MSU opens Big Ten play Saturday when the Ohio State Buckeyes come to East Lansing for the first time since 2008. Luke Zimmermann from Land-Grant Holy Land was kind enough to answer some questions about Braxton Miller, the surprisingly struggling OSU defense and Kirk Herbstreit. You can check out our preseason Q&A with him here.
1. Through four games, what has surprised you about the Buckeyes since we last talked?
I'm surprised this team's evolution from last year's hot mess has been slower than expected. Still, a new coaching staff, some new contributors, a defense that from a talent/experience sweet spot perspective isn't up to the best of the Tressel era, and maybe it was my and Ohio State fans' faults everywhere for not getting ahead of ourselves with this group.
2. We know Braxton Miller can run - second in the conference in rushing - but what else has been working for the offense this year?
In addition to immersing himself in a night-and-day different offense, Miller's making more (and better) reads and also trying to put better overall touch on his ball. In the UAB game, this couldn't have been less apparent, but it was sort of one of those afternoons where seemingly everyone was in a funk, at least for part of the contest.
3. What has been the biggest problem for the defense? It's talented group, but they're dead last in the Big Ten in total defense against some underwhelming opponents. What up with that?
How much time do you have? What do you get when you mix a paltry secondary, an underwhelming linebacking corp, and a defensive line that hasn't consistently played up their talents? A dysfunctional work-in-progress. There have been some injuries, but let's not sugar coat things. I think it's completely possible too that we all let Urban Meyer blow steam up our butts about John Simon all summer and we took him at face value on every last word. While Simon's good, he's nowhere near as good as we all wanted him so badly to be. Johnathan Hankins has been the real deal, however, but aside from some flashes of brilliance from a nasty group of freshmen who are a ways away from being every down contributors, the line hasn't shown much.
As far as the statistical reasons? Miami (Ohio) figured out Ohio State's defensive kryptonite, and it's so painfully obvious on tape that every other team has done much of the same (and done so effectively). If Michigan State can do it as well (which I think is still somewhat a valid question given what I've seen from their quarterback play), it could be another long afternoon for the Buckeyes D.
4. What are the three keys to victory for OSU?
Balance offensively, finishing tackles for a change on defense, and minimizing mistakes defensively. This team has played down to their opposition in almost every game to point, so if they come out motivated by the hostile environments and play their game, they have every ability to win the game. If they start slow, make careless mistakes, and get lost in their first environmental challenge, it could be a frustrating afternoon.
5. Given this is the Big Ten, predict who will lose and why.
This game opened as a pick 'em, and I'm inclined to think a coin toss is the only fitting way to determine a winner. Whoever wins the opening coin toss will win the game. Mark it down.
***Bonus questions: With Gameday in town, which fanbase hates Desmond Howard more? And how do Buckeye fans feel about Kirk Herbstreit these days?
Ohio State fans really, really, really, really, really, really, really hate Desmond. Aside from being a turncoat, his perpetual petty trolling and half witted anti-Ohio State conspiracy jargon he floats every time the Buckeyes are in any kind of negative PR related situation only furthers the perma-angst from the Heisman pose and nonsense like singing Hail to the Victors from on top of a closed Ohio Stadium before the 2005 Texas game (a loss mind you).
I think the vast majority of Buckeye faithful recognize Kirk Herbstreit for what he is: basically the highest profile ambassador the university has going for them. Aside from being a four-year letter winner and the possessor of not only a primo gig on the longest running, most highly regarded college football pregame show there is, he's also the A-color guy for the entire sport he covers. Non-primary college football fans who venture over in season constantly regard Herbstreit as the best at what he does and his bosses do too. The reason: confident delivery of platitudes. Anyone who's taken any broadcast journalism classes know you're supposed to talk as though you're speaking to someone who's seeing the sport for the very first time or your grandparent who isn't a sports fan but is taking it in because local team is involved (Mike Leach coaching tree devotees and Smart Football RSS subscribers don't constitute the vast majority of college football's high television ratings; shocking I know).
But of course this just turns into ammunition for the Bulletin Board Buckeyes (and those intellectualizing their arguments) by claiming this is a top down epitomization of his very intellect and demeanor as a person and that his attempts at trying too hard in the public light to appear to be objective verify once and for all that he's a virulent traitor. These are the same people who honestly believe in their hearts of hearts that ESPN has an elaborate, complicated multi-departmental business and editorial vendetta against Ohio State. Frankly, these types make all Buckeyes alumni and fans look worse, but maybe someday we'll get the truth that the burning temperatures of jet fuel wouldn't melt the steel in the Horseshoe and that Kenya-native Kirk Herbstreit must've tattooed those five players in an inside job to complete a coup d'état against Jim Tressel.
I'll definitely give the OSUminati that Herbstreit's weird, fleeting thin-skinned venture into Twitter, his abrupt departure from Columbus, and subsequent press tour didn't do him any favors, but given the circumstances, even if you think he's a meat head jock pretty boy with a microphone, he's your meat head jock pretty boy, for better or worse.
Thanks again to Luke for taking the time to answer some questions. He'll have a Q&A with me up on his site soon. Make sure you check out Land-Grant Holy Land for everything from the Buckeye perspective.