I know there are some fans who look at games like this one against UNLV as a waste of time, but it’s really an opportunity to see your Buckeyes in an environment where they can excel. No, it’s not Penn State or Michigan, but if you like to see exciting things from your favorite team, this is a chance for that to happen.
A lot of Buckeyes should see the field this weekend, so there is plenty to watch. I’ve got five or so things on my mind right now, as a matter of fact.
1. The Buckeyes’ quarterback situation.
Earlier in the week, Joe Burrow was about 90% according to Urban Meyer. He’s been cleared to play, so we may see him, but will Meyer and Ryan Day err on the side of caution one more week? If they do, that would give Dwayne Haskins likely a quarter and a half with which to work. Meyer wanted to see more throws from Haskins last week, but also didn’t want to embarrass Army. He’ll have fewer qualms about that this week against UNLV. I expect to see Haskins taking shots downfield. The only question is whether the staff wants to get Burrow some snaps, even if it’s just to hand the ball off. But then what value would that give Burrow? Certainly not more value than it would give to Haskins getting those snaps instead. If Burrow is truly good to go, however, then he should play and throw the ball in this one as well.
2. The Ohio State true freshmen.
As Chip Minnich said in the staff picks, this is when we get a really good look at who is going to redshirt and who isn’t. If a true freshman doesn’t play in this game, they’re going to have to work much harder to see the field later in the season. It can happen, though, as we saw with Binjimen Victor last year. Will we see any of the freshman offensive linemen this week? That would surprise me, but three starters on this year’s offensive line saw time as true freshmen. Receiver Trevon Grimes got his first snaps last week, but should get even more this week. Will fellow rookie receiver Jaylen Harris get in the game? He had his black stripe removed this week. Urban Meyer has said that cornerback Jeff Okudah is making a push. He has played in every game this season, but I expect he’ll see more snaps on defense than ever before this week. Also keep an eye on middle linebacker Baron Browning, who might be the No. 2 Mike this week if Chris Worley is out. Pete Werner is another linebacker that Meyer wants to see on special teams as well. He has yet to play this season. Can cornerbacks Shaun Wade and Marcus Williamson get some time? Wade has been injured a bit, so he is a question mark at the moment.
3. How does Tuf Borland look against a spread offense?
As a point-and-click middle linebacker, Tuf Borland proved he’s capable, but now he’s going to be facing a much different offense. How will he handle an offense that will try to suck him up via the play action, or throw behind him, or make him run sideline to sideline? The staff and his teammates have complete confidence in Borland, and that began well before last week’s 12-tackle performance. Another good game here, and it might be time to consider some sort of shakeup in a position group that has yet to live up to its expectations.
4. The back seven against a mobile quarterback.
We saw how they were manipulated by Baker Mayfield a couple of weeks ago, but the back seven won’t have quite the same test this week. UNLV quarterback Armani Rogers is a redshirt freshman who is still learning all of the ins and outs of being a collegiate quarterback. He is mobile enough to make problems, but doesn’t yet have the craftiness or finesse to pose devastating problems. Still, the Buckeye defense is going to have to be disciplined, which is something they were not against Oklahoma. Defense is a paint-by-numbers game, and the Buckeyes got back to that against Army. Against the Sooners there was too much overlap between incorrect paints and numbers, and you saw the messy result. I expect the back seven to be much more disciplined this week because that’s how it is supposed to be and that is what made everything work so well in the past.
5. Can the Buckeyes make plays downfield?
Ohio State still hasn’t really faced any man coverage, but that could finally happen this week. If it does, expect more shots than we’ve seen in the past. If it doesn’t, the Buckeyes still have to try. If those plays are made this week, don’t dismiss the impact that they could have on the team moving forward. This is an offense searching for confidence, and the failures will always put a dent in that confidence, regardless of who the opponent is. The same holds true for plays that go well. It doesn’t matter who it happens against, only that it happens. Completions down the field can snowball and collect into something greater. At least in theory. Consistency is also a key here. Even if a receiver gets open and J.T. Barrett sees it in time and throws it where it needs to be, the ball still has to be caught. That’s a lot of moving parts for a process that has yet to really get going. Anything good here is something to build on and get excited about.
Bonus: Will the tight ends continue to be used downfield?
Tight ends Marcus Baugh and Luke Farrell have had some nice gainers this season, and that should continue this week. We saw Baugh used down the field unsuccessfully against Indiana, and then saw him running wide open over the middle of the field for a nice gain last week. Defenses have to worry about every little movement from the Buckeye skill players, which allows the tight ends to find open lanes and pick up nice chunks of yards.
Bonus: The interior of the offensive line will be tested.
Urban Meyer says UNLV has two NFL-type interior defensive linemen, so Billy Price, Michael Jordan, and Branden Bowen will have some work for them on Saturday. Against Indiana, we saw Bowen get stood up and knocked down a few times due to playing too high. UNLV defensive tackle Jason Fao is only 6-feet tall, so if Bowen finds himself matched up with Fao, he’s gonna have to get lower.
Bonus: Can UNLV tackle in space?
During one of his media sessions this week, UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez said his biggest concern this week was simply tackling in space. That includes out on the edges against the screens and also on the stop routes like we saw Johnnie Dixon house in week one. J.K. Dobbins is also a huge concern for UNLV because everywhere he goes is “in space” due to his agility and vision.