A New Era Finally Arrives
It’s finally here. The Buckeyes’ opening game to the 2019 season, and the official beginning of the Ryan Day era is finally here. Now, I’m the first to say I’m in no hurry to rush through the off-season; too many other things in life I enjoy to hurry through them. But, the more we move through August, the more excited I get about that first Buckeye game. Now it’s finally here, and I’m very excited to see what the Day era brings us.
I’m not sure if there could be a better opening opponent for the Buckeyes than the Florida Atlantic Owls. They’re a member of Conference USA; a Group of 5 conference. They’re expected to challenge for the conference championship. But, they were not that good on defense last year. So, the Buckeyes have a chance to get a somewhat quality win on their resume’ in a year when their non-conference schedule isn’t very challenging, and their new quarterback gets to play against a defense that shouldn’t be very challenging.
In 2017 FAU won eleven games, went to the conference championship game, and won the Boca Raton Bowl. Last year they fell to 5-7, and a large reason for that was a defense that gave up 427 yards per game. Just like the Buckeyes the Owls brought in a new defensive coordinator. This makes game planning a little difficult for offensive coaches, because they really are not sure just what sort of looks they’ll see. The Buckeyes will look at game tape of what new FAU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer did at Charlotte last year. The Owls will look to see what Greg Mattison did at Michigan, but getting a read on the scheme secondary coach Jeff Hafley was running a year ago is nearly impossible because he was in the NFL. Each team will have a general concept of what the other might do defensively, but they have no real idea. One thing I think you can count on is FAU doing a lot of things to try to confuse new OSU quarterback Justin Fields. I think you’ll see them constantly disguising coverages, and blitzes. I won’t be surprised at all if Ryan Day keeps things very simple for the first few possessions until the offensive staff gets a handle on what FAU is doing. Their
defense is not big at all. Actually they seem quite smallish. Two of their starting linebackers are only 210 pounds. I really think the Buckeyes are going to try to pound them early, and wear them down. I think it could be a long day for the FAU defense trying to deal with the size the Buckeyes have up front. Of the six returning starters, three are in the secondary, but of the eleven interceptions this defense had last season, only six were by that unit. Opponents completed 63% of their passes last season, and averaged nearly 200 yards per game rushing. The Owls have a small, quick defense. The Buckeyes have a big, fast offense. When you consider all of that it adds up to what could be a big day offensively for OSU.
The Owls’ offense was actually good last year. They averaged 31 points per game, and were very balanced in their rushing and passing yardage. They give the typical 3 X 1 look (three wide receivers, 1 running back), and will probably be led by redshirt sophomore Chris Robison. Although he started twelve games last year, Robison still found himself in the middle of an open
competition during fall camp. His 2,540 passing yards last year were the sixth highest single-season total in school history. He was also named as C-USA’s co-freshman of the year. Their top four receivers return; they combined for 177 of the team’s 226 catches a year ago. Tight end Harrison Bryant is on the watch lists for the John Mackey Award (nation’s best tight end), the Senior Bowl, and caught 45 passes last year. He’s a very good one. If their offensive line, which is a veteran group led by three-year starter Brandon Walton at right tackle, can give Robison some protection this receiving corps will be a good test for the new pattern-match coverage scheme the Buckeyes are deploying this year. Here is the thing: I don’t see FAU’s offensive line being able to protect their quarterback enough for them to really throw the ball down the field. Look for them to try to get the ball out of Robison’s hand quickly, and attack the Buckeyes with short passes. While their run/pass yardage totals are very balanced, 60% of their plays last year were runs, and they were good at it. Their top two leading rushers are back, and I’ll be paying close attention to see just how the Buckeyes handle FAU’s run game. I think everyone is going to get very nervous if the Owls break a long one early. Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of two tight end looks from them.
Florida Atlantic is coached by Lane Kiffin. Yeah, THAT Lane Kiffin. The same guy who was Alabama’s offensive coordinator in the Tide’s loss to the Buckeyes in the 2015 Sugar Bowl. He has a 16-10 record at FAU in his first two seasons, and put together the top recruiting class in Conference USA this year.
Robison threw 12 touchdown passes last year, but also was intercepted 12 times. Devin Singletary ran for 1,358 yards and 22 touchdowns last year: Kerrith Whyte had 866 yards and averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Leading receiver Javon Durante hauled in 65 passes in 2018.
Linebacker Rashad Smith is their leading returning tackler; he had 86 a year ago. He also led the team in interceptions last season with 4. The Owls had 23 sacks as a team, and were led by defensive end Ernest Bagner’s 4.
Their special teams were nothing to get excited about. Vladimir Rivas hit on just 10 of 17 field goals, but has had an excellent fall camp. Sebastian Riella averaged only 38 yards per punt in 2018, but will miss Saturday’s game with an injury.
What Do I Think?
When I hear Lane Kiffin saying he’s not happy about opening with someone like Ohio State, and one of their players say the Buckeyes will be the best team he’ll ever play against, I have to wonder about their mindset. They’ve battled injuries through fall camp, and have had their ups and down in practices. So, I have to wonder about their mindset. Will this team be mentally prepared to play? It sure won’t take lone go find out.
I think the Buckeyes pretty much have their way with FAU. There may be some hiccups early, but I think you’ll see them try to impose their will , wear them down, and put the game away early enough so the starters can get off the field. There are some real tests down the road, so the less time the regulars play on a warm day the better. Especially since the Buckeyes defensive line is a bit depleted with injuries (more on that in a minute). This could be a good opportunity to get young players game experience, and much needed playing time for the backup quarterbacks.
Shuffling The Deck
Ohio State released their injury report, and depth chart earlier today. While no specifics are given on the injuries the report does list who will not play, and who is a game time decision. As expected, defensive end Jonathan Cooper is out. That means fifth-year senior Jashon Cornell will move out from tackle to defensive end, and make his first career start. Cornell’s backup at tackle, Taron Vincent, is also out. This one is really disappointing, because his teammates say Vincent has turned into a beast. Davon Hamilton will move over from his usual nose tackle position to start at the spot vacated by Cornell and Vincent. Sophomore defensive ends Tyreke Smith, and Tyler Friday are game time decisions.
On the offensive side of the ball, tight end Rashod Berry, and H-back C.J. Saunders are both out. This means you’ll definitely see redshirt freshman Jaelen Gill getting reps at H-back behind starter K.J. Hill, and probably see Jake Hausmann here and there at tight end. Running back Demario McCall is a game time decision, so regardless if he plays or not, I’m guessing you’ll still see plenty of true freshman Marcus Crowley.
Ryan Day said as many as seven true freshman could play tomorrow. He said he wants to get receiver Garrett Wilson a few punt returns.
Day wants to rotate some offensive linemen. He specifically mentioned tackles Josh Alabi and Nicholas Petit-Frere, along with true freshman center Harry Miller.
Last night, for the second year in a row, Cincinnati beat UCLA. Hawaii’s win over Arizona last week it gives the Mountain West Conference five straight wins over the Pac 12. I think it’s obvious the Pac 12 has slipped below the Big XII and ACC, and is now the weakest of the Power 5 conferences.
Congratulations to my son’s youth hockey teammate, Austin Dorris of Shadyside, on making his first two catches of the season for Bowling Green last night in their win over Morgan State. Austin joined the Falcons as a graduate transfer from Indiana, and was making his first career start at tight end for the Falcons.
One other personal note. I want to wish good luck to Arden Minor in her debut with the WVU band tomorrow. She is the daughter of longtime friend Eric Minor, who was such a great supporter of my son’s hockey career. Arden is also a huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan. Wait…maybe I should rethink this whole good luck thing..lol!
Dwayne Haskins will not be the starter for the Redskins to begin the season. That’s quite fine with me, because their swiss cheese offensive line would get him killed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Haskins sitting and learning to start his career.
Michael Jordan has won the starting job at left guard for the Bengals. Center Billy Price has been benched, and will start the season as a backup.
Cardale Jones has had an excellent preseason with the Chargers, and will probably win the competition for the third quarterback over rookie Easton Stick, who led North Dakota State to four consecutive FCS national titles.
Curtis Samuel has been very impressive for Carolina so far. It’s looking more and more like receiver Devin Smith will make the Cowboy’s final roster.
Braxton Miller had another good showing for the Browns last night in their final preseason game. He was signed by Cleveland just a few days after being let go by the Eagles, and has turned in two strong showings. Many think he has an excellent chance to make the roster.
Fox is carrying the Buckeyes tomorrow at noon (I believe kickoff is actually somewhere around 12:15). Gus Johnson will have the call of the game. I think most Buckeye fans agree he’s one of the best in the business. Enjoy the game everyone, and have a safe holiday weekend.