This Buckeyes offense seems as deadly as ever, and it begins with quarterback CJ Stroud. What makes him so special?
I think what sets him apart, especially in his second year as a starter on the team, is his anticipation and accuracy. He has an impressively strong arm, but not as much as his immediate predecessors in Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields. However, he has proven his ability to fit balls into almost any window on the pitch, even if that window appears to be closed and hidden behind a brick wall when he releases the ball.
He can “take all the throws” and all the other clichés we hear about quarterbacks, but his ability to place the ball in places where only his extremely talented group of wide receivers can catch him is his most impressive and most important property opinion.
And it should be noted that he appears far more confident and relaxed both on and off the field this season than he did in 2021. He seems to have grown into his role as a leader on the team and seems to have a better understanding of it (and dealing with it more comfortable), what he can and cannot do as a player.
Helping Stroud is a plethora of recipients. Most Badger fans are probably familiar with Jaxon Smith-Njigba, but others have stolen the show so far this year. Can you tell us something about this group?
Wide Receivers coach Brian Hartline honestly did an incredible job putting together arguably the most talented positional group in the country with three five-star and seven four-star WRs in the room. With Smith-Njigba suffering an injury against Notre Dame and Buckeye coaches slowly bringing him back during the duration of the non-conference schedule, Marvin Harrison Jr. – who shone at the Rose Bowl in January – and Emeka Egbuka had a chance to show what they were without the presence of arguably the best pass catcher in the country.
They were joined by former No. 1 wide receiver in the country Julian Fleming against Toledo last week. Fleming struggled with injuries for the first two years of his OSU career (including a severed shoulder during fall camp), but he returned to the lineup last week and caught two touchdown passes. While I don’t think they’ll play much against the Badgers, veterans Jayden Ballard and Xavier Johnson and a bunch of first years can play too.
The quarterback is great, the wideouts are great and deep, and the running back room is solid as always. Is there a weakness for this offense?
I could probably write a few paragraphs about the offensive line still not living up to expectations and the running backs sometimes having to create their own running lanes, but honestly that would be picky at this point. Without sounding like your typical arrogant Ohio State fan, there’s not much that worries me from an offensive standpoint.
Will it always be as easy as it was against Toledo? Of course not. Will Wisconsin be able to contain some of the OSU offense like Notre Dame did in the first half? Probably. But when it comes to true weaknesses, I don’t think there’s really anything too flashy about Ohio State’s offense.
Last year, defense was the main problem, and Ohio State tried to fix it by bringing in defense State of Oklahoma Coordinator Jim Knowles. How has he changed this defense so far?
In a word “dramatic”. Not only did Knowles overhaul defense from a schematic standpoint, but he also changed the unit’s entire approach to defense. Under the previous defensive regime, the philosophy was to keep everything in front of you and collapse to make plays.
Under Knowles, aggression is the dominant principle. We’ve already seen more (and more exotic) flashes from OSU defense this season than we’ve seen in recent years, and while the new coordinator acknowledges it will occasionally result in big plays for opposing offense, it’s acceptable if the compromise is made there are also more negative moves.
From a scheme perspective, the Buckeyes now operate a 4-2-5 setup with an emphasis on playing the team’s safeties. But it also means Knowles is giving the defensive line and linebackers more opportunities to go and make plays, which was badly lacking under the previous coordinator.
Is there an area where Wisconsin can try to exploit this Buckeyes defense?
While Knowles’ new defense has certainly been a significant improvement over the past two seasons, it’s far from perfect. While the defensive line has been able to put significant pressure on opposing quarterbacks, they haven’t come home nearly as often as Knowles (or fans) would like. However, this is far from the biggest concern of the OSU defense.
The biggest issue on defense (and frankly, the entire team) is play and the health of an already thin cornerback space. They come into the season with just six scholarship corners available, and the top three suffered various injuries during preseason camp. Jordan Hancock has yet to return, and it doesn’t look like he’ll face Wisconsin in uniform.
While Cameron Brown has played well despite injuries, he left last week’s game against Toledo and CB1’s Denzel Burke has underperformed all season and even been drawn for younger players at times. The coaching staff continue to reaffirm their faith in Burke, but it’s a major concern for that team’s aspirations this season.
While the safeties could sometimes help with cover, generally when an offense could score one-on-one matches with OSU corners, it was a recipe for success (or disaster, depending on your perspective).
Is there anything that scares you in this duel at Wisconsin?
Of course there is. Aside from a few memorable outliers (which, out of respect for B5Q and its readers, I won’t mention or score after years), the games between these two teams over the last decade have been incredibly close, hard-fought, old. School Big Ten fights.
The Buckeyes had something similar in their opener against Notre Dame but eventually prevailed in the second half and since then the Irish haven’t proved themselves to be the top-five team they claimed to be back then. So I have concerns about whether OSU’s offseason-long campaign to emphasize toughness will come to fruition on Saturday against a legitimately physical opponent.
This applies to both the offensive and the defensive. Last season, both lines got pushed around a lot by the best opponents they faced, and if those units really turned the corner, Wisconsin will be the first real opportunity to do so.
I also envision Jim Leonhard will do whatever it takes to come up with a plan to confuse Stroud and limit his ability to get the ball to his playmakers. Like I said before, I think there’s just so many different weapons on offense that the Buckeyes will still be able to move the ball and score, but how fast and how often is certainly still to be determined .
Can you give us your forecast for Saturday?
I’ve been going back and forth and I think I said something along the lines of 35-20 on your podcast with the message that Smith-Njigba has been practicing to the fullest since this episode was taped, I think I’ll step up my Prediction at 42-20, but I’m fully prepared to eat crow if it turns out to be a 10-9 game one way or another.