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 (1:59 PM)
Hey everybody, welcome back. Questions are already filling up, so I'll get right to it.
What will be the 3 keys to Saturday's game and who do you think will win and why?
Austin Ward (2:02 PM)
The most important thing for Ohio State this week is making sure they stay disciplined on defense. The Buckeyes have had their tackling harped on plenty, but against a team like Nebraska with its versatile running game, it's just as important mentally to stay sharp on assignments and read the keys.Offensively, the Buckeyes are going to need Carlos Hyde to be able to handle a full load and take some pressure off Braxton Miller in the option game -- a tougher task without Jordan Hall.And as always, turnovers will be critical. Nebraska has a negative turnover margin so far this season, and if the Buckeyes are on the plus side this week, they'll really be in control.
Hi Austin. Isn't it being overlooked about how much Nebraska has struggled against dual-threat QBs? I am a Husker fan, but I am also a realist. The Nebraska defense struggled mightily against dual-threat QB's last year (1-4, with the one being Ohio St. and Nebraska was down 21 when Miller left the game) and I think it is fair to say the Nebraska front seven is worse this year than last year in terms of sideline to sideline speed (losing Levonte David will do that to a team). Am I just missing something here? Thanks.
Austin Ward (2:04 PM)
I think you're right on with that assessment, Will -- and Urban Meyer is definitely aware of it. Something the Buckeyes have talked about this week is the way the Huskers clog the middle to try to force offenses east and west and then rely on athleticism from the linebackers to make plays. But if they're facing an offense with speed of its own, particularly at quarterback, that might be playing into Ohio State's hands. They want to get outside and challenge a defense with Miller's speed and elusiveness and believe they can win those individual matchups.
Nick (Austin (Buckeye Transplant))
I've read a lot of columns/blogs this week that are talking about nothing but the fact that Nebraska's offense is going to be the best offense Ohio St. has seen this year and that single fact being the basis for a Nebraska win. While I completely agree that their offense will be the best one Ohio St. has seen year to date, isn't that a little bit of over-generalization? I think it is fair to say that the Buckeye defense will be the best defensive unit Nebraska has seen all year by a fairly substantial amount. Also, Braxton will be the best player they have seen all year and coming to the Shoe at night is going to be the toughest environment they will have seen all year. I guess I am just a little surprised by so many people chalking this up as a Nebraska win in Columbus. 38-24 GO BUCKEYES!!
Austin Ward (2:07 PM)
It definitely does cut both ways, Nick. Looking at the improved passing numbers of Taylor Martinez, for example, he has certainly been more efficient and has avoided throwing interceptions. But few teams can roll out a pair of corners like Bradley Roby and Travis Howard with the high level they're playing at, so this would be a much better gauge of how much he's really improved. Nebraska's rushing attack is definitely going to be able to stress Ohio State at times, but the defensive front is getting stronger as the year progresses as Nathan Williams and Michael Bennett get back in the rotation. As for the other side of the ball, Miller and Hyde both proved they can get after Nebraska last year.
I for one don't think OSU should be allowed in the rankings this year, I feel it takes away from an eligible school as far as being a ranked team, BCS or not.
Austin Ward (2:09 PM)
The Buckeyes are only eligible for the AP poll, which isn't a factor in the BCS rankings. So, I really don't see what the issue would be. All of their regular season games count in the Big Ten standings and in the NCAA record books -- who exactly is that hurting?
Tony (Richmond, CA)
How big was the win in East Lansing last week?
Austin Ward (2:11 PM)
That was pretty significant for the Buckeyes, Tony, and it was clear to see in Meyer's reaction in the postgame how much it meant to him. He's obviously won a lot of big games, but I think this provided some important validation for his program in the early stages of the transition and helps generate more momentum in recruiting and getting players to "buy in" even more to his style. Obviously, it was a pretty fun game to watch as well and in some ways might have also boosted (however slightly) the perception of the Big Ten.
Hey Austin, watching the final drive of the OSU/Mich State game, I saw how the edge to edge play all game had weakened the ability of the Mich St. defense to stop the run up the middle, yet Meyer only employed this in the final drive. Should we look to more of a mix between edge plays and down hill running this week to preserve Millers legs and keep the defense guessing?
Austin Ward (2:13 PM)
Based on his comments throughout the week, I think Meyer wants to get out on the perimeter even more this week against the Huskers. Part of that is the defensive design for Nebraska, but it's also due largely to Miller's ability -- and with the schedule softening up after this weekend, I don't think there will be any concern about preserving him for Indiana or Purdue. However, it is still important, as you mentioned, to have a power presence inside -- and I think the Buckeyes will feature that more often this week to play to the strengths of Hyde and an offensive line that is really blooming. My hunch would be, though, that it will be used more as a changeup instead of trying to go right after Nebraska between the tackles.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
What prospects are at the top of Meyer's list as we move deeper into recriting season?
Austin Ward (2:16 PM)
He's made no secret this week about the importance of finding playmakers to break some tackles on the perimeter, and perhaps not by coincidence, there's a breakdown of the top 5 on Ohio State's radar up right now at BuckeyeNation. There are looks at Shelton Gibson, Tony Stevens, James Quick, Robert Foster and Marquez North up right now.
M Bradshaw (MD)
1. I hate to say it...but I see PSU handling us at their place later this month. I'll be at Volpes watching and hoping that doesn't happen though2. I thought Obama did well last night and he's got my vote
Austin Ward (2:17 PM)
Penn State has done a nice job rallying the troops, but I have a hard time believing it would do much offensively against the Buckeyes at this point. It definitely looks like it could be a more entertaining affair than it might have three weeks ago though.
Is this the toughest remaining game on the schedule? I am sure Wisconsin will be playing better by the game up in Madison, and Michigan seems down so far. But i feel like Nebraske is the best of the three.
Austin Ward (2:23 PM)
At this point, I would have to say that it is, Alex. Michigan, for obvious reasons, is going to be a battle. But the Wolverines turn it over so frequently, will be playing on the road and have some issues that I don't think can be fixed this season. Wisconsin's troubles are well documented, though perhaps they can right the ship and play well at home next month. But Nebraska can pose threats on both sides of the ball, particularly with Martinez and his legs, and change a game quickly. I am picking Ohio State to win, but I think this is the biggest test now that Michigan State is out of the way.
Kurt (New Bremen, Ohio)
Austin I'm an avid Reader... anyway my question. Did last years Top 10 class for OSU fall under the restricted scholarships... meaning Urban had a top 10 class while being hampered in scholarships? If so I don't see any reason he can't get back to title contention very soon... your thoughts thoughts?
Austin Ward (2:27 PM)
The scholarship restrictions aren't quite over yet for the Buckeyes, with three per season being removed for three years. And while that does lower the margin for error a bit, it really shouldn't and hasn't hampered Meyer that much. That's a very workable number to deal with, and at this point in his first season, there's a case that could be made that the Buckeyes are already a title contender. If they had maybe taken a bowl ban last season, they would be a heavy favorite to win the Big Ten right now and could have been looking at a run to the postseason right away. As it currently stands, obviously, they'll have to wait, but starting with Miller and continuing to recruit as well as he has, there shouldn't be a delay at all to get back in the national conversation.
Dave (Lincoln, NE)
GOOOOOOOOOOOOOO BIGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG REDDDDDDDDDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Austin Ward (2:27 PM)
Dave is apparently fired up for the weekend.
Forest Neff (Tampa, Florida)
I am of course a Buckeye fan but I believe that if they indeed win against Nebraska they can possibly pull off an undefeated season. That is of course not counting out Michigan. Thanks
Austin Ward (2:29 PM)
It still won't be easy to pull it off, Forest, but looking at the schedule, I don't see a game where the Buckeyes wouldn't be favored to win the rest of the way out. Again, anything can happen in college football and they'd have to stay healthy (especially at quarterback), but it certainly looks like a possibility now.
I do not like the Big Ten's chances in the Rose Bowl this season.
Austin Ward (2:32 PM)
I don't think you're alone there, Alex. The league could certainly use a nice showing in the postseason after taking some lumps in September, but the preseason favorites have all had some flaws exposed -- mostly on offense for Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan with its turnovers. Could Northwestern really turn out to be the representative?
Are the linebackers improving at all? It seems they are the 'weak link' on the defense so far.
Austin Ward (2:36 PM)
I think that first group is honestly playing much better, Rick. Etienne Sabino hasn't exactly come out of nowhere, but he has been a revelation over the last couple weeks and made significant plays all over the field. Ryan Shazier is starting to get more comfortable with the mental aspect of the game, which is a scary thought given his physical tools. And while Curtis Grant has fallen off a bit, Storm Klein has done some decent work in his place when the Buckeyes are in their base personnel. They still need to bring along the freshmen to build that depth and get ready for the future, but there have been encouraging signs lately for guys like Jamal Marcus and Camren Williams.
I heard that they will be honoring the 2002 National championship team before the Michigan game this year. Any chance Tressel will make an appearance?
Austin Ward (2:38 PM)
Tressel hasn't given an indication either way at this point, but he will be allowed to attend if he'd like. Gene Smith has made clear that the Buckeyes wouldn't prevent him from being around to celebrate with that team -- but it will be an interesting decision for him. There would be the possibility of a lot of negative attention if the Buckeyes are undefeated heading into that game and unable to play for a national championship.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Who is your current pick to win the Big Ten with the Buckeyes not being eligible?
Austin Ward (2:40 PM)
I really like Michigan State's defense, but I think they'll be hurt too much by the offense moving forward to win a title. I think Nebraska is the most complete team in the Big Ten now outside of Ohio State, and the Huskers would be my choice.
How serious is Hall's PCL tear? Should we expect him back next week?
Austin Ward (2:42 PM)
It's not serious enough to be a season-ending injury, but it will likely keep him out for more than a game, Andrew. Based on what I've seen in the past with these types of injuries, I would think Hall would have to be on the shelf for two games -- and it might be something that bothers him a bit for about a month. Getting Carlos Hyde back came at a perfect time for the Buckeyes. They just can't seem to stay healthy in the backfield.
We saw Nathan Williams play some MLB last week because Klein couldn't make 1 play the entire game. Do see see Williams being moved there since Bennett will be back at DE?
Austin Ward (2:44 PM)
Meyer has addressed that specifically this week and shot it down emphatically. Williams looks like a linebacker in certain third-down packages that allow him to roam a bit, and he's also able to drop back in coverage from his end spot to create different looks for the defense. But Williams is a defensive lineman all the way through in Ohio State's eyes, and having Bennett back won't change that.
First night game for the Bucks this year, think Meyer finally gets the crowd noise he's been asking for?
Austin Ward (2:47 PM)
I would be absolutely stunned if the Shoe isn't rocking on Saturday at 8 p.m. The ticket has been hot this week in Columbus, so much so that the school warned of counterfeits on the market a couple days ago. I mean, if an unbeaten Ohio State team playing another top-25 opponent at night can't get that "inferno" going, it's never going to happen, right?
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Do you think Meyer will try to schedule some SEC opponents in the OOC?
Austin Ward (2:49 PM)
Based on Gene Smith's comments about ditching the MAC schools and then his actions in landing a high-profile series with TCU, I'd say the chances are pretty good the SEC will be included in the future schedules as they beef up the difficulty for the Buckeyes. I wonder now if Smith regrets having to cancel the series with Tennessee and Georgia down the road and if those programs could once again have conversations moving forward.
What's the toughest challenge facing Ohio State this weekend? Do you think it's vital to win with a big recruiting class coming in for visits?
Austin Ward (2:52 PM)
The toughest challenge is managing that Nebraska running game. There are three weapons in the backfield for the Huskers, and like Ohio State's offense, the quarterback is a threat to go the distance on any play. That puts tremendous pressure on a defense to stay sound fundamentally and not get caught in over-pursuit, otherwise the ball is going to the end zone. The defensive front will be critical for the Buckeyes.I think a victory helps, obviously, but I don't think it is ultimately imperative to win when a recruit is visiting. No matter the outcome, the experience of being in the stadium with 107,000 rocking fans and everything that goes along with a game at Ohio Stadium is what is going to stick in a kid's mind.
Tell that to the schools that are on the verge of being in the AP polls and in that #26/#27 spot. I think as a player I would want to be able to have the satisfaction of seeing my school in the AP poll. Ineligible teams should not be ranked in ANY poll.
Austin Ward (2:55 PM)
The Buckeyes are not ineligible for regular season honors, and they aren't excluded from anything awarded by the Associated Press. They can win their division and are directly impacting the national championship every week. I highly doubt teams ranked No. 26 in the country feel slighted because Ohio State, an undefeated Big Ten team, is ahead of them on the ballots.
If Ohio St comes out with the fire I anticipate they will, I could see them jumping on Nebraska quick and if that happens, let's just call it a hunch, but I think we could see the most complete game of the year on both sides of the ball for Urban's boys. Thoughts?
Austin Ward (2:59 PM)
I think they'll need that complete effort, Miles. They didn't really get it, even as well as they played, against Michigan State. The turnovers really held them back. But, for this week, I agree the Buckeyes will come out with plenty of emotion. This is the most I can remember a team talking about wanting revenge for a loss in quite some time, and if they get rolling early and the crowd is behind them, the Huskers will have their hands full.
What are the chances Hankins rips off Taylor's head?
Austin Ward (2:59 PM)
I wouldn't run at Big Hank if it were me.
Don, does realize that USC got ranked in the AP when it was ineligible right?
Austin Ward (3:00 PM)
Right on, Joe. This isn't exactly a novel concept or an exception for the Buckeyes. UCF was getting votes when it came to Columbus -- but I don't remember anybody complaining about that.
Austin Ward (3:00 PM)
All right everybody, that will do it for me. Good stuff as always -- enjoy the weekend, and see you right back here next Thursday.