Let me start this schedule preview with a bit of final Jeopardy, I'll give you the answer followed by the question...
The Answer: USC, Texas and Minnesota
The Question: Who are the only three teams to score 21 points on the 2008 Ohio State Buckeyes?
Now on to the preview...
The Gophers have the incredible misfortune of getting to play Ohio State in Columbus in back to back seasons. This wouldn't have been the worst year to play the Buckeyes at home considering they lose about half of their starting lineup and we are a fairly experienced and a relatively talented team. Clearly this is a conspiracy by Jim Delaney and the Big Ten bigwigs to keep the Gophers down and make sure Ohio State gets itself back to the BCS for yet another chance to redeem itself. Honestly though, I'm not trying to say that on paper these teams are relatively equal and a home game gives us a great shot at winning. Regardless of the venue we are likely to lose to OSU the majority of the time. I'm just saying a home game moves our chances of winning from 8% to maybe 18%. We'll get to the outcome later, lets take a look at the Buckeye's.
Once again I took the easy route and had a local blogger answer a few questions for me regarding his favorite team. This time I went to Sam at We Will Always Have Tempe to help me out.
TDG - The Buckeye's are replacing 10 starters plus their K and P. We all know that Ohio State reloads, but that is a lot of quality and quantity to replace. What, in your opinion are realistic expectations for the 2009 Buckeyes?
WWAHT - Well, Ohio State has just finished racking up two excellent recruiting classes, so the talent level is actually roughly the same; that being said, the overall level of experience has taken a bit of a hit. That being said, with this schedule and in this Big Ten, anything less than 9-3 would be a disappointment..
I'm assuming 9-3 would mean a losses to USC, @ Penn State and...Minnesota (?). Sorry, with fall camp starting this week I am a little drunk on the kool-aid. Crazier things have happened and that is a lot of experienced snaps to replace but I'm not that delusional. Ohio State is replacing a number of very big names on both sides of the ball. Offensively they basically bring back their QB and most of their OL. In my book those are the key positions in college football so if you are only going to bring back 5 starters on offense those would be the ones I want to bring back. Defensively they lose some big names at all position groups. As Sam points about above they do have some very talented kids stepping in to fill the shoes of Chris Wells, Malcolm Jenkins, James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman, etc. But one has to expect that regardless of how talented these guys are there will be an adjustment period and likely a small step back.
It will also be interesting to see how things go on special teams for the Buckeyes as they are replacing their P and their K. That is often overlooked but should also contribute to OSU coming back to the entire Big Ten pack in 2009.
The Buckeyes on Offense
TDG - Offensively every skill position player is being replaced, with the exception of Pryor. Is this going to hamper his growth, or at least his numbers, as he moves into his sophomore season as the most experienced skill position player in the backfield? Also talk about Dan Herron and what you expect out of him.
WWAHT - I don't think it will hamper his growth one bit; in fact, I expect his numbers to improve as the offense improves. Pryor has far more chemistry with the younger skill position players on the team, and I think the offense will jell much more easily as a result. Dan Herron will be the focus of the running game, and I expect him to put up monster numbers; think of him as Antonio Pittman with a nasty streak.
I think I worded the question wrong. I wasn't implying anything would prevent Pryor from improving, but not having other known commodities (mainly Wells) around him means defenses will be keying on him more than they did last year. So maybe he still improves but I'm wondering if his numbers will improve significantly.
I also really do not want to forget about Dan Herron here, he does concern me. I seem to remember when Wells was on the sideline, Herron didn't exactly offer a reprieve for the Gopher defense.
Overall, would any of you be surprised to know that the Buckeye offense actually finished 9th in the Big Ten in overall yards gained? They were the antithesis of the Gopher offense. OSU finished 3rd in rushing offense and a dismal 10th in yards gained through the air. The Gophers were the worst rushing team in the conference and finished 4th in passing. One would expect that Pryor will be better equipped to throw the ball in the Big Ten, but once again the OSU ground game should be the heart and soul of their offense. Fortunately I feel as though stopping the run will be a strength of the Gopher defense so maybe (just maybe) we can slow down their rushing attack this time around and force them to throw it.
Catching the ball will be a handful of names less familiar than Robiskies and Hartlines we often heard last season. The spring depth chart has sophomore DeVier Posey (former 5-star recruit) and junior Dane Sanzenbacher listed as the top two receivers. Senior Ray Small is also a returning contributor who had 18 catches last year but is a no show for fall camp due to academic issues. Of course some younger guys will likely be a factor this season (Taurian Washington, Lamaar Thomas and true freshman Duran Carter).
Those receivers could be very talented but if you are going to stop the Buckeye offense, you better start with the ground game. Herron is likely going to step into the starting role and will be a top 5 Big Ten back, plus you have the always dangerous Pryor. Basically I would expect the Buckeyes will move the ball about approximately the same clip as they did a year ago. Where they may struggle is putting points on the board with so many new skill position players. In 2008 the OSU offense was 9th in total offense but managed to finish 4th in points scored. I'm going to make an assumption that this was largely due to the experience of the offense and the very good defense putting the offense in great position to score without having to consume more field then they had to.
The Buckeyes on Defense
Speaking of that defense, what is this unit going to look like with three All-Big Ten players, including the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, gone? Sam gives us a position group breakdown...
TDG - Defensively, can you give me a small paragraph on each position group (DL, LB, DB)?
WWAHT - If the defensive line can find some modicum of consistency on the interior, it'll be one of the best units in the Big Ten. Thaddeus Gibson will be one of the more feared pass-rushers in the country, but he needs help. Look for Dex Larimore to develop into a very good run-stuffer.
The linebacking corps may be 2/3rds new, but Austin Spitler has seen so much time backing up James Laurinaitis it's like breaking in a second-year starter. He isn't very fast, but he hits hard and excels at play recognition. Tyler Moeller is the other new face here (ed note: Moeller was recently injured and is likely out for 2009), a converted safety who many remember for chasing Pryor down in the open field during the spring game. He's a little small for a Big Ten linebacker, but he'll terrorize offensive tackles with his quickness on the blitz. Lastly, Ross Homan is a true junior and possibly the second-best defensive player on the team.
The secondary is breaking in a new starter - Andre Amos - but overall, looks to be a solid unit. The two safeties have around four-and-a-half combined years (that "half" being Russell's solid redshirt freshman debut that ended in an injury at Iowa in late September of '06) of experience under their belt and could end up being one of the better tandems in the country. Opposing quarterbacks should avoid Chimdi Chekwa - or as I call him, "Chex"- at all costs.
So the secondary should be really good, while the D-line and linebackers break in some newcomers. Iowa and Ohio State are the only two teams who gave up fewer than 300 yards per game and less than two TDs per game in 2008. As mentioned Ohio State does lose a few key members of that imposing defense so I think it is save to assume they won't be quite as dominant this time around. What does that mean though? It means Ohio State may not be brilliant defensively, just very good. This side of the ball has ranked in the top 15 nationally five of the last six seasons, so one has to expect this unit will be very good once again.
What to Expect
TDG - Clearly Ohio State will be favored and favored heavily to win. If these teams played all 12 games in Columbus the Gophers would maybe win 1 out of 12 times. Paint me a scenario that could potentially play itself out where the Gophers go into Columbus and come out with that one win.
WWAHT - I think the key to the Gopher's chances will be Simoni Lawrence. He's your leading returning sacker and was also 2nd in TFL in 2008. If he can provide adequate pressure on Terrelle Pryor, the Ohio State offense will be at least partially stymied. Offensively, Minnesota has to consistently get 4-5 yards on the ground on first and second down. It absolutely has to find a way to do this, because if it gets into the 3rd and long situations, Thad Gibson will have his way with the Minnesota offensive line.
Lastly, Adam Weber can't turn the ball over. At all. The Minnesota passing attack may have go into the box; whenever Weber doesn't see an open man on his first few reads, he needs to tuck the ball in and scramble for whatever yardage is available. If these three factors converge on that fateful day, Minnesota will probably find itself victorious. And you will find me hanging from the rafters.
So you are saying there's a chance. Sam seems like he might take a Gopher win kind of hard, not to worry though, it's not like the blogging world would miss one of 328 Ohio State blogs (just kidding, I'd miss my SBN brother).
I think that Sam is dead-on (pun intended) when he says Simoni is a key, probably more so in this game than any other. He has to be able to contain Pryor or we will see the Buckeyes run up and down the field at will (again). The rest is pretty obvious. Run the ball well on the road and don't give the opponent any turnovers.
I'm not going to convince you that we are going to win this game. While I feel our chances are better this year than they have been in the last few years, chances are still pretty slim. We have an experienced offense with at least a couple serious weapons. We also have an experienced defense that should be pretty good against the run (at least inside the box) and pretty good against the pass. But Ohio State is Ohio State and we are playing at Ohio State.
Unfortunately this is a game where if we can be competitive most of us will be relatively pleased. I know that comment leaves me open to criticism that how can we ever expect to be great if we accept moral victories. And while I agree with that, I open myself up to further criticism if I say we are going to win this game. Because while we want to be competitive with the Ohio State's of the world, right now it is nothing but hope that should tell you otherwise. At some point I want this game to be viewed with the Gopher's chances being at least 35-40% on a regular basis. We aren't there yet, this team could surprise and this could end up being a game we look forward to, at this point I'm expecting a loss and hoping for the best.
Minnesota - 24
Ohio State - 31
what say you?...