Friday, September 5, 2014

NO. 8 BUCKEYE MUST FIND THEIR TRUE IDENTITY VS. HOKIES

COLUMBUS — Going into the season opener last weekend against Navy, the biggest question coming out of Columbus was ... what would be Ohio State's true identity?

With nine starters lost on offense — including two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Braxton Miller — those concerns would be natural for any team.

However, following their 34-17 victory over the Midshipmen at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, the biggest question going into their second game against Virginia Tech unfortunately remains the same.

"We didn't resemble what we expect to be ... " Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said after the win in Baltimore. "You miss great players, and obviously, Braxton (Miller) is a great player."

Although the Buckeyes doubled up their opponent on the scoreboard, they did so without any sort of bell cow, any indication that it was on purpose.

The offensive line looked porous, the receivers — other than one long play from senior Devin Smith (one of the two returning starters) — left much to be desired, and the running game resembled a deep cast, but lacked a leading man.

And of course, Miller's replacement, J.T. Barrett — who was making his first start since high school — was in charge of it all.

While Barrett's stats looked impressive (12-15 passing, 226 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT), he didn't show enough as a signal caller and leader to make one comfortable going forward into the 2014 season.

Meyer summed up Barrett's performance about as precise as possible ... "I thought J.T. did OK."

The real problem lies with the offensive front, according to the Buckeyes' boss.

"We wanted to open it up a little more in the first half, but we didn't, and it wasn't because of (Barrett)," Meyer said. "It was because of our offensive line.

"There's a standard set for offensive line play for many, many years. It didn't resemble an offensive line at Ohio State the first two quarters."

In order for the Buckeyes to have any chance this Saturday night in their home opener against Virginia Tech, the boys up front must play like men.

"Obviously, with the team we have coming up, we have a lot of work to do," Meyer said.

Indeed, the Buckeyes do have their work cut out, as they host a Hokies team that touted the third-ranked defense in the nation last season, and appear to be just as strong in 2014.

Powered by perhaps the best defensive secondary in the nation with cornerbacks' Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, as well as safeties' Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner, the Buckeyes' signal caller must improve upon his debut performance if the OSU hopes to keep its regular season winning streak of 25 games in tact.

But as Meyer pointed out, the offense goes as the men up front go.

Many in the 614 area code will most likely lose sleep this week thinking about that front going against Virginia Tech defensive tackle, Luther Maddy, who may be a first round pick in next year's NFL Draft.

Bottom Line

The Buckeyes' defense should be fine. Sure, they surrendered more than 400 yards to Navy, but I attribute much of that to the Midshipmen's triple-option attack. Teams just aren't used to seeing it, and in turn have issues defending it.

I did like what I witnessed from a tackling standpoint, so going against a more conventional offense like Va. Tech's should alleviate some of those defensive hiccups.

Offense is the major concern for the Buckeyes going into Saturday night's showdown with the Hokies.

The Buckeyes must try to wear down Virginia Tech with their deep backfield, and pick and choose when it comes to taking shots down field.

Although I am not confident at all in Barrett's abilities as signal caller just yet, or the offensive line's ability to keep defenders off of him, I am, however, extremely confident in Meyer's abilities as a game manager.

Lee's Prediction: OSU 23-17