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 (2:01 PM)
Hey everybody, welcome back. The intensity and focus certainly seems to have picked up around Columbus this week with Big Ten play finally here, and there's a big one coming up for both the Buckeyes and Michigan State on Saturday. I'm looking forward to the trip -- should be a great showcase for the league, which it needs.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
Who do you think are the Best College Football Players that are Playing at Ohio St. in 2012?
Austin Ward (2:02 PM)
I don't think there's any question the Buckeyes have two of the best players at their respective positions in the country right now. Braxton Miller has put himself in the Heisman conversation with his 14 total touchdowns already this season at quarterback, and Johnathan Hankins is playing at an extremely high level at defensive tackle. If John Simon can get a bit more healthy moving forward, he could get back in that mix as well.
Mark Bradshaw (MD)
I love OSU football. I repeat, I love OSU, but I prefer watching them at Volpes b/c it's my kind of place. I may watch the PSU-OSU game there later this year. I also have no issue with "Bow tie-gate." Thoughts?
Austin Ward (2:06 PM)
I don't really have an issue with it either, Mark. I mean, there are expenses for any president at any university that might strike some as unusual, and the fact that Gee is something of a lightning rod may have made that story bigger than necessary.
Color me a scarlet/grey homer, but I think Urban has been sandbagging us a bit. I see Ohio State punking MSU to the tune of 27-14.....how wrong am I?
Austin Ward (2:08 PM)
I don't know if you're that far off base, Vladimir. I think this is the kind of game that suits the Ohio State defense -- no matter how good Le'Veon Bell is, the Buckeyes are designed to stop traditional Big Ten attacks like Michigan State's, and their passing attack leaves a lot to be desired. As for the sandbagging, I think Meyer did quite a bit of that with his offense during the non-conference schedule. I would be stunned if it took until midway through the second quarter for Braxton Miller to get his first carry like it did last week. I think the Buckeyes are the better overall squad.
If we simply key in on Le'Veon Bell and Dion Sims, do the Spartans even have a chance? Their offense seems to not just revolve around those two, but completely rely upon them producing.
Austin Ward (2:17 PM)
The Spartans are surely going to need more than those two this week, particularly since the Ohio State staff has enough film of the offense to break down at this point to know those two guys are the top priorities. Notre Dame really provided a good blueprint for handling the Spartans, who have struggled mightily at receiver, had spotty play at quarterback and haven't really lived up to expectation on the offensive line. This could really be a huge chance for the Silver Bullets to earn their reputation back in a style of game that suits them.
As an alum, I don't care one bit how much EGG spends on bow ties. It's not my money, taxpayers or students money. He is worth every penny.
Austin Ward (2:17 PM)
I think there's a large number of people who agree with that sentiment, Pam.
do u think ohio state will loose a game this year? I hope they do!!
Austin Ward (2:20 PM)
At this point, looking at the schedule and the way the top teams in the Big Ten have been playing, I don't think there's a game left that the Buckeyes couldn't win. Michigan is going to be a battle as always, Nebraska has impressed early -- but really, this week kind of looms as the barometer for what kind of season the Buckeyes can truly have. These are the two top-ranked teams in the conference, and I really think the matchup favors Ohio State. This is college football, though, and staying perfect all year is never going to be easy.
Ohio State sucks... the Big 10 Sucks... it's time to make a SUPER conference out of the MAC, seeing how those are the teams that give the Big 10 the most competition.
Austin Ward (2:20 PM)
Austin, methinks Allen in eagle-land and columbus are one in the same.
Austin Ward (2:23 PM)
There might be something to that, Pam. I mean, obviously the Big Ten is in a down cycle right now, but let's not get crazy with the love for the MAC.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Will Braxton Miller be able to make enough plays with his arm to keep the Michigan State defense honest and help the Buckeyes leave East Lansing with a victory?
Austin Ward (2:26 PM)
The Spartans are definitely going to make Miller prove that he can do it, Tony. I believe he can as long as the protection holds up -- he's really looked much more poised and accurate delivering the football than he did a year ago, almost like a completely different guy. Now, he's not a finished product yet, and if he can't take advantage of the deep shots to Devin Smith or Philly Brown, the offense could have a hard time generating consistent scoring drives. Miller just missed on one deep ball to Smith last week that had Meyer bothered even a couple days later, but by and large, I don't think he's really shown all the passing game can do at this point.
Desmond Howard seem to be a bit bored by having to go to EL this weekend. Maybe you could help him out and volunteer to go instead?
Austin Ward (2:28 PM)
Oh, I'll be there, Pam -- but I don't know if the GameDay folks would consider me as a viable option to fill in for Des on the set. I'm excited for the trip. It's the biggest game of the season at a stadium I've never been to before, so there's no chance of me being bored. I wish it was today, honestly.
I am a viable option to fill in for Des.
Hyde is back, Hall is back. How do you think Urban handles the running game with all the tools in the kit now?
Austin Ward (2:33 PM)
Having that full complement is a huge boost for the Buckeyes, Jeff. Hall and Hyde simply have different sets of skills, and to really do all the different things on the ground that Meyer wants to do, he needs both of them available. Hyde is much better runner in between the tackles and provides that power rushing that Meyer wants to establish. Hall is much better in space and forms a strong partnership in the option game. Meyer has hinted throughout the week that he'd like them both on the field at the same time on occasion, and that could give him something like a triple option that would be very difficult to defend or key on.
OSU always seems to have a strong LB corp. how did we get to where it is a weakness?
Austin Ward (2:35 PM)
There's been some attrition at the position over the last couple seasons that has really hurt both the talent of the first unit and the amount of depth in reserve. That simply wasn't something Meyer could correct with one recruiting class, spring practices and a training camp no matter how good that group of freshman might be down the road. I believe from the '09 and '10 recruiting classes at linebacker, Storm Klein is the only one on the roster still -- and even that wasn't the case this summer.
tammy [via mobile]
maybe allen needs to mac country
what kind spread are you giving this game?
Austin Ward (2:37 PM)
I like the Buckeyes by a touchdown. Going on the road for the first time is a test, but there are still plenty of veterans who have been through it all before on that Ohio State team, and I have a hard time imagining Michigan State doing much on offense. If the Spartans weren't so tough on defense, obviously, that number would be higher.
Chris (Daytona, FL)
First, I'll admit I'm a Gator fan, but the reason I'm on a Buckeye chat is to get an opinion from the "other side". I know a lot of my fellow UF fans now hold deep resentment towards Urban Meyer because of the way he left. Personally, I find myself appreciative of the success he led our program to over his term at UF. I'm just wondering about your take on his departure from UF AND how is he a different coach now that he's at OSU?
Austin Ward (2:39 PM)
During the season, I'm not sure much has really changed for Meyer. He's intense, driven, demanding really makes practices a challenge -- just like he did at Florida. I think the changes he's made are more about how he spends his time outside of the office and during the offseason, ensuring more time with his family and to take care of his health. Personally, I have a hard time understanding why there would be animosity for a coach that delivered two national championships to the school and then had a serious health issue to take care of and some priorities he wanted to get back in line.
Do you feel Fickell is feeling any pressure with the fact that the defense has not been up to par to this point in the season?
Austin Ward (2:41 PM)
Fickell might be feeling some from his boss to get the defense rolling a bit more smoothly, but I don't think the pressure is really about his job status or anything like that at this point. It's early in the year. The spread offenses Ohio State played neutralized the biggest strengths of the defense early in the season, though the missed tackles and poor communication have been particularly concerning for Meyer. This will be a big week for Fickell to prove his unit can still get things done.
Has Storm Klein officially been pegged as the starter again at MLB? What comes of Curtis Grant at this point? Being so young does this hurt his confidence or should it be a good building block for him to work with knowing he's almost there just not quite a complete product yet?
Austin Ward (2:43 PM)
That's a great question about Grant, Mike. It's puzzling how a kid with so much talent can be struggling to stay on the field right now, especially given all the extra reps and attention he had during training camp with Klein suspended. The Buckeyes have not officially named Klein the starter, but it was pretty clear based on the reps last week who the coaching staff trusted more. In my short time with Grant, I've been impressed with the way he's handled the rough start to his career and I would guess he could grow from this experience. He's going to have no shortage of support from Meyer on down through the staff, because they see the physical tools.
Any chance Hall finishes the season with more rushing yards than Miller?
Austin Ward (2:45 PM)
I don't think so, Andrew. Couple factors would keep him from doing that in my mind: Buckeyes trust Miller to get it done so much, when games get tight he'll dominate the touches; Hyde is back to cut down on his work load; and Miller again, since his carries seem much more likely to go the distance at any time compared to Hall.
Rod Smith looks like he's becoming the player everyone hoped a couple of years ago. How do we get enough snaps to get all these guys enough action?
Austin Ward (2:47 PM)
Smith is somewhat unfortunate to have Hyde returning this week given the way he's worked back into the good graces of the coaching staff, and Meyer has praised him at every turn for the last couple weeks. The guy appears to have truly turned the corner. He could still be a weapon on occasion, but I think he'll have a hard time getting much work with Hall and Hyde both back and Boren also capable of taking the ball in short-yardage situations. I think it's more of an encouraging sign for his future, particularly with Hall being a senior.
I honestly thought the Bucks would get throttled this week after watching the first 4 games. Then the MAC debacle M State had last week really thinks we could even win this one big is both lines show up with physicality.
Austin Ward (2:48 PM)
That's definitely the key to this one, Brett. The Buckeyes should have a clear advantage when their defensive line is on the field. How well they can hold up against those Spartans defenders will really determine this outcome.
There has been a lot of talk about how our defense is better suited to stopping the B1G style of play and not so much these spread or quick-release offenses we have faced. If the coaches are right about that, the Dline should have a great opportunity to live up to their billing. Would you take the over/under on sacks at 4.5?
Austin Ward (2:49 PM)
That's a pretty good number there, Steve. Notre Dame had four if I remember correctly, and I would definitely rather have Ohio State's group up front with the way Hankins is playing and having Nathan Williams gaining strength opposite Simon. I know I'm kind of hedging here, but if the Buckeyes can get a lead and force the Spartans to throw, I would take the over -- barely.
Meyer seems to take special teams very seriously, but their special teams have been awful this year. Can you explain?
Austin Ward (2:51 PM)
That's been a strange development from the first four weeks, obviously with that punt block for a touchdown capturing everybody's attention last week. Meyer has tweaked his lineup this week since he's been playing too many true freshmen in important spots on those units and trying to get them experience. That's one big adjustment -- the other might simply be a transition to a different way of doing things taking some time and growing pains to become familiar.
Kevin (Reno, NV)
Who other than Braxton Miller needs to step up if the Buckeyes are going to defeat Michigan State this weekend?
Austin Ward (2:53 PM)
It's going to have to be a collective effort from the offensive line, but one guy in particular to watch would be Reid Fragel there up front. He's taken huge strides since training camp when he was fighting just to win a job, and he really handled himself well at right tackle last week. If Miller has time to deliver the ball on those deep shots in man coverage, the Spartans will have a hard time slowing down the Buckeyes.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Do you think some in the Big Ten hope the preseason favorite Spartans win on Saturday given Ohio State's bowl status? A win would establish the Buckeyes as the clear conference frontrunner which would be catastrophic given they can't win the title.
Austin Ward (2:54 PM)
It certainly wouldn't help the perception of the league this year, right? I don't know if they'd go so far as to pull for Michigan State to win, but if the Buckeyes do establish themselves as the front-runner and deal the Spartans another loss already, that would give the chances of sending a couple teams to the BCS a big hit.
Adam I'm a little late but noticed this "but let's not get crazy with the love for the MAC." Speilman said on Columbus radio last night that the top MAC teams could compete for the Big Ten title this season. Thoughts?
Austin Ward (2:56 PM)
I respect his opinion, but on this one, I have a hard time agreeing with it. I don't think a team like Ohio would be able to stand up to a full Big Ten schedule -- I just don't see the athletes to compete every week with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska ... These are still strong programs, even if they're not all currently living up to the lofty standards of the league.
Austin, say the OSU-MSU game ends up being somewhat lopsided in favor of the Buckeyes, what will next week's headline be the Buckeyes got lucky in a sub-par B1G..or it is finally starting to click for the Buckeyes but the B1G is still sub-par?
Austin Ward (2:57 PM)
Similar to those previous questions about the league, I think there will still be people that take shots at the Big Ten all season long. But if Ohio State goes on the road and takes out the Spartans with ease, there will be way more headlines about how the Buckeyes are back instead.
Austin Ward (2:58 PM)
I know there are a number of questions I haven't gotten to yet, folks, but I'm running out of time. I'll try to squeeze in as many as I can before I jet out of here. Thanks again for all the great comments and questions.
do you feel that shazier had too high of expectations coming into the year, most fans felt he was going to be potential all big. what i see when he plays is someone who plays too fast and maybe just wants the big play and sometimes forgets responsibilities.
Austin Ward (2:59 PM)
I've been very impressed with Shazier's start to the season, even if there have been a few missed assignments along the way. He's got an incredible ability to make up for them with his athleticism and great instincts, and I don't think there's any reason to lower expectations for him moving forward as the game slows down for him.
How can the bucks get stoneburner more involved. Florida always seemed to target the TE a lot more than we are this year.(still a te to me)
Austin Ward (3:00 PM)
I think the best way to get Stoneburner more involved and make the offense even more difficult to defend is to get him in routes down the middle of the field. The Buckeyes haven't taken a lot of shots that direction so far, but Stoneburner is a matchup nightmare in the seam -- and if he goes another week without a catch, that won't be a good sign for the offense.
Do you think Meyer starts out the first quarter by taking more shots down the field to stretch out that defense?
Austin Ward (3:02 PM)
I don't know if it will be on the first play or right away like it was last week, since Meyer will also want to see if he can line up and run it at the Spartans. But absolutely, he's going to take a few gambles down the field in man-coverage situations and try to generate big plays that would also open up lanes for Miller, Hall and Hyde to run.
Austin Ward (3:02 PM)
Thanks again, everybody. Sorry I didn't get to everything -- I'll do better next week. Enjoy the game this weekend!