The Oregon State Beavers open the 2018 football season against the Ohio State Buckeyes this Saturday on ABC. The game marks the first time that the two programs have met since the 1984 season. 34 years later, many things have changed in this world, but the Buckeyes are still one of the college football world’s perennial powerhouses and this year is no different.
To get an insider’s look at the 2018 Buckeyes and all the drama in Columbus over the last few weeks, we had the pleasure of chatting with landgrantholyland.com and their co-managing editor Matt Tamanini.
1. Ohio State starts the year off ranked #5 in the nation. How do you feel about that? Too low? Too high? Just right?
I think it’s in the right ballpark. Essentially with Wisconsin coming in at No. 4, those two spots are interchangeable considering they would theoretically meet in the Big Ten Championship game, should they make it through the regular season undefeated. As has been the case throughout Urban Meyer’s tenure in Columbus, the Buckeyes lost a significant amount of talent to the NFL last year, but also have some of the best recruiting classes in the country ready to take the now-vacant spots. However, with inexperienced players being called upon to contribute at a significant level, there are always questions as to whether they will be able to perform up to their potential, and that will be most important for Ohio State at the quarterback position, at linebacker, and in the secondary.
Dwayne Haskins (whom we’ll talk about more in a minute) is replacing the most decorated QB in Ohio State history in J.T. Barrett. They are different players in terms of their skill sets, which honestly has Buckeye fans excited. Then, the linebackers will need to replace two starters (Jerome Baker, Chris Worley) from last year’s underperforming unit, as will the defensive backs, with Denzel Ward and Damon Webb now in the NFL.
2. It can be tough to stand out amongst all the blue chip kids on that Ohio State team. Who are a few “underrated” names we should watch for on Saturday and beyond?
I’m not sure that I would say he’s underrated in terms of Buckeye fans, but a guy that will likely get a lot of attention this year is middle linebacker Tuf Borland. Over the weekend, he was named a captain as a sophomore. Because of that, he now has the ability to match Barrett as the program’s only three-time captain, should he stay through his senior season.
Anyway, the linebackers were almost certainly the weakest unit for the Buckeyes last season, however, thanks to some injuries, Borland started seeing some playing time with the first team late in his freshman season, and came up huge in four of Ohio State’s biggest games. Against Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin in the B1G Title Game, and USC in the Cotton Bowl, he combined for 30 tackles, including 18 solos.
He was always expected to start this season, but after suffering an Achilles injury in March, that was put in doubt. However, throughout summer and into fall camp, reports were that he was progressing quickly, and should be able to contribute early in the season. What that exactly meant, we still don’t know.
But, being named a captain would seem to indicate that he has won the MLB job, and perhaps could be good to go on Saturday. However, thanks to the media blackout surrounding the recent investigations, we won’t really know for sure until Saturday, unless they open practices back up before then.
3. People don’t have too high of expectations for Oregon State in this game. What’s the one thing they need to do in order to give themselves something resembling a chance?
Despite the excitement for Haskins and this talented, veteran receiving corp, if the Beavers want to stay in this game long enough to have a shot to win it late, they will have to find a way to slow down the Buckeyes’ running game. J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber are two incredibly explosive backs, but they each present their unique challenges for defenses.
Dobbins is a speed-back with the ability to make would-be tacklers miss. Weber, though his breakaway speed improved in 2017, is more of the traditional downhill runner. Last season, with Weber hampered by a wrist injury, the pair combined for 2,029 yards on the ground. With Barrett not there to eat up a ton of carries as he has done in years past, I would not be surprised if— barring injury— both running backs ended up going for over 1,000 yards this season.
Though Haskins is a different style QB than Barrett, the Buckeye offense won’t change significantly. They will still be a spread-run team, and you will still see some of the zone-read that Barrett used to his advantage throughout his career. However, I would imagine that it will more often than not evolve into a a run-pass option scenario. If the defense is consistently giving Dobbins and Weber holes, I think the Buckeye offense will be tough to stop. However, if they can force Haskins to pull the ball back and pass, especially in his first game as a starter, that would be the only opportunity to take advantage of his comparative inexperience.
Also, depending on how the coaching staff chooses to handle the new redshirt rule, you might also see true freshman Master Teague (who is competing with Tuf Borland for best name on the team). He enrolled early this winter and looked great in spring practice.
4. What are your expectations for Buckeye quarterback Dwayne Haskins this year?
I am normally an “Expect the worst, hope for the best” kind of guy, but I am sneakily pumped for Haskins. He has been described as a throw-first, dual-threat quarterback; almost a hybrid of Barrett and Caradle Jones. He has the arm strength of Jones, but with far more accuracy than “12-gauge” ever had. He also has the ability to run, when needed, but it will not be his first (or even second) option, like it was with Barrett.
Thanks to an injury to Joe Burrow (who now appears to be the starter at LSU) in last season’s fall camp, Haskins got the opportunity to be Barrett’s backup last year, and saw a lot of time, as the Buckeyes often put games away early. But, it was his performance in the comeback victory over Michigan that got most Buckeye fans excited. In relief of an injured Barrett, Haskins went 6-for-7 for 94 yards through the air, and picked up another 24 on three carries.
While not always playing with the first-team in 2017, and often being there just there to hand the ball off, Haskins had a 70.2 percent completion percentage and averaged 10 yards per attempt. I don’t know that he can keep that up for a whole season, but I would be a little surprised if he didn’t throw for at least 3,500 yards this season. And, if that does in fact happen, I would imagine that Ohio State will be breaking in a new starter at QB this time next season as well.
5. In your opinion, would it have made a difference if Urban Meyer was coaching in this particular game?
With all due respect to the Beavers, I don’t think that Meyer’s suspension will have much of an impact on this game at all. In fact, I wrote an article for LGHL last week (https://www.landgrantholyland.com/2018/8/23/17771706/urban-meyer-suspension-little-impact-on-the-field) saying that I didn’t actually think that his suspension will have much of an influence on the team’s performance for any of the three games that he will miss.
Following this Saturday’s game, Meyer can return to the team throughout the week, but just not for games. While I personally think that that is a pretty weak cop-out of a punishment, what it does is negate much of the negative impact of the suspension. However, focusing on the OSU vs. OSU game, I think that with interim head coach Ryan Day— who was slated to be calling offensive plays anyway— running the show, and former head coaches defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson supporting, I think that the Buckeyes have enough talent to win no matter who is on the sidelines.
6. Score and prediction for this game?
I hope your readers don’t hate me for this, but I’ve got Ohio State, 58-13.