Ohio State Positional Breakdown Preview

WNUR’s Nick Scoliard looks at the Ohio State Buckeyes position-by-position to preview Saturday’s match-up with the Northwestern Wildcats.

The most anticipated game in Pat Fitzgerald’s coaching career is coming up this Saturday. Ohio State is coming to Ryan Field, along with Mike and Mike, College Gameday, and hopefully a lot of Northwestern alumni. No matter how much hype is fed to the students and alumni before the game, it will all come down to how the ‘Cats face off against one of the nation’s top teams. Here, I will break down Ohio State’s different groups and highlight what the Wildcats need to do to win.

Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images


Yes, there is an “s” on the end of that. In the beginning of the season, Braxton Miller was a Heisman candidate, and was thought to lead the Buckeyes to the championship or the Rose Bowl at least. However, after an early season injury, backup Kenny Guiton came in and played at the exact same level as Miller. There two stat lines are similar if you take into account the fact Guiton had twice as many attempts

Guiton: 65/95, 664 yards, 68.4% Comp, 6.99 Yards/Att, 13 TDs, 2 INTs, 168.1 Rating

Miller: 34/49, 406 yards, 69.4% Comp, 8.29 Yards/Att, 6 TDs, 1 INT, 175.3 Rating

Very similar stat lines from both suggest that both QBs are playing at a similar level. They both have legs as well, with Guiton rushing for 186 yards, and Miller rushing for 165 yards. While Miller is pegged as the starter, and only Miller played against Wisconsin, this presents a challenge for the Wildcats to gameplan against. How Guiton will be used if at all is up to Meyer and his staff, but it’s something that the Wildcats have to look for. However, the starter will still be a huge issue for the Wildcats. Miller is extremely athletic, and uses his legs to avoid blitzers and make plays. His arm is still great, and putting a spy on Miller to prevent runs will just allow him to wreak havoc against the weak Northwestern secondary. It’s going to be tough, but the best way to stop Miller is to for Northwestern’s weakest group, the secondary, to step up big. If the secondary can stop the receivers and jam them on the line, taking away Miller’s immediate looks, the defensive front, Northwestern’s strong suit, will be able to pounce and contain Miller. Also expect to see a lot of zone to make sure Miller has nowhere to run, and to have Ibraheim Campbell help out the corners in coverage.

Running Backs

Jordan Hall was unexpectedly shoved into the starting role when Carlos Hyde, coming off a breakout 16-TD, 970-yard season, was suspended by Urban Meyer for assault in July, although he was never charged. Hall filled in well, gaining 422 yards and 8 TDs before Hyde came back– half of the totals of Hyde’s season last year in just 4 games. Even though he put a spectacular 4 game stretch, Meyer benched him for Hyde when Hyde came back against Wisconsin. Hyde proceeded to rush 85 yards with no touchdowns in 17 carries. Even if his game was subpar, Hyde is someone that could wreck the ‘Cats defensive front. Meyer’s spread attack using Miller and Hyde will attack the Wildcats front and tire them out. This is another reason to expect a lot of zone – it creates a second wall of defenders to attack the ball carrier across the field. It will be up to Ariguzo, Ellis, and Proby to attack the flats and quell the Buckeyes rushing attack.


The Buckeyes passing game is anchored by two main targets: Devin Smith and Corey Brown. Both have a combined 44 receptions for 585 yards and 10 TDs. That’s about half of all receptions, yards, and scores for the Buckeyes from these two receivers. Both have been incredible, and Brown even is amazing in punt returns, gaining 145 yards in 9 attempts. Meyer’s spread attack runs leads to gaps downfield for these guys, so look for both to have big downfield catches. In man, VanHoose will obviously be put on one of these guys, but the other will be in the inexperienced hands of Dwight White and/or Matt Harris, although White is listed as the starter. This will create a severe disadvantage, and expect whoever they are covering to be targeted a lot. Again, as I write more and more, it makes more sense to me that the Wildcats stay in zone as much as possible: Even let the receivers catch the short check downs, but immediately be there to stop them. I expect a lot of nickel from the ‘Cats to have a lot of DBs on the field at a time, although the LB corps will still get significant starting time to hammer the running game.

Front 7

On the other side of the ball, the ‘Cats will have to fight the Buckeyes defense. The good news: The Buckeyes only have 2 defenders with two sacks or more; Steve Miller with two and Noah Spence with 2.5. The bad news: they have 11 total sacks for the team. The Buckeyes are good about spreading out their sacks and creating confusion on the defensive line. In non-conference play, they allowed only 319 yards rushing. However, when they went against the rushing attack of Wisconsin, they allowed 105 yards to the Gordon/White backfield the Badgers use. The ‘Cats will look to pound the front seven with speed options and off tackle runs, using the fresh Venric Mark and his superb backups Treyvon Green and Mike Trumpy to keep the Buckeyes off balance. This will be the key matchup in the game, and the best way for the ‘Cats to emerge victorious, as the Buckeyes are not as equipped to handle the ‘Cats rushing attack.

Defensive Backs

The Buckeyes will be plenty equipped to handle the ‘Cats passing attack. The Buckeyes have very athletic corners that will jam the ‘Cats receivers at the line. They have allowed only 9 passing touchdowns through 5 games with 6 interceptions. This is a physical group that will exploit the weak Northwestern receiving corps. Expect to see man, and watch for the Buckeyes to be physical within 5 yards of the line, messing up the timing of the offense, allowing more time for the Buckeyes to dissect Northwestern’s O-line.

Special Teams

Ohio State’s kicker, Drew Basil, has rarely seen the field for FGs – he has only 3 on the year. The ones he has made haven’t been chip shots, hitting a 45 yarder and 2 30-40 yarders. He’s 27 for 27 on extra points, and is not a kind of kicker that will make Buckeyes fans stressed. For returning kicks, they have Corey Brown taking punts, and Jordan Hall take kicks. Brown, as mentioned above, has been superb in his punt returning. Hall has been adequate – nothing spectacular, but he handles the ball well. Don’t expect any mistakes on special teams, as both teams have excellent squads.

Coaching and X-factor

Urban Meyer is arguably the 2nd best coach in the nation right now (Saban is hands down the best coach by a mile). His spread offense is lethal and has been cutting holes in defenses for years. His squad at Ohio State rivals his national championship teams at Florida led by Tim Tebow. The X factor for the Buckeyes is Meyer’s gameplan. Meyer will come in with a gameplan that will be lethal to the ‘Cats. If neither team makes any mistakes, and plays perfectly, Ohio State will win. Northwestern will need to force the Buckeyes to make mistakes in order to come out of Ryan Field as the king of the Big Ten.

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