Ohio State Buckeyes: Drew Basil
1. Something's gotta give: The nation's No. 1 defense in Michigan State goes up against the nation's No. 3 scoring offense in Ohio State. But has either unit really been tested? The Spartan Dawgs have been pretty special, but they've yet to face an offense ranked in the top 50 in yards. Ohio State's attack also looks the part, and the Buckeyes have faced two top-10 defenses (Wisconsin, Iowa), but no others in the top 35. Behind running back Carlos Hyde and quarterback Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes lead the nation in yards per rush (7.1) and runs of 10 yards or longer (130). Michigan State leads the nation in fewest rush yards allowed (64.4 per game), fewest yards per rush (2.2) and fewest rushes of 10 or more yards (19). Who will gain the edge at the line of scrimmage?
3. Shutdown showcase: The title game features two of the nation's elite cornerbacks in Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard and Ohio State's Bradley Roby. Both have the ability to shut down a side of the field and make game-changing plays if quarterbacks dare to throw their way. Dennard, a likely first-round draft pick, will press Ohio State's receivers and try to eliminate the deep passing game. Roby is playing his best football and can be a difference-maker not only on defense but on special teams. Dennard has four interceptions and a forced fumble in an All-American-caliber senior season, while Roby has a pick-six, a fumble return for a touchdown, and a blocked punt and recovery for a touchdown.
4. Cook's big moment: Asked to make a brief opening statement on a media teleconference earlier this week, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said, "Hello, I'm Connor Cook." The Spartans sophomore will introduce himself to the nation Saturday night and can make a strong statement about himself and the MSU offense. No one pegged Cook to be in this position before the season, but he has taken control in Big Ten play, passing for 1,708 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions in eight league contests. Cook said that after Ohio State's defensive struggles, "you're licking your chops" about Saturday's game. He hasn't played in a game this big, but he doesn't lack confidence. It will be interesting to see how he fares.
5. Special attention: Michigan State's first appearance in the Big Ten title game came down to a special-teams play, and it didn't end well for the Spartans as Isaiah Lewis was flagged for running into Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman. Don't be surprised if the kicking game once again plays a big role in determining Saturday's winner. Both teams have excellent punters (MSU's Mike Sadler, OSU's Cameron Johnston), and Roby has been a special-teams star with three blocked punts and two recoveries for touchdowns. Kickers Michael Geiger (MSU) and Drew Basil (OSU) both have shown good accuracy on field goals with limited opportunities. Lewis' performance as he returns home to Indianapolis also is worth monitoring.
But it's never too early to set the table for the feud between Ohio State and Michigan, and at BuckeyeNation and WolverineNation, we're doing it all week.
We looked back on Monday at some heroes and villains on both sides of the rivalry. Today we're looking ahead at the strengths and weaknesses that could decide the latest edition in the storied series, which is just more than four short months away.
Ground and pound:
But it might be the added dimension of a healthy Jordan Hall or a true freshman such as Dontre Wilson or Jalin Marshall at the hybrid, Pivot position that gives opponents even more fits. Or maybe it's a backfield that can be loaded up with as many as three talented rushers, rolling out Rod Smith or Bri'onte Dunn in a diamond formation with Hyde and Miller. Either way, the Buckeyes have the personnel to give Michigan a workout in the front seven.
The expectations are growing for Michigan's passing attack now that Devin Gardner has the position all to himself, and he'll have plenty of time to develop and find a rhythm before meeting up with the Buckeyes. But there might be no stiffer test in the country than the one Ohio State can present a quarterback thanks to its overflowing talent and veteran savvy in the secondary. Cornerback Bradley Roby and safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett would make life difficult on their own, but the Buckeyes can complement that with another senior safety in reserve in Corey "Pittsburgh"' Brown, a junior cornerback looking to make a name for himself in Doran Grant and a class of incoming defensive backs that represented perhaps the best signing day haul in the nation.
The Buckeyes plan to get as many of those guys involved as possible this season, which could make the secondary even more fearsome by the time Gardner gets a crack at them.
The fresh faces are almost everywhere in the front seven, but heading to training camp, there's not all that much uncertainty about who will be filling which shoes left behind by the defenders who helped the Buckeyes go unbeaten last fall. Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are poised for breakouts at end and Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry appear ready to lend a hand next to Ryan Shazier at linebacker, but there are two critical spots on the inside of the line that bear monitoring as Ohio State prepares to stop opposing rushing attacks. Michael Bennett is close to a lock for one role, but there could be a heated competition for reps next to him to complete the rotation. Tommy Schutt battled injuries throughout spring practice, but he has the ability to be a future star. Joel Hale is a grinder and respected leader, and the junior could be an intriguing option as well. And if big Chris Carter can manage his weight, his massive frame clearly could fill up some rushing lanes.
By November, the Buckeyes figure to have long ago answered those questions up front and should have also built up plenty of experience. But that will be at the top of the priority list as Ohio State chases a Big Ten title -- and keeps an eye on its rival.
More often than not, the Buckeyes had the edge over opponents in the third phase. But considering how much value Urban Meyer places on special teams and how much production he expects, Ohio State wasn't all that close to giving him what he wanted a year ago. Kicker Drew Basil wasn't used all that much, aside from the season-ending win over Michigan, but among his 11 attempts last season were a pair of missed field goals from less than 39 yards that didn't exactly inspire confidence. The Buckeyes will be breaking in a new punter as well, and winning the field position battle is as important under Meyer as it has always been under previous regimes at Ohio State -- putting pressure on some young contributors to make plays in kickoff and punt coverage.
Philly Brown took a couple punts back for touchdowns last year and the "Freak Show" punt block unit made itself a nuisance a few times, but Meyer and newly-promoted special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs keep the bar pretty high in that area of the game. And in tightly contested rivalries, it can make all the difference.
And it didn’t take the Buckeyes long to impress Nuernberger.
The senior kicker participated in Ohio State’s specialist camp Monday and today and accepted a scholarship on the spot.
The place kicker had been in contact with Louisville and Kentucky and went down to Alabama’s camp as a punter, but when the opportunity to join Ohio State came about, he couldn’t pass it up.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
On Feb. 6, Urban Meyer and Co. landed the third-ranked team in the nation after a 2012 recruiting campaign that put Ohio State sixth.
There are certain things we know about the Buckeyes as they fine-tune their lineup, and other things that need to be addressed.
Here are five questions facing the school as they turn the calendar completely to 2014:
1. What to do with the offensive line?
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
- Who's back: With all the firepower the Buckeyes have returning and an aggressive coach who would clearly prefer never to need anybody to boot the football, the loss of punter Ben Buchanan may not be that big of a deal. But no offense is going to be perfect on every possession no matter how much Ohio State might score this fall, which makes filling the void the senior left a high priority this spring -- and could give kicker Drew Basil plenty to do. The Buckeyes recruited and received a commitment from a punter before Johnny Townsend ultimately elected to stay closer to home and sign with Florida, which has created something of a dilemma for Meyer and newly promoted special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs. But Basil does have one more year left to contribute with the program, and he will be the leading candidate at both positions heading into camp next week.
- New face: Frank Epitropoulos isn't new to the program, but he could wind up being a fresh option to fill the hole at punter. The graduate of nearby Upper Arlington was recruited as a wide receiver and was listed at the position last fall during his first year with the Buckeyes, but the big leg he showed off as a three-way player in high school when averaged more than 42 yards per punt will make him a candidate as a specialist and could help take some of the burden off Basil.
- Projected spring depth chart: Basil should enter spring practice as the starter at both positions, with Kyle Clinton backing him up at kicker and Epitropoulos potentially pushing for work at punter.
- Numbers game: Meyer's fearless approach paid off in pressure situations as the Buckeyes led the country in fourth-down conversion percentage last fall, but it doesn't leave much of a sample size to judge Basil's accuracy as a kicker. Heading into the final week of the regular season, the rising senior had attempted just six field goals, making four of them. The Buckeyes needed him to deliver against rival Michigan to close out the undefeated campaign, though, and he doubled his total by making four of his five tries in the victory.
- One to watch: There aren't many candidates, leaving Epitropoulos as the most intriguing option for the Buckeyes among the specialists. His numbers in high school suggest he has the strength and ability to potentially be productive at the next level, and with Ohio State loading up with dangerous weapons at wide receiver and creating stiff competition for playing time at the skill positions, handling the punting duties could provide a clearer path for Epitropoulos to contribute.
- He said it: "Kerry Coombs is an excellent coach who has a great deal of experience and expertise with special teams. He is an outstanding teacher, an excellent motivator and he has a true passion for special teams." -- Meyer earlier this month
With the signing period over, the need for the Class of 2014 to get noticed becomes paramount. This weekend, three big combines take place.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
EXTRA POINTS IN A SINGLE SEASON
- Who owns it: A prolific attack in 2010 gave Devin Barclay plenty of chip shots to convert, and the Ohio State kicker converted every single one of them -- putting his name in the school record book an extra point at a time. That record obviously is much more of a reflection of a dynamic offense than an indicator of how good or bad Barclay was that season, but it's well worth nothing that he is the only kicker in the single-season top 10 for 1-pointers who made every attempt.
- Who wants it: Just three seasons after Barclay took over the top spot, the Buckeyes are primed to put an even more explosive offense on the field in Urban Meyer's second year with the program. Drew Basil should be in line to capitalize heading into his senior campaign. As a junior, Basil perhaps didn't get as many chances to try field goals as he might have hoped, a combination of Meyer's aggressiveness and a red-zone offense that ranked among the best in the nation at turning those chances into touchdowns, doing so 76 percent of the time. That proficiency still gave Basil work to do, and he banged through 56 extra points, in all in the third-best individual season in school history in that category.
- Relevant number: The Buckeyes were a perfect 3-of-3 when they had to dial up a two-point conversion instead, and considering how effective the offense was near the goal line thanks to the versatile backfield tandem of battering ram Carlos Hyde and elusive quarterback Braxton Miller, Meyer could conceivably think about trying to double up after a touchdown more often next season. Had those three tries been extra points last year, Basil would already own the No. 2 spot on the single-season list -- though the Buckeyes would obviously much rather be undefeated.
- Offseason checklist: There's not much preparation Basil really needs to do to convert his simplest chances as a kicker, leaving the work that could carry him to a personal record to all those teammates on offense. Another year of development for Miller as he readies for a third season as the starting quarterback should take the spread offense to another level, and there is no shortage of weapons around him. Aside from the loss of Reid Fragel at right tackle and Jake Stoneburner at wide receiver, every other starter returns for an offense that led the Big Ten in scoring last season and still has room to grow.
- Attainable goal: All signs point to even more scoring for the Buckeyes in 2013, and given the track record already established by Meyer with the program, that means touchdowns and not field goals. While that could keep Basil from piling up a personal point total that could challenge Barclay's overall mark of 122 set during that same 2010 season thanks to 20 field goals, the extra point mark could be in serious jeopardy.
- Most valuable player: Roles on special teams just aren't handed out under Urban Meyer, though that doesn't change the fact they're valuable proving grounds for players looking to make an impression, as the Ohio State coach is so heavily involved with the kicking game. It also doesn't just apply to younger players, since it was junior Corey "Philly" Brown's explosive contributions on punt return that seemingly helped his role on offense expand as the season progressed and the Buckeyes gained even more confidence in his ability to make something happen with the football in his hands. Meyer had been somewhat critical of Brown's ability to make defenders miss early in the season, but his 76-yard punt return against Nebraska helped seal a blowout victory and signaled that the wide receiver was turning a corner as a playmaker.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Buckle up: Both offenses have a bruising, downhill runner. Both Wisconsin and Ohio State will have mobile quarterbacks. And both programs have proven more than capable of shutting down rushing attacks with aggressive defenses that rank among the best in the Big Ten.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
QB Braxton Miller, So. (Maxwell, O'Brien): The sophomore didn't look quite like himself even before getting hurt in the third quarter, having rushed for just 10 yards on his first 11 carries. Miller did look poised to break out on his 37-yard run that ended with him getting rammed to the turf and eventually taken to the hospital, and it looks like he'll have a chance to go back to work against Penn State this week.
DE John Simon, Sr. (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott IMPACT): The two-time captain never gave up on plays even after just missing on a couple chances to make tackles behind the line of scrimmage, finishing with nine tacklese overall as he scrambled around and brought down Boilermakers in a much better defensive effort collectively for the Buckeyes.
DT Johnathan Hankins, Jr. (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Outland): The big man in the middle was back to his old tricks, giving the Purdue offensive line all it could handle, and he swallowed up pretty much every interior run that came his way. Hankins also got a critical hand on a field goal that kept the game close in the second half.
WR Corey "Philly" Brown, Jr. (Biletnikoff): Yet another player who dealt with an injury that popped up against Purdue, Brown made three catches for 44 yards and had a 9-yard rush before heading to the locker room early. The Buckeyes appear likely to get him back against the Nittany Lions, and they are getting him more and more involved as the season progresses.
TE Jake Stoneburner, Sr. (Mackey): The veteran wasn't targeted as much as he was the week before, but Stoneburner added another catch to his tally and picked up 17 yards to go with his solid blocking on the perimeter. It also couldn't have come at a much better time for the Buckeyes as he helped set up the score in overtime with his grab over the middle on a second-and-1o snap.
SS C.J. Barnett, Jr. (Thorpe): Looking more healthy as he works back to full strength after missing time with a high-ankle sprain, Barnett had a clear impact in the secondary with six solid tackles and a critical interception in the end zone. His experience and knowledge of the defense don't show up statistically, but Barnett has also been an invaluable leadership asset.
K Drew Basil, Jr. (Groza): The junior still isn't getting a lot of chances to show off his leg, and he just missed converting on his best chance all season to do it on Saturday. Basil was called on to try a kick from 50 yards against the Boilermakers, but he banged it off the left upright and has now made 3 of his 5 field goals this season.
LB Etienne Sabino, Sr. (Butkus): The senior missed his second game since fracturing a bone in his leg, and he's not expected to return in time for Saturday's trip to Penn State.
RB Jordan Hall, Sr. (Walker): Another veteran who is stuck on the sideline, Hall missed his third game in a row since going down with a partially torn ligament in his knee.
QB Braxton Miller, So. (Maxwell, O'Brien): The Hoosiers had a few answers for the multipurpose threat on the option, but not nearly enough to stop him from breaking another long touchdown run and having one more enormous game in the spread offense. Miller complemented his 149 rushing yards with 211 through the air, tacking on a pair of touchdown throws to keep his name in the conversation for the major awards.
DE John Simon, Sr. (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott IMPACT): A quick-hitting attack kept the Buckeyes from getting to the quarterback much, though Simon got close a few times, as usual. Even without a sack, he kept his recent run of success in the backfield going with another tackle for a loss to run his tally to 8.5 this season.
DT Johnathan Hankins, Jr. (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Outland): Much like his buddy on the end, the defensive tackle wasn't able to do much damage statistically against the Hoosiers. But Hankins also found a way to make the most of the few plays he was in on, chipping in a tackle for a loss that cost Indiana 3 yards.
TE Jake Stoneburner, Sr. (Mackey): After a three-week drought, Stoneburner was once again a featured part of the passing game. He finished with four catches for 41 yards and provided a reliable weapon for Miller, particularly when the quarterback was rolling out of the pocket and couldn't help but find the big target.
SS C.J. Barnett, Jr. (Thorpe): Returned from a three-week absence because of a high-ankle sprain and picked up almost right where he left off in the secondary. Only converted linebacker Zach Boren made more tackles than Barnett in his first game back, and the safety also broke up a couple of passes as he settled back into his role in the back end.
K Drew Basil, Jr. (Groza): Basil finally tried some field goals longer than 26 yards, and the results were mixed. The junior drilled his first attempt from 35 yards away against the Hoosiers, but he missed on the second attempt (also from 35 yards) -- his first miss of the season in just four tries.
LB Etienne Sabino, Sr. (Butkus): The absence of the captain and the lack of depth at linebacker was pretty obvious as the Buckeyes moved Boren over from fullback to fill the void. Sabino will be out at least two more weeks as he recovers from a fractured bone in his leg.
RB Jordan Hall, Sr. (Walker): On the shelf again with a partially torn ligament in his knee, Hall remains doubtful for this week's home date with Purdue. Without him in the lineup, the Buckeyes have turned to Carlos Hyde, and the junior has 296 yards and five touchdowns in the last two games.
QB Braxton Miller, So. (Maxwell, O'Brien): Turned in a couple more signature moments to spark the Buckeyes on offense, including a 72-yard run that prominently featured his ability to make sharp cuts and accelerate back to top speed. In all, Miller rushed for 186 yards and a touchdown while throwing for 127 and another score.
DE John Simon, Sr. (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott IMPACT): The two-time captain finally looked like himself physically, and he seemingly unleashed some pent-up frustration on the Huskers with five tackles for a loss and two sacks. Simon also forced a fumble in easily his most productive outing this season.
DT Johnathan Hankins, Jr. (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Outland): The monster in the middle had another quiet statistical performance, but his work was again critical to opening up opportunities for his teammates around him on the defensive line. Officially Hankins was credited with three assisted tackles in the win.
WR Corey "Philly" Brown, Jr. (Biletnikoff): The Buckeyes hardly needed to throw the ball against the Huskers, so they rarely did and attempted just 14 passes. Brown caught three of them for 35 yards, but his biggest contribution came on special teams with an eye-catching 76-yard touchdown on a punt return.
TE Jake Stoneburner, Sr. (Mackey): The lack of passes didn't do Stoneburner any favors statistically either, but this wasn't a one-off for the senior. Stoneburner has now gone three straight games without a catch -- meanwhile, tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett combined for three receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown.
SS C.J. Barnett, Jr. (Thorpe): A high-ankle sprain kept Barnett on the sideline again, though he did dress for the win over the Huskers and could be closing in on a return. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer indicated Barnett practiced on Sunday, and the Buckeyes might have the safety back this week at Indiana.
K Drew Basil, Jr. (Groza): Basil went another game without kicking a field goal, but his leg still got plenty of work against the Huskers with all those extra points and kickoffs. Basil continued to put the ball right where the Buckeyes needed to set up their kickoff coverage.
LB Etienne Sabino, Sr. (Butkus): The emergence of the senior into a reliable contributor makes his injury even more painful for the Buckeyes. Sabino left the win on Saturday with a fractured bone in his right leg, an issue that will keep him out for at least three weeks and possibly more.
RB Jordan Hall, Sr. (Walker): A partially torn ligament in his knee kept Hall on the sideline against the Huskers as the senior continues to struggle to stay healthy in the Ohio State backfield.
That might be all Ohio State needs this week.
The loss of Etienne Sabino for at least three games due to a broken bone in his right leg will test the depth at a position that was already perhaps the most inexperienced on the roster. But as the Buckeyes prepare for a trip to Indiana on Saturday, they might be in position to survive for a week without the senior captain given the amount of Nickel they're likely to be playing against a pass-happy offense.
"Tremendous blow," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. "Very good player ... and we’re going to miss him.
The Buckeyes are going to need at least one of those young guys to contribute in the base personnel package, and Joshua Perry is in line for the start in place of Sabino.
They're also looking for more contributions from guys like David Perkins, Jamal Marcus and Camren Williams, who are much more likely to see action on defense now that the team's third-leading tackler is on the shelf for an extended period of time. But when Ohio State puts an extra defensive back on the field to match up with a passing attack that is throwing for more than 300 yards per game, it will be sticking with its veterans -- even if Shazier just barely counts as one as a sophomore.
"Any time one of your captains goes down, especially a big leader on the team, you need a lot of guys to step up," defensive end John Simon said. "[Sabino] gave a pretty good speech there in the locker room, and he just kind of laid it out for us.
"We’ve got a lot of guys who need to step up this week, and I think we’re starting to prepare for that task and looking forward to it."
Awards talk: Meyer still isn't ready to anoint Braxton Miller as a Heisman Trophy candidate. But the time appears to be getting closer.
The sophomore was named the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback of the Week after another wildly productive outing in a win over Nebraska on Saturday, and his work on the ground over the last two games to open Big Ten action has only strengthened his case as a potential option for Heisman voters at the end of the season.
But Meyer isn't ready to do any campaigning for his guy just yet.
"I don’t think Braxton is a Heisman candidate right now," Meyer said. "I think he’s certainly one to watch, he’s got the ability, but I don’t know who is [a candidate now]. We’re only halfway through the season, in two or three games I think you can start talking about it.
"I’m not talking to Braxton about it. We’re trying to win some games. I think at the right time, he will be a candidate if he continues to play very well."
Bumps and bruises: C.J. Barnett appeared to have a chance to get back on the field since he was in uniform for the win over the Huskers, though his high-ankle sprain again kept him on the sideline.
The Buckeyes might finally be able to turn the safety loose again this week at Indiana.
"Good sign yesterday, he was out there running around," Meyer said. "We need to have him back for obvious reasons."
- Offense: Running back Carlos Hyde (player of the game), fullback Zach Boren, wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown, left tackle Jack Mewhort, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Corey Linsley
- Defense: Cornerback Bradley Roby and defensive end John Simon (co-players of the game), safety Christian Bryant
- Special teams: Corey "Philly" Brown (player of the game), kicker Drew Basil, Armani Reeves, Zach Domicone, Devan Bogard and Rod Smith
Something emotional: The crowd is going to be amped up for a late kickoff. Another national audience will be watching. The Buckeyes want revenge after last season's collapse.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
QB Braxton Miller, So. (Maxwell, O'Brien): The Buckeyes again needed him to shoulder the load as a runner, and Miller complied with 136 yards on 23 carries against a defense that came into the game leading the conference in rushing defense. With the game on the line, though, he made his biggest impact as a passer with a perfect strike to Devin Smith for a go-ahead, 63-yard touchdown.
DE John Simon, Sr. (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott IMPACT): The big plays aren't exactly coming in bunches, but the veteran is still showing up in opposing backfields and creating difficulty for quarterbacks. Simon finished with four tackles, including one for a loss, but the Spartans still had to account for the threat he posed at end.