Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: OSU annihilated most of the teams on its schedule, including wins over five top 25 teams (four of which were not close). How do fans feel about the team being left out of the final four?
Matt Tamanini: As has been true with most of what has happened in Columbus this season, there has been a wide range of opinions about the Buckeyes’ postseason fate, even amongst fans. When you just look at their resumes, OSU compares very favorably with Oklahoma, in fact, if you just went on the metrics (advanced or otherwise), Ohio State would have a pretty compelling argument that they were at least the fourth best team in the country.
But, anyone who has watched through the majority of the season understands that they have shown significant defensive liabilities, and that they were far from a complete team. I think that the segment of the fandom that sees everything through scarlet and gray colored glasses saw the Buckeyes being kept out of the playoff again as another example of the College Football Playoff selection committee and ESPN’s bias and conspiracy against OSU and the Big Ten.
For those of us that try to be a little more objective and not wear tin-foil hats, we recognize that a 29-point loss and giving up 64 plays of 20 yards or more are likely not qualities that one of the four best teams in the country should have (notice I said “should,” because OU actually gave up 70 such plays).
UWDP: QB Dwayne Haskins has put up incredible numbers this season with over 4,500 yards, 47 TD passes and a completion percentage over 70. What makes him so good in the passing game? Does he have any shortcomings? How has the pass protection been this season overall?
Matt: Haskins’ strength is in his decision making and accuracy. Yes, he has a great arm, but because teams have focused on bringing pressure against him throughout the season, he has had to get rid of the ball quickly and trust his receivers to make plays thereafter. That’s where his ability to diagnose coverage and to put the ball in a position for the receiver to catch it in stride has been incredibly valuable.
The answer to your final two questions go hand in hand. If you are going to put Haskins into a position where he is uncomfortable, it is going to be by getting pressure on him. There have been times this season in which he has been incredibly jumpy, even when there wasn’t a tremendous amount of pressure, simply because he has a tendency to get a bit gun-shy.
However, fortunately for the Buckeyes, the pass protection — especially when a running back or tight end has been kept in to pick up rushers — has been very good. They’ve only given up 20 total sacks on the season, and many of those were against backups in garbage time.
UWDP: Running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber have shared the load this season in the running game. Describe each player’s running style. Who else might contribute running the football? How has the O-Line performed in the running game?
Matt: Coming into the season, I would have said that Dobbins was more of the speed back, while Weber was more of the traditional, between-the-tackles guy. And, while that might still be true of their skill sets, that is not how they have been used this season. They have primarily been used interchangeably, on almost a series-by-series basis. The normal rotation has seen them alternate possessions until one player seems to find a rhythm, and from there the offense will ride the hot hand.
Now, with Weber already making it clear that this will be his final game at Ohio State before departing for the NFL, I don’t know if that will change the rotation or not. If any other running backs see significant carries, it will likely be DeMario McCall, a veteran who has battled injuries, and never been able to find a consistent role in the offense. However, he is dynamically explosive, and has gotten more touches in the back quarter of the season.
The offensive line has been far better at pass blocking this season than in the run game, and the Buckeyes will potentially be down two starting offensive linemen (Thayer Mumford and Demetrius Knox), so that could potentially present a problem for OSU.
UWDP: Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill are the top receiving targets for Haskins. How is each utilized in the passing game? What other receivers and tight ends can we expect to be busy on New Years’ Day?
Matt: The Ohio State receiving corps is by far the best position group on the offense, and arguably on the entire team, following the departure of Nick Bosa. Campbell vacillates between being a wide receiver and an H-back, so he is generally the recipient of screens and quick passes. However, he has the ability to turn many of those short hits into big gains.
Hill is not the fastest receiver on the squad, but he has probably become the most clutch of the bunch. He is often used over the middle and on key third downs. I would expect for seniors Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin to be a major part of the Rose Bowl game plan as well.
UWDP: The Buckeyes rank middle of the pack in most defensive categories in the Big Ten conference. How has the unit performed overall? How do you explain all the big plays given up on defense in 2018?
Matt: As I mentioned before, the defense has been, at best, inconsistent. Thanks to a remarkable amount of talent leaving for the NFL in recent years, the secondary and linebackers have been a bit thin this year, and — in my opinion — the coaches spent much of the season giving the wrong players playing time. Despite the fact that they lost the best player in country in the third game of the season, the defensive line has been incredibly solid (although not especially explosive), but everything behind them has been pretty porous.
A ton of missed tackles and poor pursuit angles led to plays that should have been moderate gains turning into ridiculous scoring plays. As the back seven has gotten some more experience, and the coaches have figured out who their best players are, the frequency of those massive plays has slowed down, but they aren’t gone completely. I’d expect that limiting those has been a focus of Greg Schiano and company in bowl prep.
UWDP: Washington’s special teams have not been great this season. How has Ohio State played in that phase?
Matt: For almost the duration of the Urban Meyer era in Columbus, OSU had an advantage in the kickoff game, as their kickers were able to expertly put the ball deep enough in the field of play for their coverage team (traditionally made up of the most athletic non-starters) to get down the field, without the ball going into the end zone. With the new touchback rules, that advantage has been a bit negated, but punter Dru Chrisman has been fantastic all season, nearly single-handedly winning the game against Michigan State.
UWDP: Prediction for The Rose Bowl?
Matt: I think that the Buckeyes finished the regular season playing as well as they had all year due to some schematic changes and player development on both sides of the ball. I would expect that those things have continued to be developed during the month of bowl prep. I would also imagine that there will be some extra incentive for the Buckeyes to play well to put a cap on Urban Meyer’s career, and perhaps that of Dwayne Haskins as well.
I will go Ohio State 37, Washington 24.
Thanks Matt. Be sure to check out Land-Grant Holy Land for more on the Rose Bowl from the Ohio State perspective.