Chat with Austin Ward
Welcome to BuckeyeNation! On Thursday, reporter Austin Ward stops by to chat about the state of Ohio State football.
Ward joined ESPN.com in 2012 after five years as a college football writer at the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune and the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel. The award-winning journalist lives with his wife in Columbus, Ohio.
Send your questions now and join Ward Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Austin Ward (1:57 PM)
All right, it's go time once again. Fire when ready.
Hey Austin, With most weapons returning, will the Bucks be a national Contender out of the gates next year?
Austin Ward (2:01 PM)
That's the expectation, Marty, and there are already a lot of signs pointing in that direction. First of all, Braxton Miller will have had a full season in the spread offense -- and those results have already been positive thanks to his rushing ability, even if he's carrying the ball a bit too much. Second, the one position that is a bit thin right now should be better stocked at linebacker as these young kids get seasoning. Then you've got those offensive weapons you referenced returning with Miller, and Meyer has a pretty impressive track record in Year Two at his previous stops.
Sean (Ottawa, ON Canada)
Hey Austin, Braxton Miller has looked great so far this year. What do you think about his chanes against a Cal team that I would think will put up a better fight than the previous two teams?
Austin Ward (2:05 PM)
I actually believe UCF was the most challenging non-conference team on the slate for the Buckeyes, though Cal's aggressive 4-6 defense could create some unique problems for the offense this week. The Golden Bears are going to try to take away his ability to run the ball by stacking the box, but he was much more efficient as a passer last week than he was in the opener and that style will put Philly Brown and Devin Smith in a lot of one-on-one situations on the perimeter. The running back situation adds a bit more of a challenge for the Buckeyes, but I don't think they'll have any trouble offensively.
They are definitely a fun team to watch again, also with Miller's stockon the rise, i think he'll be a nobrainer for Heasman candidate next year but do you see him as climbing, at least into the top 5 by the end of the year?
Austin Ward (2:11 PM)
At the rate he's piling up both yardage and touchdowns, there's now a shot he could do that a year ahead of schedule. I wouldn't have thought that was all that likely before the season, but this start has been something to behold. Some of it will depend on if Miller is continuing his hot pace and the Buckeyes keep winning. At some point, his rushing numbers are surely going to dip a bit, which would be welcomed by Meyer if he can ultimately get Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde both healthy in the backfield. If he goes to Michigan State and has another productive outing in a win -- the hype is really going to start building for him.
George (Knoxville RB)
Heard they will honor the 2002 championship team during Michigan game. Do you know if Coach Tressel will be there?
Austin Ward (2:14 PM)
I haven't heard confirmation of that one way or the other at this point, but it would be hard to imagine a celebration for that team without the coach being there to take part. It's obviously a unique situation given how fresh some of the wounds are, and again I don't know of any decision being made at this point, but I would expect him to be part of it.What do you all think? Should he be a part of the celebration or not?
Thats a tough one, but i think he should be a part of it, he brought back national prominence to Columbus. However, i think he might not come back if invited. Make it about the Players and not make it a media frenzy centered around him
Austin Ward (2:21 PM)
That's a good point. It would make for an even bigger circus, let's say, if the Buckeyes are about to wrap up a season that could have included a Big Ten championship ... if not for those sanctions. That would put a lot of attention on Tressel that wouldn't be about the championship he won.
Austin, Please tell me that Urban is getting after the Defensive line now. I really thought that there would have been alot more pressure up front than there has been to this point, and it is only going ot get harder once conference play starts. So what gives, is the D-Line only aggressive on paper or is the switch finally going to flip?
Austin Ward (2:27 PM)
Meyer was definitely searching for answers after the lack of a consistent pass rush last week, and there are several factors at work there. The first is injuries, because even though the Buckeyes have more talent than most programs on the line, losing both Nathan Williams and Michael Bennett at end was a significant blow last week. Another thing to consider are the schemes -- Miami was a quick-throwing team that limited the rush, and the Buckeyes last week were content to rush four or even three at times because they expected to get home with Simon, Hankins, etc. That didn't happen, and Meyer hasn't hesitated at all this week to call those guys out for not winning enough individual matters. I expect Fickell will be more aggressive with blitz calls this week, plus Nathan Williams will be back to help out on the edge.
Agreed. Im looking forward to the Meyer era in Columbus and I think Meyer will bring us back another National Title within 5 years. It will be a tough pill to swallow come bowl time, but if we can take care of Michigan ( which i think we will) it will be less of a sour taste at the end of the year..
Austin Ward (2:28 PM)
Obviously that game is always of utmost importance, but there's a little more on the line this time around, right? No bowl, so it's the last chance to build momentum and it's Meyer's first crack at striking a blow on the field against Hoke -- so, it's going to be intense and potentially a big-time springboard for the Buckeyes.
Cal's OL is a perfect panacea for OSU's slow start on the DL. Lots of young tenders up front for Cal who haven't played much together. If OSU capitalizes on their mistakes they should get the fire lit on defense. UCF and Miami had a lot of veteran OL's on their 2 deep and while talent might not be as great at those two schools, a lot of experience as a unit goes a long way.
Austin Ward (2:32 PM)
That's a good point, Tim. Plus, UCF in particular designed a game plan to limit the effectiveness of John Simon rushing the passer -- and it pretty much worked. Noah Spence is going to be a star, but if Bennett or Williams had been on the other side, it might have given the Knights a reason to think twice about keeping two guys on Simon. Spence had some issues last week, which is totally normal for a true freshman playing that position. But that figures to be good for him in the long run to work through the kinks early, and it will be a boost to the Buckeyes if they can add another veteran or two to that mix in the coming weeks. At least one, Williams, should be back on Saturday.
Cal's DL is just returning to full strength, how much will conditioning play a role in their ability to keep up with OSU? It looks like the depth chart falls off the map pretty quickly and if Cal's offense sticks to its average of 24 minutes TOP those defenders could get gassed early. OSU will probably throw uptempo from the opening drive, if OSU can get a couple early stops on defense the game could get out of hand quickly.
Austin Ward (2:36 PM)
That's going to be a huge factor in this game in my opinion, and Meyer has hinted this week that he wants to go even faster against this Cal defense. Keeping teams from substituting up front is one of the biggest perks for this no-huddle attack when it's humming along, which neutralizes even deep teams as a drive hits the sixth, seventh, eighth play. There are challenges with those defensive looks the Golden Bears can throw at the Buckeyes, but I agree with you that they probably don't have the bodies to hang around for four quarters -- and the Nevada game certainly didn't do much to change my thinking there.
Austin, while I agree with you on the injuries and quick pass offenses, I am not seeing as many Blitz packages up to this point. I think Luke has to be more decisive and just release the dogs! If he is calling the defense, then that would explain their less-aggressiveness at times to go along with his "deer in the headlights" look sometimes. He cannot coach scared.
Austin Ward (2:39 PM)
Right, Gregory, the Buckeyes really haven't unleashed the blitz packages at this point. That's one of the reasons I was saying they haven't been able to get home. I asked Meyer specifically about incorporating a fifth or sixth guy to generate pressure on the quarterback this week, and he indicated that would be part of the approach against Cal for sure. Now, that isn't how he would like to do things in an ideal situation, but that's a short-term answer if the secondary can hold up in man-to-man situations.
Austin, I have read several tweets from former players on the '02 NC team. Mo Clarett, also controversial has said he will only attend if Tressel is invited. There is no '02 NC without him. Woody Hayes threw a haymaker on national TV and came back to the dot the "i" to the loudest ovation ever. Jim Tressel will get the same welcome
Austin Ward (2:41 PM)
I hear you, Pam. I think that's what makes this such a fascinating situation, because at some point Tressel will surely be welcomed back to the Ohio State family with open arms. And I would think a celebration of a national championship that he was responsible for as the coach would have to include him. The timing of it just opens the door to the possibility that me might not want to come back quite yet.
Austin Ward (2:42 PM)
I should add, it's not like the Buckeyes are turning their back on him. I just noticed yesterday one of the photos in the Woody was a cool shot of the team coming out of the tunnel from a few years ago with Tressel leading the way -- so they aren't just trying to erase his memory or anything at all like that.
Part of the OSU defensive scheme the first two weeks was reaction to what the teams were doing to them. UCF was putting 7 guys on the line to block and keeping a RB around as well. You start sending 6-7 guys in, a TE slips a block and hits the void or the RB goes out for a swing pass with a lot of green grass ahead of him. Watching those games again I could understand why the play calling was slightly more conservative. I bet that we'll see some delayed blitzes from Shazier this week and a couple of times the stunts from Noah Spence almost worked, they certainly got hurries on UCF's QB. Once Noah takes slightly tighter angles to the QB he will just light someone up.
Austin Ward (2:45 PM)
Shazier is really intriguing as a blitz option -- his athleticism and the improvements he's made reading offenses could make for a very painful afternoon for a quarterback or two down the road. Same with Spence when he starts getting a better grasp of his responsibilities from play to play.
Austin, Do you think our LBs are in a catch 22 right now, meaning if they are rushed to help get pressure up front, then that leaves a somewhat young and inexperienced secondary alone in coverage. Or if you drop the LBs back in coverage to aid the secondary, then there is a lack of pass rush?
Austin Ward (2:47 PM)
That's the ongoing debate with how to get the pressure Ohio State wants on the quarterback. What Meyer would like best is for those four guys on the line to get it done, plain and simple. One thing that would make them hesitant to dial up a bunch of exotic blitzes is the communication problem the secondary has had at times early in the season. Those guys are talented and have already shown a knack for creating turnovers, which the Buckeyes obviously love, but they've got to be more sound in their assignments if Fickell is going to add a linebacker or two into the rush.
Austin Ward (2:51 PM)
Really good stuff as always, folks. Got time to squeeze in a few more before I've got to run.
Travis Howard's numbers are looking good so far, but still standing firm on my Roby for sleeper DPOY, as long as he does not get bored back there too much!
Austin Ward (2:53 PM)
Howard has been a revelation through two games back there -- and it's funny you mention that boredom with Roby. I talked to him at length about that last night after practice, and I've got a story rolling out early tomorrow about managing that and getting up for his battle with Keenan Allen of Cal. To Roby's credit, if he's bored, he's still really impressive.
Urban said Rod Smith is joining the punt block team and it sounded like that was a huge step towards earning Meyer's respect. Up until now has Rod Smith lingered around Urban's dog house, and will a commitment to Urban's special teams squad be the proof Meyer needs to see in order to get Rod on the field as a RB more?
Austin Ward (2:58 PM)
Absolutely, he's stressed that repeatedly throughout the week about Smith. That fumble late in the game didn't help him much in terms of helping Smith pull ahead or even with Bri'onte Dunn at running back, but he's shown a willingness to get in there and work hard on special teams that might not have always been there in the past. Meyer has really raved about that this week, and I'll be watching what he does there since that unit is so important to this coaching staff. That's definitely a starting point to getting more work in the backfield, no question.
Austin Ward (2:58 PM)
OK, everybody, have to take off. Pleasure chatting with you all again -- enjoy the game this weekend, and I'll see you right back here next week.