In April, I had the honor of attending a charity banquet in Columbus, Ohio to benefit Team Focus, an organization devoted to providing mentorship to young men who do not have father figures in their lives. The banquet honored former Ohio State football coach Earle Bruce, but the headline speaker was current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
Meyer wowed the crowd with his passion, humor, and anecdotes. He spoke at length about Ohio State's undefeated season in 2012 and the Buckeyes' journey from being a mediocre football team at the start of the season to becoming the champion of the Big Ten Leaders Division. The part of Meyer's speech that caught the most attention for me was (naturally) when he discussed last September's game against Cal. Meyer recalled how the Buckeyes escaped a hard fought battle and won a game that the Bears could have easily won. After that game, said Meyer, it was clear to him that his Ohio State squad "was not a good football team." The Cal game was the wake-up call that something needed fixing down by the banks of the mighty Olentangy River.
And fix things they did. Ohio State completed an undefeated season in 2012 and goes into 2013 as the favorite to win the Big Ten and a national championship contender. The road to a possible national championship for Ohio State will go through Berkeley this season, as the Buckeyes and new-look Bears will tangle on September 14 at Memorial Stadium in the rematch of last season's nail biter. Today, we take a post-spring look at Cal's toughest non-conference opponent, with thanks to Ted Glover of Land-Grant Holy Land for providing answers to CGB's questions.
1. What were the core questions that you had hoped would be answered by Spring Practice? Were conclusions reached?
Ted Glover: The two questions I had were one each for the defense and offense. On offense, it was the continued development of Braxton Miller. Will he become a quarterback who's a freakish athlete, or an athlete playing the QB position? So far, it appears to be the former. His mechanics looked much improved, as did his accuracy. He also had more touch on his deep throws, and just seemed more comfortable and in command of the offense. On defense, six of the seven starters from last year are gone. The defensive line should be okay, but middle linebacker is a big question. Can Curtis Grant finally step up and become a big time college MLB? If the Spring Game is any indication, yes. He had 10 tackles, broke up a couple passes, and it looks like he might finally be realizing the potential that caused him to be ranked the #1 LB prospect in America coming out of high school in 2010.
2. Any major style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?
Ted Glover: No. I do expect to see OSU going deeper into their offensive playbook than they did last year, as Miller, Devin Smith, and Corey 'Philly' Brown all seemed to improve between the end of last season an now. And with Miller a more polished QB he shouldn't have to rely on his legs as much as he did in 2012.
3. What players emerged on offense? On defense?
Ted Glover: If we're just using the Spring Game as a snapshot, I would have to go with WR Michael Thomas and the defensive end duo of Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence, with early enrollee freshman Eli Apple a close third. Thomas had 7 catches for 70 yards and a TD, but he was also the Spring Game head turner in 2012, and had a lackluster season, so I'm going to wait to get excited about him. But Spence and Washington? They're legit, and they are going to wreak havoc in 2013. They are both fast, strong, and smart football players, and offensive coordinators are going to have fits trying to develop a game plan to try and neutralize their perimeter rush.
4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
Ted Glover: There are six new starters on defense, and although there is talent there, I worry that their inexperience might cost them a game early. Also, special teams last year was pretty terrible, and it didn't look very good in the Spring Game. K Drew Basil struggled last year, and it carried over to the spring. The Buckeyes also uncharacteristically gave up a rash of blocked kicks and punts, and if they don't get that fixed, it will cost them a game in 2013.
5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
Ted Glover: Contender. I think Ohio State is head and shoulders above the rest of the Big Ten, and if they can navigate their non-con, I expect them to be undefeated and playing for the national championship.
6. Any frosh you can't wait to get on campus?
Ted Glover: Yeah, several. RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Jalin Marshall, and WR James Clark on offense are those shifty, fast guys that Meyer loves to have and get the ball into their hands. With current guys Devin Smith and Philly Brown, you get excited thinking about how many potential playmakers OSU could have on the field at the same time.
On defense, LB Mike Mitchell, S Vonn Bell, and DE Joey Bosa are all ranked in the top 5 at their position, and they all seem like ballhawking playmakers.
7. Who will you miss the most from last season? Who will be stepping up
to fulfill those shoes?
Ted Glover: John Simon. Simon was probably my favorite player, and had leadership abilities that will be difficult to replicate. On the field the Bucks should be okay with Washington and Spence, but it will be interesting to see who will be the new emotional leader of the defense. My money is on Ryan Shazier, but time will tell.
8. Any particular match-up/rivalry you are looking forward to this Fall?
Ted Glover: Always That Team Up North. Always. And back to back games with Wisconsin and at Northwestern, where Pat Fitzgerald is really doing a great job, is going to be a tough test for OSU. As to the non-con, Cal will be a tough game. They played OSU score for score in C-bus last year, and now OSU has to go on the road, with a new coach and scheme to deal with.
9. What are the specific injury concerns coming out of this spring?
Ted Glover: Right now, I'm not too concerned. Backup offensive lineman Antonio Underwood suffered a season-ending ACL tear, and that's never good, but that's been about it. His injury hurts the o-line depth, but as long as that's the only injury there, they should be able to weather that storm.
10. Based on what you've seen, who is ready to take a major leap this fall?
Ted Glover: Devin Smith, WR. He had a good year last year, but like the rest of the passing game, was very inconsistent. I think he's going to blow up in 2013.
11. Whom do you want to punch in the face?
Ted Glover: Mark May.
12. The Buckeyes struggled to put away several mediocre opponents last season (Cal, UAB, Indiana, Purdue). Looking back, are you more concerned by their struggles of comforted by the fact that the managed to pull out the win in each game?
Ted Glover: I'll always take a win, especially when you consider where OSU was at the end of 2011: Jim Tressel was gone and the team looked lost, they were hit with a bowl ban, and Meyer came in and installed a brand new offense. He went undefeated with what had essentially been a .500 team the year before, and he's really recruited like a madman since. OSU's going to be tough to beat.
13. Do you expect the offense to rely more on Miller's arm this season?
Ted Glover: Yes, for two reasons. One, Miller will get killed if he keeps running as much as he has in the past, and two, the passing game looks to be much improved. And if you want a third reason, the Buckeyes have a lot of talent coming in with the recruiting class of 2013, and there will be a lot of options for Miller...besides his feet.
14. Now that Jake Stoneburner is gone, you guys aren't going to try using the tight end against us again, are you? (Please say no)
Ted Glover: The TE is a staple of the Urban Meyer offense. Yeah, Stoney's gone, but Jeff Heuerman looks to step in and step up, and an effective TE will be essential to an effective 2013 offense. So sorry to say, but yes, you better game plan for the tight end better this year.