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 (2:00 PM)
Hey everybody -- welcome back. Lots of questions already filed, so let's get to it.
Trojan Spear (Los Angry)
Ohio St. held off CAL and won. After seeing CAL play, How do you think USC will do against CAL.
Austin Ward (2:02 PM)
Cal did some impressive things against the Buckeyes last week -- mostly by shifting defenses to try to contain Braxton Miller. Now, that didn't work for the entire game and they gave up 35 points, but they have some skill on defense. The big-play ability was impressive, and they need to get Bigelow more involved on offense, but Ohio State made a lot of defensive errors to keep the Golden Bears in the game. I would think USC bounces back well.
jeff slatzer (columbus ohio)
I think OSU will win every game this year if they go undefeated will they win the ap poll NC
Austin Ward (2:04 PM)
That's a great question Jeff, because every game the Buckeyes win from here on out will make that conversation more relevant. I don't think they'll get enough support to win it, honestly, for plenty of reasons. Most important will be missing out on a chance to play another elite team in either a conference championship or a BCS game, which other programs will have the chance to do to prove how good they are. The other big factor -- the league is really struggling, so even as difficult as it will be to get through the Big Ten slate unscathed, that will also be held against them.
John Lashley (Too far from Columbus, OH)
Is it me or does everyone else think that running play where it looks like Miller is attached to the hip to the running back where they have this split second stall where one eventually takes the ball is NOT WORKING AT ALL? With the defense line collapsing at the line of scrimmage, if our line can't push them back that play is a waste of time and brings back escruciating pain from 2011.
Austin Ward (2:06 PM)
There are still some elements of the running game that need some work, John, no doubt about it. I feel like Ohio State is at its best when its running the speed option with Jordan Hall and Braxton Miller on the perimeter, and once it gets Carlos Hyde back, it could run a sort of triple option with all three on the field. The play you referenced doesn't seem like it's been effective at all, I agree with that completely.
Is the issue with OSU's Defense, the players, the coaches, or a combination of the two?
Austin Ward (2:09 PM)
Probably a combination of the two, which is not unusual in the early stages of a transition. Even with Fickell back and many of the same schemes, there is still a new overall approach filtering down from the top and it takes time to get everybody on the same page. However, I think anything that might be going on as those coaches all get to know each other pales in comparison to the fundamental issue the Buckeyes have dealt with in practice this week -- bad tackling. Missed assignments and blown tackles were directly responsible for half of that yardage allowed last week, and that's a much more important to getting the defense on track again.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
Who do you think is the Best Buckeye that is Playing in the NFL Right Now?
Austin Ward (2:10 PM)
That seems like a good topic to open up to the chatters. Feel free to chime in with your pick. I'll have to mull that over and am open to suggestions.
Are the buckeyes for real or could they loss 3 or more games in the Big 10
Austin Ward (2:12 PM)
I don't think they're quite at the level of Alabama or LSU right now, but I certainly think the Buckeyes are real enough to win the Big Ten this season. Considering this is just the first year for a new staff that is still recruiting players for Urban Meyer's system, that's a pretty good sign they'll be back to contending nationally in a hurry. I would be really surprised at this point if the Buckeyes dropped three games in the Big Ten.
Mike G (The Nasty 'Nati)
Does this Buckeye squad have what it takes to win the Leaders Division? Despite the occasionally shoddy offense and glaring weakness on defense (poor tackling, terrible angles, etc.), I think they have a shot. Weak year for B1G helps. (Prediction for UAB on Saturday: Pain)
Austin Ward (2:14 PM)
UAB is probably not going to have much fun in the Horseshoe this weekend, Mike, definitely agree with that. Like I mentioned, I think the Buckeyes have enough pieces to win the conference this year given Braxton Miller's development and assuming the talented players on defense start playing to potential. I thought going into the season that Ohio State would be able to get to 10 wins and it would depend on how they handled the two-game stretch at the end of the year to see how special the season would be, but one of those games no longer looks that challenging.
what cupcake u play this week? Buckeyes do a great job padding their sched.
Austin Ward (2:16 PM)
I don't have any cupcakes on Saturday, though the press box at the Horseshoe does have a McFlurry machine -- which is awesome. The Buckeyes traditionally do a better job of scheduling marquee non-conference games than most teams nationally, though California didn't do them any favors by regressing since that contract was signed.
Braxton should put up some huge numbers this weekend against UAB and tOSU should roll big. What are you expecting for the Buckeyes the following week at Michigan State? Will the Buckeyes take care of business against Sparty?
Austin Ward (2:18 PM)
The Spartans are really going to provide a barometer for how good this Ohio State offense truly is at this point. I think Miller is going to make it tough for anybody to ever shut down the offense completely, and Michigan State clearly has some issues putting the ball in the end zone right now. At this point, especially with the likelihood of Michael Bennett and Carlos Hyde returning to help the defense and offense, respectively, I would take the Buckeyes.
Ed Kady (San Diego)
I think Tony Gonzalez is the best Buckeye in the NFL right now
I think Ohio State needs to shore up the defense to post double digit wins. Specifically against the run. Can't recall the last time I watched a team gash the Bucks up front like Tedford's Bears were able to.
Austin Ward (2:20 PM)
That has been the message all week from the coaching staff, so much so that Meyer added two extra tackling periods for the defense in practice on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Keep in mind, the Buckeyes already do a lot more live work than most teams to prepare, so that clearly angered or embarrassed the guys in charge. The players I talked to were obviously disappointed in that effort as well, with linebackers like Sabino and Shazier telling us last night that the plays they missed have been haunting them all week. Sometimes after a win it's easy to overlook those issues, but that has not bee the case for Ohio State this week.
I know this is a bit early, but who do you see winning the Ohio State vs Michigan game?
Austin Ward (2:22 PM)
Going back to preseason, I expected an even game with the home team getting the edge. Now, there have been some flaws exposed for both teams, but I think Michigan's issues have been a bit more troubling than what Ohio State has dealt with. Failing to wrap up Denard Robinson would obviously be an issue, but I think the Buckeyes have too much defensive talent to let that problem linger and the offense is really clicking. Still picking the home team.
I'm certainly happy with 3-0, but what is your honest opinion on being ranked 16th? Is a 7 point win over Cal at home REALLY 10 spots better than a 6 point loss to UCLA on the road?
Austin Ward (2:25 PM)
If that was the only thing being evaluated, I can see where the case being made is valid. But those teams have played other games as well, and the Buckeyes are undefeated and have looked explosive offensively in putting that record together. One of those other wins came against a team that was receiving votes in the poll at the time, so there are a lot of factors -- and it's also subjective, because not everybody has them even on the ballot at this point if I remember correctly.
Austin Ward (2:27 PM)
Back to the NFL question for the Buckeyes -- I think I'd cast my vote for James Laurinaitis. Already 19 tackles for the Rams in two games, and I expect he'll have a lot more double-digit performances this season.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Has Jonathan Hankins overperformed, underperformed, or been exactly where you expected so far this season?
Austin Ward (2:30 PM)
The big man has been more impressive to watch this fall than I anticipated, though it's been hard to judge statistically through three games. The schemes the first two weeks were designed to limit his impact, particularly Miami's offensive approach, but he was still having success collapsing the pocket and making life miserable for the guy trying to block him. His skills really showed up in the Cal game as Hankins consistently found the ball, recorded a sack and supplied a lot of pressure while playing an awful lot.
Do you think the offense is hurting the defense? With it being such a quick offensive scheme, it may not be giving our D enough time to rest. Thoughts?
Austin Ward (2:38 PM)
There could be something to that given the disparity in time of possession in the Cal game -- but Ohio State actually had the ball longer against both UCF and Miami (Ohio), so I don't think that's really been the problem. Plus, the Buckeyes practiced against this tempo all during training camp, and they were prepared to handle the speed thanks to that brutal offseason of conditioning. I think they are just having some fundamental and communication breakdowns, much more detrimental than fatigue.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Who would you rank as the most dominant Buckeye lineman the past 20 years?
Austin Ward (2:39 PM)
As always, votes can certainly be cast by anybody in here -- I'd take Big Daddy.
Michael Thomas?? Riquan Southward?? Verlon Reed?? Tyrone Willams?? Who's on the up and up?? Anyone inpressed so far who's not starting? Much respect to Devin Smith but Mr. Brown ain't cuttin' it. They need some size on the outside right?
Austin Ward (2:42 PM)
I don't think it will be Southward or Tyrone Williams this season, honestly. There have been some encouraging things said about Williams through training camp and a few practices this month, but he still seems to have issues hanging on to the football. Verlon Reed still appears to be working back from injury, so he might be able to help at some point. The big mystery to me thus far is why Thomas hasn't been a factor -- though playing the same position as Devin Smith is an issue for getting on the field right now.
You could really tell that Meyer was looking at the D coaches wondering where in the world the pressure is two weeks ago, and it still hasnt shown up. Whats going on?
Austin Ward (2:44 PM)
Well, Meyer definitely wasn't pleased with the pressure two weeks ago -- but it certainly did show up against Cal. The Buckeyes had six sacks, showed some creativity with their blitz packages, had Nathan Williams back and involved. I don't think there's an issue there for the defensive coaches when the boss came calling this week.
Over/under on 4 TD's for Miller this Saturday?
Austin Ward (2:44 PM)
Definitely taking the over on that one. Against this UAB defense, the Buckeyes should be able to name the score -- and how many times Miller finds the end zone.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
What has been the biggest surprise/disappointment so far this season in critiquing the 2012 Buckeyes?
Austin Ward (2:47 PM)
Surprise: How quickly and successfully Braxton Miller has transitioned in the spread offense. He still isn't perfect with his reads, but watching him operate the new offensive system is really something to behold. Disappointment: It was clear the linebackers were going to have a tough time with the limited depth they have to work with, but outside of Shazier and occasionally Sabino, it doesn't seem like the Buckeyes are really getting much at the second level. I expected the freshmen to step in and help more in the first month.
Good to see Corey Brown break last year's receiving record of 14 catches in the third game last week. Who ends up as the top receiver this year, Brown or Smith?
Austin Ward (2:49 PM)
Devin Smith is really the top receiver the Buckeyes have right now, regardless of who leads the team in receptions. He is only going to see more throws his way with the trust Braxton Miller has that Smith will be able to make a play -- and he could actually be more consistent, which is the scary thing when you consider the room to grow he has after putting a couple easy balls on the turf last week.
Brad (Tupelo, MS)
Antoine Winfield he was a stub for the bucks and still tackles anybody on the field - and he's only 5'8" or 5'9"
Craig G. (Fairfield, CA)
Hey Austin, do any former Buckeyes ever come back and visit practice?
Austin Ward (2:50 PM)
Absolutely. Meyer loves having the former players and coaches around the team. I don't have a roll call or anything I can provide since the workouts are closed to the media, but he has embraced everything and everyone with the program.
I agree 100% that OSU is not (even close) to the level of the current Alabama and LSU teams. 2 more years to get there? Miller's senior year looks promising.
Austin Ward (2:52 PM)
With Meyer's track record in Year Two, I don't think it will take that long. There will be some tough guys to replace on defense, which could be something to consider when Simon, Williams and potentially Hankins are removed from the equation. But that offense is going to be dynamic, another top recruiting class will be in place and there are linemen already on hand to fill in up front with Washington, Schutt and Spence.
Once Meyer installs the type of offensive players he likes, do you think he will let up on the gas at all against Big Ten teams when we are up 40?
Austin Ward (2:53 PM)
I don't think Meyer wants to take his foot off the gas up by 40 no matter who he's playing against. Back when I covered the SEC, I remember well him stepping on the throats of his rivals and beating Tennessee into submission.
Pedro Fille (MI)
How do you stop Michigans quarterback?
Austin Ward (2:54 PM)
Sure tackling and discipline -- making the proper reads and keeping containment on him. I think he's vulnerable when he has to stay in the pocket and throw based on the interceptions he's thrown in the past.
Yes, OSU's defense got 'gashed' last week, but it appeared to be less scheme and talent and more Bigelow talent(which at some point you just have to give him kudos) and missed opportunities to end the play. That can be fixed more easily, yes?
Austin Ward (2:56 PM)
I don't know if it's necessarily easy, Vladimir, but it's certainly a quicker fix than having to wait for more talent to arrive. Those plays Cal made deserve credit -- and perhaps Tedford should be questioned about why he didn't give the kid the ball more often. But on at least half of the big plays, the Buckeyes had chances to make a tackle in the backfield and didn't finish. They have gone to work this week to get that fixed, and to your point, that emphasis in practice can yield results much quicker than drastically changing a scheme or waiting for National Signing Day.
Over/Under on 125 yards rushing for Hall this Saturday?
Austin Ward (2:59 PM)
My man Andrew going to work today setting those lines. I think I might take the under here, though that's not a knock on Hall. He could have topped 125 a week ago if he hadn't bumped into his linemen or tripped going through the hole a few times against Cal. Hall's just still not at 100 percent yet, so I think the staff will probably take it easy on him this week if it can to make sure he's ready for Michigan State. On his radio show today, in fact, Meyer suggested Rod Smith has earned some work in the backfield.
Is it me or should we discuss swapping about 80% of our league with the Big East? Seems like it would be an even swap at this point and it may give us better travel destinations.
Austin Ward (3:00 PM)
Oh boy, I don't know about that. The travel might be better, but the football would be a whole lot worse in my opinion.
Austin Ward (3:00 PM)
All right, folks. Thanks again for swinging by -- great stuff as always. Enjoy the last weekend before conference play, and I'll see you next Thursday.
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