Everyone in Columbus, Ohio can agree, they don’t care about the Buckeyes upcoming games against Maryland in the horseshoe and in Lincoln Nebraska these next 2 weeks before their much needed bye week. Yes, the Bucks are expected to win big, but everyone in the entire college football world knows exactly what is on the brain of every player and coach in that locker room… revenge.
It can be said that the two best teams in the Big 10 East are Ohio State and Penn State. The two teams are on a collision course for a top 10 match up in Columbus come the end of October. Last year, Penn State stunned everyone when they defeated the scarlet and gray in State College, PA, 24-21, which was PSU’s “White Out” game. It was a very hostile atmosphere that the young Buckeye team couldn’t handle. Mistakes such as a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown late in that game, as well as the pass blocking, were Ohio State’s down fall.
But, this year is a different story. The game is in Columbus, where the team will be hungry to avenge themselves and take back the Big Ten crown from the Nittnay Lions. The home crowd will be ruthless, as they look to give their team the same advantage that the Penn State fans gave their team a little over a year prior. The fact that it is a home game for Ohio State is already a big advantage, but the bigger advantage is that Ohio State will be coming off of a bye week heading into the showdown, while PSU will be coming off a hard fought effort in another huge game against Michigan which should wear them down a bit.
So, the only thing the Buckeyes must do is do whatever it takes in these next two games to get as sharp as possible, as their season will hang in the balance come October 28th. The winner of that game will most likely represent the Big Ten East in the conference championship game at the end of the season with a spot in the college football playoff being the grand prize. So that begs the question, what do the Bucks need to perfect these next few weeks in order to bring their best game at the end of the month?
Physicality in the secondary
A big problem for the defense this season has been when they have gone against big body receivers and quarterbacks who can throw the ball up to those big targets (see week 1 against Indiana). They will go up against a big receiving corps against Penn State where they’ll line up DeaSean Hamilton (6’1), Juwan Johnson (6’4), and Mike Gesicki (6’6), all of which are 3 of Penn State’s four top receivers in terms of yardage this season. Heisman favorite running back Saquon Barkley is actually the leader of the club house in the receiving category. In order to slow down these big bodies, corners Damon Arnette, Denzel Ward, and Kendall Sheffield will need to work on their physicality in these coming games and weeks of practice. If they get hands on at the line of scrimmage and chip Gesicki the tight end at the line of scrimmage in order to slow them down from getting down the field, that will bode well for Ohio States Chances in the game.
Stopping the run in preparation for the bad man that is Saquon Barkley
Barkley has been a thorn in the Buckeye’s side ever since he stepped foot on campus in State College. In two games against OSU, Barkley has racked up a grand total of 293 yards, but alarmingly hasn’t scored a touchdown against Urban Meyer’s team. As it stands right now, Barkley is one of the top two, if not the top player, in the country in the Heisman Trophy race. Thus far in this young college football season, Barkley has 574 yards rushing with 4 touchdowns on the ground, while also accounting for 27 receptions for 386 yards and 2 more touchdowns out of the back field. The man is an explosive play waiting to happen in that backfield. With that being said, Ohio State must work on their run defense in these next two games. Shedding blocks on both the defensive line and making sure lineman don’t get to the second level to the linebackers on run plays will go a long way towards getting their run defense up to par when they go to face Barkley.
Don’t let the Quarterbacks get comfortable
It goes without question that Ohio State has three NFL worthy talents at the defensive end position in Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, and Nick Bosa. These guys know how to get to the quarterback that is for sure. In order to prepare for the gun slinging Trace McSorley, they have to start to get red hot. If they let McSorley sit back there with all the time in the world to throw like last year, he can win the game for Penn State and will give OSU another thing to worry about, as their main focus will be on Barkely. These next two games are a good chance for the three-headed defensive end monsters that are these pass rushers for Ohio State to perfect their craft, as they get ready to chase down McSorley in a few weeks.
Make sure the offense is figured out
During the first month of the season, the offense has taken a lot of heat. Ever since losing to Oklahoma in an embarrassing offensive effort, J.T. Barrett’s unit has looked like a smooth unit. Granted they’ve gone up against UNLV, Army, and Rutgers, but you have to play who’s on the schedule. These easier games have given the offense a chance to gel together and work on their timing. Johnnie Dixon has emerged as a deep threat down the field with his incredible speed, Benjamin Victor has shown he can be the red zone big body Barrett can throw up a jump ball to, and Paris Campbell has taken over the Curtis Samuel Swiss army knife type role in Kevin Wilson’s offense. The run game in Meyer’s offense will always be a threat and with Dobbins and Weber as a 1-2 punch, it is up to the passing attack to dot their i’s and cross their t’s in the coming games to be ready to bring their A-game when they play Penn State.
Polish the special teams
Last year, the play that turned the game was when Penn State blocked a field goal that would have put the Buckeyes up 7 with a little over 4 minutes to go. Instead of that 7 point lead, the returned block for a touchdown gave PSU a 3 point lead, which they would hold onto and end the Buckeye’s perfect season. The special teams for the scarlet and gray has been flawless this season, ranking among the top units in the nation. Urban Meyer’s squad must continue to perfect this third phase of the game as they now know that they can be the difference between walking out a winner of this game or going home a loser and their CFP hopes being shattered in the matter of 60 minutes.
With all of this being said, Urban Meyer led teams have never lost more than one game since the head honcho took the job. Meyer will have these guys prepared and ready to roll as they look to avenge the 2016 team’s defeat. These next two preparation games, the bye week, and the experience that Meyer possess will put the Bucks in a great spot heading into the October 28th show down, as long as they continue to improve the aspects of their game listed above leading up to the big match up against James Franklin’s squad.