We are only one day away from playing the defending national champions and #1 team in the country, the Ohio State Buckeyes. They had a big week, as head coach Urban Meyer made the switch at quarterback, naming J.T. Barrett the starter. In preparation for Saturday's game, we were fortunate to speak with Chris Kopech from our SB Nation friends at Land Grant Holy Land. He was able to give us some insight on what to expect from the best team in college football tomorrow night.
Now that J.T Barrett has been named the starting quarterback, do you expect him to play the whole game against Rutgers or could there be any set packages or situations we could see Cardale Jones?
As Pete Townsend wrote, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss". As the Big Ten saw last year, and in record-setting fashion, J.T. Barrett really owned last year's team after the Virginia Tech nightmare. Now he takes the helm as the starter for the first time since The Game last year. In his limited action, he's looked...not great, until the last few weeks. Against Maryland and Penn State, Barrett accounted for seven TDs, and was the real difference-maker against Maryland.
So is that it for Cardale? I doubt it (and so does LGHL). Urban Meyer, it seems, really liked the offense that Jones brought to the table, but it seemed like the scheme and personnel didn't exactly agree with it. We know Meyer loves #12, and I think, just like when Braxton Miller comes in behind center, there is a package for Jones to spell Barrett from time to time, and I expect we'll see that on Saturday night. I'm sure there will be a little bit of rust with Barrett starting from the first offensive snap, and that's when we might see Jones come in.
Does the quarterback change affect how Ezekiel Elliott is used at all? Where do you think he will rank all-time among other great Ohio State running backs, once his career is over?
I think the biggest beneficiary of this switch will be Elliott, for a few reasons. While Elliott has gone over the century mark in every game, it was only the huge runs against Indiana, and his 150+ yard effort last week against Penn State where he's looked more to the form he showed during last year's postseason run. A lot of that has to do with Barrett, who can read-option the best defensive players out of their shoes. With that on the table, it can only really open up the running lanes for Elliott, and cause defenses to make a decision, and hope they're right.
As for Elliott's place in history, that's a fun question. There are a lot of RBs who get nickname status in Columbus: Archie, Eddie, Hop, Beanie, El Guapo, Mo, and the list goes on to include two Heisman winners without nicknames (Les Horvath and Vic Janowicz). And now there's Zeke. Is he the best? Sorry, that spot goes to Archie. But he's definately in the team picture, and for me, he's probably #5 behind the four Heisman winners. If not for the Buckeyes' slow start, he might be even higher.
After a bit of a flat start to the season, the Buckeyes have started to play better the last game and a half. What is the pulse of the fanbase regarding the current state of your team and what is the biggest concern at the moment?
We're a crazy bunch in Columbus (and Florida, Arizona, California and wherever else you find dudes in replica jerseys and backwards fitted hats on Saturdays). I have a number of friends who attended the Penn State game, and heard the strong choruses of "J-T! J-T! J-T!" when the offense would struggle. And all of this for an undefeated team that has really only been in trouble for about 20 out of 420 minutes of this half season. I think a lot of people will breathe easier with Barrett starting, but if that goes south, then we're going to get even crazier. I wrote this last week, and I'm not sure that there wasn't a change.org petition started to take away my fan card. The biggest concern is that every game isn't a 59-0 shellacking like the Big Ten Championship Game. Fun times.
Urban Meyer declared his love for New Jersey this week. He has obviously had a lot of success recruiting the garden state, as there are five current players on the roster. Of course, Ohio State is a national brand, but is it accurate to say they have focused more on New Jersey during Meyer's tenure and since Rutgers joined the Big Ten versus years past?
I'm not a big recruiting guy. But LGHL's Charles Doss sure is, so I talked to him about this. While there's been some extra movement out East by Urban Meyer and his staff, it's always been a pipeline for him, Rutgers or not. This will sound trite, but Meyer recruits talent, not region, so if the talent is in The Garden State, they'll try to get him. 2016 commit Kareem Walker is a Jersey guy, as is 2016 ATH Jordan Fuller.
Ohio State has had some injuries at the wide receiver position this season, how is the current depth of that unit and what is the overall health status of the team heading into Saturday?
Remember last year when Ohio State could just air it out and it seemed like there was always someone there to catch it? That someone was Devin Smith, and he plays for the Jets on Sundays now. Smith was the person that made every second- and third-look wide open last year, because secondaries had to worry about Smith over the top. This year, there is no deep threat like Smith, and it's been very obvious. Noah Brown was supposed to play a big role in the offense this year. So was Corey Smith. Both of them are out for the year due to injury. While the Buckeyes have depth, they just don't have what they expected.
Braxton Miller has made some fun catches, but nothing downfield. Michael Thomas is a go-to guy, but not downfield. Curtis Samuel and Jalin Marshall are just fine. But not downfield. Jones was guilty of bad under- and overthrows as starter, while Barrett has seemed a bit more accurate, especially in the last few weeks. That should help things...emphasis on "should".
What type of turnout should we expect from Ohio State fans for Saturday's game? I know your fanbase typically travels well, but is there any excitement about playing at Rutgers for the first time? Let me re-phase that, do you think more fans than usual will make this trip because of our proximity to NYC?
A caller into one of the local shows called Rutgers a "practice game" and that was actually met with a lot of disagreement by the two guys on the radio. After all, Rutgers just gave Sparty a game. Rutgers just beat an Indiana team that Ohio State struggled to beat (in not-similar, but still fun fashion). I think that mindset, the "practice game", is going to go away as we get closer to Saturday. And it is exciting to go someplace for the first time. Rutgers can bring it, too - I still remember the Jeremy Ito field goal against Louisville in 2006.
Will Buckeye Nation travel? Probably, and I'm sure the Big Ten is hoping to prove that with the current flag carrier for the conference headed to the newest part of the foot print. I doubt it will be like a trip to Bloomington, but there should be plenty of Gray mixed with Rutgers' scarlet.
What is your prediction for Saturday's game?
There are a lot of tough games on Ohio State's schedule, most notably against Michigan State and Michigan. But Rutgers first. Advanced Stats say Buckeyes by 22.5, and Vegas says Buckeyes by 20.5. After last week, that may seem a bit high, with a new starting quarterback and a road game at night against a team that took fellow undefeated Michigan State to the brink. But Penn State's defense was very for real, and the Buckeyes won by four TDs. And I think this is a team that's really waiting to explode, and Rutgers might be the team that sets off the detonator.
I think Rutgers and Ohio State will open up strong and put points on the board, but the Buckeyes pull away to end the first half on Barrett's and Elliott's backs, and keeps the pedal down in the third quarter. The Buckeye defense continues strong play on 3rd down, and hold off the Rutgers offense, keeping Robert Martin and company from doing what they did to Indiana. No score from me (because I'm dreadful at that) but I like the Buckeyes to cover.
Thanks again to Chris for his detailed analysis regarding our match-up tomorrow night. For my conversation with Chris about Rutgers, click here. And to read up on everything Ohio State, check out Land Grant Holy Land, they have it all!