“Scouting” the Buckeyes

BuckeyeSports.com editor Jeff Svoboda from the Scout network gives Nittany Lion fans an inside look at Penn State’s next opponent.

No. 13 Ohio State comes calling to Beaver Stadium Saturday night. Though talented, it is a much different Buckeye outfit than the one that steamrolled Penn State 63-14 at The Horseshoe last season.

That starts, obviously, at quarterback, where redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has replaced injured Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller.

We needed a scouting report on the Buckeyes, so we went to the expert. Jeff Svoboda is editor of Buckeye Sports Bulletin and BuckeyeSports.com. Check out his answers to our five pressing questions below:

1. How on Earth did Ohio State lose by 14 at home to a Virginia Tech team that has dropped three of five since?

JS: That's a good question, ha ha. It seems almost impossible to believe right now since VT has nosedived and Ohio State has turned it on. Simply put, that game was kind of the perfect storm of things to go wrong for the Buckeyes. The Hokies took advantage of OSU's youth on offense by playing a very aggressive defense to frustrate the team. The Hokies played a “Bear” defense that clogged the middle of the field and then played no deep safeties, using its high-quality corners to man-up on OSU's receivers -- and it worked, as OSU just couldn't hit the big plays it needed to win. Add in a dropped TD and two missed field goals and you have your result -- plus the offensive line got overwhelmed once the Buckeyes had to throw late. Since then, the Buckeyes have improved in just about every facet on offense. J.T. Barrett looks much more comfortable at quarterback both throwing and as far as pocket sense, while the offensive line has settled in and the skill position players have gained confidence. It's like night and day right now, though it still remains to be seen what will happen when the Buckeyes play a high-level defense.

QB J.T. Barrett

2. In what ways is Braxton Miller missed the most?

JS: I think it's fair to say the Buckeyes could have and maybe even would have beaten the Hokies with Miller at quarterback, and Barrett's youth was really shown in that game, especially when it came to dealing with a blitz. Barrett also doesn't have Miller's high-end speed and elusiveness (remember Miller's TD run in Happy Valley two years ago, potential holding penalty aside?), though he's a competent runner himself. Other than that, the offense hasn't really seemed to miss a beat. Barrett is a very good leader as far as redshirt freshmen go so the drop-off from a senior to a young kid isn't as big as you'd expect.

3. How much has Barrett improved through the first half of the season?

JS: The Barrett we were told existed is the one we've seen the past four games, as it appears the first two weeks were all the time he needed to settle into the job. Before we even saw a snap, coaches and players described Barrett as a solid runner; a good distributor of the ball; an accurate passer; and a poised, calm leader. He looked nervous the first two weeks but has been playing at a very high level since. He's not perfect as far as accuracy goes -- he'll miss a throw or two still -- but he's poised and is very good at finding the open receiver. He looks more confident as a runner now and his pocket presence has improved since as he's matured.

DT Joey Bosa

4. What sort of impact has Larry Johnson made on the Buckeyes' defensive line, taking into account he inherited some outstanding talent there?

JS: OSU's defensive line has played well but hasn't quite played at the outstanding level some expected. Of course, it hurts that the team lost Noah Spence, an All-Big Ten end, for the year after his banned substance suspension was extended indefinitely. The pressure has been turned up the past two or three games, though, and the Buckeyes could be poised for a big finish there. Johnson has been praised by the linemen since he arrived for his demeanor, which is certainly a bit calmer than his predecessor's. Mike Vrabel was a good coach and technician but wasn't the easiest guy to work with, it appears, given his gruff, in-your-face manner. The players seem to enjoy working with Johnson more, and it's not like he doesn't push them. It's just a different approach, and Urban Meyer has been very pleased with the way Johnson has coached and recruited since his arrival.

5. Penn State fans seemed surprised the line for this game opened at 11.5. How did OSU fans react to the initial spread?

JS: I think it's fair to say Ohio State fans were surprised as well. It's not that fans don't respect Penn State, but after watching the Nittany Lions' offense -- and the OL in particular -- struggle big-time vs. Rutgers and Michigan, coupled with the way Ohio State's offense is rolling, it seems surprising this line is so small. I think the crowd is being factored in, as no one is sure exactly how Barrett will react in that atmosphere.

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