We have warring mottos here at Bucknuts. On one hand, we are all "There's no off- season for Buckeye football". But then we get like "2005 – The Year of the Buckeye". Yes, sports fans and teenagers everywhere (if that's not redundant…), we love every part of every season that is Buckeye football. But let's admit it – the season itself is the thing and it can't get here soon enough.
I am all for that Carpe Diem mentality and "living in the moment" and tommorrowisthefirstdayoftherestofyourlife Hallmark outlook. But, man, kickoff is but 10 weekends away and it seems like it's been forever and…
Listen, Mr. Bucknuts likes to look at the unusualia of football stuff. You know that. The off-season gives me a chance to go even farther afield. I obsess over depth charts (as you will soon see). I babble on about the 1999 recruiting class; and Cooper's game mismanagement; and sideline antics. I am the journalistic termite that bores in, hopefully not boring you in the process. And, as I am awaiting the unveiling of the season, I look at the individual positions and try to determine how they make the entire team mosaic work.
With that preface in mind, I want to attack from a certain angle: Here's my Looking Through The Wrong End of the Binoculars for this monthly column – a specialty look at a specialty niche:
OSU's defense against the run. And how that's all going to come out.
Ohio State football has been blessed historically with some mighty defensive fronts and run-stopping schemes - especially the last few years. The picket fence that was the 2002 calling card comes to mind. Last year, I told friends at bars that this upcoming defensive squad (the 2005 version) had the po-tential of being the best ever. Or close enough that it was worth arguing about. And here is that argument when it comes specifically to run defense:
Great run defense starts in the trenches and I like what I see. Quinn Pitcock is the anchor. He is treating high-level college offenses like he did high school offenses when he was a Piquod, and when he told me that everyone triple-teamed him and held him. He is that good. The other pillar up front? It could be the talented Marcus Green who has yet to show his all OR the massively talented David Patterson ("a larger Warren Sapp"). Those two anchor spots are backed up manfully by the likes of Joel Penton, Sian Cotton and Nader Abdallah.
How about the "question marks" at defensive end? There is no question about Mike Kudla on one side, as to stopping the run. He might be the physically strongest player ever in a Buckeye uniform and he has great position presence (watch the Alamo Bowl tape and you will see just how good…). On the other side? The Buckeyes have a posse of potential there. But if you really want to get cruel, let's just move David Patterson over there.
We don't need to go on and on about the linebackers because I have gone on and on about them so many times before. But D'Andrea/Schlegel are a fortress in the middle and I defy anyone saner than an ESPN analyst to point out two better OLB's against the run than Hawk and Carpenter. If any of those four get winded, they've still got Hoobler and Freeman ready and willing.
If you are looking for chinks in the armor against the run, don't look at the DB's. Safety Donte Whitner earned the nickname "Lights Out" in high school because of his axe killer hits. And Nate Salley hits even harder. Plus, like Kudla, these guys are heady position players that aren't going to get fooled by a lot of mis-direction and gimmick plays.
Lastly, there are the corners. We know that Youboty is All-World, but Tyler Everett excites me on the other side purely from his hitting ability. Imagine now, you block the big slabs up front, you spin away from the heavyweight acrobats in the second wave, you juke two great safeties and you then meet Tyler slanting in from the corner.
No one should run on these guys. No one. And wouldn't you like to be the proverbial fly on the wall when opposing coaches are breaking down game film to prepare for this defense?
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Testing, testing…Games 1, 2, 3…And to test my No One Runs on the Buckeye Theory just recently espoused, we look at the 2005 schedule and we see, well…a whole bunch of teams that aren't likely to test the theory, at all. If I have figured it out, anyone with scouting credentials has been all over it for a long time. Start with Miami (as we will do on September 3). They have a veteran quarterback and a huge offensive line to buy him time and great receivers and no ostensible running attack. Will they be testing the run defense? I think not.
Then it's on to Texas. Who just graduated the best running back in the nation. Who has a shuck-and-chuck-and-duck quarterback supreme in Vince Young. Who will test the OSU run defense all the way until, say, the middle of the first quarter. When they will realize that Young will have to beat the Bucks with his arm. Which he can't.
Then there's San Diego State. From the Left Coast way of thinking that running means throwing to a running back. I know they will be a challenge as a team. They just won't challenge us up the middle.
On to Iowa (well, they are coming here). They love to manhandle you. They did it to us last year. And they have Drew ("The Short Straw") Tate, slippery as soap, running around in the backfield as their quarterback. They might be the first test for our run stopping boys. And OSU will pass, which forces them to…
And then in one fell swoop, you are in the heart of the Big Ten season. Penn State will have to put it up to their new freshmen receiver talent to have any chance. Michigan State and Indiana will stay as far away from the run as possible. Minnesota loves to pound the ball. And that's to OSU's advantage. Illinois and Northwestern? Uhhh, I will tell you later.
Finally, there will be the Meatchickens. The same guys OSU threw down and kicked when they tried to run on them last year. They are back, with a less potent O-line. I am saying that the final story line, though, will be much the same. And so the story goes…
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Deep thoughts…When it comes to deep thoughts, I only have a few. One of my favorites has always been: I hope that after I die, people will say of me: "That guy sure owed me a lot of money".
When fans think of Mr. Bucknuts and "deep thoughts", they basically just think that, well…I am out of my depth there, too. I can see why. I was raised on a farm and the philosophy I was taught went something along the lines of:
1) Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong
2) Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you
3) Always drink upstream from the herd
Simple stuff. ‘Cause I am a simple guy.
Which explains why discussions of depth typically leave me abandoned at the altar. Yet, we have had some in-depth monologues, talking about depth problems at both the offensive line positions and at quarterback, right here in past editions of this very column. And utilizing that long-and-winding road as an introduction, let's take a look at the position of "Running Back" and spray a few bullets in that direction.
It's a simple analysis, really. The Buckeyes have a promising sophomore (eligibility-wise) in Antonio Pittman, then two equally promising freshmen in second-year back Erik Haw and newcomer Maurice Wells. Someone goes down? There's Schnittker to slam it up inside and the stealth back – Anderson Russell, if need be. But I want to talk about the years to come.
And in the first year to come (2006), they have Chris Wells. Since he is ranked the best (or second best) back in the country, you would think that they don't need any other recruits at that position. Well, I'm not so sure. In Chris's freshman year, OSU's other backs will be juniors and sophomores. If Wells pulls a freshman Clarett and starts, one of the sophs will probably transfer and the other upper-classmen will be hugely valuable as back-ups and change-the-pace guys. So do they need another back this year? Maybe.
The "other back" would red-shirt and be ready when Wells was a sophomore/junior and the other names are going or gone. And remember Iowa last year? They played their sixth-stringer, due to injury. And remember Sammy Maldonado and JaJa Riley transferring out prematurely? That left the cupboard bare here and saw Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross as our featured backs.
So, don't be surprised if another RB shows up on the radar screen in a year that looks already fully stocked. There's too much at stake not to have depth back there. And really, that's all I know about running backs…
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Going deep, again…If you read any of the swarm of new pre-season football magazines coming out (Lindy's, Phil Steele, etc.), you would then know that the Ohio State receiver cadre is rated as one of the top two in the Big Ten (with Michigan) and one of the top few in the country. That's quite an accomplishment for the old "run first punt second" Buckeyes. But –as startling as is their quality – is the depth and youth at that position.
The first wave of wide-outs now includes the remarkable trio of Ted Ginn, Santonio Holmes and Anthony Gonzalez, all burners with great hands. Behind (bestride?) them are Roy Hall, Devon Lyons and Albert Dukes. And don't forget the kid that caught 100 passes just three years ago from Justin Zwick: Devin Jordan. Then there are the kids coming in August: Brian Hartline, Andre Amos and Brian Robiskie. That's ten deep, if you are counting. And here's another fast stat: If Santonio chose to play his final year in 2006, then all but one of the ten would be back!
So, the pertinent question would be: is there a fast fall-off from the current talent to the next wave? No. Certainly not in terms of speed. The tall Brian Hartline won two state sprint championships in May (110 hurdles and 300 meters) just seven months after breaking his leg. And the taller Robiskie came in 4th in the 400 – just a month after running his first 400m race ever! Amos? He was a star track guy at Middletown, as well. And just to show that the Buckeyes are serious at this speed thing, they replaced their departed strength coach with Butch Reynolds, one of the greatest track guys of all time. Look for good times from the receiver corps, in every sense of those words…
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Raising ta'aruf…Reflecting back on the hubris of ESPiN, Mark May, Tom Friend and others, I remembered a great term that came out of Iraq that has particular applicability to the ESPN-Gate affair. "Ta'aruf" is an Arabic term that can be loosely translated as "ritualized insincerity". In the common day-to-day dealings in Iran and Iraq, hypocrisy is prized as both a social and commercial skill and the term ta'aruf to them is not pejorative in the least.
So is that what we have come to in modern day media in the United States? A ta'aruf sort of mind-meld in which ceremonial insincerity is prized? ESPN (The TV) has made a modern fortune with their insincere commentary on "Sportscenter". What once passed for "clever" has now simply become "glib" and is morphing toward "insincere". In a culture that rewards the simple-but-insincere, should we really wonder as to both the roots and the resolution of the ESPN/Clarett caper? I think not…
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Meanwhile, back at the Triple A farm club…And speaking of lots of numbers at one place: Glenville has been a very productive spot for the Buckeyes. Two years ago, I projected a possibility that the entire starting defensive backfield for Ohio State could be Tarblooders; with Donte Whitner and Jamario O'Neal as safeties, and with Ted Ginn and Dareus Hiley at cornerback. Well, Ted has been too good on offense to share the wealth (so far) and Dareus was able to play a number of positions (but not the position of "student"), so that never worked out. But even without the fantasy and without Hiley, OSU still has five Glenville alums on the squad (Whitner, O'Neal, Ginn, Troy Smith and Curtis Terry) and potentially three more coming (Freddie Lenix, Ray Small and Robert Rose). That means that OSU's Assistant Recruiting Coordinator, err…I mean Glenville Head Coach Ted Ginn Sr. will have provided nearly 10% of the entire Buckeye scholarship squad as of August 2006…
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Now, for the rest of that story…As most people around here will tell you, I don't do very much. Well, not very much that's important, at any rate. One of the things I do, though, is to stimulate the professional journalists here at Bucknuts on story ideas. As a group, Steve and Dave and Gary and Duane and Kyle and Bill are consummate pros and I will put their abilities up against any of the so-called mainstream media that used to hold court in bygone traditional times. So how to put all this talent to best use?
Back to the stimulation part. We set up a group of stories for Dave Biddle to follow up and he has nailed almost every one of them. He had a great piece on the recruiting guru/hermit John McCallister. He tracked down Dareus Hiley. He found Cedric Scott and reported in. He found out a ton on Fred Davis – and we reported some of it. He got an hour-full of an earful from Reverend Elmer Underwood and translated that into stories on EJ and Brandon. He has a great two-parter coming up on the legendary Orlando Pace, with whom he spoke last week. Other ideas? We have been tracking Louis Irizarry since prior to his release from jail – and something will be forthcoming. We have been tracking Ira Guilford for months – and nothing is forthcoming!
Yes, not all of the sleuthing and follow-up pays dividends. But if you want to see something done on a subject (either one that's philosophical or one that is human…), let me know. If it makes my socks go up and down, we will turn loose Dave and his posse.
‘Cause we are just fans at heart – just like you…
If you want to save Mr. Bucknuts the stress of thinking, or if you have any stress in your own thinking, feel free to contact him at MrBucknuts@yahoo.com