The Other Side: Scouting Ohio State

In anticipation of Saturday’s kickoff, caught up with Jeff Svoboda of to preview the action. We go in-depth on Ohio State with five questions on the No. 13 Buckeyes and their 4-1 start to the 2014 season.

1. What is the biggest difference between the J.T. Barrett we're seeing now and the one that initially replaced Braxton Miller?

Barrett has just become more comfortable playing quarterback at the college level, something you'd expect for a redshirt freshman. He has always been a gamer -- he took a beating vs. Virginia Tech but kept coming back for more -- but his command of the offense has improved immensely over his first five starts. Barrett is now trusted to make checks at the line of scrimmage, and he's maturing as far as being the vocal leader on the field that every quarterback needs to be.

As far as his performance, that has grown by leaps and bounds, too. He made some bad decisions and missed some throws and blitzes against Virginia Tech, but he's appeared to improve quite a bit since then. You have to keep in mind that Kent State, Cincinnati and Maryland don't have the best defenses in the world, but he has hit at least eight different receivers in each of those games and is pulling the strings and getting the ball to playmakers in a much more effective fashion.

2. Does Noah Spence's absence make a significant difference defensively? If you take away Virginia Tech, the defense has been solid from a statistical standpoint.

It definitely hasn't helped. An Ohio State defensive line with Noah Spence on one side opposite Joey Bosa, who very well could be the league's defensive player of the year in 2014, would be very scary to opposing offensive lines. Spence was a five-star prospect coming out of high school and was a media first-team All-Big Ten choice last year as he was starting to fulfill his potential as a pass rusher, but with him out, the Buckeyes have had to go with a combination of players across from Bosa.

Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier are both seniors playing their best football, but neither is a game breaker, and freshmen Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes are talented but young. The defense has really been fine for the most part as it has switched to an aggressive, press-man scheme. Cincinnati hit it for a few big plays but in all OSU has been solid, especially considering all the different offenses the Buckeyes have faced.

3. What did Virginia Tech do against Ohio State that maybe other schools did not? How much was that loss based on Barrrett's inexperience at the time?

Virginia Tech was able to beat the Buckeyes in a couple of ways. Defensively, Virginia Tech stuffed the middle of the line with a "Bear" defense that covers up the center and both guards, and Ohio State really had trouble running the ball inside (its bread and butter) because of that. VT also had the cornerbacks to play aggressively on the outside, often going without any deep safeties while challenging OSU's playmakers to make something happen. They also blitzed Barrett, especially in the fourth quarter while holding a lead, and OSU's inexperienced OL and Barrett were overwhelmed.

I think a more experienced Barrett would have been able to handle the pressure a little better, either when it came to identifying blitzes or throwing the ball away, and he did miss a few deep shots that would have loosened up the defense even more. The Hokies also converted a surprising number of third downs, going 9 of 17 and converting some third-and-longs, which is how it was able to put up 28 points of offense despite not posting any offensive plays of 20 yards or more.

4. How are the following former Rutgers targets doing both on the field and behind the scenes -- cornerback Eli Apple, wide receiver Noah Brown, running back Curtis Samuel, defensive end Darius Slade.

Apple had a rough start at Ohio State and ended up redshirting last year, but he really came on in spring and has started every game at cornerback this season. He has two interceptions and has been pretty solid, though he did get beat for a long TD vs. Cincinnati. Other than that, I think he's played well and has a world of talent, so he should keep getting better. Samuel stepped in right away and has been a pretty important backup running back for Ohio State, even topping 100 yards rushing in the blowout of Kent State. He has been nursing an ankle injury but has shown burst and toughness when running so far, so he should get 5-10 carries vs. Rutgers.

Brown has played sparingly so far at wideout but appears to have a bright future, while Slade seems ticketed for a redshirt. He was on the travel roster for the first game at Navy but didn't play, and since then he has suffered a leg injury that has the rest of his season in doubt.

5. There will be a lot of first-time visitors to Columbus this weekend. What are some things for Rutgers fans to seek out on game day? What is the perception of Rutgers right now? Have you seen that change since Rutgers initially joined?

I'd say the perception of Rutgers has changed a bit simply because people are more inclined to watch the Scarlet Knights now that they're in the Big Ten. People now know who players like Gary Nova, Darius Hamitlon and Leonte Carroo are, and the team's 5-1 start I think has OSU fans taking this game a little more seriously. Things like the Mike Rice situation and the negative headlines related to Julie Hermann are still there, but I think that'll fade over time.

As for things to do on game day, Ohio State has one of the better atmospheres, I think, in the nation. Fans should check out any of the pregame bashes on Lane Avenue north of the stadium, including the famous Varsity Club tailgate, and High Street east of the stadium will be hopping and is OSU's main drag. There's also Skull Session, the pregame pep rally/band tune-up that is a favorite of OSU fans, and it starts two hours before the game in St. John Arena north of the stadium. The team also makes an appearance there on its way from the hotel it stays at on campus to the stadium before the game. And be sure to be in your seats 25 minutes before kickoff; the band's ramp entrance is the best in college football. Because it's homecoming, Script Ohio might not be in its usual pregame spot, so fans can enjoy that either at halftime or in postgame.

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