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! Let's get right to it.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
What College Football Players who are Now Playing at Ohio State will be Playing in the NFL in 2013?
Austin Ward (2:02 PM)
The Buckeyes could have a pretty busy draft day next spring, but the most interesting cases to watch will be Johnathan Hankins and Bradley Roby as they face decisions about whether or not to come back for a run at a championship. Hankins will have the tougher call since he's currently projected to be a top-10 pick, but why Roby isn't getting more attention at this point is hard for me to understand. I don't expect Roby to leave, he's talked recently about wanting to win a national title, but Hankins may be difficult to keep for Meyer.
Austin,Love your work. Any information on possible LB recruits that Urban is targeting?
Austin Ward (2:05 PM)
Thanks, Pete. I appreciate that. The No. 1 target at that position for the Buckeyes is Mike Mitchell out of Plano, Texas -- a tremendous athlete who the ESPN experts believe could play right away and make an impact. It really seems to play in Ohio State's favor that they have that instant playing time to offer, and it needs to get him on campus for an official visit perhaps to help sell that pitch even more. Certainly that is a position group that the defense has to shore up if it's going to win a title next season.
With the poor performance of the defense this year, do you think think anyone is on the hotseat?
Austin Ward (2:07 PM)
I don't think so, Nate. There are too many other factors at work at this point to think a change in staff is likely for the Buckeyes. Meyer was well aware of the limitations of this current roster on defense even before the injuries started to take a toll, and last week the entire unit was much more sound and showed marked improvement from those rough outings over the previous two weeks. There are some scheme adjustments that Meyer seems to want tweaked moving forward, but I would be surprised if there were any sweeping changes to the staff.
Kyle (Durham, NC)
With the Buckeyes being so thin in most positions, who is left to play the LB positions? Any new names that we may see play in that position?
Austin Ward (2:08 PM)
Nathan Williams filled in there at times last week, and from the sounds of things in practice so far getting ready for Penn State, it appears the Buckeyes will use him there more extensively on Saturday. Boren and Williams seem to be getting more comfortable and settled in those roles, which has obviously helped, and Noah Spence is beginning to come on and be a factor at end. Joshua Perry and Camren Williams are the freshmen at the top of the list that have to step up, but David Perkins could be emerging as well based on a strong outing on special teams against Purdue.
What are the chances that a red shirt season will be granted to Jordan Hall?
Austin Ward (2:10 PM)
Meyer evidently has done all the research on that and it checked out, so it appears almost to be a done deal that Hall's season is over and he will redshirt. I am not sure of the specific logistics for how it will be applied for him since it's not a medical redshirt in the sense that he's looking for a sixth year of eligibility, so I am still seeking some clarification on that. But every sign is now pointing to Hall coming back for another year with the Buckeyes.
Is this the week the luck runs out for the Buckeyes. They are just so slow to the ball on defense and the way they give up big plays is alarming. Most Buckeye homers can't see this, but meyer has to know this team would lose 5-6 games in the SEC.
Austin Ward (2:13 PM)
I don't think I would go that far, Sarah. This Ohio State offense poses some significant challenges for defenses, and just off the top of my head, they wouldn't be losing to the likes of Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss, etc. -- but either way, there's a reason Meyer hasn't been talking about this team deserving votes as the No. 1 program in the land. He has talked openly about still trying to close the gap with Alabama and Florida recently, and as you mentioned, that will start on defense. I still think the Buckeyes, if Miller is truly himself on Saturday, will have enough firepower on offense to beat Penn State.
What is up with Boren seeing so many snaps at LB? I know Sabino is out, have Grant and the rest of the underclassmen been so bad that Urban doesn't trust them?
Austin Ward (2:16 PM)
That is absolutely the issue, Alex. That's not uncommon for freshmen at any position, and while Grant is a sophomore, he's also struggling to get a grasp on his responsibilities on defense and not ready to contribute. A guy like Sabino is a perfect example that it doesn't happen overnight for some people, and Grant has the tools to still be productive down the road. Now, it does look a bit odd given the fact that Boren was able to seemingly just jump right in and make an impact, but that seems to have a lot to do with his veteran approach to the game and a high football IQ rather than a specific knock on the young guys -- some of which are dealing with injuries as well.
hunter roberts (sioux city ia)
will ohio state beat the team up north this year?
Austin Ward (2:16 PM)
I have given Ohio State the edge in that game since before the season, and nothing I've seen over eight weeks has convinced me to change my mind. Michigan seems to be too careless with the football, and a healthy Braxton Miller is likely to have a field day to close out the season.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Jonathan Hankins is ranked in the Top 10 by both Kiper and McShay? Has he played at that level this season in your opinion? Or is there evaluation based more on potential at this point?
Austin Ward (2:19 PM)
Possibly a mix, Tony, but I think it relies more heavily on what they've seen on film so far this season. Going into the year, yeah, it would have been more on potential with his size, speed, etc. But while Hankins doesn't put up a lot of numbers, there is no doubt he changes the game with the blockers he takes on, the pockets he collapses and the way he stuffs the run when teams are foolish enough to try to run inside on the Buckeyes.
Everyone is talking about PSU's offense exploiting OSU's defense, but PSU's defense hasn't played anything close to OSU's offense yet. Do we really know how good PSU's defense is yet?
Austin Ward (2:21 PM)
This may be the toughest test for Penn State that its had on both sides of the ball this season, so Saturday should reveal a lot about how different the program really is after that rough start to the season. I don't think there's any question the defense is going to make it tougher for the Buckeyes to move the ball than it has been over the last couple weeks for them, and the front seven is very talented and a reason for concern for the staff. I'm more interested to see if Matt McGloin is capable of keeping his roll going against the best secondary he'll see all season. It didn't work for Taylor Martinez.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
How badly does Meyer need to land a game changer like Quick or Foster on the outside to keep defense honest and prevent Miller from getting killed?
Austin Ward (2:23 PM)
I'm not sure there's a word strong enough to properly describe how badly Meyer wants and needs that. At times Corey "Philly" Brown has helped with that, but he doesn't really have that ability to make people miss and accelerate to a really top-end speed that somebody like, oh, Percy Harvin had. Now, I realize that's a bit unfair to compare the two, but that's the kind of athlete Meyer has recruited in the past and turned into trophies when he landed him.
Isn't it true that as a conference the Big 10 just is a shade above the ACC?
Austin Ward (2:24 PM)
As rough as the Big Ten has had it this season, I have a hard time thinking the difference between the two leagues is that small. I don't think Duke would be competing for a berth in the Big Ten title game.
McGloin is much improved this year, but he's going to have to throw the ball 45 times this week for Penn St. to win. Teams in a pro-set have not rushed well against OSU at all. Can McGloin throw that many times and avoid the turnovers?
Austin Ward (2:27 PM)
I really think that's the key to the game this weekend, Jared, and you made a great point about teams trying to line up and rush in a traditional way against the Buckeyes -- that doesn't work. The Ohio State roster is built right now to stop that kind of approach, even as banged up as the defensive line has been, Hankins, Goebel and Simon just won't allow teams to rush between the tackles with any kind of consistent success. Adding Spence and Williams into the pass-rushing equation figures to put McGloin in some tough spots, and Roby and Howard are really playing at a high level lately in coverage and have proven capable of forcing turnovers.
PSU's offense has been much better than anticipated, what are the key's for OSU to slow them down?
Austin Ward (2:29 PM)
As mentioned, the Buckeyes are going to have to force some turnovers and get McGloin out of his comfort zone with the pass rush. They also have to make sure they stay fundamentally sound when the Nittany Lions go to that NASCAR, uptempo approach and keep communicating -- the touchdown last week on the first play came from a coverage breakdown at safety (Meyer said it wasn't Klein). And then, obviously, when the time comes to make a tackle, they can't afford to give away extra yards with poor fundamentals.
It seems like the Bucks have the biggest problem stopping spread offenses and have been pretty good at limiting pro style offenses like MSU. Doesn't that bode well for them against PSU?
Austin Ward (2:32 PM)
Heading into the game, I think that's the case, Andrew. But O'Brien is more than capable of putting together a good game plan with his experience calling the shots and could try to put Penn State in situations to exploit the Buckeyes -- I'm thinking mainly of putting in a few screens. The flip side to that is, Ohio State knows where it has had the most trouble, and it made some adjustments against Purdue and got the stops it needed most against those plays, including a big play from Hankins. So it should be a cat-and-mouse game, but if Penn State does try the straightforward approach, I think it will be outmatched in personnel.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Will the linebacking corps prevent the Buckeyes from seriously challenging for the national title in 2014?
Austin Ward (2:37 PM)
Are you giving up on 2013, Tony? Maybe just factoring in the actual year the title game is played? Either way, I don't think it's going to keep the Buckeyes from contending next season or the year after that. The class that is on campus now is talented, and I can't stress enough that just because it isn't having much of an impact right away is not a reason for concern moving into the future. If Ohio State had to play Alabama or Florida or Oregon this January, that would be a major problem -- but the Buckeyes are just getting started trying to catch up from major attrition over three recruiting classes at linebacker. There are really no juniors to speak of at the second level, which makes things exceptionally difficult. There still won't be that many true veterans a year from now, but some of the freshmen are already getting some experience that should help speed up that process.
Do you know when Sabino is expected to return? Not sure we need him for Illinois next weekend, but we certianly will against Wisconsin and TTUN.
Austin Ward (2:38 PM)
Meyer made it sound like Sabino was really pushing to get back for this week, but it's just not going to happen. That would have been a pretty impressive rehab, and potentially he could make a case at some point perhaps to get on the field for Illinois, but that remains a bit of stretch still. It does appear like he'll be back for the final two games, Andrew.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Is the 100 recruits attending the Penn State game accurate, or a bunch of hype? If true, is having a large number of recruits like this common, or just a sign of the current state of affairs in Unhappy Valley?
Austin Ward (2:41 PM)
Tony, I don't know specifics about the number or recruits that will be there -- I'll have to check with our friends over at NittanyNation to get a count. But I have read similar stories about that for this weekend, and while that number is definitely up there, I wouldn't call it uncommon. The Buckeyes are going to have a huge number of recruits on campus for the Michigan game because a program wants to bring them into an environment that can generate the most excitement. For Penn State, that's a night game with a Whiteout against a top-10 opponent.
At some point, as a leader on the team, doesn't Braxton's constant issues of having to leave the field hurt, become a detriment to the psyche of the team? He's an amazing talent, but a bit of a drama-king, who may not know the diff btw "hurt" and "injured".
Austin Ward (2:43 PM)
It seems to be having the opposite affect on the Buckeyes, Ali. Certainly it hurts them when he's gone for extended periods like he was when he was taken to the hospital on Saturday, but when there is a backup capable of picking up and finishing drives and a starter who continues to shake off big hits, take a lot of punishment and come back in the game like he did the previous three weeks, that raises the confidence in both players and the rest of the offense. I think it's also worth noting that two of those hits that knocked him out of games briefly were penalized for being out of bounds, and the one last week was a modified horse collar -- so it's not like Miller is just falling apart on standard tackles.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Correct, I was taking into account the year the BCS title would be played for the 2013 season?
Austin Ward (2:45 PM)
Gotcha, Tony. That's kind of what I figured. Either way, I think the Buckeyes are in strong position heading into the next couple seasons.
Austin Ward (2:46 PM)
My colleague Josh Moyer does have a story up on NittanyNation that confirms more than 100 recruits are expected on Saturday, just for some clarification on that.
Will you be doing these chats during the basketball season as well? No postseason ban there!
Austin Ward (2:51 PM)
Absolutely, Andrew -- we'll keep going strong all the way through basketball season, and by then there will be no postseason ban for football either as spring practice kicks back up.
What sort of expectations, especially offensively will be placed on the 2013 recruiting class, given that it is Urban's first full recruiting class at OSU and the sort of athletes that are coming on board?
Austin Ward (2:56 PM)
That's an interesting question, Tony, and I hadn't really thought about it from that angle before. At certain positions, the Buckeyes are going to need those newcomers to really provide a spark and a lift for the offense to go to an even higher level -- and obviously that mostly means at receiver. But most of the other positions are already going to have veterans, so it won't be as important on the offensive line or at running back or, obviously, quarterback, to come in and contribute instantly. Theoretically the Buckeyes should be in a position to restock and develop elsewhere on the offense. Overall, the biggest expectation never changes. Those kids are going to be expected to win the Big Ten and compete for national championships as long as they are on campus.
Austin Ward (2:58 PM)
Great stuff as always, folks. Had a good time with those questions and comments, and I'm already excited for more next week -- after enjoying another weekend of football, of course. Have a great Saturday!
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