Behind Enemy Lines: Ohio State

Hey NLD.  My apologies for last week’s lack of a Behind Enemy Lines segment – we were a little preoccupied for obvious reasons.  But we’re back this week, as Phil Shie joins us from EyeAndEerBlog.com to talk about this year’s Buckeyes and what to expect this Saturday.

1) This is the first year of the Luke Fickell era.  What has he done differently with this year’s squad compared the Tressel?  What are the biggest differences between the 2011 Buckeyes compared to years past?  Is Fickell here to stay, or is he strictly an interim coach?

If Fickell had any chance of being more than interim coach, that disappeared with a blocked extra point last week against Purdue. The differences in Fickell’s one year and the prior Tressel era are pretty minimal. Scheme-wise you won’t see much different than previous years on either side of the ball. There have been some differences, such as practice styles, game preparation, etc. but for the most part it seems Fickell was instructed to try and keep as much continuity as possible.

2) Penn State defenses have traditionally struggled against scrambling quarterbacks.  Is Braxton Miller’s strength solely his legs, or will he surprise Penn Staters with his ability to throw the ball as well?  How much will Posey being allowed to play help the passing game this weekend?

If Miller throws the ball well, he’ll surprise pretty much everyone in the stadium, not just Penn State. Miller is definitely a special runner. He has an amazing knack for making tacklers miss and has great burst However, he seems better at designed runs than scrambling as he tends to hold the ball for far too long. Occasionally that pays off, but he also takes a lot of sacks. As for throwing the ball, the technical ability seems to be there, but the execution is not. He struggles to pull the trigger at the right time. Devier Posey’s return could help, but considering how bad Ohio State is at passing the ball – there’s nowhere to go but up.

3) Boom Heron is averaging 5.4 yards a touch and nearly 120 yards a game.  What is it about him that makes him so effective?  Is it his presence that has improved Ohio State here in the second half of the season?  What does Penn State need to do slow him, and the entire Ohio State running game, down?

Boom’s greatest assets is his vision and decision-making. At his best he’s a one-cut and go runner. He gets into trouble when he tries to do too much. He’s not a big guy and he’s not the fastest. But he’s tough and knows how to read plays correctly. Slowing him down means bringing lots of players into the box. Safeties, cornerbacks, whoever – attack them into the line and try to get into Boom’s legs in the backfield because OSU is unable to make defenses pay with a coherent passing game.

4) Enough about the offense.  It is the defense in Columbus that has positioned the Buckeyes for an outside chance to be invited to the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.  What is it about this defense that makes it so good?  Who in particular are the play-makers that will give Penn State’s weak offense trouble?  If there is any hope for Penn State’s offense to find a hole, where might it be?

Ohio State’s defense this season is not playing to quite the level of recent versions, but seems like a much better group at home than on the road. Two defensive lineman – junior DE John Simon and sophomore DT/DE Jonathan Hankins – have had tremendous seasons although Hankins is questionable for Saturday’s game. Freshman cornerback Bradley Roby has also had a very good season. The rest of the defense has been horribly inconsistent and the past two weeks, against Indiana and Purdue, have put on some clinics in poor tackling. With linebacker Andrew Sweat out, Penn State should certainly focus on running the ball and then trying to hit some big play-action plays over the top as OSU’s safeties tend to bite up on the run.

5) What are your predictions for Ohio State this Saturday?  How does the offense fair against a strong Nittany Lion defense?  How big of a game do you expect from the Buckeye defense?  If it comes down to special teams, who do you believe has the edge?

The only reason I have much confidence in Ohio State this Saturday is that this has been a different team – especially defensively – at home and most of their struggles have come against spread option teams. I think both defenses have big games and this will be a brutal game to watch if you like things such as, say, points. OSU’s kicking game has been excellent. In the end I see a defensive score or big turnover making the difference in a very close Buckeye win.