David vs. Goliath: Breaking Down The Ohio State Buckeyes
This isn’t the Grandaddy Of Them All, but boy does it feel like it.
This Saturday is the date everybody’s had circled on their calendar since the 2015 schedule was released — Ohio State weekend. The Nittany Lions travel to Columbus, Ohio to take on the No. 1 ranked team in the country in one of the rowdiest environments in all of college football. This year’s Ohio State squad is eerily reminiscent of the team Penn State nearly defeated last season in a double overtime thriller — a notion that either bodes well for the Lions, or one that could serve as the nail in the coffin. The Buckeyes reloaded on both sides of the ball, headlined by a number of young budding superstars and a converted quarterback playing wide receiver.
Without further ado, let’s analyze the top-ranked Buckeyes in preparation for Saturday’s showdown.
Where do we begin?
To call the Ohio State offense loaded is a serious understatement. This team has weapons as far as the eye can see at each position on the field, but nobody poses a greater threat than No. 15. Running back Ezekiel Elliott is among the nation’s leaders in yards and touchdowns, playing with such poise and elegance. He is rarely brought down after first contact. He bounces off defenders like a bowling ball, keeping his legs charging as he barrels north-south en route to pay dirt. He posseses the ability to stop on a dime, instantly changing direction as he misleads entire defenses. Watch below as he takes a simple power run and turns it into a monster gain, weaving through the entire Michigan State defense in the process.
Paving the way for Elliott is one of the nation’s premier offensive lines, led by 6-foot-7 behemoth Taylor Decker. Though the unit seemed to struggle early on in the season — the Buckeyes totaled uncharacteristic lows offensively throughout the team’s first few games — it seems as though all is back to normal after recent high-octane scoring outputs.
The nation’s most high-profile preseason quarterback controversy ended with Cardale Jones, the former third-stringer who led his team through a rigorous three-game gauntlet to capture the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy. Thus far, Jones has resembled a much more human version of the superstar who enjoyed a meteoric rise in stock last postseason. He’s thrown for 1,158 yards, seven touchdowns, and five interceptions already in 2015, and while he’s dropped his fair share of trademark dimes, Jones has proved to be turnover-prone in high-pressure situations. While his completion percentage bumped up two percent from last season, his passer rating and raw QBR have both dipped. J.T. Barrett, the odd man out in the preseason quarterback battle, has been relegated to situational work, being utilized for his abilities on the ground moreso than his aerial prowess.
The receiving corps is led by the most unlikely of candidates, as converted quarterback Braxton Miller leads the way as the unit’s Swiss Army Knife. The two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year has totaled 13 catches for 192 yards and two touchdowns for the Buckeyes, making his way onto the Sportscenter Top-10 after doing this to Virginia Tech. Complementing Miller on the outside is Michael Thomas, nephew of former NFLer Keyshawn Johnson and current Buckeye leader in receptions, yardage, and touchdowns with 27 catches, 399 yards, and four touchdowns. Rounding off the impressive trio is Jalin Marshall, a speedster who doubles as an effective return man.
Again, where to begin.
The Ohio State juggernaut defensive line is led by Joey Bosa and Adolpus Washington, who stand at 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-4 respectively. These two are behemoths, and they play like it too. Bosa is expected to be a top-five pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, so expect Penn State to treat him as such. While Bosa attracts double team action, Adolphus Washington should see a fair amount of one-on-one matchups, especially after the departure of former All-Big Ten defensive tackle Michael Bennett.
Behind the stout front four is a set of linebackers highly touted for their collective intensity and ferocity both against the pass and in coverage. The unit is led by former five-star prospect Raekwon McMillan, a Georgia native who held offers from just about every powerhouse program in the country as the No. 19 ranked player in the nation. He’s a tackling machine, and at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds with 4.65 speed, look for McMillan to fly all over the field as he’s done all season long.
The secondary is manned by returning starter and sophomore Eli Apple, a presence in the defensive secondary and with quite the track record thus far. He has one interception, a fumble recovery, and five passes broken up, making life tough for opposing quarterbacks. He’s flanked by safety Vonn Bell, the man whose interception of Christian Hackenberg in last year’s matchup should’ve been overturned, proving to be a turning point in a game that ended in favor of the Buckeyes. The duo highlight a loaded secondary that excels against the pass, but remain questionable in providing secondary run support.
Overall, the Buckeyes are well-rounded and strong, but are far from unconquerable. Expect Penn State to enter the Horseshoe with images from last season’s bitter defeat fresh in its collective mind, and to fight every second of every down.
We’ll see you on Saturday night.