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Minnesota Gophers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes: Preview, predictions and prognostications

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When: Sat., November 7; 8:00 P.M. Eastern
Where: Columbus, OH; Ohio Stadium (104,944)
TV: ABC
All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 43-7
Last Meeting: Ohio State win 31-24
Line: Ohio State -23

Well … what do we have here? It’s a little drama mixed in with a little chaos and a pinch of uncertainty. Just when Ohio State seemed to have figure things out at the quarterback position, the quarterback position couldn’t figure things out with the law. It’s one step forward and two steps back when things should be full-steam ahead.

For Minnesota, it blundered away the opportunity to send Jerry Kill swashbuckling into the sunset on a white horse by doing some confounding things at the end of the game that only programs like Minnesota seem to do. It’s the type of effort that can have a demoralizing effect on a team searching to still get to some sort of bowl. Can the Gophers find a little something left in the tank to give the No. 3 team in the CFP rankings a fight, in the ‘Shoe, at night?

1 Burning Question: Can Cardale Jones Come to the Rescue Again?

Where have we seen this movie before? There seem to be more Cardale Jones’ sequels being churned out of the Scarlet, Gray and silver-screen than a combination of the Toy Story, Star Wars and Rocky franchises. It all comes at a very inopportune time, but if there’s one role that Jones relishes, it’s the underdog card when he’s not expected to be the guy.

Ohio State badly needs to continue its forward momentum, but a little late night drinking and driving by J.T Barrett threw a wrench in all of that. There’s just a couple more games to go before the competition level heats up big-time, and you have to wonder if it can all work in concert, and build to a CFP crescendo or not.

2 Key Stats:

— 15.1: The amount of points the OSU defense is giving up. Good for fifth in the country. What? You didn’t know that? Welcome to the club. For all the discussion around the quarterback derby and the so-called struggles on offense, the Buckeyes are very quietly showing a championship-caliber defense, and it all starts in the secondary and OSU’s second rated passing defense. And you thought things revolved around the Buckeye front-seven on defense.

— 17 seconds: It’s how many seconds the Golden Gophers wasted during the second to last play against Michigan last week — ultimately costing them the game. Building a program is all about setting a culture. Minnesota had the game won and literally ran out of time because of its own stumbling, bumbling and fumbling with the clock. The Cadillac programs seem to do the little things right, while all the others botch situations like what we saw in Minneapolis at the end of the game. The Gophers can’t let Ohio State off the hook if it has the same type of effort on Saturday.

3 Key Players:

Cardale Jones, Ohio State QB: Captain Obvious here for Hotels.com. Of course Jones is a key player. He’s stepping into a bit of a familiar situation, but one in which he was benched for Barrett, so confidence could be lacking. Minnesota’s secondary is a solid bunch and OSU will need him to make some plays through the air to loosen things up for Elliott on the ground. Twelve-gauge better come locked and loaded.

Rodney Smith, Minnesota RB: The Gophers have struggled to find any kind of positive consistency on offense this year, especially on the ground. If the OSU secondary was a credit card rewards program, there would be plenty of black-outs on air miles, meaning Smith needs to be able to get yards between the tackles where the Ohio State defense has shown some wear this year. The same lackluster production could spell a very long day on the banks of the Olentangy for a smarting Gopher program.

Braxton Miller, Ohio State WR/QB: Yeah, yeah, he’s officially listed as the backup quarterback this week (first time QB since the 2013 Orange Bowl), but Miller will line up in his customary slot-position most of the game. With the running threat of J.T. Barrett somewhat equalized by some ethyl alcohol, Miller should get in on the action with more jet-sweeps and designed direct snaps than usual. He could be another spin-move away from turning into a Twitter sensation yet again.

4 Bold Prognostications:

— Braxton Miller will throw his first TD pass of the season. Urban Meyer would have liked to have waited to dial-up Miller’s arm until one of the Michigan teams came calling, but all the J.T. Barrett shenanigans will force the coaches’ hands. Jones will be a bit off like weeks past in the passing game, and Miller will have to take a direct snap and throw down the field to spark the offense.

— Ezekiel Elliott will top 200 yards on the ground. The whole 200 yard mark isn’t really that bold for Elliott these days, but it’s still a big number. Minnesota knows how to cover-up receivers on the back-end and it’ll force things to go by way of land for Ohio State. It’ll take some time, but the O-line will wear down the Gopher defensive front and Zeke will tear into a couple of big ones in the second-half to top 200 for the second time this season, and fifth since the end of 2014.

— Minnesota will flirt with an upset for the second-straight week. The OSU offense just hasn’t hummed and purred like a well-oiled Hemi engine with Jones under center. There will be a letdown on the offensive end because of the Barrett factor and the Minnesota defense will come to play. Alas, OSU will pull away at the end for a swollen, black and blue win that’ll do it no favors in the eyes of the CFP Selection Committee.

— Mitch Leidner will rush for over 50 yards. So he’s not exactly your definition of a dual-threat QB, but the Ohio State pass rush comes fierce and hard and has shown the habit of pushing too far up-field and losing contain on the quarterback (just ask Perry Hills from Maryland). Leidner will find some running lanes when things break down, and rumble a few times right up the middle of the tackle box and have a surprisingly productive day on the ground.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: OSU 48-10 (68-17 overall; 37-47 ATS)
Dave: OSU 35-14 (69-16 overall; 44-39 ATS)
Greg: OSU 35-17 (62-23 overall; 47-36 ATS)
Matt: OSU 55-24 (68-17 overall; 50-33 ATS)
Phil: OSU 34-17 (23-9 overall; 11-18 ATS) *joined in Week 5

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Big Ten

Ohio State Makes Its Case For A Playoff Appearance – Beats Wisconsin For The Big Ten Championship

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When news broke that J.T. Barrett underwent surgery on Monday after getting injured on the sideline last Saturday in The Game by a cameraman, the first thought was that there’s no way he’s going to play.

Think again.

Barrett somehow, someway got some miracle treatment from the Ohio State training staff and wobbled his way onto the field in Lucas Oil Stadium as the starting quarterback in 2017’s version of the Big Ten Championship Game. After just six days with his date with a surgeon.

His play was understandably as mixed as noodle casserole, but he made just enough plays to will Ohio State to victory over an undefeated and No. 4 ranked Wisconsin Badger team that was looking to hoist the trophy and punch its own ticket to its first ever playoff.

Early on it looked like no contest. Ohio State’s speed on the outside looked to be too much for a stout Wisconsin defense. Both Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell did some work after the catch with two long touchdown passes of 84 yards and 77 yards.

And it wasn’t just in the passing game either. OSU freshman J.K. Dobbins gashed the top rated Wisconsin defense for 174 yards on just 17 carries (10.2 avg.). It was inevitably a game of big plays for Ohio State as it racked up 449 yards against a defense that normally averages giving up just over 230 per game.

A glaring wart for OSU though has continued to be mistakes. Once again, it almost cost the Buckeyes the game, and more than anything, kept the Badgers in the game. Barrett threw two interceptions — one for a pick six — and Mike Weber lost one on the turf. There were also some costly turnovers that either sustained Wisconsin drives, or hamstrung further scoring for the OSU offense.

It is a story to the season that could make Ohio State look foolish further down the road if it doesn’t find some way to improve the discipline in all areas.

Speaking of the Scarlet and Gray’s next hurdle, the waiting game now begins. Ohio State will undoubtedly be compared to Alabama for the fourth and final spot. It appears for all the world that Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma are locks. USC will scream for inclusion, but it’s unlikely the Trojans will come from outside the Top Ten to have a real shot. That means it all comes down to ‘Bama and Ohio State — two mainstays in the early history of this whole playoff thing.

Ohio State can boast about two wins over top ten teams, and three against top fifteen with Michigan State thrown in there, but my, oh my those ugly losses against Oklahoma at home, and an unranked Iowa team on the road. Neither game was close. On another positive note, the Buckeyes do have a conference championship, something Alabama doesn’t have.

So what about the Tide? Yeah, it has looked dominant for most of the year, but the schedule has been lighter than a grocery bag full of feathers. It’s best win? Yep, it was against a top twenty team LSU. That’s it. There are no other Top 25 wins on the resume now that Fresno State went down, and there isn’t a conference championship to tote into the CFP committee’s room.  But, it does have just one loss, and has the mystique that goes along with being Alabama.

Let the arguing, teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing commence in earnest in Tuscaloosa and Columbus.

But let’s Ohio State enjoy this one for just a night. This is a talented team, and when it’s limiting mistakes and playing to its potential, it can hang with — and beat — anyone in the country.

It might just get yet another shot to show everyone.

 

 

Phil Harrison is a contributor to Talking10.com. He is also the Featured Big Ten Writer for CollegeFootballNews.com. Follow him

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Rutgers at Ohio State Preview: Can Ohio State Keep Rolling?

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When: Sat. Sept. 30; 7:30 pm ET
Where: Piscataway, NJ; High Point Solutions Stadium (52,545)
TV: BTN
All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 3-0
Last Meeting: Ohio State won 58-0 last year
Line: Ohio State (-28.5)

Ohio State appears to be on a roll after the Oklahoma fiasco, but the level of opponent is nowhere near where it needs to be to really get a gauge on how far the offense has come. Unfortunately, that doesn’t figure to be the case this week either.

Let’s call it what it is. Rutgers is out-manned and outmatched against a deeper and more athletic Ohio State team that’s out to unleash fire and brimstone to try and get back into the College Football Playoff discussion. The Scarlet Knights are just the next plate of butter to cut through.

Or are they? At times this season, Rutgers has actually looked like a real-live, American college football team. Washington came into Piscataway and had to break more than a sweat to escape the mystery of the night in week one. Since then though, the Rutgers team has looked like a team resigned to its fate to some degree.

On the other hand, the Buckeyes have looked dynamic with the Big Ten’s leading rusher, a senior quarterback that has all the leadership qualities you’d want, and an explosive playmaker at the hybrid position, Parris Campbell. On defense, there’s been some things to clean up at linebacker and on the back-end with pass defense, but the D-line is as talented as any in the country.

Last year Ohio State administered a public flogging to the Scarlet Knights in Columbus, but you can expect it to be a closer contest in 2017. But how close remains to be seen.

1 Burning Question: How far has Rutgers come from last year?

There’s not a lot to learn from a 58-0 beat down. In fact, most coaches will take the tape of a game like that and chew it up, spit it out and put in the rear-view mirror. All indications point to head coach Chris Ash making strides with this program, but how much remains to be seen against the top of the league.

Ohio State provides that true indicator, and while nobody expects it to be 58-0 again, we’ll want to all see how the athletic gap has been closed. It’s probably too much to ask for a tight affair here in High Point Solutions Stadium, but being more competitive throughout is a statement that must be made for the team to continue to climb the staircase set before it.

2 Key Stats:

520: That’s how many rushing yards freshman sensation running back J.K Dobbins has through the first four games for Ohio State.

It’s Dobbins, not Saquon Barkley that leads the league in rushing — despite all the hoopla. He’s just a freshman, but the 5-10, 208 lb. freshman has quick feet, explosiveness through the hole, and enough strength as a youngster to be a three-year wonder at the least in Columbus. OSU will look to continue the development of the passing game, but look for Dobbins to get plenty of touches again. It may not be as many as previous weeks with Mike Weber apparently back in the fold, but anyone watching this team knows which back is the more dangerous of the two.

163.5: It’s the amount of passing yards per game for Rutgers in 2017.

That’s not going to get it done, especially against an Ohio State team that is tough to run through. That D-line that is so deep and talented will wreak havoc on a team that can’t throw the ball. If there’s good news for Rutgers, it’s that Ohio State’s pass defense is ranked 80th in the country. And that stat got a boost from playing two straight run-heavy teams in back-to-back weeks. If QB Kyle Bolin can get time to throw, there should be some opportunities through the air.

3 Key Players:

Kyle Bolin, QB (Rutgers): It’s already been mentioned, but for Rutgers to have any shot at this thing, Bolin has to play the game of his life and make some plays down field. There’s just not going to be that much room to run against Ohio State, so scoring points is going to be an effort through the air. OSU will score. The Scarlet Knights have to find a way to keep up, and the best bet on that front is with Bolin’s arm.

Janarion Grant, WR (Rutgers): Will he suit up or not? If he does, how effective will the senior playmaking wide-receiver/kick returner be? Grant has yet to be cleared medically at the time of this preview because of headaches experienced after taking a shot to the head against Morgan State. He’s the one guy that measures up athletically with the OSU defense and can make the explosive plays needed to keep it close. Rutgers has already been offensively challenged this year and it gets worse without him on the field.

Parris Campbell, WR (Ohio State): The Buckeyes will want to continue the reps through the air, as long as the Scarlet Knights allow them to. That means the hybrid position with the biggest threat to take it the distance will see plenty of action. Campbell has had a bit of an issue snatching the ball out of the air at times this year, but when he does and turns up field, he can be a handful. He’s also leading the Big Ten in kick returns, so he could flip the field in favor of Ohio State at any time.

Prediction:

Ohio State 38, Rutgers 17

There’s just not enough talent for the Scarlet Knights to hang in there — not yet anyway. Head coach Chris Ash continues the molding of this program in just his second year, so it’s still too early to expect a shocker. It won’t be the blitzkrieg that happened last year in Columbus, but OSU just has too many weapons for this to be close for too long. The Buckeyes win by three touchdowns.

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3 Takeaways from Ohio State Beating Indiana 49-21

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It wasn’t always pretty, and there were times in the first half where many OSU fans were triggered with visions of a paw print on the side of the helmet, but the Buckeyes were able to get it done. The stat lines will look good in the morning with a cup of coffee, and all in all it’s a decent start to the season for a team with high expectations again. Here are three takeaways from OSU’s defeat of Indiana in its first game of the college football season.

The Passing Game is Still a Work in Progress

If you were drinking from the cup of eternal optimism that was flowing like milk and honey out of Columbus during camp, you were likely expecting J.T. Barrett to shoot lightning bolts out of his ars and drop dimes all over the field. That didn’t happen — especially in the first half.

In fact, the bulk of the thirty minutes looked more like the Ohio State that got run over by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl last year, than a new and improved version of the Scarlet and Gray passing machine we’ve all heard about. Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson were brought to Columbus to get the J.T. Barrett 2.0 model up and functional with a green receiving corps, but it just wasn’t there in the first half.

Sure some plays were made in the second half, but there’s still signs of smoldering smoke with this passing attack that we saw last year. You have to expect some development, so at least there’s hope that the second half was more of what we’ll see than the pedestrian first half.

J.K. Dobbins is a Stud

Mike Weber who?

True freshman J.K. Dobbins got the start because of a hamstring injury Weber was still nursing, and Ohio State might have just stumbled across its next big star. I don’t know how else to say this other than Dobbins gives the Buckeyes more at running back than Weber does. And that’s not taking anything away from No. 25.

Look, I know the incumbent starter went over 1,000 yards last year as a freshman, but you watched the same game I did. Dobbins has better breakaway ability and can make people miss in the open field more than Weber can ever dream of doing. On top of that, the kid came out of the box ready for college football with uncanny strength for a freshman. All the kid did was break the all-time freshman single-game rushing record at Ohio State by going for 181 yards on 29 carries.

Now the coaching staff has to figure out how to handle this going forward.

The Buckeyes Have a Leaky Secondary

When it’s all said and done, I think we’re going to see that the Hoosier passing attack is fairly prolific this year, but boy does OSU miss the guys it lost last year via the NFL draft. Time and time again, Indiana QB Richard Lagow went with back-shoulder throws on the outside with man coverage, and time and time again Ohio State was outmatched.

In the end, the coaching staff finally got wise and bracketed safeties over to help out the corners, but I feel as though it’s time for a public service announcement here. Next week, Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma come calling in the Horseshoe and there’s a good chance they’ll fire up the film on this one. There’s also a better than good chance it has the personnel to exploit the weakness on the back-end more than what Indiana did.

And things don’t end there. After the Sooners, Penn State’s Trace McSorley and company will also get a shot at testing out this rebuilt secondary. The DBs have to play better as a unit if OSU has designs of crashing the College Football Party again.

 

***

Phil Harrison is a contributor to Talking10 and the featured Big Ten writer for Collegefootballnews.com. You can get his analysis and opinion all year long on Talking10.com. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB

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Buckeyes Hockey

2017 NCAA Hockey Tournament: A Big Ten Primer

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The creation of the Big Ten hockey conference shook collegiate hockey to its core. Some believed the league would be too top-heavy and others believed it would ultimately kill the sport.

If the 2016-17 season has taught us anything, it is that it appears Big Ten hockey is alive and well. Three teams are in the 2017 NCAA tournament, including the once upstart Penn State Nittany Lions.

Penn State earned their way in thanks to a victory in the Big Ten tournament finale, one that PSU didn’t necessarily have to win to get in, but one that made their tournament appearance a lock.

As the tournament draws near, let’s take a look at the details for the three Big Ten teams in the tournament.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Seed: No. 1 seed in Northeast Regional (No. 4 overall seed)
1st Round Matchup: vs. Notre Dame
When: Saturday, March 25; 3:30p.m. ET
TV/Streaming: ESPNU/watchESPN

Other Teams in Regional: Cornell and UMass Lowell
Regional Championship: Sunday, March 26; 3:30p.m. ET (ESPNU/watchESPN)

You would think the Big Ten regular season champion would get some more love. However, off to New Hampshire are the Gophers. No matter, because there isn’t a more dedicated group of hockey fans in the country (sorry, not sorry, North Dakota). There’s also the fact that Minnesota is the last of the No. 1 seeds in the tournament. You aren’t going to get your choice of places to play in that scenario.

That said, the Gophers are also in the second-most loaded regional in the tournament. Blue blood names like Notre Dame and Cornell is bad enough, but UMass Lowell are quickly becoming a powerhouse and a mainstay in the NCAA tournament over the past 6-7 years.

Getting out of this group likely makes the winner a favorite to take home the national championship.

As for the Gophers’ chances, well they haven’t seen any of the teams in its regional yet this season. They are 7-4-1 against fellow NCAA tournament teams though, while first round opponent Notre Dame is just 7-6-1 and come out of the equally loaded Hockey East. However, the Golden Domers come in to the tournament having gone 5-1-2 over the last 11 games of the regular season before dropping a game to UMass Lowell in the Hockey East semi-finals.

It will also be a matchup of future Big Ten teams, and one that will likely come down style of play. Minnesota and Notre Dame are both averaging over three goals a game and come in with top 25 defenses as well. Something is going to have to give and it could be the most intriguing of the first round matchups in this year’s tournament.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Seed: No. 4 in West Regional
1st Round Matchup: vs. No. 1 Minnesota Duluth (25-6-7 overall record)
When: Friday, March 24; 6:30p.m.
Where: Fargo, North Dakota; Scheels Arena
TV/Streaming: ESPNU/watchESPN

Other Teams in Regional: Boston University vs. North Dakota
Regional Championship: Saturday, March 25, 6 p.m. ET, ESPNU/watchESPN

When you are one of the last at-large bids, draws like Ohio State got are what will happen. Being unable to play in Cincinnati was a big blow, but there wasn’t a whole lot of choice for the selection committee.

As a result, the Buckeyes are off to the hostile confines in Fargo, where they must face UMD. Get past that and there’s a likely date with home-state UND in the following round. To say the deck is stacked against the Buckeyes in this regional isn’t an understatement.

Minnesota-Duluth is battle-tested this season, winning a rough NCHC tournament title and coming in at No. 3 in the latest USCHO.com national poll. Oh, and that NCHC title? It came over fellow West regional squad North Dakota.

Ohio State loves to bang and loves to score goals, but this is going to be a tough regional to get through. In fact, it is arguably the toughest quartet to predict a winner out of.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Seed: No. 3 seed in Midwest Regional
1st Round Matchup: vs. No. 2 seed Union
When: Saturday, March 25; 4:30p.m. ET
TV/Streaming: ESPN3

Other Teams in Regional: Denver and Michigan Tech
Regional Championship: Sunday, March 26; 6p.m. ET (ESPNU/watchESPN)

Penn State didn’t need the Big Ten tournament title win, but it got it. Sure, it took two games of double-overtime to achieve it, but here are the Nittany Lions as Big Ten title holders in the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.

Unfortunately it will happen in a regional with the No. 1 overall seed and against a team that historically hasn’t been kind to the Nittany Lions. Union is 4-0-0 all-time against Penn State, but they haven’t met since the 2013-14 season.

Let’s just say the Nittany Lions are no longer a building program like they were back then, while Union is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since winning the national championship that same season.

Penn State comes in to this tournament as one of the best offensive teams in the country. The team is tied for second nationally, averaging 3.97 goals per game. Defensively the team is just 22nd and gives up 2.68 goals per game as well. Union features a Hoby Baker Award finalist in Mike Vecchione, and he too can score — notching 29 goals alone this season.

Doubting the upstarts has been a bad idea most of this season, but this is one of the harshest spots the Nittany Lions could find themselves in. Can they make a run like they did last weekend and rep the Big Ten in Chicago for the Frozen Four? That certainly will be interesting.

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