The Lantern sports editors share their insight on what fans should know about this weekend’s matchup against Buffalo.
1. Who will step up at running back?
What was supposed to be one of the strongest positions for the Buckeyes heading into the year is now one of its biggest question marks. The suspensions of Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith, the two guys expected to be at the top of the depth chart, have left the backfield in disarray. Although Jordan Hall is still with the team and has been named the starter for the season opener, he may take on more of a hybrid role rather than the traditional pro-style running back. True freshman Dontre Wilson has been a standout during fall practice, using his blazing speed to work his way up the depth chart and will start the game as the backup H-back behind senior wide receiver Chris Fields. Players like sophomore Bri’onte Dunn and redshirt-freshman Warren Ball will also be hoping to take advantage of the suspensions when noon rolls around on Saturday.
2. Changes to the front seven
The most buzz coming out of Urban Meyer’s first recruiting class for the Buckeyes was focused around the defensive line, particularly sophomore defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. The duo showed off their potential during the Ohio State spring game on April 13, totaling seven sacks, and will make their first collegiate starts Saturday opposite of each other. Junior nose tackle Joel Hale, junior defensive tackle Michael Bennett, junior middle linebacker Curtis Grant and sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry all have either limited or no experience as a regular starter for the Buckeyes. With only junior linebacker Ryan Shazier returning in the front seven, the new guys will have to step up their game to live up to the legacy left behind by players like John Simon and Jonathan Hankins.
3. How Doran Grant matches up with Alex Neutz
Despite finishing 4-8 last season, one bright spot for Buffalo was wide receiver Neutz. The then-sophomore led his team with 1,015 yards, 65 receptions and 11 touchdowns last year. With starting cornerback Bradley Roby also suspended for the Buckeyes, it will be on junior Doran Grant to cover the Bulls’ top weapon. Grant only has one start in his career, last season against Alabama Birmingham, and is forced into a tough spot against Buffalo. Sophomore Armani Reeves will also be getting the start at cornerback and could take some time lining up against Neutz, but most of the time it will be Grant trying to shut down Buffalo’s top receiver. It remains to be seen how Grant will hold up when matched up one-on-one with a No. 1 receiver during an actual game.
4. Braxton Miller
Despite the negative storylines this offseason (Hyde, Roby, Smith suspensions) and the questions about the defensive front, there is still one reason for fans to be confident. Miller is back and, in year two of Meyer’s spread offense, is more capable than ever. Throughout much of the fall practice, Meyer and offensive coordinator/QBcoach Tom Herman have been raving about the strides that Miller has made in terms of his fundamentals. When you add that to his already potent athletic ability, a recipe for success seems to be in place for the Buckeye signal caller. Although he may not be the nation’s top quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville) or it’s most explosive player (De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon), Miller’s ability as a dual threat quarterback will put him into the Heisman conversation and help the Buckeyes pursue their championship expectations.
5. Cameron Johnston
After Ben Buchanan graduated, OSU was left in a tough situation at punter. Buchanan spent four years punting for the Buckeyes and finished his career as the eighth best punter in school history, averaging 41.2 yards per punt. But after his replacement made a last second switch, decommitting from OSU on signing day, things looked bleak. In steps Australian-born Johnston. After discussions with special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs, Johnston committed to the Buckeyes and is listed as the starting punter Saturday. If called upon with the rest of the punting unit, Johnston will face immense pressure in his first time at Ohio Stadium with the Buckeye faithful counting on him to succeed.