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!
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
What will be the Coldest College Football Game that Ohio State will play this season?
Austin Ward (2:02 PM)
I'm not a weather man, so that one will be tough for me to answer. I would guess Saturday will be the coldest of the season -- and then the road trip to Wisconsin could top it, and then it could be pretty chilly in Columbus for the finale in late September. Not sure anybody at Ohio State is worried about the weather right now.
Do you see Kenny G and Braxton on the field at the same time, any time soon? Maybe vs TSUN? Thanks, Go Bucks. O! H!...
Austin Ward (2:04 PM)
Meyer hasn't been talking about that as much as he was earlier in the season, so I wouldn't expect to see it this season the way I did about a month ago. The issue now seems to be that with Guiton on the field, Braxton would be even more of a running back than he is now -- and Meyer isn't exactly in a hurry to put his quarterback in position to take more punishment than he already does at his natural position. With the inside-outside threat Miller poses with Hyde, I don't think there's really even a great benefit to rolling them both out there at the same time right now.
There has been some talk that this may be Urban's worst team here, at least for the forseeable future. Do you agree?
Austin Ward (2:11 PM)
I really don't see how the Buckeyes will be less talented over the next couple years. That doesn't mean they will always be undefeated after nine games, but Meyer is going to keep recruiting at a high level and he is clearly not playing with a loaded roster at this point. I don't think the cupboards were as bare as some people might have thought when he arrived, and he's going to have to fill some holes on defense next year, but the Buckeyes shouldn't be in a position again like they are now where they have to move a fullback over to linebacker in the middle of the season -- and he winds up being a starter.
David Dawson recently has Ohio State in his top three. Could Meyer close out with a group of Bell, Dawson, Quick, Johnson, and Mitchell? IF so that would be AMAZING!
Austin Ward (2:12 PM)
I wouldn't put anything past him at this point. The momentum is clearly in Ohio State's favor thanks to the perfect season, and if it closes with three more wins, look out -- more and more people will want to jump on board.
What is Coach Meyer doing to address the special teams? Way too many mistakes.
Austin Ward (2:15 PM)
The main thing he's trying to do is get healthy, because that's what appears to be the biggest issue. The kickoff unit, for example, has lost seven players to injury throughout the season. The punt protection group has had to shuffle through contributors as well, and communication breakdowns have led to those disasters in that phase. There doesn't seem to be any belief on the coaching staff that scheme is the problem, because it has worked wonders elsewhere and Meyer has traditionally had the best kicking games in the country. The third phase has been where the lack of roster depth has shown up the most -- however, the Buckeyes also have been solid covering kicks for the most part, they've blocked a handful of field goals/PATs and have their own punt return for a score.
What do you attribute the OSU defensive showing against Penn State? Do you think this is something to continue, or will they regress in the coming weeks?
Austin Ward (2:17 PM)
It's been a two-week thing for the defense, and the simplification of the scheme with more man coverage and much more blitzing has been the biggest difference. That really plays to Ohio State's strength more than what it was doing in coverage early in the year did, because Bradley Roby and Travis Howard are about as good as it gets for a combination of cornerbacks. I don't see any reason for them to regress over the next three games, particularly with Sabino coming back after the bye week, Nathan Williams and Michael Bennett getting stronger and stronger and C.J. Barnett back in the mix as well.
Pat (Charlotte, NC)
Do you think Stoneburner's touchdown against Penn State will get him back on track again?
Austin Ward (2:18 PM)
I think he was already back on track, Pat -- which is why he scored against Penn State. After his heart-to-heart chat with Meyer three weeks ago, Stoneburner responded with four catches against Indiana, three of them picked up first downs and another came up just a yard short. The transition for him wasn't easy, certainly not like expected anyway, but Stoneburner has given the Buckeyes exactly what they've wanted over the last three games.
Not sure if basketball is discussed here, but tOSU had a little sloppy ex game but LQ Ross played pretty good, do you see Matta keeping the starting 5 of Craft, Smith, Ross, Thomas, Williams? I think that is the best lineup mainly because Thompson, and Ravenel are great bench players IMO.
Austin Ward (2:20 PM)
I don't think that's the permanent starting five, and Matta indicated after the game that he wanted Ross to experience what it was like to be out there with the first group and playing some meaningful minutes right off the bat. Sam Thompson still wound up getting more playing time than Ross, and it will be interesting to see how that battle for action plays out between the two of them. I can really only remember one shot by Ross that seemed forced, and he was productive in that otherwise sloppy win. He might be ready to break out a bit.
Follow-up: I am assuming scheme includes the rugby style kick? I have always hated it because the punter holds the ball for an additional second. Obviously I defer to Coach Meyer but just curious if he might change that?
Austin Ward (2:22 PM)
Meyer just said on his radio show about two hours ago that he didn't believe the snap-to-kick time was an issue at all for the Buckeyes. It does seem to me that Buchanan has been slow at times, but he has reiterated on several occasions that it's been a personnel and communication issue with his protection unit that must be corrected.
Will Curtis Grant ever see the field again at LB? Maybe he can move to DE.
Austin Ward (2:25 PM)
The coaching staff doesn't have the confidence in Grant to put him on the field right now, but they also still see the athleticism and potential in him that made him such a highly touted recruit in the first place. Players develop at different speeds, and Grant has obviously not been one of the faster guys, but the comparison that is made quite frequently around the program is Etienne Sabino -- who had to take a redshirt in the middle of his career to get on track and then became an invaluable contributor as a senior. The reason I think Grant gets so much attention right now (aside from his recruiting profile), is that Ohio State simply doesn't have veterans ahead of him that would theoretically be making it more difficult to get on the field.
Looking two weeks ahead, do you think that tOSU defense will be able to stop the aggressive running game of the Wis Badgers? The run stopping D of the past has struggled this year.
Austin Ward (2:28 PM)
I don't think that's really an issue for Ohio State to worry about. The Buckeyes are third in the Big Ten against the run and just held Penn State to 32 yards -- and the Badgers actually rushed for even less than that last week against Michigan State, using that aggressive running game to bulldoze to 19 yards. I think the Buckeyes will be just fine, because one thing they have done really well is stop traditional rushing attacks with Hankins and Goebel clogging up the middle.
ANY hope for signing some top LB prospects for 2013?
Austin Ward (2:29 PM)
That is the top priority at this point, Jon. My colleague at BuckeyeNation just touched on some linebacker prospects in the last week or so, and I'll pass along the link here in a minute. The opportunity to come in and compete right away is certainly something the Buckeyes can sell.
In terms of next year, OSU is really only losing a couple O-lineman on offense right? Assuming Hall is granted the medical redshirt.
Austin Ward (2:30 PM)
Offensively, Reid Fragel will be gone but the rest of the offensive line will return intact. Jordan Hall is expected to get his redshirt, and the only other senior the Buckeyes will lose on that side of the ball is Jake Stoneburner
What is your too early preseason ranking for tOSU 2013?
Austin Ward (2:32 PM)
I would guess the Buckeyes would come in around No. 3 in the preseason poll. If Alabama keeps rolling along to a title, I anticipate they would keep getting credit at No. 1, and then maybe a team like Oregon might finally get a bit more preseason attention after being (unjustly) overshadowed by USC this year.
I hate to say it but I don't think the Bucks have any real chance at the AP title even if they go undefeated and everyone else has a loss. Agree? Disagree? Frankly I am not sure they would deserve it with such a mediocre Big 10 and no marquee bowl game to win.
Austin Ward (2:34 PM)
I am pretty certain the chances of an AP title vanished with the close win over Indiana and the escape against Purdue. In a normal season where there would be a Big Ten title game and BCS numbers to crunch, those games wouldn't really be an issue since the Buckeyes simply needed to stay undefeated. In the playoff setup down the road, as well, they'd still be in line to compete for a national title. But this year, without those two extra games and with some of the close losses and the volume of unbeaten teams ahead of them right now, there's not much chance of that happening in the AP poll.
James.... (Camel, CA)
Austin, love your coverage of my bucks, so thank you. In your opinion, how long until Urban sees the National Championship game? Is next year too soon? Is OSU the only team in the forseeable future to have those kind of aspirations? Are you a closet Buckeye fan? Go Bucks.
Austin Ward (2:37 PM)
Thanks for the kind words and the questions, James. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect the Buckeyes to be contending for a spot in the title game next year, particularly with a schedule that sets up so favorably for them and the continued development of one of the best athletes in the country at quarterback. If that doesn't happen and Miller is around for a senior season, Ohio State would surely be a contender in the playoff the following year. If you're asking if Ohio State is the only team capable of projecting title game appearances over the next couple years, I certainly don't think that's the case as long as Nick Saban is at Alabama. And, no, I have no rooting allegiances in college football.
Any word if the Bucks are wearing 2002 throwbacks/pro combat unis for the MichiGinn game?
Austin Ward (2:38 PM)
I haven't seen them to know for sure and Ohio State isn't publicly confirming that, but that's the word I'm hearing about the uniforms for The Game.
James.... (Camel, CA)
Sorry Austin, I meant the forseeable future of BIG teams
Austin Ward (2:39 PM)
Oh, OK, gotcha. Then I do think Ohio State is the only team I would make that assessment about in the Big Ten. Michigan is recruiting well and has a chance to get back on the stage, but I can't see how they are possibly positioned as well as the Buckeyes for a run like that at this point based on the momentum Meyer has already generated and the future Miller has with the program.
Jim Tressel.... (The Shoe...)
Austin, how cool would it be to have ME do the pregame speech to the team before the annual showdown with TTUN? Those seniors would play their hearts out...crazy idea or cool?
Austin Ward (2:43 PM)
I'm not really sure about that idea, honestly. I've also kind of wondered dating back to August when the talk of Tressel returning to be honored for the 10-year title anniversary started how the reaction might be if the Buckeyes were undefeated going into The Game and couldn't play for a national championship because of those things that happened under his watch. I don't really have a strong feeling either way, since he deserves to be there with his players from that memorable team, but there could be some hard feelings as well.
Matt (Up North)
Is there a very real chance the Big 10 moves back to the Big 2 and little 10 in your opinion? I would maybe throw in Nebraska with the Big 2 but I am not sure how they recruit nationally anymore and the Big 10 footprint clearly does not have enough elite talent to go around.
Austin Ward (2:45 PM)
I think it's going to be really tough for teams to keep pace, particularly with what Penn State is going to go through over the next four years. Wisconsin and Nebraska are similar programs at this point in my mind, and I think both have challenges that would make it difficult to keep up with the Big Two in the league when they really get rolling. I don't want to rule anything out, obviously, but what Meyer is already doing to the league and the way the rest of the Big Ten struggled so much this season makes me believe that scenario is definitely a real possibility.
Austin, with the problems OSU is having against spread offenses, will they be able to contain MI this year?
Austin Ward (2:49 PM)
That depends on if Michigan can get and keep its quarterback healthy, but even if he does play, that offense seems to turn the ball over way to frequently and hasn't really been that effective because of that this season. The Wolverines are just No. 7 in the league in total offense, and while the Buckeyes have had their issues defensively at times, they've really tightened things up against the perimeter screens and tackled much better lately. So, I still think they have the edge in The Game.
iefam (southern California )
If the Ohio state buckeyes win out what are the chances Braxton Miller wins the heisman?
Austin Ward (2:54 PM)
It will obviously depend on what Miller does in those games, but if the Buckeyes finish 12-0, he is close to a lock to be in New York. Winning that trophy is going to depend also on what the Kansas State quarterback does down the stretch or if Oregon starts letting its guys rack up stats late in the game as much as what Miller does in his next three outings. But because of when the voting takes place, the lack of a postseason shouldn't make much difference when it comes time to count the ballots for the Heisman. And if he turns in a huge outing against Michigan to lock up a perfect record, he'll have a great shot at winning it.
Austin Ward (2:55 PM)
All right, folks -- have to sneak out just a few minutes early this week. Thanks again for all the great questions and comments. Enjoy the weekend, and see you again next week!