Ohio State Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
Ohio State Buckeyes
Posted Aug 5, 2006

Ohio State Buckeyes Preview 2006 - Further Analysis

Scout.com Insider Notes
By Steve Helwagen

1) The number one positive is the return of Troy Smith at quarterback. For his first 1-1/2 years as a regular, Smith seemed to live off being an athlete playing quarterback. But as the 2005 season evolved, Smith became a true quarterback. Look at the final drive at Michigan. Instead of running with the football – which he would have in the past – he stayed live in the pocket and found Anthony Gonzalez for the play that probably defined OSU’s season. Without that, they may not have beaten Michigan and certainly would not have gone to the Fiesta Bowl to play Notre Dame. Smith had 300 yards against Michigan and 342 against ND. OSU coaches and fans want to see what he does over a 13-game slate as a senior, and he is the unquestioned leader of the team.

2) Two members of Jim Tressel’s offensive brain trust – coordinator/line coach Jim Bollman and quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels – were each hospitalized recently after experiencing heart problems. Bollman and Daniels are each veteran coaches and two of Tressel’s most trusted advisors. It remains to be seen how quickly they will be able to get back into the swing of things and what impact that may or may not have on the Buckeyes in 2006. Tressel calls the plays, certainly, but he relies very heavily on those two coaches, in particular, in formulating game plans.

3) No team in at least the last decade has won the national championship after losing as many as nine starters on defense from the previous season. Yes, that is a bit of an arcane fact, but it is a fact nonetheless. Moreover, OSU went through a similar situation in 2004 when it lost a ton of talent on both sides of the ball (14 OSU players – a record for a 7-round draft – were taken in the 2004 NFL draft). That 2004 defense at least had A.J. Hawk. This one does not. But this 2006 Ohio State team has an offense and a quarterback who can erase or overcome some defensive mistakes. That 2004 team did not.

1st and Ten – Did someone find the owner’s manual? – During the opening game of 2005, head coach Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes showed a myriad of sets, formations and plays centered around Miami University’s defensive focus on Ted Ginn, Jr.  It was almost as if Tressel understood that he could utilize Ginn, Jr. like the queen on a chess board – defenses had to know where he was at all times, as he could strike from anywhere, anytime.  His alignment drew maximum attention, but somewhere along the line, in the first six games of the year, or so, teams realized that Ginn, Jr. just wasn’t going to be the focus of the offense.  Defensive coordinators became more concerned with the dual threat skills of QB Troy Smith and the receiving acumen of WR Santonio Holmes.  Ginn, Jr. didn’t command the respect that should be afforded an electric talent like TGJ.  But, the lack of use, in some respect, forced Ginn to have to become a more complete receiver, not an alignment/formation anomaly.  He became more comfortable going across the middle, along with learning how the little nuances in becoming a true perimeter receiver.  In three of the last four games, Ginn, Jr, was magnificent – against Illinois, Michigan and Notre Dame, Ginn had 21 catches for 394 yards and was blossoming into a star.  It’s akin to when Nolan Ryan could finally throw his curve ball slower than 88 miles per hour; his managers/pitching coaches wouldn’t let him throw early in his career because it was too fast.  Before he could throw the curve ball effectively, hitters were forced to hit 100 mph all the time.  It was hard, but you knew what was coming.  Then, he developed his breaking ball and he dropped a 12 to 6 on you at 85 mph, while you were looking for 100 mph gas.  Suffice it to say, you were, well, you were toast.  Same with Ginn.  If the Buckeyes kept throwing him perimeter bubble screens or quick hitches, you still would struggle stopping it, but you knew what was coming.  Now?  He polished his route running in the spring and can now be a threat anywhere on the field, deep, intermediate, short, sideline, seam, 5, 10 or 50 yards downfield.  Tressel may not have used Ginn, Jr. like we all wanted to use him, but it might’ve been the best tonic for a young receiver ready to be a star.

2nd and Seven – P’s and Q’s – Talk about feeling lonely.  Last year’s huddle was dominated by first round NFL draft picks and All-Big Ten talent.  David Patterson and Quinn Pitcock were surrounded, and it had to feel oh so good.  Flash forward one year, no more Hawk, Whitner, Schlegel or Carpenter - Patterson and Pitcock have become the leaders and the focal points for this Ohio State defense.  Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock gets the maximum out of his middle guys, but he wants guys who are tough, quick and aggressive.  He’d probably like to see these two take a bit more of the point of attack brunt this fall to allow some ‘green’ linebackers to run free to the football.  But, with these two, he does know that they’ve got the quickness to penetrate like a one gap tackle should do.  If the Buckeyes mind their P’s and Q’s, they should be strong up the middle in 2006.

3rd and Three – Rebuild or reload? – The biggest question around Columbus and in Big Ten circles this past winter and spring had to be how well the Buckeye back four would perform in 2006, after losing Donte Whitner, Ashton Youboty, Nate Salley and Tyler Everett.  As soon as Youboty and Whitner made the break for the NFL a year early, the cause for concern alarm went off loud and clear in the Midwest.  But, at a place like Ohio State, blue chip recruits replace first round draft picks, that’s just the way it works.  Malcolm Jenkins looks like former OU star CB Derrick Strait, wearing #2 with good ball skills and good size.  He could end up being the next first round cornerback on this squad.  There will be a battle at the safety spots, but that should ensure a fierce competition from the first day of fall camp to the opener against Northern Illinois.  The only difference in this year’s crew and last year’s is uncertainty.  Most every one knew what they would get from the aforementioned quartet, and what they wouldn’t get.  No one can be sure with inexperience of this magnitude.  It’s hard to argue with the athletic ability and physical gifts, but will they fill the void?  Rebuild or reload?  We’ll see when September 9th rolls around.

4th and One – Shhhh, no one knows – You know how you feel when you have a secret.  Just a big, fat juicy one.  People around you talk and gossip about a certain situation, but you’re the only one who knows the real deal.  As a Buckeye fan, is that how you feel about being a fan of RB Antonio Pittman?  Most of the nation heralds Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch or Michael Bush, but would you trade the explosive Pittman for any of those other guys?  He’s quicker to the hole than any of the three.  His breakaway speed is breathtaking.  If he gets a seam, he’s gone.  Now, you can’t question how good that trio is, but most people are missing the boat on Pittman.  Think DeAngelo Williams without the injuries.  He still has to prove that he can run between the tackles week in and week out and not be a bounce runner or just a guy who flourishes outside the numbers.  But, you don’t run for over 1,300 yards and seven touchdowns at a place like Ohio State and remain a secret for too long.  So, go ahead, Buckeye fans, tell everyone, let everyone know now – Antonio Pittman, it’s a name to remember.

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