JDMill: I've felt for a few weeks that OSU was playing better football than MSU, but it took the Buckeyes actually beating the Spartans for them to now sit atop the proverbial power rankings. Obviously that loss to VaTech was an issue, and struggling with PSU didn't help, but overall, as a fan, how satisfied are you with how the Buckeyes have been performing this year?
Ted Glover: You were? I wasn't, and was actually very worried heading into East Lansing. To answer your question, I'm not upset at all, to be honest. When Braxton Miller went down, I did a serious re-calibration on my level of expectations for the 2014 season, and just mentally eliminated the chance of OSU being a playoff team. I know a lot of fans were upset after the Virginia Tech loss, and I was too, but the growth we've seen since that game is pretty incredible. The Ohio State team we're watching now is nothing like the inexperienced team we saw against Va Tech, and that MSU statement game is exhibit A. So overall, I couldn't be happier with the overall play of J.T. Barrett and the defense, which has been a serious issue the first couple of seasons under Urban Meyer. I thought that the Buckeyes had no shot at the College Football Playoff when Miller got hurt, but the fact that they're in the discussion in November is impressive when you consider they lost the best offensive player in the conference before the first game, have one of the most inexperienced offensive lines in the country, and a defense that is still a bit under construction but doing better.
Matt Brown: I really can't complain too much. This is a very young team, not just at QB, but along the line, at the skill positions, and all over the defense. It sucks to lose to an inferior VT team, and with Braxton at the helm, the Buckeyes probably win, but all things considered, things are still going well. This offense has improved immeasurably since the start of the year, it appears Ohio State has a real star in the making in Barrett, they have two outstanding, and very young, running backs, and some potential playmakers in the secondary. After everything that's happened, this team still has a shot at the playoffs, and is setting themselves up to potentially be scary good next season. Nothing wrong with that.
JD: JT Barrett. Better than Braxton Miller?
TG: No. All plaudits for Barrett aside...and he's deserving of every one, with Miller OSU beats Va Tech and is probably undefeated right now. Now, if you want to ask is Barrett maybe an all around better passer, I might listen to your reasoning, but Barrett also struggled against a pretty average Penn State pass defense. Miller is just a special player that you can't really defend, and although J.T. Barrett has had an incredible year, this is Miller's team when he comes back next year. And it should be Miller's team. But if he goes down, it's nice knowing Barrett can step right in, and will be the guy once Miller leaves.
MB: I think Barrett is demonstrably better than Miller at two things. He's better at making the correct decision in zone read running plays, and he's a better distributor of the football. Miller has a stronger arm, and *way* better athleticism. They're both able to do things that the other can't do, but a lot of Barrett's strong play this season is also a function of the teammates and the system around him. This is probably the best group of wideouts at Ohio State in the Meyer era, and they're getting better every week. I'm not prepared to say that Barrett is better, overall, than Miller right this second, but that doesn't mean that won't be the case by the start of fall camp next season.
JD: If you're only paying attention to Ohio State peripherally it's easy to think Barrett is the entire offense. 2,100+ passing yards, 26 passing TD's, leads the team in rushing TD's, second on the team in rushing yards and attempts. Not to mention Barrett leads the B1G in total offense with 304 yards/game. Anyway... who else on this Buckeye offense should Gopher fans be aware of?
TG: Running back Ezekiel Elliott is one. He started off slowly this season, but the true sophomore has been really carrying the load on the ground. He reminds me of a smaller Carlos Hyde in some respects. He's not the battering ram between the tackles that Hyde was, but he gets tough yards, and he's get perimeter speed that Hyde didn't have. He's averaging almost 6 yards a pop, and eviscerated MSU for 154 yards and two scores. But ignore WR's Devin Smith and Michael Thomas at your peril. Smith and Thomas have 8 and 7 TD receptions respectively, and Smith is averaging...averaging...over 25 yards a catch. The OSU offense took a big hit when H-back Dontre Wilson was lost last week with a broken foot, but Barrett still has a lot of weapons to get the ball to.
MB: It's very dangerous all over the field. Ezekiel Elliot is doing a very good impression of Carlos Hyde as the lead running back. He's not as big as Hyde, but he's a very violent runner, explosive, and capable of falling forward for six yards a carry. He's supplemented by Curtis Samuel, a true freshman, who is also capable of going for 100 yards in his own right. Both are great blockers in addition to being strong running backs.
Jalin Marshall is going to get a lot of touches at a do-everything H back type. He'll return punts, catch passes, take jet sweeps, and may even throw a pass or two. He's joined by the improving-every-week Michael Thomas at WR, and by Devin Smith, one of the best deep ball threats in the Big Ten. Ohio State is young at the skill positions, but they have speed everywhere, and Barrett's ability to distribute to those playmakers efficiently is what *really* makes him dangerous, rather than him necessarily just winning the day by himself.
JD: Ohio State ranks near the middle of the pack in the B1G in almost every defensive category, but with that offense it doesn't much matter. Still, the Buckeyes are only giving up three TD/game. What is the strength of the OSU defense?
TG: The defensive line, and it starts with DE Joey Bosa. OSU, for the most part, has been able to generate a pretty consistent and disruptive pass rush, and they've been much better at stopping the run. Every time the defense comes up with a big play, it seems Bosa is right in the middle of it. If the Bucks defensive line can win their individual battles consistently against the Gophers offensive line, they have a great shot to stop David Cobb before he starts rolling downhill. If they can do that, OSU's going to be tough to beat.
MB: The strength is unquestionably Ohio State's pass rush. Bosa is a freak of nature that is going to command double teams, but Bennett and Washington are also excellent in their own right. The Buckeyes are great at making passers uncomfortable or off schedule, and that puts their athletic (but young) secondary in positions to make big plays. All over the field, Michigan State game perhaps notwithstanding, this is a very good tackling defense as well.
JD: It's going to be cold on Saturday... like historically cold in terms of the short history of TCF Bank Stadium. How do you think 10-15 degree temps during warm-ups and 20 degree temps at kickoff might affect a Buckeye offense that likes to spread things out?
TG: It's the Big Ten, we play in cold weather. It might be a bit of a factor, but the cold weather effect is a two way street. Could the ball be slick and make it tough to throw? Maybe, but both teams will adjust. If it's just cold, I'm not too worried about having to adjust the game plan to compensate for the weather. If it's cold, windy, and snowing, that might be a great equalizer. (Ed. Note: /prays, dances, bribes non-existant weather gods for cold, windy, snowy weather)
MB: I mean, it gets cold in Columbus too, and a lot of players on this team are from the Midwest, so it may be THAT much of a shock, but sure, I imagine we'll see a few dropped passes. Ohio State, fundamentally, is a power rushing team that uses spread formations, so I don't think it will change what they want to do THAT much, but I could be wrong. With a very young team, anything is possible.
JD: Are there any non-weather related areas where you think Minnesota might have an advantage over OSU?
TG: On paper, no, but they don't play these games in a computer simulation. OSU has a physical advantage of their Minnesota counterpart at just about every position, on both sides of the field. OSU just went into East Lansing and kicked the hell out of Sparty, and Minnesota lost to the fighting Beckmans as little as two weeks ago. There's no reason to think that OSU won't roll into the Bank and completely manhandle the Gophers.
Which is why I'm a little bit petrified, if we're being honest. This has the look and feel of a classic 'trap' game for the Buckeyes. OSU coming off a big win, and going on the road to an opponent that's beaten them exactly once in my lifetime (I'm 47, kids), so it's easy to kind of overlook them. They've lost their 'X' player on offense (Wilson), and although OSU's defense is better than last year, they can still be run on. Rutgers ran for almost 150 yards, Illinois ran for over 100 yards, and MSU ran for almost 200. Minnesota has a great running game, one I think is better than those three, and against Iowa, the last time I saw a Minnesota unit playing defense this well was in the Wheat Field at Gettysburg. They fly to the ball, they are as fundamentally sound at tackling as any unit in the Big Ten, and they have a knack for creating a turnover when they need it. Hiccup to Illinois aside, this is a very talented football team, and Jerry Kill isn't going to be outcoached by anyone, even a guy like Urban Meyer. Minnesota has a couple of statement wins already this year, and with all due respect to winning Floyd and the Little Brown Jug, none would be as big as beating Ohio State Saturday. Jerry Kill and the Gophers know this; I hope Ohio State does, too.
MB: Ohio State's rushing defense is secretly only average, despite having a dynamite offensive line. Minnesota has the potential to really shorten this game and keep Ohio State off the field, and they may be able to get just enough in the passing game by throwing to what appears to be quality tight ends. They're going to need to get a huge game out of Cobb and company to spring the upset.
JD: Prediction time. Who wins? How do they make it happen? What is the final score?
TG: Fears of trap games aside, Ohio State is just physically better than Minnesota on both sides of the ball. With in game coaching a push, unless Minnesota get a huge advantage in turnovers Ohio State should win this game. I don't see a blowout, but I do see the Buckeyes winning along the lines of 31-17. I have a feeling it's going to be a tight game for two and a half quarters, but at some point the Buckeyes are just going to start grinding down the Gophers and get the game in hand.
One final thing--you guys know I'm a native Minnesotan, and I love what Jerry Kill is doing here. Even though I won't be cheering for him and the Gophers on Saturday, go kick the shit out of Nebraska, and bring Paul Bunyan's Axe home. Short of OSU winning the national title or the Vikings winning a Super Bowl, nothing would make me happier as a football fan and a Minnesotan than to see the Gophers trophy case proudly displaying Floyd, The Jug, and the Axe. Yeah yeah yeah, and the Bell, whatever.
It's been far too long. Win the axe.
MB:There might be some early letdown potential here for Ohio State, but I think this offense is just too good, and Minnesota's passing offense too weak, for the Gophers to spring the upset. I like Ohio State to win somewhere in the neighborhood of 38-20.