Top 5 Issues Ohio State Football Needs to Address Before the 2014 Season
Many teams and fanbases would kill for a 24-game winning streak and a BCS bowl appearance. Urban Meyer and company led the most efficient offense in school history last season, featuring a deadly rushing attack that carved up the Big Ten. The defense was disappointing at times but still managed to help the Buckeyes win 12 games for the second straight year. Unfortunately, winning 12 games wasn't the only thing on that team's to-do list.
It's no secret that Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes followed their historic 24-0 start with two very disappointing losses. Heading into the Big Ten championship game, Ohio State was primed for its first national championship game since 2007 but simply couldn't keep up with the Spartans of Michigan State, losing 34-24.
In the Orange bowl, the Buckeyes were again torched on defense and fell to Clemson in a thrilling shootout, 40-35. These last two games really magnified some of the areas of weakness at Ohio State and left plenty of room for improvement in 2014.
Obviously, with new faces on the defensive coaching staff, necessary changes will be made to the Buckeyes back seven. The schematic approach of new defensive coordinator Chris Ash will be much more aggressive, which should be music to Buckeye Nation's ears.
However, this isn't the same exact team from last year. The Buckeyes will also be asked to replace some key contributors from last year's team, including two first-round picks in this year's NFL draft.
5. Prepare Dontre Wilson to Be a Primary Option
Some fans were disappointed in Dontre Wilson's rookie campaign simply because he didn't set the college football world on fire. However, when you take a look at the numbers, the speedster out of Texas was a very efficient weapon for a freshman. Wilson finished his first season in Columbus averaging 8.1 yards a carry in addition to his 22 receptions for 210 yards. These numbers are more than adequate, and its obvious that Wilson is electric when given the chance.
In 2014, his touches will have to double.
With the departure of offensive weapons like Carlos Hyde and Philly Brown, the Buckeyes will be clamoring for productive players in their offense. Clearly Wilson has the speed and playmaking ability to be an explosive option, but that's not his problem. The primary H-back started last season at a slim 175 pounds and struggled with his blocking. Wilson has bulked up to a solid 190 pounds, which is huge for this offense.
This being said, only half the battle has been won. The offensive coaches must prepare Wilson to be a primary option week in and week out. In order to accomplish this, they must fully implement him into the offense and assure that he's mentally prepared to be more than a primary decoy.
If they are unable to do this, too much of the responsibility to move the ball in big chunks will rest on the shoulders of Braxton Miller, who has plenty on his plate as it is.
4. Replace Ryan Shazier
Ryan Shazier was everything you could ask for in an Ohio State linebacker. Ever since a very young Shazier willed his way through a leg injury to harass that team up north, it was clear the Florida native was destined for greatness. Fast forward three years later, and the blazing-fast linebacker gets drafted 15th overall by the Steelers in last week's draft.
Shazier was a tackling machine with an incredible nose for the ball. In some games, it's hard to see who would have been throwing ball-carriers down if he wasn't available, and now the Buckeyes must move on without him.
Joshua Perry will take over Shazier's old spot after starting alongside of him last season. Perry is a very capable linebacker who should excel in Shazier's old position, but replacing Shazier goes beyond just finding a replacement for his position.
Someone on this year's defense—whether it's Perry, Curtis Grant or even the freshman Raekwon McMillan—must the catalyst. Shazier made big plays at the right time and was in on every tackle. He led by example and was the clear-cut leader of last year's Silver Bullets.
In 2014, Chris Ash and Luke Fickell desperately need a linebacker to establish themselves as the alpha dogs of the defense. They need a linebacker who can constantly be involved and lead this defense on and off the field.
3. Balance the Offense
Coming out of the gates, the Buckeyes were a changed offense in 2013. The once run-heavy offense was sprinkled with all kinds of screens and deep passes, keeping defenses at bay. However, as the season wore on, Urban Meyer's offense became more and more one-dimensional.
Obviously, when you have a workhorse like Carlos Hyde in your backfield paired with an electric Braxton Miller, running the ball is an excellent option. For the most part, their run-heavy approach was effective, but it was obvious in the Big Ten championship game that the offensive staff was not confident enough in the passing game to utilize it.
This inconsistent passing offense really held the Buckeyes back in their last two games, and the lack of confidence Meyer had in moving the ball through the air was alarming.
In order to become more versatile, not only does Miller need to become a more confident passer, but receivers like Devin Smith, Evan Spencer and Michael Thomas must make their presence known on the outside.
As Miller returns for his fourth and final season in Columbus, the senior must become a true dual-threat quarterback. Not only does a consistent passing game keep a defense off balance, it also gives Miller a chance to the move the ball without taking as many hits.
In order for this team to reach the first-ever College Football Playoff, it absolutely needs Miller to stay healthy. The easiest way to do this is to get the ball out of Miller's hands as much as possible.
2. Replace a Great Offensive Line
Toward the end of last season, Meyer boldly claimed, per The Lantern's Dan Hope, that the Buckeyes' 2013 offensive line was "one of the best in the country." Considering the record-setting production this line helped produce on the ground last year, it's almost impossible to argue with his statement.
Unfortunately for Meyer and offensive line coach Ed Warinner, that offensive line included four seniors. The lone returning starter is Taylor Decker, who will be making the move from right to left tackle.
Also, the right guard position is all but locked up by Pat Elflein, who saw limited time last season replacing Marcus Hall. After that, the competition among arguably the most important unit on a football team is wide open.
At center, the Buckeyes have a plethora of options, including a heated battle between Billy Price and Jacoby Boren. A recent transfer from Alabama by the name of Chad Lindsay also gives them another option. Obviously, there's only one center in an offense, so the losers of that battle will most likely be included in consideration for the left guard position. Standing in their way will be veteran O-linemen like Antonio Underwood and Chase Farris.
Meyer has even moved former defensive tackle Joel Hale to the offensive line in order to give Warinner more options. At right tackle, Darryl Baldwin appears to lead right now but could receive a push from incoming freshman Demetrious Knox if he slips up.
Luckily, this isn't the first time Warinner has been asked to revamp an offensive line at Ohio State—and the last time he did, we ended up talking about how to replace the previous year's offensive line.
The Buckeyes have plenty of depth and talent around their offensive line, but by the time they line up against Navy August 30, they must be one of the most competent units on the team if the Buckeyes will be successful in 2014.
1. Revamp the Secondary
With the exception of Doran Grant, the Buckeyes return zero consistent returning starters from last year's secondary. Players like Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell saw playing time toward the end of the year, but 2014's secondary will be fairly inexperienced.
Grant has solidified himself as the Silver Bullets' new No. 1 cornerback. Armani Reeves still holds down the opposite corner position but has received an excellent push from Eli Apple and Gareon Conley, who could easily start anywhere in the nation.
At safety, Powell has emerged as an effective leader for the secondary, but an injury to Bell cut his reps this spring. Cameron Burrows should be an adequate replacement for Bell but will move back to the star position once Bell returns.
All that being said, depth and talent were not the problems last year.
The Buckeyes' agonizingly soft coverage was hard to watch and invited opposing quarterbacks to carve them up weekly. Despite playing so far off the line of scrimmage, the Buckeyes secondary also managed to get beat deep far too many times last season, making for the worst of both worlds.
New defensive coordinator Chris Ash should become a fan favorite in Columbus quickly, simply for his aggressive approach toward his secondary. In this year's spring game, the cornerbacks lived on the line of scrimmage and were constantly disrupting the passing game. This revamp of the secondary has to be centered around being extremely aggressive but in an organized fashion, because this unit can't afford all the mental lapses it had last season.
Flat out, if the Buckeyes want to really compete for a Big Ten championship and a playoff berth, they must transform their secondary from the worst unit to the best unit on the team.
While these past five slides featured the top five issues facing the Buckeyes this offseason, there's plenty of additional aspects to address.
For example, it'd be great to see Meyer implement his two tight ends more in the passing game. Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett are both very capable pass-catchers and could really do some damage down the seams when linebackers get too involved in stopping Miller from using his feet.
The Buckeyes also need to find a consistent replacement for departed placekicker Drew Basil. Freshman Sean Nuernberger and junior Kyle Clinton will compete to replace Basil, and whoever wins the battle must be a reliable option for Urban Meyer from at least inside of 40 yards.
It's also essential that the Buckeyes find a middle linebacker that they can rely on to anchor their defense. Curtis Grant is entering his final season at OSU and has been a bit of a disappointment since his arrival. If he's unable to solidify himself as a dominant middle linebacker, he may make way for incoming freshman phenom Raekwon McMillan to take his spot.
Either way, mediocrity just won't cut it at that position this year, so someone has to step up.