Three Ways To Beat Ohio State

    They're back and maybe even more talented than last year. Are there any chinks in the Buckeyes' armor as they pursue a second straight national championship? Our Ohio State Insider Beanie Wells tells Ray Crawford the three ways he would expose Urban Meyer's club.

    August 3, 2015


    In 2009, the Florida Gators were going for immortality. 

    With 11 starters returning on defense, and Tim Tebow, Mike Pouncey and Aaron Hernandez leading the way on offense, the team that shut down Sam Bradford and Oklahoma for the national title was expected to put together one of the greatest seasons in the history of college football. 

    And it almost pulled it off. 

    But even a 12-0 regular season wasn’t enough to overcome as joyless a campaign as any great team had ever put together. 

    There was Tebow almost getting his head taken off by Kentucky – and the controversy that ensued. There were close wins over good, not great, teams that made everyone complain about why the key SEC wins weren’t more impressive. And along the way, the team acted and played tighter, and tighter, and tighter, until Alabama came in with the right attitude, the right talent and a big bag of knuckles in a 32-13 SEC championship beatdown that made Tebow cry and put Urban Meyer in the hospital. 

    2015 Ohio State has an older, wiser Urban Meyer, and now his top task for his top team is to learn from the past. 

    Have fun with this, Ohio State. 

    Because Meyer is a football coach, he’ll say all the typical things about how this year’s team hasn’t earned anything, and he’ll turn into Lou Holtz of the early 1990s going Chicken Little about how there’s no way the Buckeyes can beat some vastly inferior team, but this is the No. 1 team in college football coming into the season, and there’s no reasonable or rational argument for anyone else. 

    Of course, Meyer doesn’t want this loaded squad to relax, and he certainly won’t want it to feel any sense of entitlement, but in a long, long season like Ohio State is hoping to have, keeping the intensity through a weak first ten games – no, going to Virginia Tech and hosting Penn State and Minnesota won’t be that big a deal – will require more of an even keel and more of a business-like approach. Considering all the pressure and all the attention the team will be under – it’ll be national title or bust – it has to be able to stop and smell the roses, while also pushing to be better than the Rose Bowl. 

    It’s time for Ohio State to accept the brutally harsh fact that it’s probably better at playing college football right now than everyone else, so it needs to own it.

    Meyer will argue that the 2015 team needs to build up the swagger the 2014 squad found during the course of the season, but turning the screws to get jacked up for Maryland or Rutgers isn’t going to make that happen. The Buckeyes have to be relaxed, healthy, and rested by late November, or Michigan State just might be 2009 Alabama. 

    As the world learned last year, it’s possible to lose a game at home to a mediocre team and still win the national title. All that matters this regular season is that Ohio State has no more than one loss by the time it faces Michigan State and Michigan to close out the regular season, and then it’ll be time to turn it on. To get there, though, the team needs to be as fresh as possible. 

    Think about it this way. If Ohio State gets to the College Football Playoff national championship, it’ll have played 30 games in the span of 16 months – Urban can’t wear his guys out, because it’s all there. 

    The O line should be punishing with four starters back up front to crush and kill for Ezekiel Elliott and a deep backfield to run wild. The receiving corps has weapons, and, allegedly, the Buckeyes have a decent quarterback or three. 

    Joey Bosa, Darron Lee and Joshua Perry form the base of a pass rushing terror of a defense. The secondary will be a rock, the linebacking corps is phenomenal, the replacements are there up front, and there’s depth and young upside almost everywhere. 

    Throw in the peerless coaching staff and a 38-3 record in three years under Meyer, and for a program used to glory and winning and dominance, what’s going on right now in Columbus, and what might happen this year, could be all-timer type of amazing. 

    And the Buckeyes don’t even have Tebow under center. 

    What You Need To Know About The Offense: A lot depends on who the starting quarterback is throughout the season – it’ll take on a different look if and when Braxton Miller or J.T. Barrett are under center instead of Cardale Jones. It won’t matter – the explosion is coming each and every week. Brutally effective in every game last season except for the loss to Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes scored 42 points or more 11 times in the last 13 games finishing the year ninth in total offense, second in passing efficiency and fifth in scoring. Those numbers might seem pedestrian if this year’s offense plays up to its potential. It doesn’t matter who’s at quarterback, with a phenomenal line returning with four great starters, Ezekiel Elliott to hand off to, and a dangerous receiving corps that can stretch the field. 

    What You Need To Know About The Defense: It’s going to be every bit as good, if not better, as the defense that came up big in the playoff and shut Wisconsin down cold. As long as Raekwon McMillan can build off his 54 tackle freshman season, the linebacking corps might be the best in America with Joshua Perry a machine on one side and Darron Lee a playmaker on the other. Joey Bosa will be one of the nation’s top pass rushers when he returns from his one game suspension, and the pressure in the backfield will make life easier for a deeply talented secondary that doesn’t need any help. 

    What to watch for on offense: How much can the other running backs help out Zeke? Ezekiel Elliott went on a legendary tear over the final three games of the season with three straight 200-yard games cranking out 696 yards and eight scores against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon. But if Ohio State has to think about the possibility of a 15-game season, it has to keep the star healthy. Part of the rushing production will depend on who’s at quarterback, and part of it will be from Bri’onte Dunn, Curtis Samuel and others taking carries away. It’s not going to be a positive in any way if Elliott is getting 20+ carries on a regular basis in September. 

    What to watch for on defense: The line needs a little bit of work – but not a lot. It’s not like it’s a massive concern with Joey Bosa on the end and Adolphus Washington on the inside, but Michael Bennett – disappointing year for him and all – will be missed at tackle and a steady end has to emerge from all the young talent. The expectation is for Jalyn Homes and Tyquan Lewis to turn into sensational sophomores, and the more they can do, the less pressure has to come from the linebacking corps that knows how to get behind the line. As long as Bosa is Bosa, after he misses the Virginia Tech game, everything will be fine. 

    The team will be far better if … it gets up early and forces teams to panic. Ohio State outscored teams 182 to 83 in the first quarters of games, and if that continues, forget about it. The secondary was fantastic last season, and it should be even better this season, even when tested by teams in comeback mode. It’s a simple formula – take the lead, hand the ball off, make defenses pay for cheating up against the run, let the defense come up with takeaways against pressing offenses, win. It’s just that simple. 

    The schedule: It’s a relative walk in the park for a defending national champion. Going to Virginia Tech to start the season will be what gets everyone’s attention, but it’s not that big a problem on the college football version of Monday Night Football. Hawaii should be easy, but it’s just five days after the date with the Hokies. NIU and Western Michigan can’t be a concern for the nation’s No. 1 team.
    – Going to Illinois and hosting Minnesota – even with the problems the Gophers provided last year – aren’t that bad from the West. There’s no Nebraska or Wisconsin to deal with. 
    – There aren’t any back-to-back road games. While playing in Ann Arbor is always going to be tough, a road slate of Virginia Tech, Indiana, Rutgers, Illinois and Michigan is a breeze.
    – It’s all about the finishing kick, and getting Michigan State at home is a major break before ending with the Wolverines.
    – WATCH OUT FOR … Illinois. With Michigan State and Michigan to follow, this is just the sort of mid-November road game that can trip up a weary team. Are the Illini that good? No, but it’s all about the timing. 

    2014 Fun Stats: 
    – Third Down Conversions: Ohio State 103 for 198 (52%) – Opponents 73 for 212 (34%) 
    – Total Yards: Ohio State 7,674 – Opponents 5,136 
    – First Half Scoring: Ohio State 354 – Opponents 159 

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