April 25, 2004

Buckeye Musings

It was a lovely afternoon in Columbus yesterday for the Ohio State Spring Game. 65 degrees and sunny, and our seats on the 50-yard line in the fourth row of the upper deck were optimal for watching individual performances. My two friends and I rarely needed to consult the program for uniform numbers, such is our familiarity with the roster. I suspect we annoyed the heck out of those seated around us by narrating the action for our own satisfaction, complete with editorial comment, oblivious to the risk that we might be sitting behind the third-string tight end's mom, while trashing her son's hands.

For the record, the Scarlet beat the Gray, 13-0, but for Buckeye fans this exercise is about watching individual players to see who is best suited to replace the record14 Buckeyes drafted in the NFL Draft this weekend. No doubt much will be made about the loss of those 14 players in the "experts" pre-season predictions for this fall's team, but I would say that the 2004 Buckeyes will be more, not less talented than last year's version. They are green, and that inexperience will probably cost them a game or two this season, but they are loaded, especially on defense, and should contend for the national championship in 2005.

Dealing first with the defense, our consensus MVP's for the afternoon were sophomore DE Jay Richardson, safety Brandon Mitchell, safety Donte Whitner, linebacker Thomas Matthews, transfer linebacker Anthony Schlegel, and CB Ashton Youboty. Honorable mentions for defenders go to LB John Kerr (a transfer from Indiana), freshman DE Marcel Frost, and sophomore DT Quinn Pitcock.

Mitchell should be pressing Nate Salley for one starting safety spot (Whitner has the other one) based on yesterday's performance. And the speedy Matthews, a converted safety, had multiple sacks yesterday, and deserves playing time behind our stellar group of starting linebackers, Hawk, Carpenter and Schlegel. He reminds me of how Cie Grant played the role of "speed linebacker" in the championship season.

What is striking about the defense is the depth of all three groups, line, linebackers and DB's. There is more game experience on defense as well, so look for that group to have to carry the offense through the first few games of the season (sound familiar?). This team will lose only Simon Fraser and Dustin Fox to graduation from this defense, so the future looks bright indeed for the D.

On offense, Justin Zwick probably solidified his hold on the starter's job. Troy Smith looked good early, but was hampered by a lack of top skilled position players on the Gray team, as well as by his own bad desicion-making at times. In addition to that, the QB's were discouraged from running with the ball, and could not be tackled, so the scrambling game that is Troy Smith's game, was negated to a great degree. Zwick threw the "out" patterns fairly well, although he wasn't close on several fades down near the goal line, and looked a bit erratic on the few occasions when he chose to go longer down the field. There were very few long pass completions by either side, a testament to the quality of the pass rush and the DB play on both sides.

Our threesome picked out MVP performances on offense by Scarlet receivers John Hollins and Tony Gonzalez, tackles T.J. Downing and Rob Sims, and of course the game's star, Antonio Pittman, the freshman running back from Akron Buchtel, who was as impressive in person as his statistics (105 yds.) imply. He caught the ball well, and showed excellent acceleration and lateral moves, as well as some toughness after the hit. I hope he doesn't get buried behind senior Lydell Ross, who only wishes he had some of Pittman's running instincts. From the looks of it, Pittman will play in the fall.

It's a good thing that Hollins and Gonzalez showed well Saturday, because two of the three starting wide receivers didn't show much. Roy Hall was perhaps the victim of bad luck to be on the Gray team, where Smith couldn't get him the ball, but Bam Childress continued to show his hands are shaky, even though he's exciting to watch in the open field. The offensive line is the big question mark on this team, and is the area in which graduation hurts the most. There will be three new starters, including both guard spots and at right tackle. Right now it looks like Doug Datish, Mike Kne, and Tim Schafer are penciled in there, but any number of guys, including Kirk Barton, Downing, or incoming freshmen Ben Person or Kyle Mitchum could be playing before we're very far into the 2004 season.

I'm comfortable with Zwick at quarterback. He looks to be in charge, and is a proven winner from his scholastic days. I do hope that Smith's skills are utilized though. He is a weapon that Tressel would be wise to get on the field any way he can. I don't favor a platoon system at QB, and Tressel has indicated he wants to avoid that as well, but Troy Smith can definitely help this team win.

Posted by dan at April 25, 2004 8:26 PM