Editors Note: From the school, keep your friends closer and your enemies closer, we do Monday recaps of the Buckeyes games by Buckeye John. Enclosed is his preview...
2009 Ohio State Football Preview
It’s that time of year again college football fans!!! Fall conditioning and practice have opened on nearly every BCS campus. Thank God!!! I have to admit being out of the loop with all things Ohio State football over the last several months. Not sure why. Maybe it was because there wasn’t a lot of recruiting news (although things have picked up on that front in the past several weeks).
Maybe it was because the players were doing a decent job of staying out of the papers. Anyway, my interest quickly returned upon seeing the first pictures of the players reporting to the team hotel to open camp. I’m sure it’s the same for fans from Ann Arbor, South Bend, Gainesville and Norman as well. Two-plus weeks until the opening kick-off. I can’t wait.
As in previous years writing this article for Big House Blog, I’ll start with the several things that get me most excited about the upcoming year. I’ll follow that up with the things that worry me the most and end with some general predictions on how the season will play out.
What gets me excited?
No. 1 Terrelle Pryor V2.0 – It’s hard not to be excited about the possibilities given the reports coming out of Columbus about a more mature, more confident and better prepared Pryor triggering the offense.
I’ve read several articles about Tressel adding elements of Nevada’s wide open “Pistol Offense” to better utilize his physical skills. I’ll believe it when I see it. Buckeye fans have been burned for years by the conservative play calling of Tressel and Bollman.
My expectations are that Pryor will be a little more patient in the pocket, will have improved his mid-range passing game and will have better command of the playbook...new or otherwise.
The Big-Ten beat writers named him the preseason offensive player or the year in Chicago a few weeks ago. He would have come in no higher than third on my ballot.
No. 2 A meaner O-line – Without question, the biggest mystery last year was the less than dominant play of the offensive line. With all but one of the starters coming back and the addition of several highly touted freshmen I thought this unit would be one of the strengths of the team.
That was obviously not the case. I think this year will be different. Michigan fans won’t like to hear this but I think Justin Boren is going to be a huge addition to the line. I’ll refrain from bringing up the facts and rumors about his departure from Ann Arbor. The fact is he was going to be great for UM and he’ll be great for OSU.
By all accounts he played with a chip on his shoulder all spring and I’m guessing that his nasty attitude will rub off on the other players vying for spots on the line. I’d like to see Mike Adams and Boren on the left side, Mike Brewster at center and Jim Cordle and JB Shuggarts on the right side.
Regardless of who gets the starting nods for this unit, they’ll have to step it up a notch as the running backs, while talented, lack experience and will need all the help they can get. (Update: It was announced on Saturday that Justin Boren tweaked his knee in practice on Friday and could miss up to three weeks of practice.)
No. 3 Return of a dominant D-line – Oh boy!!! This unit is going to be fun to watch this year. Thad Gibson brings speed and attitude from one end. Cameron Heyward and Doug Worthington will clog the middle. Lawrence Wilson will return from two serious leg ailments to man the other end spot.
All will be backed up by experienced players. In short...nobody will run on the Buckeyes this year. I know that sounds a little cocky but this unit needs to be dominant to make up for the inexperience at linebacker and to a lesser degree in the defensive backfield.
The Buckeye defense has ended each of the last six seasons ranked in the top 15 units in the country. I see no reason for that not to continue this year.
No. 4 Other misc things – I was excited to see Tyler Moeller get more opportunities to shine this year. Unfortunately that’s not going to happen. I’ll replace my excitement for him with anticipation for seeing Brian Rolle and Etienne Sabino at linebacker and Nathan Williams at end. All showed great motors and raw ability last year. This year they should all get ample opportunity to shine.
On offense, I’m eager to see what Boom Heron and a healthy Brandon Saine will do at tailback. Both have showed flashes of speed and power but had the luxury of playing behind Beanie Wells. Both will have to step up this year. My other sleeper is Devier Posey starting at wide receiver.
He brings speed and athleticism along with crisp route running. The addition of several new receivers (most notably Buckeye legacy Duron Carter) should make up for the loss of the “two Brians”...Robiskie and Hartline.
What worries me?
No. 1 Having to replace Laurinitis and Freeman at linebacker – It’s hard to replace three year starters at any position let alone the heart and soul of the defense. The Buckeyes have a proven track record of putting stud linebackers on the field every year. This year could be a little different.
Early reports out of camp have Brian Rolle manning the middle spot with Ross Homan and Austin Spittler playing the outside positions. I’m not sure why Spittler and Rolle have switched positions. Homan was solid but not spectacular last year and he’ll have to step it up this year to make up for the inexperience of the other two players.
Etienne Sabino and Dorian Bell should get tons of experience.
No. 2 Who will step up in the defensive backfield? – Losing All-American Malcolm Jenkins (a proven lockdown cornerback) hurts. Chimdi Checkwa takes over the boundary corner position for Jenkins. I’m comfortable with that move although Checkwa needs to be a little more physical this year.
Kurt Coleman returns at one safety position and that too is good. He was making plays all over the field in the second half of the season last year. I expect big things from him this year.
Anderson Russell will man the other safety spot. I think he played well last year although the image of him whiffing on the tackle at the end of the Texas game (Fiesta Bowl) is seared into my memory. Hopefully he’s put that play behind him.
The other corner spot is up in the air with Andre Amos being listed as the starter early in camp. I think the front seven on defense will do a great job stopping the run forcing teams to throw the ball more often. How this unit responds to the added pressure will be key.
We’ll get an early opportunity to see how the new players are working out on Sept. 12 when USC rolls into Columbus.
No. 3 Creative play calling – Can we please open the playbook this year. Last year there was a lot of talk of a whole new playbook being put into place to take advantage of Pryor’s physical skills.
Yes, he lead the conference in completion percentage but we all know that was more a result of the conservative nature of the play calling and not his actual throwing ability. This year the talk is about adding elements of the “Pistol” offense used at Nevada. Now, I’m the first person to admit that I know nothing about the Nevada offense.
I guess it must be pretty dynamic for Tressel to want to use it this year. I wonder if the coaching staff asked for permission to talk to Urban Myer about the Gator attack. I think their results are a little more quantifiable for the average fan.
Esteemed bloggers like Brian at MGoBlog and your own Big House Bob spent a great deal of time complaining about Carr at the end of his career. His play calling was too predictable and he stayed with coaches that were not getting the job done.
I’m a huge believer in Jim Tressel as a coach but I’m not sure how long that will last if he doesn’t demonstrate a willingness to make the changes that seem to be so obvious to me and the rest of Buckeye Nation.
No. 4 Getting over the hump in big games – It’s hard not to be ecstatic with the results of the Tressel era. One National Championship, two runner-up finishes, seven wins in eight years against Michigan and a virtual lock to play in a BCS bowl each year. Having said that, the team performance in big games is definitely trending down over the last several years.
It’s not the results that worry from these games it’s the way the payers played and the coaches coached in them. If you play confidently and lose to a better team that’s one thing. The Buckeyes were definitely outclassed and out coached against Florida, LSU and USC.
More importantly they seemed to play scared and defensive. That has got to change this year. I didn’t have a problem with the way we played against Penn State and against Texas last year. We played hard and lost. That happens. The USC game is 29 days away (as I write this).
I’m hoping...and praying that the quality of play and coaching in the Texas game has become the norm.
What does this all mean?
I’m going to take a slightly pessimistic view on my predictions this year. As stated in my bullet points above, the Buckeyes experienced key losses on every unit on both sides of the ball (except QB).
While that happens to most teams on a yearly basis, (Florida being the huge exception this year...my god...is that team loaded or what?) I think we struggle a little bit to reach the same lofty levels we’ve come to expect in the previous years.
Last year I predicted 11-1 with a huge win against USC and one conference loss. This year I’m going with 9-3. I think we lost to USC and Penn Sate and one other conference game. Illinois scares me a little and to a lesser degree so does Michigan and Iowa. I won’t predict what other game we lose until my Buckeye Preview each week on this blog.
11-1, 9-3...it doesn’t matter to me. The 2009 season is upon us. Saturdays are about to get a whole lot more fun. Here’s wishing for a great year for whatever your favorite team might be. Yes, that goes for fans of “that team up north,” too.