Ohio State vs. Indiana Preview

Indiana fans probably haven’t been this eager to play Ohio State since 1942, which is the last time the Buckeyes and Hoosiers collided in a game where both teams were undefeated and it wasn’t a season opener.

They’re so excited, in fact, Indiana’s supporters lobbied for ESPN’s Game Day to come to Bloomington for the first time ever…and ESPN actually considered it.

They’re also probably motivated by the memory of last year’s game in Columbus, which they led 20-14 midway through the third quarter, and by the heavy, Ohio influence of the Indiana coaching staff.

Indianas Ohio Coaches

What has them most excited, though, is their 4-0 start and their wins over Southern Illinois, Florida International, Western Kentucky, and Wake Forest. Yes, they’ve had to come from behind in three of those four victories. Yes, they’re one of the most penalized teams in the nation, averaging a little more than 8 penalties per game. Yes, they’re giving up 32 points and 360.5o passing yards a contest. But they’re undefeated through 4 games for the first time since 1990.

Obviously, when there are 96 defenses giving up fewer points than yours, it has to be the offense carrying the team, and carrying the Indiana offense is the nation’s current leading rusher, Jordan Howard.

His sophomore season, Howard set the single-season rushing record at UAB with 1,587 yards, but then the Blazers eliminated their football program. The Hoosiers have reaped the benefit with Howard running the ball nearly 28 times a game and averaging 6.1 yards a carry. He’s scored four rushing TDs this year.

At around 230 pounds, Howard can wear down a defense. In fact, his third and fourth quarter numbers (8.0 and 6.0 yards/carry respectively) are better than the numbers he’s posted in the first half of games this season.

Running back Devine Redding of Youngstown is slightly smaller, but has contributed 237 yards and 3 touchdowns of his own.

Indiana can throw, too. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld is ranked 16th in the country with 1,143 passing yards. He’s completing more than 61 percent of his passes, and has 7 touchdowns to just one interception.

Already three of his receivers have reached double digits when it comes to receptions, led by Ricky Jones with 18. He is, without a doubt, a threat. There are only 6 players in the FBS right now with 10 or more catches who average more than 22.5 yards/catch. Jones (22.83) is one of them.

Their offensive line has over 100 combined total starts, and not only have they paved the way for the success of Howard and Sudfeld, but they have only given up 2 sacks so far.

For as much as Indiana has struggled defensively, they, like the offense, are especially prolific in the third quarter. The Hoosiers have outscored teams by a combined total of 51-0 coming out of halftime. Plus, they play a 3-4, which Ohio State has struggled with this season. And they do force turnovers, already with 4 fumble recoveries and 4 picks.

Those turnover numbers are somewhat surprising when you consider that the Hoosiers aren’t otherwise very disruptive. They are ranked 123rd nationally in tackles for loss.

Defensive tackle Darius Latham has 5 of those TFLs. Defensive end Nick Mangieri paces the team in sacks with 3. Linebacker, and Hamilton, Ohio native, Oliver Marcus has the lead in total tackles with 28, and he’s forced two fumbles.

The secondary is littered with freshman and sophomores, and they’re still recovering from the offseason dismissal of Antonio Allen, but corner Rashard Fant has shown some flashes with nine pass breakups.

The Hoosiers host the Buckeyes this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on 97.1 The Fan.

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Ohio State vs. Western Michigan Preview

Expect to hear a lot of talk about Broncos coach PJ “Row the Boat” Fleck this week. Despite currently being the youngest coach in the FBS, he already has some impressive credentials.

As a former 49ers receiver and Tampa Bay Buccaneers receivers coach, Fleck is one of three men now at the helm of a college team to have also coached and played in the NFL. (The others are South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh.)

He has been an understudy to Jerry Kill, Greg Schiano, and Jim Tressel. Brian Hartline, Ted Ginn, Jr., Brian Robiskie, Roy Hall, and Anthony Gonzalez might remember Fleck as an offensive graduate assistant with the Buckeyes in 2006.

He also has some continuity when it comes to his own coaching staff. One of the Broncos most recent additions, former Michigan running back Mike Hart, is in his second year.

However, all this has yet to pay off in the win column for Western Michigan’s head man. To be fair, the team he took over in 2013 had gone 4-8 the year before. Since then, the Broncos have a record of 10-18, including a 1-11 inaugural season and a 1-2 start this year.

It was certainly expected that they would drop their opener to Michigan State, a game in which they looked more than respectable. But what followed was what Fleck called a “royal whupping” at the hands of Georgia Southern. Spurned by that 43-17 loss, they then went on to crush FCS team Murray State 52-20. (For comparison’s sake, consider Northern Illinois beat the Racers 57-26.)

Quarterback Zach Terrell is playing in his third season with the Broncos, and his completion percentage has gone from 53 percent to nearly 68 percent to over 70 percent so far during this year’s campaign. He has thrown five picks, but he’s also tenth nationally right now with 947 passing yards.

That’s partly due to the fact that Western Michigan has quite a pair of wide receivers in Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis. Already, they have four career games where both have registered 100+ yard performances.

Braverman, with 40 catches, has 17 more receptions than any other player in America at this point. It is the 6’3″ Davis who is the deep threat averaging 17.2 yards/catch.

Despite these gaudy numbers, WMU is not really a tempo team. In fact, they are 35th in time of possession, just a few ticks over 32 minutes/game.

Sophomore running back Jarvion Franklin really didn’t find his game until last week’s 161 yard-performance. Prior to that, he’d only traveled a total of 81 yards on 25 carries. Count him out at your peril, though. He’s the first ever player to win Mid American Conference Freshman of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year in the same season. He ran for 1,551 yards and 24 touchdowns to garner those honors.

The offensive line has given up 10 sacks, as much as Penn State, and more than all but 5 FBS teams.

On defense, the Broncos are giving up a total of 413 yards/game. They only stop opponents on 48 percent of their third downs. And, despite having arguably the best secondary in the MAC a year ago, they only have one interception this year. (The team’s fastest player, Darius Phillips, who also returns kicks, not surprisingly, did return that pick for touchdown.)

Safety Asantay Brown leads the team in tackles, followed by linebacker Robert Spillane. Fellow linebacker Caleb Bailey has 3 TFLs to pace the team in that category.

They have a smallish defensive line, which may be why opponents have rushed for 224 yards/contest.

But if you want storylines, look no further than the Western Michigan specialists.

Kick returner Phillips has already run one back for a score and is averaging a 30.0 yard return. Punter J. Schroeder is a Columbus, Ohio native, who played for St. Charles, volunteers at Children’s Hospital and referees youth soccer, among other community service activities. The team also has a kick off specialist, much like OSU’s Jack Willoughby. Derrick Mitchell is a Philadelphia Phillies draft pick. He graduated high school in 2005 and, at 28, is just six years younger than his head coach.

Ohio State will be playing Western Michigan for the first time this Saturday.

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Ohio State vs. Northern Illinois Preview

Northern Illinois  has won three out of the last four Mid American Conference titles and is riding a MAC record streak of seven-straight seasons reaching a bowl game.

While dominating their league, Goliath is also comfortable in the role of David, having beaten a “Power 5″ conference opponent in five of the past six seasons. Four Big Ten teams have fallen victim to the Huskies in that span.

Their head coach, Rod Carey, has a better win percentage in his first two years in the Mid American Conference than Brian Kelly, Jerry Kill, Gary Pinkel and some guy named Urban Meyer had in their first couple MAC seasons. (Carey is 23-6 for a win percentage of .793 while Meyer posted a .739 percentage in 2001 and 20o2 at Bowling Green.)

Some of their early returns suggest this year’s team will continue NIU’s recent run of success.

Quarterback Drew Hare, for instance, is currently ranked 6th nationally in passing yards. Running back Joel Bouagnon has five rushing touchdowns, better than all but Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Old Dominion’s Ray Lawry.

True, these numbers were racked up against winless UNLV and FCS opponent Murray State, but it’s not without reason that the Huskies are averaging 7.82 yards/play.

Mainly, the explanation for that lies in Hare’s 78.1 completion percentage, Bouagnon’s 5.7 yards/carry and in the play of North Dakota transfer Kenny Golladay.

Golladay has stepped up since fellow wide receiver Tommylee Lewis suffered an ankle injury on the opening drive of the season opener. Already the 6’4” Golladay has 17 catches for 357 yards and two touchdowns. He’s averaging 21 yards a reception.

The high tempo offense is breaking in three new starters on the line, both tackles and a guard. Still, that hasn’t seemed to slow them down much.

On the other side of the ball, meanwhile, the Huskies return 8 starters from a unit that ranked 51st in the country in scoring defense a year ago. However, they’ve already given up 56 points and 866 yards during this campaign.

The Huskies tend to rely on their ability to cause havoc, and they do have 4 picks and 14 tackles for loss. But they are also allowing teams to convert on nearly 58 percent of their third downs and subsequently get into the end zone.

Wonderfully named senior linebacker Boomer Mays is pacing the team with 17 tackles. Right behind him is linebacker Renard Cheren, a freshman, and corner Paris Logan, who also leads the way with three passes defended and an interception.

Linebacker Jamaal Payton has been Northern Illinois’ most disruptive player with three TFLs.

One note on the Huskies special teams, kicker Christian Hagan is 2/2 on field goals, both from 40+ yards out, but he’s missed two extra points (one of which was blocked).

Northern Illinois has started both games slowly. They had to rally from down 17-3 against UNLV. They trailed Murray State 7-6 after the first quarter. They’ll need to fix that if they hope to upset Ohio State this Saturday in the second ever meeting of the clubs. The Buckeyes won their only previous matchup, 35-12 in 2006.

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Dizzy Yet?

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Ohio State vs. Hawaii Preview

Complicating Ohio State’s task of getting ready to play Hawaii is the fact that coach Norm Chow has a new offensive coordinator transitioning the Rainbow Warriors to an uptempo spread, a new defensive coordinator moving the team from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and a new special teams coordinator breaking in a new kicker/punter and new punt returner.

The Bows have a new quarterback, too. At least, he’s new to the Hawaii roster. Max Wittek transfered in from USC, where he played from 2012-2013, recording 3 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. He struggled a bit with turnovers in the opener as well, throwing two picks against Colorado. In all fairness, though, he was throwing quite a bit (38 attempts) and also managed three touchdowns and 202 yards in the 28-20 win.

Hawaii’s leading receiver from a year ago, Marcus Kemp, caught six of Wittek’s passes. He was part of a committee of seven players with a reception.

Joey Iosefa was taken in the seventh round of the NFL Draft, and–in his absence–Steven Lakalaka was expected to carry the load of the running game. However, it was Columbus’s own Paul Harris who was the most productive against Colorado. Harris was at Reynoldsburg his freshman and sophomore year of high school. He eventually landed at Marion Franklin and was second-team All-State after a senior campaign in which he averaged 11.2 yards/rush.

Hawaii’s offensive line returns three starters, including Ben Clarke, who has 37 starts under his belt. He moved from center to left tackle last season.

As mentioned, Hawaii’s defense is shifting to a 3-4 this season, and nobody took advantage of the change more in game one than former Navy SEAL Luke Shawley, who registered his first career sack and a team-high 14 tackles. Kennedy Tulimasealii
is the team’s other defensive end, and led Hawaii with 9.5 tackles-for-loss a year ago.

Despite losing two starters, the Rainbow Warriors return a great deal of experience at linebacker. They have four players at that position who totaled 20 or more tackles last year, paced by Simon Poti.

Still, for all their experience, Hawaii gave up 215 yards rushing to Colorado, so the front seven is still a work in progress.

They did a slightly better job stopping the Buffaloes from passing, holding Colorado to 4.0 yards/pass (158 yards on 40 pass attempts). And that’s not a surprise when you consider that Hawaii brought back 3 of their starters in the secondary. That group is led by Trayvon Henderson, who had 63 tackles and 2 picks last season. Meanwhile, cornerback Nick Nelson had 11 tackles in opening game. And Ne’Quan Phillips, all 5’9″ of him, added 6 tackles, 2 TFLs from his spot as a corner, even though he didn’t start.

This Saturday will mark the first time these teams have met.

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Ohio State Players Preview Virginia Tech

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Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech Preview

Virginia Tech returns eight starters on offense, including every offensive player who scored a point last year. That sounds impressive, until you consider how few points the Hokies scored. They were 93rd nationally in that category in 2014.

Part of that can be blamed on youth and injuries. Mostly, though, Virginia Tech’s offensive struggles last year were the result of the inconsistent play of quarterback Michael Brewer and the porous performance of the offensive line.

Ohio State fans who remember broadcasters comparing Brewer to Russell Wilson during the Hokies September date with the Buckeyes in 2014 may be surprised to learn that Brewer ended his campaign with 18 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. In his defense, he was new to coordinator Scot Loeffler’s offense. Plus, he was sacked on more than 6 percent of the team’s passing plays, even though most of these plays were designed to only cover a short distance.

Brewer did win most improved honors for this spring. However, the line is still an awfully big question mark. The three offensive starters Virginia Tech lost to graduation were a guard, tackle and center.  As a result, four of the five projected first-teamers this year have fewer than 10 career starts under their belt.

Brewer does have a gigantic target in 6’5″ tight end Bucky Hodges. Hodges has already broken the Virginia Tech record for receiving yards and touchdown receptions by a tight end in a single season…and he’s just a redshirt sophomore.

Senior running back J.C. Coleman started to hit a groove at the end of last year with 468 yards in his final four games.

But the strength of the team, as it seemingly always has been, is the Virginia Tech defense.

The Hokies starting defensive linemen have combined for 74 career starts, and they’ve all earned All-ACC honors at some point in their careers. True, Luther Maddy, Corey Marshall, and Ken Ekanem all missed spring ball with injuries, but that just allowed the team to build depth at the position. They liked what they saw from Vinny Mihota in particular. So much so, they will have him play multiple spots along the line.

Oh, and we haven’t even mentioned Dadi Nicolas yet. He had such a productive junior season (18.5 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks while also blocking two kicks on special teams), he considered turning pro. In the end, he decided to return for one last go-round.

The Hokies are likewise strong in the secondary, especially the corners so long as Brandon Facyson is healthy. He played three games last year before being sidelined by a stress reaction in his left leg. Then in December, he needed surgery on a tibia and fibula fracture in the same leg.

Even if he fails to return to form, though, Virginia Tech has an All-American in Kendall Fuller. In the 25 games he’s started, he has eight interceptions and an NCAA-best 34 passes defended.

The hope of defensive coordinator Bud Foster is that a healthy Facyson will allow the spring’s defensive MVP, Chuck Clark, to move to his more natural position of safety or play nickel. Any athlete with that sort of versatility is worth keeping an eye on.

Finally, although the name of head coach Frank Beamer is associated with outstanding special teams, Beamer admits they were lackluster there last year, and he hopes to see improvement going forward. The Hokies return the majority of their specialists. Punter A.J. Hughes had back surgery, though, and will battle Mitchell Ludwig for that job.

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