OSU Buckeyes: Drew Basil
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?
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Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesDrew Basil is the incumbent kicker and is likely to take on punting duties in 2013 as well.
- 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.
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EXTRA POINTS IN A SINGLE SEASON
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesDrew Basil made 56 extra points in 2012, the third-most in Ohio State history.
- 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.
- By the numbers: Good luck finding a more successful punt return unit than the one Meyer rolled out in his first season with the program. On four different occasions with an opponent trying to kick the ball away and swing field position, the Buckeyes decisively flipped the momentum instead with touchdowns. Brown returned two punts for scores, cornerback Bradley Roby pounced on a mishandled snap for a touchdown and also recovered a ball that had been blocked by Travis Howard for another trip to the end zone in a productive season for that unit -- one that Meyer will expect even more out of next year.
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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.
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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.
Khris Hale/Icon SMIUrban Meyer isn't quite ready to call Braxton Miller a Heisman finalist.
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.
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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.
QB Braxton Miller, So. (Maxwell, O'Brien): The load was a bit lighter on the ground, and with fewer carries came a dip in yardage for the dual-threat quarterback. But Miller was still dynamic and helped will the Buckeyes through a rough spell with a pair of rushing touchdowns, a two-point conversion and 143 passing yards.
QB Braxton Miller, So. (Maxwell, O'Brien): There wasn't nearly as much room to run, so Miller simply went to the air to put points on the board. He set a career high with four passing touchdowns, and for good measure created some space with an incredible juke to spring himself for a 55-yard scoring rush.
DE John Simon, Sr. (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott IMPACT): Limited by a shoulder injury that nearly caused him to miss the game, the captain gritted his way through the afternoon and picked up his first sack of the season in the process. Simon's numbers aren't overwhelming through three games, but his importance to the Buckeyes can't be overstated.
DT Johnathan Hankins, Jr. (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Outland): The big man had been having an impact early in the season without having many personal statistics to show for it, but that dramatically changed against the Golden Bears. Hankins had a hand in 10 tackles and broke through for a sack in a dominant outing on the interior.
TE Jake Stoneburner, Sr. (Mackey): Every catch was meaningful for the Buckeyes, just as usual with Stoneburner. Of the three grabs against Cal, the senior turned two of them into touchdowns and the other was an explosive 40-yard gain.
SS C.J. Barnett, Jr. (Thorpe): The defensive back had a hand in 10 tackles and made one behind the line of scrimmage, easily his best performance this season in a small sample size. Barnett has broken up three passes so far this year, but he's still looking for a few turnovers to try to get his name back in any awards conversation.
K Drew Basil, Jr. (Groza): Other than his tackle on a kickoff, there wasn't much for Basil to look back and remember fondly from the win over Cal after missing an extra point in the first quarter and not even attempting a field goal for the second time this season.
LB Etienne Sabino, Sr. (Butkus): Fellow linebacker Ryan Shazier isn't making it easy to keep pace for the team lead in tackles, but Sabino is still finding ways to contribute at the second level. He chipped in seven tackles and his first sack of the season in the victory.
RB Jordan Hall, Sr. (Walker): Understandably lacking crispness in his first outing since offseason foot surgery, Hall still came off the disabled list to lead the Buckeyes with 87 yards rushing. He combined well with Miller on the option, and the rushing attack should only improve as Hall gets acclimated to the offense moving forward.
QB Braxton Miller, So. (Maxwell, O'Brien): In the long run, Miller might not be able to survive a full season if the spread offense calls for him to rush it 27 times, as he did against the Knights. But the Buckeyes needed everything the dynamic quarterback could offer as it dealt with some injuries and communication issues, and Miller responded with a hard-earned 141 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to complement 155 passing yards and another score through the air.
DE John Simon, Sr. (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott IMPACT): The Knights focused plenty of attention on the two-time captain, and that left Simon again without a sack. But he was as active as ever up front, making five tackles and assisting on his first tackle for a loss of the season.
AP Photo/Scott BoehmOhio State's Johnathan Hankins, shown in a 2011 game, didn't have monster stats, but he was a big presence against UCF.
WR Corey "Philly" Brown, Jr. (Biletnikoff): Paced the passing game with six more receptions to run his total to 13 for the season -- just one shy of the team-leading total for all of last season. Brown was a threat on the ground as well, accounting for 33 yards on two attempts and giving coach Urban Meyer even more reason to get him involved.
TE Jake Stoneburner, Sr. (Mackey): The reliable veteran was back where he's most comfortable -- in the end zone. Stoneburner only made two catches for 20 yards, but just like he was a year ago, he offered a big target in the red zone and made his first touchdown grab of the season.
SS C.J. Barnett, Jr. (Thorpe): The safety is falling behind a couple teammates in the race to lead the Buckeyes in interceptions, especially Travis Howard after the cornerback snagged his third pick of the season on Saturday. But Barnett broke up a couple passes and made five tackles for the Buckeyes in the backend.
K Drew Basil, Jr. (Groza): There still hasn't been much work for Basil to do other than kick off, but he drilled his first and only attempt of the season with a conversion of 24 yards against the Knights. The junior also continues to place the ball exactly where Meyer wants on kickoffs.
LB Etienne Sabino, Sr. (Butkus): Made a big impact with a critical interception while also chipping in five tackles at the second level. Sabino was expected to provide invaluable leadership at a young position group, but the Buckeyes also needed production from him -- and they're getting it.
RB Jordan Hall, Sr. (Walker): On the shelf again while rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn tendon in his foot, Hall was medically cleared for practice and could potentially make his return to the backfield this week against Cal.