, it is ugly. This is why he has not put the job away. Turano is consistent and Huston is only mostly consistent.
When fans get their first real view of this line in action tomorrow, they should take a look their mobility. Take a look at their stomachs. Yeah, much was made over the weight the offensive line lost in 2003, but that was like complimenting an elephant for losing 150 lbs. It's still going to hurt if he steps on your toe. This year's group up front looks like something out of the 1970's classes at Ohio State. Even Rehring, who entered with a good deal of baby fat like most freshmen, has shed a good number of pounds since enrolling January.
This season looks to be a great test of Jim Tressel's offensive philosophy with the rushing attack. He is no longer strapped by a lumbering offensive line; these are his players, and they look to be quick and in shape. Will the Buckeyes now run screens, sweeps, traps, and consistently be able to pull a guard? Will the running game rediscover the plays that have been a staple of offenses for decades?
The pass protection is likely to be a fright at times, but the question is – will the rushing game cover for that inadequacy early? Stay tuned. Tomorrow will go a long way in telling just what the story will be.
A FEW NOTES FROM THE ROSTER
On the press release handed out by Ohio State, there were interesting captions on a couple of players.
Stan White is the 2nd team FB behind Brandon Schnittker. Stan appears to be coming along nicely in the role of an H-Back (which means he can function as a tight end or fullback depending on the play).
Mike D'Andrea is the starting MLB. Few would have predicted
this outcome. A year ago, D'Andrea looked lost on the field. Apparently, he
had a fantastic fall camp to vault him over a proven commodity in Anthony Schlegel.
David Patterson is the second team defensive tackle. He has
struggled with injuries. Apparently Patterson is either not fully healthy or
out of shape from previous injuries and the inability to stay conditioned while
recovering. Patterson has incredible gifts if he can stay healthy, and the
Buckeyes badly need for this to happen.
Mike Kne is the starting right guard. He was used in short yardage
situations the past two seasons. Having a walk on might make some nervous.
It shouldn't. It simply means Kne has worked incredibly hard to make himself a
player and as a result has earned a place on the team and a scholarship.
Ben Person is the third string right guard.
Antonio Pittman is the third string tailback over Haw.
Alex Barrow is the third team defensive end, and after turning a few heads early, Jason Caldwell is running with the fourth team.
Chad Hoobler is both the third string middle linebacker and fourth string outside linebacker (on Carpenter's side)
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE?
Much has been made over this year's game being played not in Cincinnati but at Ohio Stadium. So what kind of advantage does Ohio State have in Columbus? In a word, turnovers. More specifically – interceptions.
Since 1995 playing out of conference foes at the Horseshoe, the Buckeyes are undefeated. Prior to last season's 3 narrow escapes against San Diego State University, NC State, and Bowling Green – only Washington (1995), Miami of Ohio (in 2000), and Arizona (1997) had even come within 10 points.
The major reason for this is turnovers.
Surprisingly, Ohio State fumbled the ball 44 times over that stretch, 10 times each in 1997 and 2003. They lost 25 of those fumbles or 57%. The opposition fumbled the ball 36 times, losing the pigskin 19 times – 53%,
The real difference however is in what the Ohio State defense and the crowd were able to do to opposing quarterbacks. The Buckeyes' signal callers were comfortable within the friendly confined of the Horseshoe, tossing only 13 interceptions (several of those by backups in mop up duty). Their opponents were not so thrilled. Names like Kingsbury, Gesser, Cribbs, and David Carr victimized their own teams by tossing an unbelievable 38 interceptions. Doing the math, the Buckeyes have enjoyed a 19-turnover advantage in those 23 games – nearly one per contest.
That only six out of conference teams in nine years have come within 10
points of OSU in Ohio Stadium speaks volumes.
It also speaks volumes that in the games where teams mounted a serious threat to Buckeye supremacy, Ohio State had helped them out immensely. They kept Washington, Arizona, NC State, and Bowling Green in the game by handing them the football 15 times but taking it away only 12 occasions. Meanwhile, the two teams that probably outplayed the Buckeyes in their own backyard (Miami of Ohio in 2000 and San Diego State in 2003) squandered their opportunity by giving the football back 7 times when Ohio State handed it to them only twice.
The lesson here is simple. If Guidugli would like to see his team walk away with a win tomorrow – he must take care of the football. For their part, if the Buckeyes take care of the football, they should put the Bearcats back in their cage and send the truck packing from whence it came.
Don't believe any hype about this team early in the season. They might be a solid squad down the road, but they could not have stopped the TCU Horned Frog offense last night with a 15-foot wall topped with barbed wire. Couple that with an abysmal showing by their field goal kicker, and the Wildcats will need to be much improved to reach .500 in 2004.
THE BIG 12
Until the Big 12 can actually show the ability to field more than 2-3 tough teams in their conference, the hype needs to take a hike. Texas A&M lost in a massacre to the Utah Utes last night. The game was not even as close as the score indicates because Urban Meyer pulled the starters in the fourth quarter. A&M took that opportunity to score 14 cheap points, but the game might easily have been 51-7 if Meyer had been Bob Stoops or Tom Osborne who have earned a reputation for running up points on the weak.
This season, the Big 12 really has only Texas (which folds against well coached opponents), Oklahoma (who has started to show a propensity to stumble down the stretch), and Kansas State (who has proven a propensity to stumble down the stretch). All three will likely have pretty records, but is that a reflection of their dominance or simply of a weak conference.
You won't hear it from the bulk of the media, but it's probably both, and this is why the removal of the strength of schedule as a strong component of the BCS is an abomination. If a team the media loves has an even or worse record (say Oklahoma) than a team they don't care for because of a less than attractive offense (say Ohio State or Michigan), then the media is not going to bother to take strength of schedule into account. They didn't last season after the bowls where Oklahoma was ranked ahead of the Buckeyes; Oklahoma was the only team since the AP poll has been conducted after the bowl games to lose their final two games and end up in the top 5. You can be sure the media will not care about that this year either if they think one team looks prettier than the other. Mark it down – strength of schedule being replaced with a popularity contest will eventually cost a more deserving team a chance at the national title.