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The Only Questions: Q&A with Ohio State

Get to Know the Buckeyes

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

EAST LANSING — Last year the Buckeyes blew the Spartans out in their house, 48-3. It was quite the embarrassment and kept MSU from possibly going to Indy.

Not much has changed — winning out and beating Ohio State almost guarantees Michigan State will be getting another Rose Bowl appearance. Spartan fans know this is when Mark Dantonio is at his very best.

He’s compiled a 29-11 record (.725) in the month of November and will look to keep it going when the Buckeyes march into East Lansing.

Today, we’ve brought in Matt Tamanini, from Land-Grant Holy Land to tell us everything we need to know about The Ohio State Buckeyes.

Ohio State was engulfed in a scandal of sorts for most of the month of August. The Zach Smith situation clearly needed to be addressed, which put the Buckeyes and Urban Meyer in a bad spot as it pertained to his knowledge of the allegations and how involved he truly was. How did this affect the fan base? Are their people who may have altered views of Meyer at this point? Did you agree with the three game suspension?

The entire Urban Meyer/Zach Smith fiasco really divided the Ohio State fanbase, and — though the discussion has faded for the time being — still does in a lot of ways. Like with practically any sensitive issue in this climate, there were a multitude of opinions, which often turned heated; including a whole host of crazy conspiracy theories. I feel like practically everybody’s had their opinion changed about Urban Meyer because of this situation. For the diehard fans, it has only reinforced him as a martyr-like figure suffering the slings and arrows of an outrageously biased media. For those that saw Meyer as complicit in an abuse coverup, the way that he handled it – with his lack of contrition and numerous Notes app apologies – forced their respect level for him to plummet.

In terms of the three-game suspension, every single aspect of the investigation was mishandled, so it’s no surprise that the conclusion was as well. I, personally, have serious reservations about the veracity of the investigation, and believe that ultimately it did what it was actually designed to do; give Ohio State just cause to suspend Meyer for something other than condoning domestic violence, but not something serious enough to rise to the level of termination. Instead, the independent working group running the investigation said that Meyer “clearly” is against domestic violence, but that he did not live up to his responsibilities in managing his staff. So, the Board of Trustees suspended him for three games.

Clearly I don’t know what happened between Zach and Courtney Smith – I certainly have my opinion though – but either way, there is no doubt that Meyer allowed an individual to continue working with Ohio players, despite knowing that he at least had significant anger and alcohol issues, but made no substantive demands on the coach to seek treatment or modify his behavior. In my opinion, that is a distinct dereliction of duty, and one that the highest paid state employee in Ohio should never be allowed to make.

So, while I am not privy to enough of the facts to say whether Meyer should have been fired or not, I think a three-game suspension was little more than disingenuous lip service meant to appease the concerned portions of the fandom without actually levying a significant punishment to the Hall of Fame coach.

As we turn our heads towards football, Ohio State is one of the best (or top) teams in the nation. This is by no means out of the ordinary. However, they took a brutal loss on the road against Purdue, nearly allowing 50 points, and have looked out of sorts in the past few weeks. Where do you see this team heading the rest of the year? Do the Buckeyes still control their own destiny and are the playoffs still a realistic goal?

With all due respect, I don’t know that I agree with saying that Ohio State is one of the best teams in the nation. They are certainly one of the most talent-laden teams in the country, and they are 7-1 and in the top-10, but there hasn’t been a single game this year, including the TCU and Penn State victories, in which I looked at them and said, “Wow, this is a great football team.”

Personally, I think that this is an incredibly talented team that has been undermined by a coaching staff that has failed to adjust to a different style of team than it has had in recent seasons. We saw some changes in scheme in last week’s Nebraska game, but they very well might be too little, too late.

In terms of the College Football Playoff, certainly it is a realistic goal from the team’s perspective. However, I don’t know that I would say that even if they win out that they are 100% guaranteed to get in. But, until this team shows the ability to stop offenses from picking up chunk play after chunk play, I just have a hard time believing that they are a legitimate championship level team, be it conference or national.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

In recent history, this game has seemed to creep up on MSU or OSU and be extremely important to their overall success for the rest of a particular season. Mark Dantonio said “When we play them, there’s always a lot on the line.” He mentioned their battles in 2013 and 2015 where the Spartans disrupted otherwise great seasons from the Buckeyes. Is there any added pressure coming to East Lansing knowing another loss may take them out of the running for the Big Ten East?

Playing the Spartans is always a terrifying test for the Buckeyes. Ohio State fans know firsthand what a fantastic defensive mind Dantonio is, so there is never a doubt that playing MSU is going to result in a struggle. However, OSU does still have most of their preseason goals still on the table, but with obviously no room for error.

I am sure that the coaches have made clear to the players how challenging it is to play in East Lansing, but at this point, I can’t imagine that there is any pressure added that wasn’t already there. It’s simple for the Buckeyes, win out and you go to Indianapolis with a chance to earn a spot in the CFP. Stumble along the way again, and it’s another insanely talented team on the outside, looking in.

Last week, Ohio State’s run game was back on track with J.K. Dobbins looking explosive when matched up against the Nebraska defense. At any rate, it’s their best performance on the ground since week one. It’s understandable to think the Buckeyes want to remain a balanced offense, but the Spartans are still boasting the best rushing defense in the nation. How does Ohio State plan on responding if they are subject to being one dimensional on Saturday?

Since arriving in Columbus, Meyer has preached balance on offense, and there was an obvious change when he returned to the sideline in Week 4 to attempt to incorporate the running game more after Dwayne Haskins had shown what a threat he was through the air in the first three games.

In my opinion, Dobbins and Mike Weber are arguably the best running back duo at Ohio State in 25 years, but the problem has been the offensive line’s ability to run block. They have done a comparatively better job in pass protection, which has allowed Haskins to have an all-time great season, but the push from the line has been nearly non-existent on rushes all year, and holes have been incredibly hard to come by.

In fairness, that has often been because of the defensive strategy of opponents. Most teams have chosen to send as much pressure as possible against OSU, likely for two reasons. One, it limits the o-line’s ability to open holes, and two, because it forces Haskins to get rid of the ball more quickly, limiting his ability to get the ball downfield to the best OSU receiving corp in recent memory.

I still anticipate that Meyer and offensive coordinators Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson will try to establish the run, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more of a jumbo set called upon to do it, especially in the red zone. Look for three-tight end sets featuring guard Wyatt Davis moving to TE to serve as a blocker.

Despite new sets and moving away from the zone-read style RPOs, this game (as nearly all have this season) will fall on the shoulders of Haskins. If he even approaches his season average in passing yards, he will set the Ohio State single-season passing record with at least three games left to play. At this point, while balance is obviously good, there’s no reason to try and force a square peg into a football shaped hole; OSU will be best served to use the run game as a change of pace to keep defenses honest when sending the house against Haskins.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

I assume your answer to the question above had something to do with Dwayne Haskins. For those living under a rock, he’s one of the most dynamic players in all of college football. The OSU quarterback has thrown for 3,053 yards, 32 touchdowns, and six picks. What do you expect out of him when facing the Spartan secondary?

As I alluded to before, I think that a lot will depend on the philosophy that Dantonio brings into the game. If the Spartan defense brings pressure, I think that you will see a whole host of quick passes – mostly screens, but some slants, shovel passes, and skinny posts as well. If MSU decides to drop back into coverage and almost dare the Buckeyes to run the ball, I think you will see them take advantage of that, but they will still give Haskins plenty of opportunities to get the ball to his receivers downfield.

I would imagine that the former is much more likely to happen, which means that Haskins will have to deal with rushers in his face, which has been the biggest bugaboo in his game so far this year. How he handles the MSU pressure will likely spell the difference in Ohio State’s ability to score.

Prediction time: Final score? Who wins? Why?

For the first time all season, I am not going to predict an Ohio State victory. While I know that Michigan State’s offense isn’t exactly prolific this year, I think that they match up well with the Buckeyes’ porous defense. Brian Lewerke won’t need to complete 75 percent of his passes, he just needs to have a few key completions go for big plays to get the job done. I also think that Connor Heyward is the type of back that can give Ohio State’s poor tackling linebackers tons of problems. So, while I don’t like it, and will obviously be very happy if I end up being wrong, I am going to take the Spartans 28-27.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports