This week we have the privilege of posing questions to two of the best Ohio State Buckeye bloggers on the internet. Special thanks go to Keith from Buckeye Commentary and Sean from The 614 for taking time to talk to us.
How good are these Buckeyes? You replaced nine guys on defense this year including those great linebackers. Do they have what it takes to run the table and win the National Championship?
Keith: At this point in the season, the #1 ranking is deserved. I think that speaks to the quality of the team. The defense is young and struggles at times but it's not because of a lack of talent. In fact, you can already see this defense growing into a pretty strong unit. To date, they're in the Top 10 in scoring defense and allow less than 300 total yards per game.
Sean: I think they have what it takes, but that's mostly because there are question marks for every team, not because they're as good as champions past. Some questions have been answered about the defense, in part because the "nine new starters" stat is a bit misleading. Most of the guys starting now have seen playing time in years past, and not just garbage time. The outside linebackers had the least experience, and it shows, as they've been shaky. If the defense continues to improve, and if our kicker, Aaron Pettrey, can be at least decent, then yes, they are good enough to win a championship.
The Buckeyes looked great in taking Texas behind the woodshed, but then they came out a little flat against Cincinnati. Do you think that was just a one game letdown or is it possible the team peaked too early? How does the team stay motivated after the Texas game all the way up to the Michigan game?
Keith: The motivation side is pretty simple, like Penn State the goal is a Conference and National Championship. Both of those goals are still attainable. I do view Cincinnati as a classic let down game and I'm not overly concerned that we've peaked early.
Sean: It was mostly a letdown, I think. I honestly don't think the team gave Cincinnati enough credit, and so they didn't really get going until they wore the Bearcats down and their lack of depth began to show. Hopefully the coaches can use this game as a warning to the team that they must be prepared week in and week out. If Cincinnati's offense wasn't so bad, this might have been a little close for comfort. But against most of the schedule, the team shouldn't have trouble staying motivated.
Do Buckeye fans have a "revenge" mentality going into this game after losing in Happy Valley last year or is this just another game on the schedule to them?
Keith: I think many do, quite honestly. I also believe that to be perfectly natural as most fans want to even the score if they lost to the same team the previous year. Also, I can tell you Ohio State doesn't view Penn State as just another game. When two tradition rich programs meet, everyone acknowledges the situation whether admitted or not.
Sean: Some certainly do. There's a bit of a movement to get people to wear scarlet to the game, as some sort of retaliation, or as an effort to outdo Penn State. So there is a group of people who are taking this game very seriously. Most people aren't quite that worked up about it, though I think it's more than another game on the schedule to just about everyone. Basically, it's a pretty big game to everyone, but it's not about revenge to everyone. It's not quite to rivalry status, but it's getting there.
Ohio State is ranked 8th in the Big Ten in rushing defense. What do you attribute this to, and are you concerned about Penn State controlling the pace of the game with their rushing game?
Keith: First and foremost, I attribute it to our schedule and the talented backs we've faced. Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe leads the country in rushing by averaging 210 yards, 40 more than #2 rusher, Adrian Peterson. Texas sports some of the most gifted backs in the nation and runs a tough to defend read-option attack. Cincy went backwards - minus 4 yards rushing for the day.
Still, rushing defense is a concern. While a good portion is the competition, we are also still adjusting to 9 new faces on defense. It's always a learning process when you have that many replacements. They tend to `think' instead of playing instinctively.
Sean: I attribute it mostly to Garrett Wolfe, Selvin Young, and Jamaal Charles. They are all shifty, quick, talented backs, which are not the sort of backs you want your new guys making their first starts against. I'm interested to see how OSU does against the Penn State rushing attack. Tony Hunt isn't the type of back Wolfe and Young are, but he's certainly leaps and bounds ahead of the nobodies carrying the ball for Cincinnati. If the defense can turn in at least a decent game against a more conventional, though talented, running back, I'll feel better about this season. If they continue to get run over, then a national championship might be out of the question.
How do you anticipate the Buckeyes will attack the Lions on offense?
Keith: We won't deviate much from what you've seen already from us. We will work Troy from the shotgun often but we will still look to establish the running game with Antonio Pittman and Chris Wells. We will naturally try shots downfield with Ted Ginn, Jr. and if too much attention is paid to him, Anthony Gonazlez will see a lot of passes his way. The Buckeye coaches greatly respect the PSU linebackers so we may use the pass to set up the run. It'll be interesting to see how it actually plays out - but I'd be shocked if we try things `out of the norm'.
Sean: Odd as it is to say about Tressel, I think this team really likes throwing the ball, so I think we'll see a lot of that. Teams so far have been respecting Troy Smith's feet too much, and all but ignoring his ability to throw the ball. If Penn State does likewise, OSU will pass a lot. If PSU seems to have paid attention to game film from this season, then I think we'll see more of the running game, especially the option that Tressel unveiled for the first time this season against Cincinnati.
Same question on defense. How will the Buckeyes try to stop Penn State?
Keith: I look for defensive coordinator Jim Heacock, to use a mix of the coverages and disguises. Much like versus Texas, Ohio State will try to confuse Morelli in not only the scheme but where the pressure is coming from. I do not see Ohio State selling out (ie: 8 or 9 in the box) to stop the run, however.
Sean: Well, OSU is a zone blitz team, so I think we'll see a lot of that. Stopping the run will be top priority, and beyond that, I think they'll try to confuse Morelli with the blitz schemes (not because I buy into that whole "Morelli can barely tie his shoes, let alone read a defense" thing, but because he's only making his fourth career start). They'll try to make Morelli beat them and try to force turnovers.
What bothers you most about this Penn State team?
Keith: For me, the big play ability from the wide receivers and punt and kick off returns is a concern. I think it'll be important for us to also attempt to neutralize Poz and the others from forcing our hand.
Sean: The defense. Do I need to explain? They're good. Real good.
On offense, I'd say Derrick Williams and the trick plays. They've been ineffective thus far, I know, but this defense has had trouble with such trickery as screens and swing passes. Who knows how they'll handle end-arounds and reverses, especially when run by a guy as fast as Williams? With any luck, they'll do just fine against them, but I don't know.
Give me your predictions for Saturday.
Keith: I like my Buckeyes: 28-16
Sean: Tony Hunt runs for 86 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown. James Laurinaitis forces a turnover of some sort. The game is relatively low-scoring. I vote 21-13.
Thanks for taking time to talk to Black Shoe Diaries. Good luck on Saturday.
Keith: Same to you. Good luck and here's to an injury free game.
Sean: Thanks for asking me. Hopefully you have a good weekend, aside from the game. I'd prefer that not go so well for you.