Know Thy Opponent 2011: Ohio State Buckeyes

COLUMBUS OH - OCTOBER 23: Dan Herron #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes is facemasked by Logan Link #35 of the Purdue Boilermakers in the first half at Ohio Stadium on October 23 2010 in Columbus Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

I honestly do not know what to expect out of Ohio State this season. On the one hand, they have a roster full of top-notch players that are used to winning. Even if they receive a slap on the wrist from the NCAA later this month they are still going to be a solid team. On the other hand, they have an unproven quarterback running an offense that can occasionally stagnate and they face a schedule of teams smelling blood in the water. They also lost a coach that, despite anything he is accused of off the field, is unquestionably one of the best on the field.

I could see this team having as many as five losses by the time they play us because of all the distractions, or they could be undefeated because they still have a hugely talented roster. Since losing to us in 2009 they have lost exactly once. That's an 18-1 run since October 17, 2011. You cannot discount the confidence that builds in the returning players.

2009 Record: 12-1, 7-1 Big Ten (Big Ten Champions)

Bowl Result: won Sugar Bowl 31-26 over Arkansas

Blog Representation: Buckeye Battle Cry, Eleven Warriors, Men of Scarlet & Gray, Along the Olentangy

Series with Purdue: Ohio State leads 38-13-2

Last Purdue win: 10/17/09 at Purdue 26-18

Last Ohio State win: 10/23/10 at Ohio State 49-0

Last Season for the Buckeyes:

The whole "vacated wins" tradition in the NCAA is the biggest load of horse crap out there. We all know what went on last year. They won yet another Big Ten title and beat up on a lot of teams in the process. One of those teams was us. When we lost to them last year I suggested that we burn the tape because we could see nothing good out of a 49-0 beatdown.

About the only good thing that can come out of that loss is that the players themselves are likely embarrassed at what happened. Ohio State came in with an attitude because they were coming off a loss to Wisconsin and they remembered losing to us the previous season. Now we need to have a little attitude to avenge an embarrassing defeat.

A lot about this game will depend on a few things. First, what will the NCAA have to say about Ohio State and their postseason eligibility? Second, What will difficult road games at Miami, Nebraska, and home games against Michigan State and Wisconsin do to this team? Third, how will Luke Fickell, a man that handled the media on Media Days like he was a terrified quote-spouting robot, coach this team? Will he seek his own identity or will he go ultimate Tressel-ball and trust a defense that gave up 10 points or less in six games last year?

Ohio State Offense:

Terrelle Pryor, who was once the savior of the Ohio State football program, is now a name reviled in Columbus. Clearly he was the godfather behind the tattoos for memorabilia scandal. He was the mastermind behind getting the beloved Jim Tressel to step down. In fact, in his free time I believe Mark Dantonio will personally investigate Pryor for the fall of his "Tragic Hero" Tressel.

In place of "the name that shall not be spoken of in Columbus" the Buckeyes have a pair of options. Joe Bauserman is the perfect quarterback for Tressel-ball. He is the senior "game-manager" quarterback in the Craig Krenzel/Todd Boeckman mold. I prefer to think of him as having some Joey Elliott potential. He has played sparingly in his first three seasons, completing 25 of 47 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns one interception. He has 27 total rushing yards on 20 attempts, so he is far from the running threat that Pryor was. He has the Elliott potential from being a guy that has patiently waited for his time to come.

The other option is a Pryor-esque true freshman named Braxton Miller. Pryor-esque might be a bit premature, as he is probably closer to Troy Smith if you're looking for a comparison. He's definitely a threat as a runner, but his passing threat with 15 TD's against four interceptions as  senior in high school.

If you want 100 words on the quarterback situation that says exactly nothing, here is what Fickell had to say on media day:

That's going to be an interesting question. Again, I think our focus is going to be on a competitive nature. We have four obviously very capable guys, one being maybe a 25-year-old senior and one being an 18-year-old freshman and everywhere in between. We refer to all of this them as being young. We're going to put them in situations where we think they can be successful. Each one is a little bit different in his own right. As we move along in camp, really focus on who we think gives us the best opportunity to win as a team.

The winner of the quarterback battle will have DeVier Posey back by the time Ohio State visits Purdue. Posey will serve his suspension to start the 2011 season, but he returns after catching 53 passes for 848 yards and seven touchdowns. The loss of Dane Sanzenbacher to the NFL will hurt, but tight end Jake Stoneburner (21-222-2) is expected to have a solid season. Corey Brown (8-105-1) and a host of others could see some time at receiver. Posey and Stoneburner are the only proven talents so far.

Likely Ohio State will go to the running game a lot, and Dan Herron (1,155 yards, 16 TD's) will be well-rested after also serving a suspension to start the year. If anything, the suspension will be beneficial because it means they can develop a solid backup for Herron. Jaamal Berry (266-1) and Rod Smith will probably be the top two backs until Herron returns.

Like Wisconsin, we know the offensive line is going to feature a bunch of big, talented guys that have been home-grown within the program. Mike Adams at left tackle is another one of the suspended players and is an All-America level talent. Mike Brewster at center is another All-American that will be a rock in the middle. J.B. Shugarts has started 23 games at right tackle. Both guard spots are up for grabs though. One thing to consider is that we have always done well at getting to the quarterback against their line. Kawann Short was part of the big game two years ago. Gerald Gooden, Bruce Gaston, and new starter X will need to help replicate that performance.

Ohio State Defense:

Last year the Ohio State defense pitched basically a perfect game against us. Two years ago we turned the ball over a lot, but were saved by a solid defensive effort by our secondary and Ryan Kerrigan going apeshit. The key for us beating Ohio State is to have our front four control he line like they did in 2009 and allow the linebackers to help in the passing game. If that happens, we simply need to make headway against one of the best defenses in the nation.

Sadly, if you take away the 2009 game we have not scored a competitive offensive touchdown in the other three meetings since 2007. The only TD we had was a very late Jeff Lindsay score to avoid a shutout in 2007. Natahn Williams should start things up front after getting 4.5 sacks and 46 tackles last year. John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, and Adam Bellamy look to be the other starters, but losing a couple of defensive tackles. Solomon Thomas is also one of the suspended players, but he'll be back by this game. The defensive line was third in the country against the run.

What would Ohio State be without killer linebackers? 5-star recruit Curtis Grant could play immediately, but only Andrew Sweat is the only returning starter. Etienne Sabino could emerge as a starter after redshirting last year. Tyler Moeller and Jonathan Newsome are also possible starters. This group doesn't have a ton of experience, but this is Ohio State. They are always good on defense.

The secondary only has one returning starter in Orhian Johnson, who had 50 tackles to go with an interception. He will probably take over at strong safety with Jamie Wood becoming the free safety. C.J. Barnett, who is returning from a knee injury, could also factor in at safety. OSU must replace both corners with Dionte Allen and Dominic Clarke likely getting the first crack at the open jobs.

I am encouraged that much of the defense is being replaced. If our offense is clicking again that could be beneficial by this point in the season. Of course, on the other side of the ledger, Ohio State will have played plenty of games together by this point. They rarely replace starters with scrubs too. All of these guys are very, very talented players.

Ohio State Specials Teams:

Ohio State gets a new kicker with Carson Wiggs' range with Drew Basil taking over for Devin Barclay. Basil tried two long attempts last season, but both were blocked. Ben Buchanan is a pretty average punter at 41 yards per game.

In the return game Ohio State struggled. The kick return unit gave up two scores and the punt return unit gave up over 10 yards per return and another score. Jamaal Berry got a little back with over 25 yards per return on kickoffs. Jordan Hall will probably be on the other side of Berry on kicks and he is a decent punt returner as well.

Game Outlook:

On paper, this game always looks like it should be a huge blowout in Ohio State's favor. Strangely, we manage to keep this game close a lot of times. We have our longest Big Ten losing streak in Ohio Stadium (an 0-fer since 1988), but in Ross-Ade we have won three of the past five games. It would have been four of five if not for Holy Buckeye. For whatever reason we play them well in West Lafayette. I can't explain it.

I have a strange feeling about this game and this Buckeye team. There have been way too many distractions this offseason and Fickell has the unenviable position of taking over for a legend. It's unlikely he gets to keep the permanent job too. The tools are there for them to be another conservative team on offense with a killer defense, but how will things turn out without Tressel?

Prediction:

I don't think I am bold enough to predict a victory, but I think this will be a much closer game than people thing. In fact, I am willing to put it in the realm of being a toss-up game. Our defense can, and should be quite successful against them as long as we can slow down the running game. That just leaves our offense needing to produce against them. You know what, in weighing those factors, I think I'll call it the ultimate "good feeling" game and go for the upset right now because Herron and Posey are the only offensive players that scare. Posey can be erased by Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen. Purdue 13, Ohio State 10.

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