Ohio State spring football storylines: How close are Buckeyes to a title?

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If last year’s offseason was framed in the shock and horror of getting beat by Michigan for the first time in a decade, Ohio State’s players and coaches could spend the next few months drawing inspiration from in how close they came to winning a national title in 2022. .

Their double-digit lead over eventual champion Georgia was shattered in the College Football Playoff semifinals (a matchup that some believed was a de facto championship game) and with it their chance to face a TCU team over which the Buckeyes would have been heavy favorites.

“Every year you look back at situations and one play here, one play there and you can be national champions,” head coach Ryan Day said in early February. “Of course it won’t, it won’t go away. But at the same time, you can’t let it take over your mind. You have to move on. Life goes on. But yes, when you get close like this it hurts and stings. Time Heals all wounds, but it will take a while.”

With that as a backdrop, here are some storylines to watch as Ohio State begins spring practice:

Picking the right quarterback

In addition to making a final decision on the offensive lineman in 2023, Day must also select the right successor for quarterback CJ Stroud, whose two years as Ohio State’s starter resulted in a pair of trips in New York City as Heisman. Trophy finalist. Stroud set 16 school passing records and three Big Ten records during that time while throwing for 8,123 yards and 85 touchdowns in 25 games.

The battle to replace him pits junior Kyle McCord against sophomore Devin Brown, who were ranked among the top six quarterbacks in the country for their respective recruiting classes. The former was Stroud’s primary backup the past two seasons, a fact some believe marks McCord as the presumptive favorite, and made his only career start in 2021, against Akron, when he went 13-for-18 passing for 319 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a 59-7 win. The latter, who is considered more mobile, played 15 snaps as a true freshman but never attempted a pass.

In early February, Day told reporters that the quarterbacks will split reps during spring practices designed to resemble game-like situations. He and quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis plan to evaluate the skill, confidence and leadership values ​​both players offer, as well as how they move the offense down the field. Day would prefer to name a starter in late spring, but isn’t opposed to extending the competition into fall camp if neither quarterback takes control of the position.

The other scholarship quarterbacks on Ohio State’s roster in 2023 will be true freshman Lincoln Kienholz, a four-star prospect from South Dakota and graduate transfer Tristan Gebbia from Oregon State.

“At the end of the day, he’s going to be the guy that our team believes in and the coaching staff believes that he can lead our team to a championship,” Day said. “That’s not always clear, you know? It can be a little gray sometimes. But you do the best you can.”

Pressure on Knowles to deliver

When Ohio State fans reflect on the 2022 season, some of the images they might recall are pretty unpleasant: cornerback Cameron Brown and defensive end Jack Sawyer rushing their tackle attempts against the outside of Michigan Cornelius Johnson for a 69-yard touchdown. ; safety Cameron Martinez was twisted backwards by Johnson for a 75-yard touchdown on the next possession; safety Lathan Ransom slipped on a 76-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Arian Smith in the Peach Bowl.

Untimely downfield breakdowns proved to be the undoing of an Ohio State defense that made significant strides under first-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. The Buckeyes finished 14th in the nation in total defense (321.5 yards per game) and 24th in scoring defense (21 points per game), but collapsed in the two biggest games of the season. They had eight plays of at least 45 yards against the Wolverines and Bulldogs, six of which resulted in touchdowns.

  • Quarterback JJ McCarthy’s 45-yard TD pass to tight end Colston Loveland (Michigan)
  • Stetson Bennett quarterback 47-yard pass to Smith (Georgia)
  • 52-yard run by Kenny McIntosh (Georgia)
  • 69-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Johnson (Michigan)
  • 75-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Johnson (Michigan)
  • 75-yard TD run by running back Donovan Edwards (Michigan)
  • Bennett 76-yard TD to Smith (Georgia)
  • 85-yard TD run by Edwards (Michigan)

Through 13 games, Knowles’ defense allowed 18 plays of 40+ yards (five rushing, 13 passing) to finish tied for 115th nationally and 13th in the Big Ten behind only Purdue in that category. The Buckeyes gave up the same number of 40-yard gains in the previous two seasons combined under former defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs, who was not retained by head coach Ryan Day after the 2021 campaign.

Knowles’ unit also ranked no better than 120th nationally in 50-yard plays allowed (four rushing, seven passing); 60-yard games (three rushes, three passes) and 70-yard games (three rushes, two passes) are allowed. Finding a remedy for the roster of defensive breakdowns is the top priority for a group that returns both starting linebackers and all five defensive backs who logged at least 175 snaps last season.

“We can’t give up big plays like this,” Day said during a news conference in early February. “That pain is in the last two games. There’s no secret. There are too many big plays. And if we’re going to win these games, we can’t give up big plays like that. Now, is that the only problem? No. But I think Jim knows that, and that’s something we have to address in the offseason.”

Michigan and Ohio State aren’t going anywhere

Michigan and Ohio State aren't going anywhere

Joel Klatt shared his thoughts on whether there will be another 10-year war between the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes.

Retooling the offensive line

Whichever quarterback emerges as Ohio State’s starter will be protected by three new starters along the offensive line. The Buckeyes lost starting tackle Paris Johnson Jr. (left) and Dawand Jones (right), who Day and his staff expected given their high draft stocks, as well as center Luke Wypler, whose decision to turn pro after two seasons at the top of the depth chart. surprised the coaches.

Here’s a closer look at these three players:

– Johnson played 827 snaps at left tackle and finished with a combined run-blocking and pass-blocking grade of 83.1 from Pro Football Focus, a mark that ranked sixth nationally and second in the Big Ten among offensive tackles with comparable snap counts. He allowed two sacks (Michigan, Georgia), 14 quarterback pressures and was flagged for a penalty. He is expected to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft.

— Jones played 763 snaps at right tackle and finished with a combined 82.1 PFF run-blocking and pass-blocking grade, a mark that ranked seventh nationally and third in the Big Ten between tackles with comparable snap counts. He allowed zero sacks, five quarterback pressures and was marked for eight penalties. He is projected as a second-round pick in the NFL Draft.

— Wypler played 827 snaps under center and finished with a combined 82.4 PFF run-blocking and pass-blocking grade, a mark that was tied for third nationally and first in the Big Ten among players with comparable snap counts. He allowed one sack (Georgia), eight quarterback pressures and was flagged for three penalties. He projects as a possible second- or third-round pick.

Selecting the right replacements is a task that is unlikely to be completed over the course of 15 spring practices, and the opening day starters may not be determined until a few weeks into fall camp. The initial plan is to keep returning starters Matt Jones (right guard) and Donovan Jackson (left guard) at their respective positions and experiment with different combinations around them.

Some of the candidates for offensive tackle include Josh Fryar (329 career snaps), Zen Michalski (81 career snaps) and Tegra Tshabola (51 career snaps). The leading contenders at center are Jakob James (89 career snaps) and Louisiana-Monroe transfer Victor Cutler (1,365 career snaps split between left tackle, right tackle and center).

“It’s fun,” offensive line coach Justin Frye said. “Finding out what a guy does really well and then where that can help us. Or figuring out, oh, here’s a wart he might have, how do we clean it or how do we fix it, or who do we put on it next. to relieve stress , the concerns or the questions or whatever. That’s not pro football now. You’re developing guys here.”

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.

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