Stories Sports RappUp Stories http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories.aspx http://backend.userland.com/rss Rapp Around: Time Will Tell So this is a difficult Ohio State men’s basketball team to figure out.<br /> <br /> On one hand, we knew the dynamic was going to be unusual with a cluster of seniors and a quintet of newcomers. Common sense tells us the group was going to take time to jell and develop reliability, especially with no proven double-digit scorer on the roster.<br /> <br /> And, of course, it’s no surprise the Buckeyes came up short in their two biggest nonconference tests against Louisville and North Carolina.<br /> <br /> But a dozen games into the campaign – and even after Monday’s 93-55 shellacking of Miami (Ohio) – we still have a lot to learn about <strong>Thad Matta</strong>’s 11th Ohio State team.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes are 10-2 and have one more tuneup against Wright State on Saturday before diving into a lengthy Big Ten season.<br /> <br /> “The big question in my mind is can we get these guys playing at a consistent level in terms of 40 minutes and know what’s coming down the pipe,” Matta said after the win over the RedHawks. “It’s never going to go the way we want it to go, and if you look at great teams, they are able to handle adversity. We’ve handled it well at times and not well at other times.<br /> <br /> “We’ve talked about challenging the guys to get that stop and not let them score again, then go execute. Where’s our element of toughness night in and night out?”<br /> <br /> Great question.<br /> <br /> <strong>D’Angelo Russell</strong> is living up to billing as a playmaker and potential takeover player. But he was just 4 of 17 in Saturday’s 82-74 loss to North Carolina in Chicago and also tried a little too hard in the return to his hometown of Louisville.<br /> <br /> <strong>Marc Loving</strong> was 5 of 8 from deep in the UNC game and led OSU with 19 points, but was just 1 of 7 inside the arc. He hasn’t shown enough fight to come down with many loose balls an rebounds.<br /> <br /> Freshman <strong>Jae’Sean Tate</strong> has, but he doesn’t have a developed jump shot. <strong>Keita Bates-Diop</strong> seems to be coming on and could be a hybrid of the two, but if you play him, does <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> come out?<br /> <br /> And what is to be done with OSU’s lacking inside game? <strong>Amir Wililiams</strong> continues to show ennui. <strong>Trey McDonald</strong> has good feet but isn’t a shot blocker and is a limited backup.<br /> <br /> And transfer <strong>Anthony Lee</strong>, who turned an ankle against Miami, has been decently productive but still is a bit of a disappointment. He has the same bad habit at Williams in terms of bringing the ball down to gather and he doesn’t finish particularly well.<br /> <br /> Those are not good traits for seniors.<br /> <br /> Ohio State is blessed with a quality and veteran point guard in <strong>Shannon Scott</strong>, yet another senior, but his shortcomings as an outside shooter are well-documented. <strong>Kam Williams</strong> has been the X-factor and instant scorer we thought he could be this season and yet still may be the most pleasant surprise so far.<br /> <br /> So where does that leave us? Are the Buckeyes a fraud or a real contender? That depends on execution and the Buckeyes’ understanding of it.<br /> <br /> One thing is for sure: Matta will teach it. And before anyone hits the panic button let’s remember that Matta is 285-85 during his career at Ohio State and 387-116 overall as a head coach. When he’s directed a ranked team, like this one, the Buckeyes are 211-48 – that’s a winning percentage of .815.<br /> <br /> Also, while there is much to figure out and several players have obvious weaknesses in their game, this is a team that is still plenty talented. The Buckeyes are long, athletic, deadly in the open court and can get hot from the outside.<br /> <br /> Their offcourt chemistry is perhaps the best of any team in the Matta era and they certainly aren’t afraid to share the ball on it. Against Miami, OSU logged a season-high 25 assists and five players scored in double figures: Kam Williams (18) Loving (16), Russell (15) and Bates-Diop (12) and Tate (10).<br /> <br /> It’s quite possible those five could be on the court when important Big Ten and postseason games are on the line – two second-year players and three freshmen. And that’s no necessarily a death knell.<br /> <br /> This team has great potential on both ends of the court. But as conference play approaches only a few facets feel defined, such as:<br /> <br /> * Ohio State is not a great rebounding team. That was exposed in the North Carolina game as the Tar Heels ripped down 53 boards in a scattery contest compared to OSU’s 40. Russell, a 6-5 off-guard, led the way with eight.<br /> <br /> * This team can get to the hoop. The Buckeyes easily lead the Big Ten in field-goal percentage at 51.6 and have hammered lesser teams in the paint and on the fast break. That, of course, has been set up by the defense turning over foes at a high rate and making them pay with layups.<br /> <br /> * The ball is getting moved. Russell sometimes is guilty of forcing passes – and this from a guy who leads the team in scoring at 17.4 points per game. Scott set a single-game school record with 15 assists in an earlier contest and leads the conference in assists (7.9) and steals (2.8) per game. He’s as good as any player in the Big Ten at setting up teammates. Thompson is another willing passer.<br /> <br /> Again, the Buckeyes look to run plays, attack when the situation presents itself and generally play unselfishly. However, they still look like a young team in long stretches of games. They get wrong-footed and off-balance at times. And the passes, cuts and picks require some polish.<br /> <br /> “At times we didn’t execute to the level we needed to execute,” Matta said even after OSU hung 93 points on Miiami. “The second half of the Louisville game we were getting good shots, even last Saturday we were getting good shots within the confine of playing those types of pressure defenses. They want to force you out of what you want to do, but we need to run what we need to run, and making the reads off that.”<br /> <br /> Defensively, the Buckeyes have been more that solid, although their reliance on zone has brought out several skeptics. We’ll delve into that at another time, but it’s safe to say Ohio State could be effective on that end of the court as well.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes open the Big Ten with five very winnable games – home tilts with Iowa, Illinois and Michigan along with trips to Minnesota and Indiana. At that point, the focus on the 2014-15 Ohio State squad should sharpen.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-23/Rapp_Around_Time_Will_Tell.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-23/Rapp_Around_Time_Will_Tell.aspx a826ec4e-dd32-4f13-ac57-01f9fbc43bd4 Wed, 24 Dec 2014 05:41:10 GMT Bosa Looks To Close Door On Saban Since <strong>Joey Bosa</strong> also was at a superstar level while at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, it’s not surprising that several SEC teams courted him.<br /> <br /> Among them, of course, was Alabama, Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl opponent on Jan. 1 when the two tradition-rich programs square off in a semifinal of the first-ever College Football Playoff.<br /> <br /> A consensus All-American defensive end who is looking to cap a monster sophomore season at OSU, Bosa said he still remembers being a little awestruck by Alabama head coach <strong>Nick Saban</strong> as an impressionable teenager.<br /> <br /> “They’re pretty serious, intimidating guys, especially when you’re 15 years old sitting in (Saban’s) office and he pushes this button that automatically closes his door.”<br /> <br /> Bosa’s eyes widened when he recalled that Dr. Evil-like moment.<br /> <br /> “It’s a nice door; super nice door,” he said.<br /> <br /> “I was there for a camp, and he called me up and I had no idea what it was going to be about. I had no shirt on. He’s like, ‘Get the kid a towel,’ so I had a little towel over my shoulders. I heard about the (door). He just clicked it. I was pretty scared.”<br /> <br /> A Kent State grad – who like current Ohio State head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> had a brief term as an OSU assistant – Saban has done just fine without Bosa. In seven years with Saban under the headset, the Crimson Tide has captured three national titles and posted a sterling record of 86-16, including a mark of 12-1 this season.<br /> <br /> ’Bama is the nation’s No. 1 team and is a heavy favorite (9-½ points) to dispose of the Buckeyes and advance to the national championship game. Plus, the game will be in SEC country and where the Tide played just last January.<br /> <br /> Considering all that and the fact that the Buckeyes never have officially defeated an SEC team in a bowl game – the win over Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl has been vacated – the challenge is pretty steep for No. 4 Ohio State (12-1).<br /> <br /> “Obviously it’s intense,” Bosa said Thursday. “We had a full week this week and we’re going to have some time off tomorrow to relax and then back at it this weekend. It’s going to be nice to go home (to Florida), see the family, and give the body a rest.”<br /> <br /> But when Bosa straps it back on, college football warfare is sure to ensue. He’ll try to slow down a running game that features <strong>T.J. Yeldon</strong> (932 rushing yards) and <strong>Derrick Henry</strong> (895), and also will be charged with putting pressure on quarterback <strong>Blake Sims</strong> (3,250 passing yards, 64.8 completion percentage, 26 touchdowns), who has emerged down the stretch. If Sims has time to throw, he’ll no doubt try to dial up <strong>Amari Cooper</strong>, a Heisman Trophy finalist who has amassed 115 catches; 1,656 receiving yards and 14 TDs this season.<br /> <br /> “They’re just freaks all around. There’s a reason they’ve been No. 1 for so many years and they’ve won as much games as they have. Obviously, we’re going to have to prepare a little different for this one.”<br /> <br /> When asked if the Buckeyes also possess freak athletes, Bosa said, “Yeah, definitely. Personnel is definitely not a problem when we look at the matchups.<br /> <br /> “We should be intimidating other people also. Maybe for the young guys, because Alabama, they’ve been No. 1 forever. It’s a challenge, but we’re all excited for it.”<br /> <br /> Bosa figures to be just as big a headache for the Crimson Tide. He easily led the Big Ten in sacks (13.5) and tackles-for-loss (20) this season and has shown a knack for making big plays at opportune times. He was a finalist for both the Lombardi and Bednarik awards and is considered the premier DE in the country.<br /> <br /> Still, with Bosa anchoring one of the best defensive lines in the country, the defense rounding into form and coming off a shutout of Wisconsin and the offense among the most dynamic in the nation, the Buckeye are underdogs. That’s mainly due to two key factors: <strong>Cardale Jones</strong>, OSU’s third-best QB, will have to play with <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> and <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> injured and … the Alabama mystique.<br /> <br /> Bosa doesn’t buy into either gloomy theories, though, especially the latter.<br /> <br /> “What is SEC-caliber, really?,” he posed. Big Ten-caliber, how about that? I think Coach Meyer was looking for that speed and big, athletic, fast guys. That’s what we’ve got on the D-line and all around. <br /> <br /> “When it comes down to playing equal talent, it comes down to preparation and how hard you’re willing to play for each other. That’s pretty much it. We prepare like crazy for every game. I guess it’s a little different playing for a national championship, but we prepare just like we do every week.”<br /> <br /> However, Bosa understands a lot of cards – and chips – are on the table.<br /> <br /> “This is one of the biggest games of all time in college football,” he said. “The Ohio State vs. Alabama, who has just been killing people the last few years. Tradition vs. tradition pretty much, and we’re super excited about playing them.”<br /> <br /> The mind boggles at what kind of chances the Buckeyes would have if Bosa had joined forces with the Tide.<br /> <br /> “They were my first offer, actually, before my junior season,” said Bosa, a top-50 recruit nationally. “I was 15 and it was crazy to me, so obviously I just fell in love with them automatically. I almost committed there, sitting in Buffalo Wild Wings (in Tuscaloosa) with my dad. I almost went back and committed that day. But we flew home, thought about it, and now I’m here.<br /> <br /> Bosa said the cultures around the programs are similar and the head coaches have a few things in common as well.<br /> <br /> “Coach Saban was an awesome guy,” he said. “Their whole staff was super cool to me. The recruitment process was awesome. It was good on both sides.<br /> <br /> “Coach Saban’s a little more intimidating. He doesn’t joke around much. Urban, coach Meyer will joke around a little bit.”<br /> <br /> Plus, as far as we know, Meyer doesn’t have a button for his door.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-20/Bosa_Looks_To_Close_Door_On_Saban.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-20/Bosa_Looks_To_Close_Door_On_Saban.aspx 5b307843-de28-4e28-99d1-c88905c0e95d Sat, 20 Dec 2014 17:11:23 GMT OSU Rolls In Downtown Tune-Up No. 12 Ohio State wasn’t supposed to face much peril while hosting lowly North Carolina A&amp;T on Wednesday night, but the unusual setting of Nationwide Arena had the potential to force the Buckeyes to take some time to adjust.<br /> <br /> It turns out, no time was needed.<br /> <br /> Ohio State wasn’t at the Schottenstein Center but looked very much at home before a paid crowd of 14,585 at the downtown arena while rolling the Aggies, 97-55.<br /> <br /> The hurricane that A&amp;T coach Cy Alexander feared came at the outset as the Buckeyes hit 5 of their first 6 shots, established their presence on defense and opened up a quick 17-2 lead.<br /> <br /> The unfamiliar rims – the very ones several Columbus Blue Jackets players clanged shots off of goofing around earlier in the day – proved to be no impediment. In fact, OSU shot 56.5 percent from the floor on the evening, 68.8 percent in the second half, and was nearly perfect on the free-throw line with a 20-for-22 showing (90.9 percent).<br /> <br /> Head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> said the Buckeyes (9-1) held a high-intensity practice at Nationwide on Tuesday and wanted to see it carry over in the team’s final tune-up before a weekend date with No. 24 North Carolina in Chicago.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes skidded for some of the first half but posted a 28-8 run to start the second stanza and cruised to the 42-point win.<br /> <br /> “I was very pleased with the start we had to both halves,” Matta said. “We talked about how they have to be more ready and be more aggressive coming in.”<br /> <br /> When the final horn sounded, OSU had 40 points off turnovers, 44 points in the paint and 37 off fast breaks.<br /> <br /> Leading the charge on both ends was senior point guard <strong>Shannon Scott</strong>, who recorded eight points, 12 assists and a career-high seven steals. OSU had 18 thefts as a team as North Carolina A&amp;T (1-11) committed 26 turnovers on the evening.<br /> <br /> “I think we were active, but it was good positioning, really,” Scott said. “Anybody could have had the same steals I had. It was just being in the right spot at the right time.”<br /> <br /> Matta saw more than that.<br /> <br /> “I thought he was pretty active,” said the coach. “We wanted to try to get the pace and the tempo to our liking and he was covering a lot of ground out there.”<br /> <br /> With the Buckeyes going up and down and the floor opening up, freshman <strong>D’Angelo Russell</strong> was in a comfort zone. He finished with a team-high 21 points.<br /> <br /> Second-year wings <strong>Marc Loving</strong> and <strong>Kam Williams</strong> added 15 points apiece. Matta had what he termed a productive meeting with Loving earlier in the week.<br /> <br /> “We kind of got him back on track in terms of scoring the ball,” Matta said. “Fifteen points in 15 minutes was a good night for him. We need Marc to be a player for us.”<br /> <br /> Forward <strong>Bruce Beckford</strong> led A&amp;T with 26 points and seven rebounds. He made 4 of 7 three-point attempts and added three steals while looking very unintimidated.<br /> <br /> “Thirty-two had an incredible night,” Matta said of Beckford. “I told the guys at halftime, ‘We making this guy into a first-round draft pick.’ ”<br /> <br /> Russell led the way offensively in the first half with 13 points but was just 4 of 10 from the floor despite the hot start. Loving made both three-point attempts and both free-throw attempts for a tidy eight first-half points.<br /> <br /> Beckford, though, also stood out in the first 20 minutes. The 6-7 Aggie hit 6 of 8 shots and logged 15 points in the half. Guard <strong>Arturs Bremers</strong> added nine, leaving the other two first-half points for the visitors to <strong>Denzel Keyes</strong>.<br /> <br /> Starters <strong>Khary Doby</strong> and <strong>Austin Williams</strong> each went 0 for 4 from the floor in the first half as the Aggies went to halftime trailing 39-26. Williams, a freshman point guard, ended up enduring an 0-for-7 night and also had six turnovers but did manage to dole out 10 assists. <br /> <br /> OSU forward <strong>Jake Lorbach</strong>, who had dealt with nagging injuries early in the campaign, made his first appearance of the season. He failed to score in four minutes of action.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes will have to ramp it up against North Carolina on Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. Eastern, CBS), and Matta intends to make that point repeatedly in the next couple days.<br /> <br /> “Obviously a tremendous basketball team,” he said. “Their size is something Carolina has always had. I think one of the biggest things I’ve noticed is just their ability with interior passing. They do a great job. A lot like a Louisville, they’re going to really try to pound the ball inside on us and rebound it.”<br /> <br /> The game will prove memorable for Scott, whose famous father, <strong>Charlie Scott</strong>, was a standout at UNC and in the NBA.<br /> <br /> “Shannon’s a Buckeye, Mr. Scott is a Tar Heel, but I know this: I know who Mr. Scott will be rooting for on Saturday,” Matta said. “From that perspective it is a little bit odd, but Shannon’s got a job to do. We need him to play like he did tonight, I know that.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-17/OSU_Rolls_In_Downtown_Tune-Up.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-17/OSU_Rolls_In_Downtown_Tune-Up.aspx 13dd0e18-35dd-4e41-8535-8a9aac612b87 Thu, 18 Dec 2014 05:20:21 GMT Rapp Around: Bittersweet Days before Ohio State’s 2014 season began – which seems like about three years ago now – offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach <strong>Tom Herman</strong> was charged with getting a completely unseasoned QB ready for Navy and beyond.<br /> <br /> Many OSU followers were still lamenting the preseason camp loss of <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>, a two-time winner of the coveted Silver Football award that recognizes the Big Ten’s top player.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, pundits were predicting doom and gloom for the Buckeyes, who also had to reconstruct their offensive line and were looking to replace the leading rusher (<strong>Carlos Hyde</strong>) and receiver (<strong>Philly Brown</strong>) of a year ago.<br /> <br /> But Herman knew he had a competent signal caller in redshirt freshman <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong>, who hadn’t played since midway through his senior season of high school, and was invested in the array of talent around the youngster.<br /> <br /> “I would think there’s a lot of schools right now that would take our scenario over what they’ve got,” said Herman.<br /> <br /> Confident, likable, workable, intelligent – these are just some of the adjectives that readily describe the 39-year-old Herman.<br /> <br /> His star rose again this season as the Buckeyes not only overcame the loss of Miller, they set several more offensive records with Barrett under center. When Barrett suffered a broken ankle in the regular-season finale vs. Michigan, the offense was stunningly efficient with strong-armed third-stringer <strong>Cardale Jones</strong> in the role as OSU torched Wisconsin to the tune of 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship Game.<br /> <br /> It’s no surprise that Herman won the Frank Broyles Award last week as the nation’s top college football assistant, and it also follows a very logical path that Herman’s name again came up for various head-coaching openings.<br /> <br /> In fact, reports surfaced on Monday that the University of Houston was prepared to hire Herman to head its program. Neither school had confirmed the news, but apparently the move required only dotted ‘i’s and crossed ‘t’s on the contract.<br /> <br /> The Cougars just completed a 7-5 season including a 5-3 mark in the American Athletic Conference but the hierarchy decided to let go of head coach <strong>Tony Levine</strong>, who posted a record of 21-17 in three seasons.<br /> <br /> Ironically, Houston is preparing for a bowl date with Pittsburgh, which also is currently without a head coach.<br /> <br /> In the early summer, UH extended Levine’s contract with a new five-year deal that bumped his annual salary to $925,000. But with no progress to show after going 8-5 and 5-3 in 2013, the university decided to make a change – and a hard push for Herman, who began bis coaching career at Texas State, was a highly successful coordinator at Rice and a trusted assistant at Texas.<br /> <br /> When <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> was hired in November 2011 to head the OSU program he quickly pursued Herman after hearing he had worked wonders with the Iowa State offense.<br /> <br /> The acquisition proved to be a home run. Herman was bright and well-respected but understood he was running Meyer’s offense. The Buckeyes went undefeated in 2012 as Miller grew in the offense. Last year, Ohio State set high-water marks in points and yards. This season, Barrett tied a single-game school record with six touchdown passes against Kent State and threw for a program-best 34 TDs. He added 11 scores rushing to set a new Big Ten mark with 45 total TDs.<br /> <br /> Against UW, Jones took it from there, throwing for 257 yards and three TDs – all of them to <strong>Devin Smith</strong>. After the game, Herman bear-hugged Jones and even kissed the side of his face. Another QB thrust into the offense, another amazing performance with Herman calling the shots from above.<br /> <br /> Just prior to the season, Herman said the following: “We don’t ask the quarterback to be a rocket surgeon by any stretch of the imagination, and never have, and probably never will. Maybe that’s why those guys have played well in our system.”<br /> <br /> The statement ran a little hollow in Week 2 when OSU was upset by Virginia Tech and the offense fizzled. But the Buckeyes (12-1) rallied with 11 straight wins and earned their way into the first-ever College Football Playoff.<br /> <br /> Reports have varied as to when Herman will leave the program and head to UH but SRU has learned he will stay on as long as the Buckeyes are playing for the crystal football. No. 4 OSU has a date with No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 (8:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN) and a win would put the Buckeyes in the title game on Jan. 12.<br /> <br /> Meyer will begin scouring the country for a topflight QB coach – an important task with Miller, Barrett and Jones all expected back next season and well-rated recruits <strong>Joey Burrow</strong> and <strong>Torrance Gibson</strong> on their way in the door.<br /> <br /> Meyer could give more responsibility to line coach <strong>Ed Warinner</strong> but he must find someone who can engender trust and continue to develop the QBs.<br /> <br /> Herman is replaceable but that’s like saying NBC still had decent ratings after “Seinfeld” and “Friends” were no longer on the air.<br /> <br /> Despite all the changeover of personnel, Herman led Ohio State to the top of the Big Ten in terms of scoring (45.2 points per game) and total yards (507.6 per game).<br /> <br /> Herman becomes the latest branch of Meyer’s coaching tree, which has seen 12 assistants go on to become head coaches: <strong>Dan Mullen</strong> (Mississippi State); <strong>Charlie Strong</strong> (Texas); <strong>Gary Andersen</strong> (Utah State/Wisconsin/Oregon State); <strong>Kyle Whittingham</strong> (Utah); <strong>Steve Addazio</strong> (Boston College); <strong>Tim Beckman</strong> (Illinois); <strong>Doc Holliday</strong> (Marshall); <strong>Mike Sanford</strong> (UNLV/Indiana State); <strong>Dan McCarney</strong> (North Texas); <strong>Everett Withers</strong> (James Madison); <strong>Gregg Brandon</strong> (Bowling Green); <strong>Jay Hill</strong> (Weber State).<br /> <br /> In short, Herman was one of my favorite OSU assistants to cover, and he was extremely popular among Buckeye players.<br /> <br /> He will be missed – but not before matching wits with <strong>Lane Kiffin</strong> and trying to pull off one more miracle.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-16/Rapp_Around_Bittersweet.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-16/Rapp_Around_Bittersweet.aspx be172f49-0a79-44a3-a2b0-db7893c4a48c Tue, 16 Dec 2014 06:27:17 GMT Non-Skid Homestand? Ohio State seems to have come out of its loss to Louisville in relatively good shape. The Buckeyes are the 12th-ranked team in the country, emerged from a shaky start to beat Colgate by 20 points last weekend and just flogged High Point on Wednesday night, 97-43.<br /> <br /> The ball is getting moved, head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> is receiving major production from his bench, and the senior leaders – namely <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> and <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> – are holding up their end of the bargain, especially in terms of building a team camaraderie that they claim is the strongest in their four years on campus.<br /> <br /> All good.<br /> <br /> However, the Buckeyes (7-1) also know the eyebrow-raising upset is out there and it has been particularly naughty against Big Ten teams. The stunners include Eastern Washington over Indiana, Eastern Michigan and NJIT – that would be the New Jersey Institute of Technology – dumping Michigan, and Incarnate Word, for the love of God, upending a Nebraska team that is supposed to contend for the league title.<br /> <br /> Therefore, Matta and his players will try to avoid a lump of coal in their stocking on Saturday vs. Morehead State and next Wednesday against North Carolina A&amp;T before heading to Chicago to tangle with mighty North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic.
<br /> <br /> “It’s amazing,” Matta said of the slew of upsets. “On any given night, anything is possible. We’ve gone into every game this season with those types of things in mind. It just takes a bad stretch and you can’t play your way out of it and the other team catches magic in a bottle.<br /> <br /> “I don’t think there are any nights off in college basketball and that is proving to be true. I brought it up and said here are two of our conference schools that have lost some games. I think the players were aware of that.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes responded admirably by wiping out a High Point squad that made an NIT appearance in March and could contend for the Big South championship. They shot a season-high 62.5 percent from the field, got a game-high 23 points from redshirt freshman guard <strong>Kam Williams</strong> in 21 blistering minutes off the bench, and didn’t allow anyone other than star forward <strong>John Brown</strong> to connect on more than three field goals.<br /> <br /> “It was huge,” Thompson said. “Really, dating back to James Madison, we did not think we had been playing our best basketball. We had been winning games with the exception of Louisville by 20 or 25 points. But we weren’t doing what we felt we could do on the court. We weren’t hitting shots at the rate we wanted to hit them, we weren’t executing and we weren’t getting stops.<br /> <br /> “For us to come out and dominate the game in all facets for 40 minutes was huge for us. I had not been shooting the ball well, so it was good to see the ball go into the rim.”<br /> <br /> Five players scored in double figures in that runaway win and newcomer <strong>Keita Bates-Diop</strong> also got involved offensively with nine points.<br /> <br /> “I expected what’s been going on,” said the 6-7 Bates-Diop, one of OSU’s many talented reserves and a member of the well-rated freshman class. “It’s been a lot of fun. I am learning from the older guys. It’s been good. I feel like we have adjusted well. <strong>Jae’Sean</strong> (<strong>Tate</strong>) brings a lot of injury. Kam and <strong>D’Angelo</strong> (<strong>Russell</strong>) can shoot it. I do whatever I can to help the team win.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes are showing good depth inside with Bates-Diop, senior transfer <strong>Anthony Lee</strong> and senior <strong>Trey McDonald</strong> all able to come in and play lengthy minutes when needed. Tate is coming off another high-energy game with 12 points, four rebounds and a pair of steals vs. High Point.<br /> <br /> And the backcourt has bordered on spectacular at times when Scott and Russell are both on their game.<br /> <br /> Russell was named the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Week Monday after averaging 18.0 points, his season average, against Louisville and Colgate. He is second nationally among freshmen in scoring at 18.0 points per game and has led OSU in scoring six times. Scott ranks second in the nation in assists per game (8.0) and had a line of 11 points, seven assists and three steals against High Point.<br /> <br /> Still, Matta is pushing his experienced-and-young team in hopes they understand danger lurks around many corners. Morehead State, for example, enters on Saturday (1 p.m. Eastern, Big Ten Network) with a record of just 4-7 but has been competitive in every single game.<br /> <br /> The Eagles lost by one point to UNLV at the beginning of the season, battled Cincinnati before falling 69-61 and were by Oakland, 70-68 in overtime on Dec. 6 the last time out. Senior guard <strong>Angelo Warner</strong>, much like High Point’s Brown, is a handful. He’s averaging 16.1 ppg.<br /> <br /> “They went into Marshall and won,” Matta reminded. “They play 11 guys. There are so many different combinations you can see on the floor. They can play big or small. They have a lot of guys who are capable of having a huge night. We have to do a great job of understanding, ‘This is how we’re going to play them.’ We have to execute it.<br /> <br /> “(Warner) is a tremendous scorer and he gets points a lot of different ways. It is a good challenge for us.”<br /> <br /> The odds, of course, are on OSU’s side. Ohio State is 116-6 all-time vs. non-conference opponents at Value City Arena and has won 55 consecutive games against unranked non-conference opponents.<br /> <br /> After the game with Morehead, OSU will host North Carolina A&amp;T downtown at Nationwide Arena on Wednesday night (7 p.m., Big Ten Network). That fulfills the requirement to play one game at an NCAA Tournament site as Nationwide will host NCAA second- and third-round games in March.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-13/Non-Skid_Homestand.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-13/Non-Skid_Homestand.aspx fef81ccd-98b7-492b-869a-435768cade5e Sat, 13 Dec 2014 17:21:42 GMT Reaching Past High Point No. 12 Ohio State already had blasted a foe by more than 50 points on the hardwood this year – bless its little Sacred Heart – but the Buckeyes still may have reached an early season apex against, well, High Point.<br /> <br /> Facing a respectable non-major conference team that features talented 6-8 forward <strong>John Brown</strong>, Ohio State never stopped attacking the paint and relentlessly kept up both the pressure and energy level when reserves took the floor to log a 97-43 win before a crowd of 13,012 at the Schottenstein Center on Wednesday night.<br /> <br /> Five players reached double figures in points for Ohio State (7-1) led by an eye-opening 23 from redshirt freshman guard <strong>Kam Williams</strong>. He had 13 points in six first-half minutes by hitting all four shot attempts – two from deep – and all three free throws.<br /> <br /> He finished 8 of 10 from the floor and 4 of 5 from behind the arc yet never seemed overall excited by the result.<br /> <br /> “I’m not surprised at all,” he said afterward. “All my life, that’s what I’ve been known to do, to put the ball in the bucket.”<br /> <br /> Teammate <strong>Jae’Sean Tate</strong> nodded.<br /> <br /> “Yep,” he concurred. “He does that every day.”<br /> <br /> Tate also was a force off the bench with 12 points, four rebounds and a pair of steals. Transfer <strong>Anthony Lee</strong> had six points and a team-high nine rebounds while fellow reserve <strong>Keita Bates-Diop</strong> added nine points and five boards.<br /> <br /> Freshman guard <strong>D’Angelo Russell</strong> remained a mainstay on the court and in the box score. He finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists, although he was out of control at times and committed four turnovers.<br /> <br /> His backcourt mate, senior <strong>Shannon Scott</strong>, shook off a two-game fun and logged 11 points and seven assists.<br /> <br /> <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> added 10 points and all of them seemingly were met with consternation by High Point head coach <strong>Scott Cherry</strong>.<br /> <br /> The Panthers (6-3) were trailing just 14-10 midway through the first half and had forced an errant jumper by Scott when Thompson grabbed the offensive rebound and scored on a putback.<br /> <br /> After High Point endured Williams’ explosion of 13 straight points, OSU led 30-20 when Thompson forced up a three at the end of the shot clock and buried it.<br /> <br /> Thompson added a three-point play with 1:08 left in the first half, causing Cherry to stomp the floor, and Russell also scored on a nifty scoop with seven seconds to go to produce Ohio State’s 43-24 lead at the break.<br /> <br /> High Point was 10 of 29 shooting at that juncture and Cherry sensed trouble.<br /> <br /> “We missed five layups, three wide-open threes and two free throws in the first half,” the coach said. “We didn’t play anywhere near close to perfect. I don’t know what you would call it.”<br /> <br /> It only got worse for the visitors. The Buckeyes were a blistering 19 of 27 from the floor in the second half and finished 35 of 56 for a season-high percentage of 62.5. High Point was 18 of 56 (32.1 percent) but Brown did manage to hit 9 of 15 shots and finish with 19 points. No other starter had more than five.<br /> <br /> High Point came into the game with a solid eight-game showing and wins over Hawaii and William &amp; Mary. The Panthers won their opener over Cal-Bakersfield in four overtimes, 100-99.<br /> <br /> In fact, Cherry’s squad is hoping to again contend in the Big South this season, especially if Brown can keep scoring at a 20-ppg clip.<br /> <br /> However, the Buckeyes produced 42 points in the paint and showed lots of firepower and depth, especially with Williams lighting it up.<br /> <br /> “Kameron obviously had a hot hand, but all his shots came within the system,” OSU head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> said. “Kameron has done a great job of understanding his role and what he needs to do.<br /> <br /> “He led the charge tonight and having that energy and fire off the bench is going to help our team.”<br /> <br /> Matta stayed on his players at halftime and reminded them High Point rallied from 15 down to beat William &amp; Mary.<br /> <br /> Williams said the coach told them to relax, not turn over the ball and bring the “juice.”<br /> <br /> “That’s his thing, to bring the juice,” he said.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes improved to 13-0 all-time against members of the Big South Conference and will look to keep it rolling vs. Morehead State on Saturday (1 p.m. Eastern, Big Ten Network). Still, Matta sees a few areas that need work, especially defensively.<br /> <br /> “We kept defending through the shot clock,” he said. “I thought our guys did a pretty good job. The only thing is we had a focus on Brown, No. 0, and he got 19 on us. Our bigs have to do a better job down there.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-10/Reaching_Past_High_Point.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-10/Reaching_Past_High_Point.aspx 2760fe52-b797-4f0e-a087-93db13f9dbb4 Thu, 11 Dec 2014 03:13:32 GMT Rapp Around: Undeniable “Holy cow.”<br /> <br /> “Wow.”<br /> <br /> “What a throw.”<br /> <br /> As a former co-worker of mine once said, “Ever talk to yourself?”<br /> <br /> That’s exactly what I did in the Lucas Oil Stadium press box as Ohio State unleashed its fury on Wisconsin Saturday night in the Big Ten Championship Game. That’s all I could say outloud as my alma mater, a four-point underdog, absolutely shredded West Division champion Wisconsin, 59-0.<br /> <br /> Where in the hell did that come from?<br /> <br /> During our usual marathon of pregame coverage on 610 (AM) WTVN, sports director <strong>Matt McCoy</strong> asked me where this OSU team was mentally and emotionally after the shocking death of defensive lineman <strong>Kosta Karageorge</strong>, the sudden loss of star quarterback <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> (who emerged after the sudden loss of previous star quarterback <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>) and various other setbacks.<br /> <br /> My answer: I have no idea.<br /> <br /> I don’t usually say this, of course. Usually I have a formulated opinion or hunch based on all of the available information. But, seriously, who could have seen this coming?<br /> <br /> I felt strongly that the Buckeyes (12-1) would play with determination considering they had won 24 straight Big Ten regular-season games under Urban Meyer but we’re still staring at the possibility of having no league title to show for that unprecedented feat. I also felt the coaching staff would figure out how to rally around the fact that <strong>Cardale Jones</strong> would be logging his first start at QB as a collegian.<br /> <br /> But still.<br /> <br /> My mouth was agape most of the first half as OSU stoned <strong>Melvin Gordon</strong> – that would be Melvin Gordon and his 2,200 rushing yards this season against an OSU rushing defense that had struggled of late – <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong> impersonated Gordon and Jones made NFL throws downfield.<br /> <br /> At least I wasn’t the guy next to me, who presumably came from Eau Claire or Chippewa Falls to watch, well, <em>that</em>.<br /> <br /> By halftime it was apparent Ohio State was not going to be denied its dream day and that Florida State was doing Florida State things, which is to say setting up drama and uncertainty only to win its fourth straight game by less than a touchdown. Reporters already were embroiled in College Football Playoff debate.<br /> <br /> I spotted my radio colleague, former Ohio State head coach <strong>Earle Bruce</strong>, who accompanied the team at the request of Meyer, and told him, “Holy crap, you were right, Coach.” Earle had boldly predicted that Jones was going to light up the Badgers’ secondary and that he told Herman in no uncertain terms he needed to have the lad throw the ball deep once a quarter.<br /> <br /> That’s exactly what Herman did, and Jones needed just 17 attempts and 12 completions to rack up 257 yards and three touchdowns. <strong>Devin Smith</strong> caught the hat trick and accounted for more than half of the passing yards (137). Elliott amassed 220 rushing yards and had two scores of his own; Gordon finished with 94 yards and just 2.9 per carry.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes basically were right on their average with 558 total yards and reaching that figure on just 56 plays – that’s a hair under 10 yards per play. Wisconsin, meanwhile, managed 3.2 yards per play.<br /> <br /> That’s called domination.<br /> <br /> When the game was only half over, I had to approach colleagues of mine and just state what had to be said.<br /> <br /> “Alabama and Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. Oregon and Florida State in the Rose Bowl. Done. Sorry, Big 12. Too easy.”<br /> <br /> Even if FSU won by one point because Georgia Tech missed an extra point, my mind was made up. The undefeated Seminoles had to be in, and Alabama and Oregon had already punched their ticket.<br /> <br /> I have nothing against TCU or Baylor and believe they have a case. In fact, I am a big proponent of an eight-team playoff. That has to happen and soon. The winners of the five power conferences, however that is determined, should get automatic bids, and the other three spots would go to at-large teams. The suspense would center around those picks and the seeding.<br /> <br /> The top four seeds would host a playoff game. Hellbent on getting a second SEC team into the picture? Fine. Make them come to Columbus or Madison or South Bend in mid-December. Let’s see that.<br /> <br /> But this year someone was going to be bitterly disappointed and it would have felt criminal if it were the Buckeyes given how far they’ve come and how thoroughly they won the Big Ten.<br /> <br /> As I loaded onto the elevator to go down to the field for the final minutes of the game, <strong>Archie Griffin</strong> hopped on behind me.<br /> <br /> “How about this result?” I said to him to open the conversation. “And here’s the thing about TCU, Arch, they didn’t even win their conference technically.”<br /> <br /> “You think there’s any way they wouldn’t match up (<strong>Nick</strong>) <strong>Saban</strong> and Urban?” he asked me.<br /> <br /> “No,” I said emphatically, even though, of course, there was a way. “I don’t know how the committee could pass that up. That’s just too marketable. Too perfect.”<br /> <br /> He agreed, and his trademark wide smile splashed across his face. He was going down to celebrate with his program and do it feeling good about OSU’s postseason outlook.<br /> <br /> As I got down to field level, the party already was underway. <strong>Darron Lee</strong> was dancing on one of the benches. <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong> was standing near a “B1G” sign he was going to heist and pose with for photographers.<br /> <br /> On OSU’s final TD, a 1-yard run by <strong>Curtis Samuel</strong>, Jones handed off and looked only at his own bench and waited for the roar. It came. He pumped his fist and headed to the sideline.<br /> <br /> Meyer got his Powerade bath. Players embraced. Herman came down from the booth and kissed Jones on the ear while bear-hugging the huge QB. After Meyer shook the hand of his good friend <strong>Gary Andersen</strong>, the third-year OSU coach huddled his family. Shelley, his wife, wiped tears out of her eyes. Her husband had led Ohio State to a Big Ten title.<br /> <br /> It was funny to watch coaches and staff members struggle to get players to stop celebrating and herd them to the locker room. Bryce Haynes was giddy. <strong>Jeff Heuerman</strong> had crawled into the stands and then threw his shoes up to fans on his way off the field.<br /> <br /> The locker room was even more joyous. Music blared. Tight ends coach <strong>Tim Hinton</strong> broke into dance, cracking up the linemen nearby. Powell couldn’t stop smiling.<br /> <br /> “I’ve never won a championship in my life,” he said. “This is a the greatest feeling in the world.”<br /> <br /> Barrett talked about Jones like a proud older brother.<br /> <br /> “I wasn’t surprised at all,” he said. “He’s got a lot of talent and lot of support on this team.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Evan Spencer</strong> looked like a 6-year-old on Christmas morning.<br /> <br /> “I’m so happy to be a part of this team,” he said. “I’m so overjoyed right now. That was the performance we all wanted, thought we could have if we played our game. We did.”<br /> <br /> When asked about the CFP outlook, the Buckeyes gave the idea the Bosa shrug.<br /> <br /> “Who knows,” linebacker <strong>Curtis Grant</strong> said. “I think we’re deserving but it’s not up to us to decide. We’re just going to enjoy this tonight. We’re champions.”<br /> <br /> If the Buckeyes had won all phases of the game and defeated UW, say, 24-7, would that have been enough? Probably not.<br /> <br /> But when the pairings came out on Sunday we saw the reward: No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 2 Oregon in the Rose Bowl.<br /> <br /> Rapper got one right. So did the selection committee.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-07/Rapp_Around_Undeniable.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-07/Rapp_Around_Undeniable.aspx afe1e3a4-b6fc-4813-bdf9-cc0d7dc915a9 Sun, 07 Dec 2014 21:00:47 GMT 5-Plus Questions: Archie Griffin When the Ohio State football team takes the field to face Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game on Saturday night in Indianapolis, the program will have a very recognizable supporter in the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium: <strong>Archie Griffin</strong>.<br /> <br /> Griffin, of course, is the president and CEO of the Ohio State Alumni Association and college football’s only two-time Heisman Trophy winner. He’s been closely tied to the OSU program ever since setting records as a running back for <strong>Woody Hayes</strong> in the mid-1970s and his all-time OSU rushing record is still intact.<br /> <br /> Earlier this week, SRU caught up with Griffin for an interview and asked him various questions. Here are those questions and answers:<br /> <br /> <strong>1. If you could describe the team in one word, what would it be?</strong><br /> <br /> “Well, ‘awesome’ is the word, and I believe that about this team. But probably more appropriate right now is ‘resilient.’ We’ve had some adversity this season and bounced back. And I mean that mostly because of the injuries we’ve sustained, especially at quarterback. There was a lot of uncertainty as to how we’d play with <strong>Braxton</strong> (<strong>Miller</strong>) out and <strong>J.T.</strong> (<strong>Barrett</strong>) came in and handled that position beautifully, and now I’m expecting <strong>Cardale</strong> (<strong>Jones</strong>) to pick up the reins and do a great job.”<br /> <br /> <strong>2. Do you have a game-day tradition or superstition?</strong><br /> <br /> “More when I was a player. Back then I would make sure I would eat the same thing that I had eaten the week before, usually a small piece of steak, spaghetti with a very bland sauce, and two pieces of toast with butter and honey on them. Coach Hayes always said he wanted us to play hungry and the truth is we actually were hungry (laughs). Now I don’t do much. I’ve always been confident in our team and the way they’re going to perform. But I do pace around during games. That happens.”<br /> <br /> <strong>3. Finish this sentence: If my school wins the national title, I’m going to …</strong><br /> <br /> “ … be overjoyed. And if you’re asking me what would I do – I’m going to go to Disneyland. Make sure you hold me to that.”<br /> <br /> <strong>4. Where will you be watching the playoffs?</strong><br /> <br /> “If we’re in, I will definitely be there. If not, I’ll probably be watching at home with my family.”<br /> <br /> <strong>5. Who’s your favorite player on the team? (Why?)</strong><br /> <br /> “I like Zeke, <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong>. I think he’s a well-rounded back. He does a great of running the football, he blocks well, and he does a good job catching the ball out of the backfield. <strong>Jalin Marshall</strong> is a fun one to watch as well. But I really like Zeke and really believe he has a tremendous future ahead of him at Ohio State. I think he’s a very special player.”<br /> <br /> <strong>* Bonus: I’m guessing you don’t mind that running backs have re-emerged as the premiere players in the country. In the Big Ten alone there are several outstanding backs, we’ve had the NCAA record broken twice this season, and when you see the highlights now there are as many huge runs as there are passing plays.</strong><br /> <br /> “I’m blown away by the amount of yardage these running backs are getting now and Wisconsin’s running back (<strong>Melvin Gordon</strong>) is tremendous. To have 2,200 yards is absolutely incredible. From our standpoint we need to be ready.<br /> <br /> “I think it’s fantastic. It looks like running backs are getting their due again. It’s the year of the running back.”<br /> <br /> <strong>* Double Bonus: It appears that defenses are so built on speed and staying with the passing game that we’ve lost the traditional run-stuffing linebackers and teams getting spread out and gashed by the run now. Is that what you see?</strong><br /> <br /> “Yes, I do. Teams are getting spread out, which is part of the intention of that offense, and it’s giving running backs more room to operate. If you have a great back with excellent vision and burst who can get to that second level quickly and then make a defender miss him, then you’ve got a chance for a very big play.<br /> <br /> “So you these coaches committed to that now. If you get these guys in the open field they can make things happen. I’ve been blown away by it, honestly. The production has been impressive. And you see it in our conference on a regular basis.<br /> <br /> “We’ve got great backs in this league and we’re facing a top one in the championship game. Then you look at <strong>Tevin Coleman</strong> and <strong>Ameer</strong> (<strong>Abdullah</strong>). They are game-changers.<br /> <br /> “And when you list these guys make sure you throw Zeke in there, too. Mark my word: He’s going to have a great career. He is talented.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-06/5-Plus_Questions_Archie_Griffin.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-06/5-Plus_Questions_Archie_Griffin.aspx c4f436f7-7aa4-4541-bfc5-4f5ef1275fa0 Sat, 06 Dec 2014 17:26:49 GMT Buckeyes Succumb At Louisville Ohio State headed to Louisville for its ACC/BigTen Challenge matchup a perfect 5-0 and ranked No. 16 in the country but with a lot to learn about facing an elite team on the road.<br /> <br /> Sure enough, in the first 20 minutes of the contest – which was staged before 22,784 at the KFC Yum! Center and a national television audience – the Buckeyes look like lost lambs and trailed 35-18 at the break.<br /> <br /> They had just six first-half field goals, shot 23.1 percent from the field, turned the ball over nine times and were battered on the boards, 28-17. All too often, Ohio State ran into brick walls attacking the impressive length and athleticism of the Cardinals.<br /> <br /> But the Buckeyes rallied behind freshman guard <strong>D’Angelo Russell</strong> and sophomore forward <strong>Marc Loving</strong> and cut a 19-point deficit all the way down to three before losing a 64-55 decision.<br /> <br /> The fifth-ranked Cardinals (6-0) were outplayed the entire second half but halted OSU’s rally just in time.<br /> <br /> <strong>Wayne Blackshear</strong> led Louisville with 22 points, 16 in the first half, and added six rebounds. <strong>Montrezl Harrell</strong> had 13 points and 10 rebounds. <strong>Terry Rozier</strong> had 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists while <strong>Chris Jones</strong> scored 10 for UL.<br /> <br /> Russell, a Louisville native, was just 6 for 20 from the floor but led Ohio State (5-1) with 17 points. He also doled out all seven of OSU’s assists. Loving hit a pair of threes and added 13 points. Redshirt freshman <strong>Kam Williams</strong> had seven points off the bench and true frosh <strong>Jae’Sean Tate</strong> led the way on the boards with seven.<br /> <br /> It was a forgettable night for senior point guard <strong>Shannon Scott</strong>, however. He had five turnovers compared to zero turnovers, was just 1 of 7 from the field, and was limited to just 22 minutes of action.<br /> <br /> OSU finished 17 of 56 from the floor for 30.4 percent and gave the ball away 14 times.<br /> <br /> “I think the one thing you have to keep in mind is Louisville is a very good team and this is one of the best homecourts in the country,” said OSU associate head coach <strong>Dave Dickerson</strong>, who pinch-hit for head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> after the game. “Their pressure bothered us in the first half. We couldn’t get into any offensive rhythm. We took some quick shots and our turnovers hurt us in the first half.<br /> <br /> “Hopefully we can chalk this up as being Dec. 2 and we can get better from here.”<br /> <br /> When asked how a team that came into the game shooting 57 percent could start 2 of 12 from the field, senior wing <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> said, “It was us. We allowed the crowd and the stage to take us out of the game. We weren’t thinking like we needed to think. We were playing on our heels. We were playing soft. We were getting punched in the mouth the whole second half.”<br /> <br /> Thompson played all 40 minutes and managed to log seven points and seven rebounds, but he was just 4 of 10 from the free-throw line.<br /> <br /> The Cardinals led 29-10 and were looking for more when they botched an alley-oop attempt that led to an open three for Thompson. He made it, and the Buckeyes actually outscored Louisville 8-6 to end the half and set the tone for the second.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes still trailed 42-24 with 13 minutes to play when the they managed to forge a 29-14 run that trimmed the lead to 56-53 with a minute to play.<br /> <br /> Loving began the rally with a deep three off a pass from Russell with 11:50 to go. He added a pair of free throws with 10:16 on the clock.<br /> <br /> Moments later, <strong>Anthony Lee</strong> swatted away a bounding Louisville shot and Russell turned it into a fastbreak scoop. That made the score 42-31 and caused UL coach <strong>Rick Pitino</strong> to call a timeout with 9:48 remaining.<br /> <br /> Louisville grew the lead back to 12 at 49-37 when Jones nailed a three but Williams answered with a four-point play.<br /> <br /> The crowd became downright quiet when Russell rebounded a misfire from the elbow and blew past the defense and made a flip that cut the score to 51-44 with 4:41 to play.<br /> <br /> Russell later hit free throws that trimmed the UL lead to 56-51 and after Rozier traveled, Russell was fouled again. He made both freebies to get the lead down to 56-53 with 1:12 left.<br /> <br /> That’s when Rozier responded with a huge top-of-the-key three that allowed UL to close with an 8-2 run.<br /> <br /> That capped the Buckeyes’ first loss of the season and left them at an even 7-7 all-time in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.<br /> <br /> “It’s a positive that we fought back, but nobody in that locker room is happy right now,” Thompson said. “It affirmed what we already knew that we were going to fight. We have to get off to a better start. We can’t put ourselves in that hole.”<br /> <br /> Matta missed the postgame press conference because he was attending to Lee, a graduate senior whose grandmother passed away earlier in the day. Lee left the team to head to Washington, D.C., to be with family members.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes dropped to 4-4 all-time against Louisville. Pitino is now 3-0 against OSU since taking over at Louisville and 1-1 lifetime vs. Matta.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-03/Buckeyes_Succumb_At_Louisville.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-12-03/Buckeyes_Succumb_At_Louisville.aspx 4d00158d-3325-4fa7-b0ff-4ae96fef64bc Wed, 03 Dec 2014 17:06:00 GMT One For The Odd File I’ve seen lots and lots of Ohio State-Michigan games, each of them taking on a different personality and loaded with various storylines.<br /> <br /> On Saturday, though, the circumstances and results wee downright odd even though the Buckeyes logged a 42-28 victory and stayed in the national title picture at 11-1 overall and 8-0 in the Big Ten.<br /> <br /> First of all, the Senior Day festivities were very tame – not a lot of emotion other than when some of the parents teared up as their OSU player headed towards them. This was somewhat expected considering the Buckeyes were heavily favored but also because head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> proclaimed that this group’s legacy was still undefined.<br /> <br /> Despite all the seniors have gone through – which includes the turmoil of 2011, two coaching changes, NCAA sanctions, and a record streak through the Big Ten the last three seasons – the class’ imprint won’t be that deep if the Buckeyes don’t at least win a Big Ten championship. That opportunity, of course, is now at hand as OSU will face Wisconsin in Indianapolis on Dec. 6.<br /> <br /> The pregame festivities turned downright somber when the public address announcer reminded the crowd that one of the seniors was not there. Walk-on <strong>Kosta Karageorge</strong>, in fact, has been missing since midweek, a disturbing and mysterious turn of events that left the team and community stunned and without answers.<br /> <br /> Fellow defensive lineman <strong>Joey Bosa</strong> was still hopeful, telling a few reporters after the game, “I expect him to just show up and have a great story to tell.”<br /> <br /> But, of course, the situation is deeply concerning and certainly adds perspective to a football game, no matter how big. I hesitate to even bring it up and link it to the game, but do so only to add to the point that this was not a normal regular-season finale.<br /> <br /> As far as on the field, many trends were foiled.<br /> <br /> UM quarterback <strong>Devin Gardner</strong>, for example, entered The Game without a touchdown pass on the road this season. Sure enough, that was taken care of in the first quarter as Gardner connected on a deep ball to leading receiver <strong>Devin Funchess</strong> and a play later found tight end <strong>Jake Butt</strong> (a native of nearby Pickerington) open for a 12-yard TD strike.<br /> <br /> That play tied the game at 7 and also belied the fact that the Buckeyes came in outscoring their foes 141-55 in the first period this season. But if got weirder when Gardner took off for a 10-yard gain on third-and-9 in the red zone, setting up a 2-yard TD run by <strong>Drake Johnson</strong> that produced a 14-7 lead.<br /> <br /> The Wolverines (5-7, 3-5) came into the fray a 20-point underdog and off a home loss to Maryland that left them staring at a bowl-less season. One of their biggest problems was maintaining consistency on offense – not only week to week but within the confines off possessions.<br /> <br /> The second touchdown came after punter <strong>Cameron Johnston</strong> pinned UM in on its own 5. But Michigan put together a 15-play, 95-yard drive that included a little bit of everything. Ohio State scored just before halftime on a beautiful 25-yard scamper by quarterback <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> and the Buckeyes struck first in the second half when Barrett heaved one deep to <strong>Devin Smith</strong> then trotted in from 2 yards out on the next play.<br /> <br /> But the Wolverines answered again, this time with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that included a throwback pass from Johnson to Gardner for 18 yards.<br /> <br /> Yes, the rivalry seems to bring out the best in the underdog – OSU co-defensive coordinator <strong>Luke Fickell</strong> told his players to not trust the film and expect better-than-average play from Michigan – but this was bordering on absurd.<br /> <br /> Even when OSU regained the lead at 28-21 late in the third period, the total yards, first downs and yards per play were virtually even. There was no statistical date, of course, to support such an outcome.<br /> <br /> But the game got stranger. That’s because after not being able to shake their archrivals for three quarters the Buckeyes discarded them in a matter of a minute – and they did it after Barrett was carted off the field with a mangled ankle.<br /> <br /> Ohio State wasn’t looking anything like the balanced offensive machine that has tortured league opponents this season and the coaches felt compelled to try <strong>Jalin Marshall</strong> in the wildcat at times. But replacement QB <strong>Cardale Jones</strong> did rumble 18 yards on a second-and-15 for a key first down near midfield and OSU clinging to a one-touchdown lead.<br /> <br /> Moments later, running back <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong> popped through the UM defense on fourth-and-1 and scurried 44 yards for a clinching touchdown. Michigan’s outstanding middle linebacker, Ohio native <strong>Jake Ryan</strong>, was the only defender with a shot on Elliott but whiffed the attempt after being grazed by guard <strong>Pat Elflein</strong>.<br /> <br /> Of all people on the field to let The Game slip away, you would not pick Ryan, who came into it with a team-high 104 tackles.<br /> <br /> Exactly a minute later, in clock time anyway, Ohio State was on the board again as Bosa sacked and stripped Gardner leading to linebacker <strong>Darron Lee</strong>’s 33-yard scoop and score.<br /> <br /> Bosa making that kind of play is not odd at all. He came in leading the Big Ten in sacks, tackles-for-loss and fumbles forced. Plus, he’s had a penchant for knocking the ball free at very opportune times. But the idea that Ohio State was on the verge of covering the line on a day when it had to play catch-up to an inferior opponent was head-scratching.<br /> <br /> That led to the final TD of the afternoon, an amazing full-extension grab in the end zone by Michigan freshman <strong>Freddy Canteen</strong>. Where were these kinds of plays all year for Michigan? The program had received plaudits from recruiting analysts throughout the Brady Hoke era but an impact from <strong>Jabrill Peppers</strong> et al. simply hasn’t materialized.<br /> <br /> The postgame immediately became sufficiently awkward as reporters flooded the Michigan interview room and hammered Hoke with questions about his impending future. Unlike a very scowly <strong>Rich Rodriquez</strong> in the same room four years ago, Hoke almost seemed to have fun with the probe and never took a combative stance during the interview.<br /> <br /> It was as if he was humored that the media was even bothering to dig into the issue with any uncertainty.<br /> <br /> Hoke is gone. He knows he’s gone and he’s pretty sure he knows everyone who pays attention to college football knows he’s gone.<br /> <br /> When he wasn’t sure what to say he summed up with, “We’ll worry about that on Monday.” He said this over and over.<br /> <br /> If <strong>Bo Pelini</strong> is already fired after a nine-win season at Nebraska there simply isn’t any idea to believe Hoke won’t be canned shortly. The university can save a cool million bucks by waiting until Jan. 1 but that would be recruiting suicide. Even if the target is <strong>Jim Harbaugh</strong> and Michigan can’t begin negotiating with him until late January, Hoke has to be fired Monday. He’ll leave with a record of 31-20 at Michigan, which is stunning considering his run began with an 11-2 mark and wins over Ohio State and Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.<br /> <br /> But maybe the weirdest part of the day was the very mixed emotions for the Buckeyes and their followers.<br /> <br /> OSU posted its 12th win in 14 tries against The School Up North to set off a raucous celebration on the field. A record crowd of 108,610 wanted to soak it in. Meyer, the first OSU coach to go 3-0 against UM since <strong>Francis Schmidt</strong> in the 1930s, broke into a wide smile and embraced his wife, Shelley.<br /> <br /> That’s all great from an OSU standpoint. So is being right in the hunt for the first ever College Football Playoff. In fact, a few hours after the Buckeyes’ win, Mississippi State went down in flames at Ole Miss.<br /> <br /> But there’s still this little matter of Barrett being out for months because of his injury. Remember, he was the guy who broke <strong>Drew Brees</strong>’ single-season Big Ten record in the game when he tossed a touchdown pass to <strong>Nick Vannett</strong> to open the scoring.<br /> <br /> Barrett wasn’t even on the radar at the beginning of the year. Now it’s hard to imagine any of this kind of success without him.<br /> <br /> You know what else is odd? Ohio State is 24-0 in three seasons of regular-season Big Ten games and is yet to hoist a league championship trophy in that time.<br /> <br /> That, of course, can change next week but will depend heavily, it appears, on the play of a guy who entered the campaign as OSU’s third-string QB.<br /> <br /> Meyer suspended Jones a couple years ago for questioning why players had to attend class in a Tweet and the coach admitted recently he was ready to send the youngster back to Cleveland at one point.<br /> <br /> Now Jones “has the keys to the car” according to Meyer and the Buckeyes, No. 6 in both major polls, head to Indy as a three-point underdog.<br /> <br /> Bizarre.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-30/One_For_The_Odd_File.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-30/One_For_The_Odd_File.aspx c022db81-eb94-4a7a-af25-c8b897fba939 Sun, 30 Nov 2014 21:27:29 GMT Buckeyes Can't Quite Thump JMU Ohio State’s run-up to the first big matchup of the campaign is over.<br /> <br /> <strong>Thad Matta</strong>’s Buckeyes improved to 5-0 at the outset of the 2014-15 season with a 73-56 win over James Madison on Friday, setting up a showdown with Louisville in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday.<br /> <br /> OSU led 37-27 at halftime and opened the advantage to as high as 23 points before settling for a 17-point victory over its Colonial Athletic Conference visitor. The Schottenstein Center crowd was announced at 14,310.<br /> <br /> James Madison (4-2) – which lost 79-51 to 9th-ranked Virginia to open the season – hung on the boards but endured a rough shooting night. Forward <strong>Yohanny Dalembert</strong> was 6 for 6 from the field and <strong>Andre Nation</strong> was 6 for 12 but the rest of the Dukes were a paltry 10 of 38.<br /> <br /> Guard <strong>Kent Jackson</strong> missed all seven of his attempts and the entire group managed to make just 4 of 21 shots from deep. The Buckeyes, though, also had their struggles. They came into the game shooting right around 60 percent from the floor as a team but finished 26 of 63 – 41.3 percent.<br /> <br /> “I thought we had some really good looks but we just didn’t finish around the basket,” Matta said. “I thought overall we did a pretty decent job of staying with it. Our offensive woes were not executing at the level we needed to execute and I think that was more of a mental thing of just playing to score and not having the energy we needed offensively.”<br /> <br /> “Sometimes you have to win like that,” added senior <strong>Sam Thompson</strong>. “You aren’t going to score 100 points and shoot 65 percent every game. We obviously don’t want to play like that but you have to find ways to win.”<br /> <br /> Freshman guard <strong>D’Angelo Russell</strong> again led the way with 14 points but was just 4 of 12 from the floor. Thompson had 13 points and six rebounds while three other Buckeyes – <strong>Marc Loving</strong>, <strong>Anthony Lee</strong> and <strong>Trey McDonald</strong> – chipped in eight points apiece.<br /> <br /> Center <strong>Amir Williams</strong> led OSU to a 43-37 rebounding edge with nine caroms. However, he and Russell each had four turnovers as OSU had 15 total compared to just 13 assists.<br /> <br /> The Dukes assists 16 of their 22 baskets but committed 21 turnovers, which led to 27 OSU points.<br /> <br /> “One of the keys to this game was limiting our turnovers and we still got turned over 21 times,” James Madison coach <strong>Matt Brady</strong> said. “The other key was trying not to have live-ball turnovers and to me that made the difference in the game. They put great pressure on us and forced turnovers.”<br /> <br /> Still, the Buckeyes recorded just six fastbreak points in the contest and held JMU to zero.<br /> <br /> Point guard <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> couldn’t crank up the OSU running game but still found a way to be effective. He finished with seven points, six assists and five steals, moving to fourth on the school’s all-time list in the latter category.<br /> <br /> Speaking of records, the Buckeyes are now 9-2 all-time vs. teams representing the Big South Conference. They have won 53 consecutive games at home vs. unranked non-conference opponents and are 98-1 vs. unranked nonconference opponents under Matta.<br /> <br /> And even though the Buckeyes had a hard time pulling away, Brady praised their aptitude and defensive tenacity.<br /> <br /> “I am very impressed with what Thad has done with this group and their personnel,” he said. “In preparing for this game, they played outstanding basketball and we were fortunate to be able to hang with them in the second half.”<br /> <br /> Matta scheduled a meeting with James Madison five years ago and OSU responded with a 74-44 win over JMU in Columbus on Nov. 12, 2009.<br /> <br /> This game didn’t reach that sort of blowout status.<br /> <br /> “I think this game got our guy’s attention a little bit,” Russell said. “I think they realized they didn’t play as well. Every now and then you get a game like this. The biggest thing we talked about after the game is to just trust the system and knowing that it works. Everyone has to do what they’re supposed to do.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-28/Buckeyes_Can_t_Quite_Thump_JMU.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-28/Buckeyes_Can_t_Quite_Thump_JMU.aspx 84d6cf2d-c219-4e88-8d32-4aa128046656 Sat, 29 Nov 2014 05:04:30 GMT Final Heisman Winner Immortalized Ohio State has had several star quarterbacks and a few who wore No. 10.<br /> <br /> <strong>Rex Kern</strong> made it famous as a Super Soph and while leading the Buckeyes to the 1968 national championship. <strong>Art Schlichter</strong> took it to new heights as a four-year starter (1978-81) who set several school records that still stand.<br /> <br /> But only one true Ohio State quarterback has won the Heisman Trophy – <strong>Troy Smith</strong> in 2006 while wearing, you guessed it, No. 10.<br /> <br /> That jersey number is now set to be forever enshrined and illuminated in Ohio Stadium as Smith will be honored at halftime of the Buckeyes’ all-important game with Michigan on Saturday (noon Eastern, ABC).<br /> <br /> On Monday, Smith met with members of the media and admitted that emotion has been stirring since finding out about the impending ceremony.<br /> <br /> “I’ll be swirling with emotion because everybody who had a chance to help me, to push me to embark on this type illustrious career I had here, will be there and chance for me to relish in the moment,” said Smith, a Cleveland native.<br /> <br /> Smith said he’ll be flanked by his young daughter and son and will be thinking about his college coach and mentor, <strong>Jim Tressel</strong>.<br /> <br /> “I talk to him on a daily basis as a man,” he said. “I don’t think it should be special occasions that bring people together. He was with me through the worst and best of times and never batted an eye or treated me different. That’s why I owe him the ability to give him a call and see how doing on daily basis, ‘cause he gave me and my family a chance to springboard into something different.”<br /> <br /> Smith graduated from Ohio State in 2006 with a degree in communications and has had different playing stints in the NFL and CFL along with returning to his alma mater to be involved with the athletic department.<br /> <br /> “It’s time to honor one of our all-time greats,” <strong>Gene Smith</strong>, university Vice President and Director of Athletics, said this week. “Troy’s playing days are over. His accomplishments and achievements as an Ohio State Buckeye are legendary. And we are so proud to be able to recognize this young man by honoring his name and number in Ohio Stadium.” <br /> <br /> Smith will be the eighth former Buckeye to be so honored in Ohio Stadium after the five previous Heisman Trophy winners – <strong>Les Horvath</strong>, <strong>Vic Janowicz</strong>, <strong>Howard “Hopalong” Cassady</strong>, <strong>Archie Griffin</strong> and <strong>Eddie George</strong> – as well as <strong>Chic Harley</strong>, the school’s first three-time All-American, and <strong>Bill Willis</strong>, an All-American and member of four Halls of Fame who was one of four African-Americans to reintegrate professional football.<br /> <br /> “Being recognized like this from such a prestigious university like The Ohio State University usually doesn’t happen until later years down the line,” Smith said, “so this is a special time in my life and an important time.<br /> <br /> “I never once in my first few years at Ohio State imagined something like this, but as the potential for this to happen came closer and closer, the thought of it happening became bone chilling. Only a very small percentage of people are up there. This honor means everything in the world to me and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it and how much I bleed Scarlet and Gray.”<br /> <br /> Smith’s records and accomplishments are elite. Even though <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> just broke his single-season record for touchdown passes last week, Smith will be remembered for leading the Buckeyes to consecutive victories over Michigan from 2004-06 and topping 300 yards of total offense each time.<br /> <br /> OSU was a heavy underdog at home before pulling the upset in ‘04 with a 37-21 win and the Buckeyes rallied from nine points down in the fourth quarter to steal one in Ann Arbor the next year, 25-21. The game-winning touchdown was set up by a scramble and downfield throw by Smith with <strong>Anthony Gonzalez</strong> making a circus catch in the UM red zone.<br /> <br /> “I’m glad they didn’t have ‘Sports Science’ back then because they would have gone back and seen it was a terribly underthrown ball and Anthony then bent or torqued his body 53 degrees to the right,” Smith joked, “so it would have been embarrassing for me.”
<br /> <br /> In Smith’s dream season of 2006, Ohio State and Michigan were ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the country when they met in Ohio Stadium. Smith threw for 316 yards and four TDs in the epic 42-39 win that sent OSU to the national title game.<br /> <br /> The cover of Sports Illustrated after that game showed an action photo of Smith with the headline, “Simply The Best.”<br /> <br /> Smith finished the season with 2,542 passing yards and a school-record 30 TDs against six interceptions. The Buckeyes lost the BCS National Championship Game to Florida but Smith already had his Heisman in hand and won the prestigious award by a landslide.<br /> <br /> In fact, the vote that year was the second-largest margin of victory in Heisman history.<br /> <br /> Smith left OSU with 5,720 passing yards while completing 62.7 percent of his passes (second-best at Ohio State) and with 54 touchdowns (third behind <strong>Bobby Hoying</strong> and <strong>Joe Germaine</strong>). His career passing efficiency mark of 157.1 is a school record.<br /> <br /> Most important, he owns a record of 25-3 as a starting QB at Ohio State.<br /> <br /> Barrett is on a similar arc but will be playing in his first Michigan game. When asked what advice he would offer the redshirt freshman QB, Smith said, “Stick to the game plan. Don’t try to be someone that he’s not. Obviously we got a chance to see the transformation and growth behind J.T. Barrett this whole season and I’m pretty much blown away because as a freshman he’s doing some things it took me an ample amount of years to grasp and have understanding about.”<br /> <br /> As a past winner, Smith is afforded an annual vote for the Heisman. He said he has not yet cast his ballot but admitted giving serious consideration to placing Barrett’s name at the top of it.<br /> <br /> “I think he should be in everyone’s minds,” he said. “Statistically the things he’s doing … numbers don’t lie. <strong>Tom Herman</strong> and our offensive staff are putting him and other guys in position to make plays and J.T. is doing nothing but capitalizing on every single chance and opportunity, and will continue to do that.”<br /> <br /> When asked what kind of numbers he would have posted in the current offense, Smith drew laughter from reporters by saying, “Man, shovel passes for touchdowns?”<br /> <br /> Smith, though, concedes he was not the same runner as Barrett or <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> and is a big fan of their styles of play. He also was forthcoming about his need to mature while at Ohio State. He had to overcome a suspension in 2004 and also had to beat out a more well-rated recruit in <strong>Justin Zwick</strong> by earning the coaches’ trust on and off the field.<br /> <br /> That acquired status and bond with Tressel came to a head when Smith was introduced with the seniors before the 2006 Michigan game. The former signal caller described that moment as “very emotional.”<br /> <br /> “Jim Tressel is like my dad,” Smith said. “Knowing that would be my last time on the field with my dad, it was tough. You really don’t understand what you mean to a family, to a person, to people that you mentor until you become a father. Now that I am a father, I can totally understand why him weeping at the time led to me (becoming) a waterfall.<br /> <br /> “Once I saw one tear come from his eyes, it really made sense. Back in 2002 when we sat at the meeting in front of my mother, (<strong>Ted</strong>) <strong>Ginn Sr.</strong> and <strong>Mel Tucker</strong>, he said, ‘I will be there for your son. We will jump on the sword for your son. You don’t have to worry about anything, Mrs. Smith, we have him.’ ”<br /> &nbsp;<br /> A fifth-round pick of the Ravens, Smith played three seasons in Baltimore and also spent time with the San Francisco 49ers and Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.<br /> <br /> No matter what he goes on to do in life, he’ll likely be best remembered for winning the Heisman in 2006, which is why his No. 10 will be retired after current Buckeye defensive lineman <strong>Jalyn Holmes</strong> is out of eligibility and done wearing it.<br /> <br /> Of that senior season, Smith said, “very magical in the sense that football has done nothing but springboard me into different positions in life to where I understand people are the most important things.<br /> <br /> “For the most part that whole season for me was everybody being in a situation where we all were going to be together, stay together and continue to push forward. My whole career I had to have an understanding it wasn’t just me putting myself into these situations – it was because of everybody else.” http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-25/Final_Heisman_Winner_Immortalized.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-25/Final_Heisman_Winner_Immortalized.aspx b7127e3e-9411-46f9-aae4-0087614787b0 Tue, 25 Nov 2014 16:19:43 GMT Backcourt Sizzles In Sacred Heart Romp <strong>D’Angelo Russell</strong> probably didn’t come to Columbus to play against Sacred Heart and he may have even had some doubt as to how well the backcourt would function with both he and <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> wanting to handle the ball.<br /> <br /> It is safe to say it’s turning out pretty well so far for No. 20 Ohio State.<br /> <br /> Russell, a freshman, racked up 32 points on Sunday night while Scott, a senior doled out a school-record 16 assists in a fun-filled 106-48 destruction of the visiting Pioneers.<br /> <br /> An announced crowd of 12,941 watched with awe as the Buckeyes, particularly Russell, scorched the nets and toppled triple figures on the scoreboard. Those that stuck around saw newcomer <strong>Jae’Sean Tate</strong> score team point 100 and 101 on a spinning layup and moments later Scott finding freshman <strong>Keita Bates-Diop</strong> for a three in the final minute for his 16th assist.<br /> <br /> The previous record of 15 assists was set by <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> in his freshman season as the Buckeyes whipped George Mason in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Scott joked that he was looking forward to checking his phone for messages since Craft reached out to him the other night when Scott totaled 14 assists against Marquette.<br /> <br /> The backcourt lost mainstays Craft and <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> after last season, leaving open speculation as to the productivity of their replacements. Even with a tough outing vs. Marquette on Tuesday, the 6-5 Russell has shown plenty of flair and ability to make plays. He’s also averaging a team-high 18.0 points per game.<br /> <br /> Scott, meanwhile, has amassed 40 assists in OSU’s 3-0 start. The 6-1 flash also supported Russell with 11 points as the Buckeyes had six players in double figures. <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> and Tate had a dozen points apiece, Bates-Diop matches Scott with 11 and <strong>Marc Loving</strong> hit 3 of 5 deep balls and finished with 10 points.<br /> <br /> By comparison, the Pioneers (1-2) had just one double-figure scorer as <strong>Filip Nowicki</strong> led them with 10 points. Sacred Heart managed just nine assists compared to 21 turnovers.<br /> <br /> Ohio State compiled 24 assists, just seven turnovers, eight blocked shots and nine steals. OSU won the battle of the boards 47-39 but Sacred Heart did grab 20 offensive rebounds.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes shot 56.4 percent from the field in the first half, 57.6 percent in the second and ended up 41 of 72 (56.9) for the evening. Sacred Heart managed to jack up 67 shots but connected on just 17 (25.4 percent) against OSU’s zone and pressure looks.<br /> <br /> “They have so much length,” Sacred Heart coach <strong>Anthony Latina</strong> said. “You’re not really as open as you think you are.”<br /> <br /> Latina went on to compare the Buckeyes to UConn of a few years ago, the current skyscrapers at Kentucky, and classic Syracuse squads.<br /> <br /> “They can go deep in the tournament and have a chance against anybody,” he said.<br /> <br /> Ohio State head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> made no such proclamations but he was pleased with his team’s pace and shot selection. He praised Scott’s command of the team and admitted liking to see such aggression from Russell, who took 14 shots in the first half as OSU built a 52-27 lead.<br /> <br /> “He knew he probably did not play as well as he is capable of playing last Tuesday night,” Matta said of Russell’s six-point, seven-turnover performance against Marquette. “I did not say a lot. I just kind of raised my eyebrows and said, ‘Hey, we need a little bit more out of you.’ He delivered tonight.<br /> <br /> “D’Angelo is a heck of a basketball player. Sometimes, a freshman may need a game like that. For him to come back and play like that speaks volumes about him as a person and how competitive he is.”<br /> <br /> At one point, Russell was threatening to approach <strong>Jared Sullinger</strong>’s freshman record of 40 points. The young lefty had 17 point at halftime, hit a jumper two minutes into the second half, and after a layup by Scott proceeded to score 11 straight points – the last nine by swishing three consecutive threes. OSU led 71-33 at that point and Russell already had 30 points with a little more than 15 minutes to play.<br /> <br /> Nowicki scored during that Russell shooting exhibition to make the score 65-33. Ohio State then put together a 17-0 blitz to up the total to 82-33 – and send a healthy chunk of the crowd on its way home at the under-12 timeout. That spree included two of Russell’s threes, a trey by Scott, a three-point play by Tate, and a pair of free throws and a three by Bates-Diop.<br /> <br /> Ohio State finished 10 of 23 from long range while Sacred Heart was just 6 of 24.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes played without starting center <strong>Amir Williams</strong>, who sat out as a precaution with soreness in his right knee. With the 6-11 Williams sidelined, fellow senior <strong>Trey McDonald</strong> ripped down a career-high 14 rebounds to lead OSU’s board effort.<br /> <br /> Matta said Williams is intent on playing vs. Campbell on Wednesday (7:06 p.m. Eastern, Big Ten Network).<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes are in the midst of a five-game homestand to start the season until they head south to face No. 7 Louisville in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 2.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-24/Backcourt_Sizzles_In_Sacred_Heart_Romp.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-24/Backcourt_Sizzles_In_Sacred_Heart_Romp.aspx 0b673f3c-347b-4360-a60a-d010e51505da Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:52:10 GMT Rapp Around: Enjoy The Ride Through chattering teeth at our little WTVN produce stand on Lane Avenue where we do live radio on game day, I tried to make the point that Ohio State football fans have a hard time enjoying the moment.<br /> <br /> Sure, it was icy out, lowly Indiana was in town and the Buckeyes were supposed to beat the Hoosiers into submission on Saturday at Ohio Stadium, but every once in a while it’s more healthy to suspend expectations and just enjoy the ride.<br /> <br /> Granted, <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> didn’t look like he was having any fun the entire first half as his team, slotted at No. 6 in the latest College Football Playoff standings, led just 14-13 at the break. Matters went from concerning to semi-dire when star IU tailback <strong>Tevin Coleman</strong> raced 90 yards – and made OSU safety <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong> look silly – for a go-ahead touchdown in the third period.<br /> <br /> Stunningly, the Buckeyes trailed 20-14 and it was obvious they were going to have to dig a lot deeper than expected to just to win the game. Covering the five-touchdown spread was now out the window as well.<br /> <br /> All of this seemed to set of a sort of depression/apathy among the crowd of 101,426 – a figure well below standard this season. You could almost hear the muttering below from the press box.<br /> <br /> “Well, the (CFP selection) committee isn’t going to like this.”<br /> <br /> “There goes the postseason.”<br /> <br /> “Our defense is horrible.”<br /> <br /> “Why can’t we put teams away with a 14-0 lead?”<br /> <br /> “What are they doing?!”<br /> <br /> What followed should have been one of the most exciting and satisfying moments of the campaign as redshirt freshman <strong>Jalin Marshall</strong> put on a show with four consecutive touchdowns, all of them showing off his impressive athleticism.<br /> <br /> He started the spree with a 54-yard punt return in which he made at least three shake-and-bake moves. Moments later, Marshall went in motion, took a little flip from quarterback <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> at full speed, and bolted inside the right pylon of the end zone from 6 yards out.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes still were playing with fire up just 28-20 when Marshall struck again with 4:21 to play by hauling in a 15-yard Barrett pass one-handed – his left hand, that is. OSU got the ball right back off an interception and decided to let Marshall touch it once again with a sweep to the left side. He took another Barrett flip, found an opening and raced past the entire IU defense for a 54-yard TD.<br /> <br /> Still, the game ended on a hand-wringing note as Coleman broke his second big run of the day – a 52-yard scamper through the OSU defense to produce the final score of 42-27.<br /> <br /> Not good enough, Buckeye fans would say.<br /> <br /> Maybe so. Maybe not.<br /> <br /> Just a week ago, Ohio State lost grip of a commanding lead at Minnesota thanks to a muffed punt by Marshall and allowed a late TD during a 31-24 win. That had Buckeye fans sure the committee would punish OSU.<br /> <br /> It didn’t. Ohio State, instead, jumped up two spots to No. 6 and Minnesota stayed put at No. 25. In short, those that mattered believed the Golden Gophers were a worthy opponent, a concept proved true on Saturday when Minnesota rallied past Nebraska to set up a huge game with Wisconsin this coming weekend.<br /> <br /> Ohio State (10-1, 7-0) has punched its ticket to Indianapolis as winner of the Big Ten East. The winner of Minnesota-Wisconsin will be OSU’s championship game foe.<br /> <br /> That should be enough to keep Ohio State squarely in the equation for one of the four CFP spots. Plus, Florida State, which remains undefeated but flawed-looking, scraped by Boston College at home Saturday night, 20-17. The Seminoles already had dipped to No. 3 in the standings and are sure to tumble out of contention with a loss. Next up for them is rival Florida, which will let it all hang in the final game for head coach <strong>Will Muschamp</strong>.<br /> <br /> Indiana (3-8, 0-7) was pesky but isn’t going to be Ohio State’s undoing when this all shakes out. And that’s the point. We have to let the games ahead do the talking. We have to remember that the other teams in contention have struggled at times and certainly don’t always cover the point spread.<br /> <br /> And it would help if we just enjoyed the ride along the way, especially for the sake of players like Marshall, who basically was cyber-bullied last week after a couple miscues at Minnesota.<br /> <br /> <strong>Noteworthy –</strong> Somewhat lost in the bigger picture but still worth pointing are several important statistics and milestones. Some of them follow:<br /> <br /> * The Buckeyes have won nine straight games and extended their Big Ten record to 23 consecutive regular-season conference wins. They’ll look to keep the run going next week against Michigan noon Eastern, TV TBD).<br /> <br /> * Meyer already is making a mark in the program despite being in just his third year at the helm. The win over Indiana clinched OSU’s third division title in as many years under Meyer. Also, he improved to 38-3 as a head coach in November since the start of the 2003 season.<br /> <br /> * Ohio State earned its 19th consecutive win against the Hoosiers. In fact, OSU hasn’t lost to IU on the gridiron since the Reagan Administration – 1988.<br /> <br /> * Marshall ended up with five catches for 95 yards – ironically the exact same numbers he had at Minnesota the previous week. His three TD receptions set a new career high. His 54-yard punt return was the first TD on a kick return since <strong>Philly Brown</strong> burned Wisconsin for a 68-yarder in 2012.<br /> <br /> OSU running back <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong> popped a 65-yard touchdown run – a career high – and racked up 107 yards rushing on the day. That marked the fifth time this season and sixth time in his career Elliott went over the century mark. He also topped the 1,000-yard plateau on the season, becoming just the second running back to achieve such a feat under Meyer. The first, <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong>, congratulated Elliott via Twitter, welcoming him to the “club.”<br /> <br /> * Elliott also led the Buckeyes in receptions with seven, gaining 39 yards. Tight end <strong>Jeff Heuerman</strong> also had a banner day with a career-high five catches against the Hoosiers. He turned that into 74 receiving yards and a touchdown.<br /> <br /> * Linebacker <strong>Joshua Perry</strong> continued to show a high motor. OSU’s leading tackler this season, Perry had two sacks vs. Indiana to match his previous career best. He upped his tackles-for-loss total to 8.5 on the season with three against the Hoosiers. Perry had 14 tackles against IU and now has 99 on the season.<br /> <br /> * Punter <strong>Cameron Johnston</strong> struggled for the first time all year in the snowfall at Minnesota but he was back on his game Saturday. Johnston averaged 49.8 yards on his five punts and downed three of them inside the 20 to give him 19 pinners in 31 boots this season. Johnston had one of the biggest plays of the game by dropping a kick inside the IU 5 that backspun and sat dead at the 1. OSU’s defense got a three-and-out, setting up Marshall’s stadium-awakening return.<br /> <br /> * And we have to give some propers to Coleman, Indiana’s amazing 6-1, 210-pound junior tailback. He ended up with 228 yards one week after amassing 307 against Rutgers. Ohio State hadn’t allowed a rusher to top 200 yards in a game since <strong>Eric McCoo</strong> at Penn State Oct. 16, 1999.<br /> <br /> Coleman broke <strong>Vaughn Dunbar</strong>’s single-season rushing record (1,805 yards in 1991) during the game and now sits at 1,906 yards on the season and 3,089 for his career. He also has 27 career rushing touchdowns.<br /> <br /> Coleman still has a long way to go to catch the great <strong>Anthony Thompson</strong> (5,229 career rushing yards and 67 career rushing TDs), who is simply one of the best Big Ten players I’ve ever seen.<br /> <br /> <strong>J.T. Equals TD –</strong> Barrett also is on his way to quite a career. The redshirt freshman QB threw a pair of first-half picks – one an overshoot to <strong>Devin Smith</strong>, the other clearly not his fault as it bounced off the hands of <strong>Evan Spencer</strong> – but, as usual, continued on unbowed.<br /> <br /> He ended up 25 of 35 for 302 yards and four TDs. While Barrett didn’t have his best day and greatly benefited from a few “passes” that he tossed about a foot to H-backs, he still continues to set records.<br /> <br /> In fact, his 6-yarder to Marshall was touchdown No. 31 on the season, a new OSU record.<br /> <br /> Ironically, the university announced Saturday that it would honor <strong>Troy Smith</strong> next week at halftime of the Michigan game. Smith set the record with 30 TDs in 2006 en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.<br /> <br /> Barrett isn’t likely to join Smith by winning the Heisman this year but he’s certainly a contender now. Plus, he keeps racking up impressive numbers.<br /> <br /> He has 33 TD passes and has been responsible for at least four touchdowns in seven of 11 games this season. For the season, Barrett has accounted for a school-record 42 touchdowns this year, matching <strong>Drew Brees</strong>’ Big Ten record set at Purdue in 1998.<br /> <br /> With 380 yards of total offense, Barrett broke <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>’s record for total offensive yards in a single season of 3,310 set in 2012. Barrett now has 3,507 yards of total offense.<br /> <br /> Still, Barrett wasn’t at his best Saturday. He misfired on several medium-range passes including the throw that was 5 feet over Smith’s head.<br /> <br /> Did it have anything to do with Barrett being added to the Heisman discussion during the week.<br /> <br /> “I don’t think so,” he said.<br /> <br /> Meyer, though, wasn’t so sure.<br /> <br /> “We hear the word ‘Heisman,’ I've been there a few times and watched what goes on there,” Meyer said after the game. “Your mouth starts to go dry and all those kinds of things when you mention Heisman. Did that happen with him? I’d like to think not. But I also have been around for a while. So probably. We’ve got to manage through that stuff.”<br /> <br /> Barrett basically shrugged when asked about breaking Smith’s TD passes record.<br /> <br /> “I guess it is, like, cool,” he said. “I was happy we got the win. It is all about the team and winning games. The other individual stuff and records, it wouldn’t have mattered if we didn’t win.”<br /> <br /> <strong>WTH? –</strong> More stunning to me than the fact that an inexperienced Ohio State team lost to a well-coached Virginia Tech squad in Week 2 of the season has been the utter demise of the Hokies since that Sept. 6 encounter.<br /> <br /> In case you missed it, Va. Tech went to overtime with Wake Forest on Saturday after neither team could score in regulation – the first time that has happened since 2005, by the way.<br /> <br /> The Hokies actually managed a field goal in the extra session only to lose 6-3 in double OT when Wake Forest tacked on a second three-pointer. Virginia Tech, which also managed to win at North Carolina, is now 5-6 on the season with losses to East Carolina, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Miami (Fla.), Boston College and Wake Forest.<br /> <br /> That’s 2-5 in the mediocre ACC if you’re scoring at home. Virginia Tech has to defeat rival Virginia on Friday night just to be bowl eligible and goes into that contest averaging 23.3 points per game. If you’re wondering if that is a low figure by today’s standards, the answer is yes – it ranks the Hokies 100th out of 128 FBS schools.<br /> <br /> This is getting so bad that it not only drags down OSU’s 2014 resume, it leaves one to wonder how satisfying it will be to pay back Virginia Tech in next year’s season opener. Oh well, it still could be cathartic for the Buckeyes to lay waste to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Labor Day.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-23/Rapp_Around_Enjoy_The_Ride.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-23/Rapp_Around_Enjoy_The_Ride.aspx ab66cad7-e890-4688-b4c1-8676a478e530 Sun, 23 Nov 2014 19:28:18 GMT Rapp Around: Assessing Marquette We’re going to find out more and more about this young and exciting Ohio State men’s basketball team as the preconference season unveils itself.<br /> <br /> However, not all of the upcoming opponents are exotic or enticing. After dispatching Marquette at the Schottenstein Center on Tuesday night, the 2-0 Buckeyes were looking at a weeklong stretch of games against the likes of Scared Heart (Nov. 23), Campbell (Nov. 26) and James Madison (Nov. 28) before tangling with Louisville in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 2.<br /> <br /> That’s not going to move the needle much and it surely isn’t going to fill The Schott.<br /> <br /> Therefore, it seems imperative to analyze, perhaps overanalyze, what came out of No. 20 Ohio State’s 74-63 win over visiting Marquette.<br /> <br /> Here are a few observations:<br /> <br /> * Plain and simply, this was a weird game. Granted, it was much more appealing than last year’s clangfest in Milwaukee, which the Buckeyes won 52-35.<br /> <br /> The Golden Eagles were much more respectable offensively this time, and you’d expect that will be the case more often than not under new head coach <strong>Steve Wojciechowski</strong>, who has been either a player or assistant coach at Duke the previous 20 years.<br /> <br /> Marquette took advantage of some early OSU miscues and had an early 9-8 lead. The Golden Eagles railed just 16-15 when <strong>Sandy Cohen</strong> banged in a three-pointer with 12:27 left in the first half.<br /> <br /> But Ohio State went on an offensive spree thereafter and put together an impressive surge and 15-4 run. Ironically, it was preceded by a missed three by <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> – the first misfire from deep by the Buckeyes after a 4-for-4 start.<br /> <br /> Substitute <strong>Kam Williams</strong> also missed a jumper after canning a three in his first attempt of the game. Moments later, though, Williams connected with 11:02 left in the half as he nailed a trey off an assist by <strong>D’Angelo Russell</strong>.<br /> <br /> After a tally inside by Marquette’s <strong>Steve Taylor Jr.</strong>, Russell followed with a three of his own to provide OSU a 22-17 lead. Freshman <strong>Jae’Sean Tate</strong> scored on layup and after another basket by Taylor OSU zipped off seven straight points – a baseline jumper by <strong>Shannon Scott</strong>, another three by Kam Williams and a nifty score inside by center <strong>Amir Williams</strong>.<br /> <br /> OSU led 31-19 – but that isn’t what was weird. What was strange was watching the Buckeyes go 7 of 9 from behind the arc in the first 15 minutes of the game, still end up with just 33 points in the first half, go just 1 of 6 from deep in the final 25 minutes and somehow never be threatened in the second half.<br /> <br /> Why?<br /> <br /> Well, after lighting it up from the outside and registering only 10 points in the paint in the first half, the Buckeyes scored 32 from the lane in the second.<br /> <br /> That’s astounding, especially against a quality opponent and especially for a young team. Think about it: Most teams with five freshmen or sophomores in their rotation would fall in love with the three-ball after shooting it so well early. To their credit, the Buckeyes attacked the basket, wore down smaller and bench-challenged Marquette, and attacked even more.<br /> <br /> * Also weird were the following statistics: four foul shots, one offensive rebound, 17 personal fouls, 23 assists and 18 turnovers. That’s what the Buckeyes compiled in 40 minutes against Marquette. I’m not sure what it all means, but it’s interesting.<br /> <br /> Head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> lamented foul trouble for sophomore forward <strong>Marc Loving</strong> and, of course, he was not thrilled about all the turnovers. Russell, a freshman phenom and combo guard, had seven turnovers and was out of control for stretches of the game.<br /> <br /> However, even when he makes mistakes Russell shows eye-popping creativity and a willingness to involve others as much as he involves himself. Plus, it has to be noted that Scott finished with 14 assists, one of <strong>Aaron Craft</strong>’s single-game Ohio State record.<br /> <br /> When a reporter reminded Scott that <strong>Anthony Lee</strong> blew an assists by missing a dunk, Amir Williams had a priceless reaction: “Ooooh, man,” he said, which was code for, “That’s rough.”<br /> <br /> But Scott just sloughed it off and talked about all the weapons he has surrounding him, which was a perfect answer.<br /> <br /> The offense doesn’t have to bog down looking for option No. 1 – a problem in past years when <strong>Deshaun Thomas</strong> or <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> were on the floor – because often there is no option No. 1.<br /> <br /> “I think guys understand their roles better this year,” said Scott, who clearly feels free to move the ball to the opening on the floor.<br /> <br /> Wojciechowski called the Ohio State offense “outstanding” and pointed out the Buckeyes can score from any position on the floor and burn defense with the outside shot when the ball is reversed. Scott helps make all that happen, and eventually Russell will, too.<br /> <br /> * In that vein, Kam Williams led the team in scoring with 15 points off the bench. This probably will happen from time to time, and isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as the starters have enough impact.<br /> <br /> Amir Williams was a perfect 6 for 6 from the floor and had 12 points. Loving and Thompson had 10 apiece.<br /> <br /> Seriously, who cares how the points are dispersed when you shoot 65.3 percent from the field and win by 11? Matta has much to develop but wringing his hands over the starting lineup and who is his 15-points-a-game guy are not real important right now.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes showed they can find offensive flow and take the easy basket when it’s there – and that is very encouraging.<br /> <br /> * So what about defense?<br /> <br /> Well, a lot of fans already are dismayed that Matta is pretty intent on employing various forms of zone throughout the season. I don’t understand why this is such a concern.<br /> <br /> This team is long, athletic, willing to play on both ends of the floor and has good chemistry. Why not see what you can get out of zone looks?<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes did give up too many layups, especially when in a 1-3-1 – Taylor had nine field goals and a game-high 20 points as a result – but Matta is just experimenting right now. Plus, as previously pointed out, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin are not coming to town just yet.<br /> <br /> Marquette was able to let fly on 23 three-point attempts but made eight. Size certainly bothered some of those attempts. The Buckeyes, though, are going to have to clean up the reaches and bumps if they are going to lunge out at shooters and ball handlers. Seventeen fouls is too many.<br /> <br /> * As for the one offensive rebound, it went to <strong>Trey McDonald</strong> – so give yourself a door prize if you got that right.<br /> <br /> Obviously, a team with length and athleticism and a clear height advantage should get more than one offensive rebound. However, the Buckeyes did make 32 of 49 shots, so that limits the opportunities on the offensive glass.<br /> <br /> Several players are capable of helping this cause but it will be interesting to see who emerges as the Buckeyes face the Louisvilles, North Carolinas and Michigan States of the world.<br /> <br /> Lee would certainly be a candidate while Scott and Russell also get their share of boards for guards. But my money is on Tate. That dude won’t have any problem getting his nose in there when the situation calls.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-19/Rapp_Around_Assessing_Marquette.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-19/Rapp_Around_Assessing_Marquette.aspx 6a7eb199-436a-454a-8ebe-d160bb8384fe Wed, 19 Nov 2014 20:08:56 GMT Buckeyes Overcome The Dropsies The bylaws of football claim that teams can’t go on the road against a high-quality opponent, turn the ball over multiple times and survive.<br /> <br /> Amazingly, Ohio State disproved that notion last week in its upset of a top-10 Michigan State in East Lansing, overcoming a pair of fumbled kickoffs and other noteworthy mistakes in what turned out to be a rousing 49-37 victory.<br /> <br /> This past Saturday, the Buckeyes allowed a one-dimensional but dangerous Minnesota squad back into the contest after forging to a 14-0 lead and gave the ball away three times. However, they were fortunate enough to afford the charity and leave frigid Minneapolis with a must-have 31-24 win.<br /> <br /> The No. 8 Buckeyes still have some clean-up to do and some rungs to climb, but at 9-1 overall and 6-0 in the Big Ten they are on the doorstep of claiming the East Division title and playing for a conference championship.<br /> <br /> What follows from there, of course, is hard to predict, but considering the win over No. 25 Minnesota (7-3, 4-2) came on a day when No. 1 Mississippi State lost, TCU – a four-touchdown favorite – was spooked at Kansas, and Notre Dame was dumped in overtime at home by Northwestern, the Buckeyes better take it.<br /> <br /> That’s why <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> popped a wide grin immediately afterward. His team has set up a great chance to dominate Indiana and Michigan at home in the next two weeks, grab for a league championship, and take its chances with the College Football Playoff process.<br /> <br /> Plus, Meyer knows the most recent accomplishment, OSU’s 22nd straight Big Ten regular-season win, was hard-earned in wintry weather that other top-tier teams simply won’t have to endure.<br /> <br /> “I challenge any team in the country that wants to, go ahead and schedule this one in November whatever it is against a very good team,” OSU’s head coach said. “Have at it.”<br /> <br /> Any team that would accept Meyer’s challenge would be hard-pressed to have its quarterback affect the game quite the way <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> did. The reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, Barrett threw for three TDs and ran for another – an 86-yard scamper on third down that now goes into the annals as the longest-ever run by an Ohio State QB.<br /> <br /> “Not bad for a guy with a 5.5 40,” Meyer joked as Barrett was taking a seat next to him for postgame interviews.<br /> <br /> Barrett ended up rushing for 189 yards to nip <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>’s single-game record for a QB. Miller, who was supposed to return to his starting role as a senior this season before re-injuring his shoulder, had 186 yards two years ago in a win over Nebraska.<br /> <br /> Barrett completed 15 of 25 passes for 200 yards and brought his TD total for the season to 38, another record. Miller accounted for 36 scores last season as the Buckeyes set several single-season offensive high-water marks.<br /> <br /> In fact, Barrett’s TD total is now the highest by an FBS player with 10 games played under his belt. <strong>Johnny Manziel</strong> had 33 TDs 10 games into his Heisman Trophy season of 2012. <strong>Marcus Mariota</strong>, this year’s front-runner for the award, had 32 TDs at the same point that season. <strong>Jameis Winston</strong> had 31 at the 10-game point of last season en route to the Heisman.<br /> <br /> Ohio State easily won the statistical battle with Minnesota. The Buckeyes totaled 22 first downs to UM’s 17, outgained the Golden Gophers 489 to 303, committed just four penalties to Minnesota’s seven, and converted 9 of 13 third downs as opposed to the home team’s 5-for-14 showing.<br /> <br /> Also, as expected, the Gophers didn’t muster much in the passing game. QB <strong>Mitch Leidner</strong> was just 7 of 19 for 85 yards and a pair of interceptions. However, running back <strong>David Cobb</strong> was up to his normal workload with 27 carries for 145 yards and three TDs. Cobb came into the game as the nation’s leader in rushing attempts, the Big Ten’s fourth-leading rusher in terms of yards and with an average of 5.3 yards per carry.<br /> <br /> He was right on that mark at 5.4 ypc despite Ohio State’s success against Leidner and the early two-score lead.<br /> <br /> The win was not secure until tight end <strong>Jeff Heuerman</strong> fell on UM’s onside kick with 1:23 to play. Minnesota coach <strong>Jerry Kill</strong> opted to send kicker <strong>Ryan Santoso</strong> out for a 34-yard field goal moments earlier to trim OSU’s lead to seven points and leave his offense enough time to try to tie the game if the Gophers could retrieve the ball.<br /> <br /> When they didn’t, OSU had clinched its 37th win in its last 39 gridiron matchups with Minnesota.<br /> <br /> It’s possible the two teams could meet again in Indianapolis but that would require the Gophers to win at Nebraska and Wisconsin in the next two weeks.<br /> <br /> It’s safe to say at least some of the UM players would be confident in a rematch with the Buckeyes – especially linebacker <strong>De’Vondre Campbell</strong>.<br /> <br /> “Ohio State is a good team,” Campbell said. “They’re very disciplined. I think that has a lot to do with their head coach. He’s been in championship programs, so he knows what it takes,” Campbell said. “But I don’t think they’re better than us. Honestly, I really don’t.”<br /> <br /> The Gophers, though, hurt any real chance of pulling off an upset because of what Kill termed “critical errors.”<br /> <br /> One of them, a blown coverage in the secondary, allowed <strong>Michael Thomas</strong> to get free for an easy 30-yard touchdown for the only score in the third period. Thomas had dropped two Barrett passes earlier in the game.<br /> <br /> Another was one of two 5-yard penalties the Gophers drew on third-and-1 that led to Leidner dropping back to throw and being picked off by safety <strong>Vonn Bell</strong>.<br /> <br /> Barrett turned that takeaway into his final TD, a well-executed inside screen pass to <strong>Evan Spencer</strong> that became a 22-yard score. OSU led 31-14 and appeared to be in command with 10:08 to play.<br /> <br /> It looked even better for the Buckeyes when Kill elected to punt on fourth down near midfield. However, that’s when freshman <strong>Jalin Marshall</strong> gift-wrapped a touchdown for the Gophers by muffing the kick, which UM recovered at the OSU 14.<br /> <br /> Cobb zipped from 12 yards out moments later and the lead was clipped to 31-21 with 7:08 to play. Marshall also fumbled into the end zone in the first half with the Buckeyes looking to pad a 14-7 lead. Minnesota’s <strong>Briean Boddy-Calhoun</strong> made the recovery, setting up a touchback and wiping away OSU’s early momentum.<br /> <br /> The Gophers’ first touchdown came after a Boddy-Calhoun intercepted a Barrett bomb and returned it 56 yards into OSU territory. Barrett was looking for wideout <strong>Corey Smith</strong> on the play but sailed his pass long and to the outside.<br /> <br /> Marshall, who is seeing more playing time with H-back <strong>Dontre Wilson</strong> out with a broken foot, still led OSU with five catches for 95 yards and was credited with a 57-yard TD in the first half. Barrett sidestepped pressure on that play and hit the speedy Marshall in stride on a crossing route.<br /> <br /> Minnesota tight end <strong>Maxx Williams</strong> led the Gophers with three catches for 47 yards.<br /> <br /> The game served as a senior sendoff for the Gophers. Ohio State will play its final two regular-season contests in the Horseshoe beginning with Indiana, which remains winless in the conference.<br /> <br /> The time for that Nov. 22 game was set late Saturday. It will have a noon Eastern kickoff and be broadcast on Big Ten Network. http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-15/Buckeyes_Overcome_The_Dropsies.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-15/Buckeyes_Overcome_The_Dropsies.aspx 5cb7f908-1147-43e1-8dac-85249b68edad Sun, 16 Nov 2014 05:45:52 GMT Gaining National Notoriety One of the byproducts of winning the biggest conference game of the year and potentially a league championship is the awards that roll in with the on-field success.<br /> <br /> Sure enough, after Ohio State’s eye-opening 49-37 win at Michigan State on Saturday night, plaudits followed.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes (8-1, 5-0 in the Big Ten) were tabbed with Big Game National Team of the Week honors, and the announcement was made Monday on SiriusXM Radio’s “College Sports Today,” hosted by <strong>Mark Packer</strong> and <strong>Eddie George</strong>.<br /> <br /> Ohio State has won seven consecutive games, 12 straight on the road, and set a record with 21 straight Big Ten regular-season victories.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes will put all of those streaks on the line when they face Minnesota (7-2, 4-1) this upcoming Saturday (noon Eastern, ABC). The Golden Gophers have a formidable defensive line and running game. Plus, they are coming off a wipeout of Iowa that has them firmly in the hunt in the West Division of the Big Ten.<br /> <br /> On the individual front, quarterback <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> received lots of national recognition for his performance in East Lansing and also was singled out as the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for the third time this season and as the league’s Freshman of the Week for the sixth time.<br /> <br /> Barrett ripped the Spartans for 300 yards and three touchdowns passing, and added he added 86 yards and two more scores on the ground. He engineered an offensive effort that included 49 points, 25 first downs and 568 total yards against the nation’s fifth-ranked defense. With Barrett at the helm, the Buckeyes were 10 of 14 on third down, 1 of 1 on fourth down, and scored TDs on all five trips to the red zone.<br /> <br /> Barrett continues to lead the Big Ten in total offense (304.2 yards per game) and pass efficiency (172.9). He also leads all FBS passers with 26 TDs on 233 attempts (11.2 percent). <br /> <br /> Barrett would now have to be considered the league front-runner for the coveted Silver Football that the Chicago Tribune awards annually to the Big Ten’s MVP.<br /> <br /> That is impressive considering Barrett is only a redshirt freshman and hadn’t played competitive football since October 2012, when he hurt his knee as a senior at Wichita Falls (Texas) Rider. It also is noteworthy given that <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>, who was supposed to be the Ohio State QB again this season, has won the previous two Silver Footballs.<br /> <br /> Miller reinjured his shoulder in preseason just days after Barrett had passed <strong>Cardale Jones</strong> on the depth chart.<br /> <br /> Of course, Barrett had turned in other standout performances earlier this season, but not in front of so many well-known writers and analysts and with the game clearly on the national radar.<br /> <br /> The following are samples of reaction from renowned reporters who watched Barrett and the Buckeyes in action Saturday:<br /> <br /> “This was a show of force for the Buckeyes in every imaginable way. There was an offensive line that was determined to beat down the Spartans’ vaunted defense – 268 yards rushing later, that was accomplished. There was a young quarterback in J.T. Barrett, who not only would show the confidence to air it out deep, but the bull-strength to lower a shoulder, blast over defenders and set the tone.” – <strong>Dan Wetzel</strong>, Yahoo! Sports<br /> <br /> “A college football playoff without this version of the Buckeyes would be no more than an exhibition, played for a trophy. Because one could easily argue there isn’t a stronger team in the country than Ohio State right now, as the season reaches its most critical weeks.” – <strong>Graham Couch</strong>, Lansing State Journal<br /> <br /> “With one overwhelming offensive display, the Buckeyes re-established themselves as the Big Ten’s dominant team under coach Urban Meyer, avenged their loss to Michigan State in last year’s conference title game, and boosted their case for a berth in the sport’s new four-team playoff.” – <strong>Michael Rosenberg</strong>, Sports Illustrated<br /> <br /> “Ohio State displayed offensive variety and precision, fueled by the poised passing performance of the freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, on the way to a dominating 49-37 victory.” – <strong>Joanne C. Gerstner</strong>, New York Times<br /> <br /> “You say forget Ohio State, the loss to a Virginia Tech team getting worse by the week trumps all. I say embrace the reality of the hottest team in the game.<br /> <br /> “You say Ohio State hasn’t played anyone. I say who in the world wants to play the Buckeyes; who wants to try to find a way to stop Barrett and knock heads with a coach who does big games as good or better than anyone in the game?” – <strong>Matt Hayes</strong>, The Sporting News<br /> <br /> “Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett was nothing short of sensational, completing 16 of 26 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns. He rushed for 86 yards and two scores, too.” – <strong>Nicole Auerbach</strong>, USA Today<br /> <br /> “He played big in a big game. He didn’t throw off the mark at all. He put it right there where their guys were able to make the catches. We were there at times; we just didn’t make the plays. That goes to having the guy who throws it where it needs to be thrown. You’ve got to give him credit. He’s a heck of a quarterback.” – MSU defensive coordinator <strong>Pat Narduzzi</strong><br /> <br /> “He put on a dazzling show.” – <strong>Teddy Greenstein</strong>, Chicago Tribune<br /> <br /> With Barrett on the top of the Big Ten mountain and poised to lead the Buckeyes to a topflight bowl game, reporters once again tried to find a plausible way to ask OSU head coach about the seeming conundrum of having both the youngster and Miller on the roster next season.<br /> <br /> One scribe even asked the head coach if the situation was “crazy.”<br /> <br /> “I don’t use the term ‘crazy;’ I think ‘fortunate’ and ‘blessed,’ either one of them, because I think they’re both excellent quarterbacks,” Meyer said. “And we’ll worry about that day when it comes.”<br /> <br /> Just weeks earlier Meyer was somewhat guarded in his praise for Barrett and declared the Miller was going to be the starting QB next year. That narrative shifted a bit on Monday. Offensive coordinator <strong>Tom Herman</strong> tried not to fuel any potential controversy by saying he spends “zero time” thinking about the 2015 offensive outlook.<br /> <br /> He added that he “can’t imagine” not having Miller back next season and that he continues to receive positive reports about Miller’s rehab.<br /> <br /> But Herman also is not afraid to prop up Barrett’s play now or articulate his high worth.<br /> <br /> Meyer also showered praise on the second-year QB.<br /> <br /> “His biggest jump is just being the manager,” Meyer said. “He does a good job getting us in the right play.&nbsp;He understands defenses really well now.&nbsp;And his accuracy. When he’s accurate, that’s a tough one to stop.<br /> <br /> “The ones he missed the week before, he went to the right place with the ball. He just misfired.&nbsp;You don’t see him very often go to the wrong place with the ball.<br /> <br /> “He’s a very intellectual quarterback.&nbsp;Very smart quarterback.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-11/Gaining_National_Notoriety.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-11/Gaining_National_Notoriety.aspx 5cf92ece-91d5-4ae3-998a-95ab4e604aae Wed, 12 Nov 2014 00:36:33 GMT Rapp Around: Dreamy Result Games of high meaning that are riddled with momentum changes and go past midnight tend to do a number on the most intense college football fans – not to mention sports reporters with deadlines.<br /> <br /> Therefore, it seems, we all were recovering in some way or another as Sunday morning dawned and those that care tried to digest what just happened the night before in East Lansing.<br /> <br /> As had been charted on this website and elsewhere, the Ohio State-Michigan State matchup was about as close as it could be on paper. The 3½-point spread basically was a representation of the fact that the Spartans were rated slightly ahead of OSU and were expected to enjoy the spoils of being at home.<br /> <br /> In reality, though, this game probably would have been a pick-‘em if not for the Buckeyes’ shaky showing at Penn State in a similarly daunting environment. There were doubts that redshirt freshman quarterback <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> was the genuine article, that the offensive line could hold up against a premier defense or that the back seven really had improved enough to make the proper plays on a grand stage.<br /> <br /> Michigan State still had a few warts, too, like the complete collapse at Oregon and other defensive breakdowns that aren’t in keeping with the <strong>Mark Dantonio</strong>-<strong>Pat Narduzzi</strong> era.<br /> <br /> But the perception going in was that MSU had more reliable performers at the skill positions, a more proven defense, and had played better competition. It was odd to see how many Buckeye fans predicted their team’s demise – either a stunning acceptance of reality or a defense mechanism to help them prepare for the possibility of disappointment.<br /> <br /> Maybe I listened to them too much. I had Michigan State 27, Ohio State 24. That’s just what I saw.<br /> <br /> What none of us realized was afoot – though many hoped – was a Buckeye explosion, and one not built on revenge but instead on laudable execution.<br /> <br /> No. 13 Ohio State 49, No. 7 Michigan State 37.<br /> <br /> This OSU victory is so monumental and momentum-churning that I felt it was best to simply react in a sort of random-thought style. So here goes:<br /> <br /> * If it hadn’t been stated enough here or on the radio airwaves, Barrett is the truth. The kid simply has an ideal on-field demeanor and makes a ton of winning plays when he’s allowed the chance to make them.<br /> <br /> He hit <strong>Michael Thomas</strong> in stride near the numbers on the left side and timed his throw so well it allowed Thomas to shake a defender and sprint away for a 79-yard touchdown that tied the score at 21. Moments later he stayed patient in the pocket and lobbed the ball to <strong>Devin Smith</strong> for a backbreaking 44-yard TD with 56 seconds left in the first half. And he put the game away with a 7-yard strike of perfection to <strong>Dontre Wilson</strong> – a dead-on-the-left-shoulder throw I’m not sure I’ve ever seen <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> make.<br /> <br /> Those are the three touchdown passes. Of course, Barrett accounted for two more scores on the ground and almost single-handedly fixed OSU’s third-and-short woes. He also completed a third-and-23 (thanks to a beautiful adjustment by Smith. He finished 16 of 26 for 300 yards and never came close to throwing an interception. On the ground, Barrett also was sure-handed and racked up 86 yards on 14 carries – and average of 6.1 per tote against one of the nation’s stingiest run defenses.<br /> <br /> If Ohio State (8-1, 5-0) storms to the Big Ten Championship Game and Barrett keeps playing like this, he’s going to end up with a Silver Football, which was supposed to be Miller’s third.<br /> <br /> * When the Spartans (7-2, 4-1) drew first blood in the second half but had to settle for a field goal, they cut the OSU lead to 28-24. Hard not to think about 1998 when you look at that score and see Green and White matched with Scarlet and Gray.<br /> <br /> * Speaking of Ohio State’s halftime lead, the sequence that no doubt will be remembered years later involved near disaster. After MSU took its third lead of the night, 21-14, Wilson fumbled the kickoff for the second time in the game. The Spartans recovered and then zipped <strong>Jeremy Langford</strong> around end for an apparent touchdown. The scoreboard even read 27-14.<br /> <br /> However, holding was called, negating the score, and Michigan State botched a couple chances thereafter. Then kicker <strong>Michael Geiger</strong> pulled and just missed a field-goal attempt, effectively allowing the Buckeyes to step around a land mine.<br /> <br /> * Geiger’s recent struggles were one reason why I gave OSU a slight edge in special teams going into the contest. Who knew what a huge role they would play? <strong>Sean Nuernberger</strong> shorted an early 47-yard field-goal attempt by inches and the Buckeyes also set up MSU when <strong>Jeff Greene</strong> allowed a punt to spin back into him and bounce off his leg. That huge mistake coupled with Wilson’s ineptitude on returns appeared to be OSU’s doom.<br /> <br /> But to their credit, the Buckeyes took the gift of Geiger’s miss and used it to help turn around the game. The fact that they were able to go to the locker room at halftime was a near-miracle and clearly had the throng at Spartan Stadium stunned.<br /> <br /> Though a lot more happened after that, it was easy to feel Barrett and the offensive unit had this puppy under control.<br /> <br /> *And while we’re on the topic of the Ohio State offense, let’s dig into some stats:<br /> <br /> <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong> was borderline phenomenal. The sophomore tailback amassed 154 yards on 23 attempts (6.7 per carry), scored twice, and also was engaged as a blocker both down field and in helping to protect Barrett.<br /> <br /> Smith continues to haunt MSU. His six catches went for 129 yards (21.5 yards on average) and his touchdown in the final minute of the first half was devastating.<br /> <br /> Linebacker <strong>Joshua Perry</strong> again led the defense with nine tackles while safety Vonn Bell added seven. MSU Safety <strong>Kurtis Drummond</strong> cemented All-Big Ten plaudits with 11 tackles and teammate RJ Williamson also had 11.<br /> <br /> Michigan State quarterback <strong>Connor Cook</strong> also put up some numbers with 358 passing yards, although he had to throw the ball 45 times compared to Barrett’s 26 attempts. Cook threw for two scores; Langford accounted for the Spartans’ other three on the ground. Langford, who nailed down MSU’s Big Ten title game win over Ohio State last year with a breakaway run, was good again: He had 137 yards on just 18 carries.<br /> <br /> * I’m not sure I’d categorize the performance of the defense as a flop, either. Yes, OSU allowed 37 points and 536 yards, which don’t help the averages, but the effort remained fierce and the defense still managed to disrupt Cook and company at key times.<br /> <br /> Michigan State’s offensive line is very stout. The Spartans’ front won several battles in the trenches and OSU’s linebackers often ran into blocks on traps and pulls. However, the energy of Ohio State defenders was still high. Linebackers Perry and <strong>Darron Lee</strong> continue to impress in that regard. And <strong>Michael Bennett</strong> had one of his best games as a Buckeye against very quality interior offensive linemen.<br /> <br /> <strong>Joey Bosa</strong> was quiet – that certainly doesn’t happen too often – but MSU made sure to account for him at all times and occasionally at the expense of allowing Bennett or <strong>Adolphus Washington</strong> to beat his man one-on-one and make a play. <strong>Steve Miller</strong> struggled on containment but also showed some grit. Bosa was credited with just one tackle and none in the backfield, breaking his record-tying string of 14 consecutive games with at least one TFL.<br /> <br /> <strong>Raekwon McMillan</strong> got valuable time at MLB and zipped around with high effort. The secondary wasn’t torched by <strong>Tony Lippett</strong> and didn’t seem to make too many glaring mistakes. There was a bit of a let-up once OSU grabbed leads of 42-24 and 49-31, but that had more to do with scheme and the OSU coaches dealing with time-and-score situations.<br /> <br /> * The morning headlines are using phrases like “statement win” and “Big Ten shootout,” so it’s likely the game will register just as OSU fans hoped. However, there were 18 penalites – seven by the Buckeyes and 11 by the home team, which often is described as disciplined.<br /> <br /> Let’s assume much of this had to do with overexcitement on the part of the players and that we won’t see this many hankies in the Big Ten title game, because it almost overshadowed a rare moment of positivity for the conference.<br /> <br /> * <strong>Urban Meyer</strong>’s sideline demeanor is priceless. His apoplexy after fumbles and penalties is so apparent you can almost see the acid build-up in his stomach. His grin of relief in the game’s final seconds was one of pure joy.<br /> <br /> Meyer had been there/done that, but he still coaches every game with absolute intensity and purpose. And it’s not a show. Some coaches seem to know when the cameras on them and emote seemingly so the announcers can rave about their dedication. Meyer simply is dedicated. Big-time. And he won’t rest until he gets the Buckeyes a national championship. (Actually, he won’t rest at all.)<br /> <br /> * So where do you slot the Buckeyes now? It would be hard to believe the College Football Playoff selection committee wasn’t impressed with the outcome and the fact Ohio State shredded one of the most ballyhooed and fundamentally sound defenses in the land. Still, this group doesn’t want to be accused of overreacting and moving anyone too much.<br /> <br /> I see the Buckeyes landing at No. 8 when the new standings are released on Tuesday night. Four one-loss teams ahead of them lost for a second time and Ole Miss, which already had two losses, sat idle. Also, the Buckeyes’ performance was eye-opening enough to allow them to leapfrog Nebraska, which had the week off as well.<br /> <br /> * I’m guessing it was easy for Ohio State fans to get greedy as the night wore on and want the upsets to keep rolling in. It didn’t quite work out to a jackpot level, though.<br /> <br /> Alabama drove nearly the length of the field in less than a minute after LSU took a 13-10 lead, and the Crimson Tide kicked a short field goal to send the game to overtime. A lobbed touchdown pass and defensive stop later and ’Bama had itself a 20-13 win in Baton Rouge – <strong>Nick Saban</strong>’s fourth straight victory over <strong>Les Miles</strong>.<br /> <br /> The better result for Buckeye fans would have been a second loss hung on the Tide and then their rage leading to destruction of Auburn and Mississippi State. On the other hand, Auburn was jolted with a 41-38 loss to Texas A&amp;M and a lot still could happen in the SEC West.<br /> <br /> Plus, if Ohio State were to grace the first-ever College Football Playoff, wouldn’t it be great for Saban to join Meyer there? Also, um, see you later, Lester.<br /> <br /> There were essentially two other elimination games along with Ohio-Michigan State. One was Arizona State wiping out Notre Dame in a game pitting teams sitting at 9 and 10, respectively, in the CFP standings. The other had TCU overwhelming Kansas State in a 6-7 game.<br /> <br /> While all of that was developing, Oregon took advantage of the most boneheaded play of the year as a Utah ball carrier, headed straight to the end zone, left the pig on the 1-yard line in a way-too-early celebration and the Ducks raced 100 yards the other way with it to turn what should have been a game-tying score into a 21-7 lead.<br /> <br /> Oregon and Alabama now look primed to join Mississippi State and Florida State, both still undefeated, in the four-team playoff, but we should know by now not to assume something just because it appears likely.<br /> <br /> Ohio State is going to slide up into a fairly enviable position. And there’s still plenty of opportunity for chaos.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-09/Rapp_Around_Dreamy_Result.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-09/Rapp_Around_Dreamy_Result.aspx 06397a57-dbfc-45fc-b1ed-412744b94738 Sun, 09 Nov 2014 17:36:11 GMT Rapp Around: Hidden Stakes So the stage is set for meaningful Big Ten warfare with just about everything that can be on the line for a regular-season game.<br /> <br /> When No. 13 Ohio State faces off against No. 7 Michigan State in East Lansing on Saturday night (8 p.m. Eastern, ABC), a prime-time national audience and analysts near and far will be able to make a lot of assessments of each team.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes and Spartans have identical 7-1 records and 4-0 marks in the Big Ten East. The winner will have a huge upper hand to represent the division in the Big Ten Championship Game and will stay alive for consideration from the College Football Playoff selection committee.<br /> <br /> In other words, lofty goals will still be attainable for the victorious team; and weighty disappointment awaits the loser.<br /> <br /> Also, <strong>Mark Dantonio</strong>’s Spartans are looking for the moniker of Big Ten kingpin after beating OSU in lat year’s league title game and going on to drop Stanford in the Rose Bowl. On the flip side, <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> and company desperately want to avenge the loss last December that ruined a 24-game win streak and crushed national championship hopes.<br /> <br /> “They took something from us,” Meyer, left tackle <strong>Taylor Decker</strong> and several other Buckeyes repeated on Monday.<br /> <br /> But those are the obvious stakes.<br /> <br /> There are several more subplots and potential developments looming, and many of them involve perception. And public perception can be just as flattering – or damning – as wins and losses.<br /> <br /> Big Ten supremacy and national relevance can be fleeting. But the program that wins Saturday grabs both, and the responsibilities and spoils that come with them.<br /> <br /> The following is a look at some of the subplots that will develop as a result of the OSU-MSU clash:<br /> <br /> <strong>Redemption Or Inferiority? –</strong> The Buckeyes have used a couple of the “R” words this week – redemption and revenge – while discussing this game. Certainly, it’s a great motivator. Nothing could be sweeter than avenging the most painful setback of your college life and doing it on the culprit’s home field.<br /> <br /> A win for Ohio State means that last year is now ancient history. It also would remind that the Buckeyes won at Spartan Stadium in 2012 in Meyer’s first game as a Big Ten head coach. It would mean that Meyer has the early upper hand on Dantonio in head-to-head matchups and create a belief that OSU is the team to beat in the Big Ten East for years to come.<br /> <br /> It also would carry a lot of weight nationally. Beating a proven, physical, battle-tested team on its own turf no doubt would be eyebrow-raising for voters, national analysts and College Football Playoff selection committee members.<br /> <br /> However, there’s danger on the other side of that curtain. A loss to Sparty, even by a point, would raise serious doubts about the Urban Way. It would allow his critics to point out that his speed-and-greed approach isn’t all that. It also would set off another wild celebration for Green and White fans, who already are basking in the glow of domination over hated Michigan and could pair that with a clear edge against the Buckeyes.<br /> <br /> Sounds dramatic, I know, but it’s the truth. This isn’t just one game. There is much more at play.<br /> <br /> <strong>Croot Chase –</strong> I’ve been on a couple radio programs this week during which I was asked if this game could have any effect on future recruiting. My reply: absolutely.<br /> <br /> Any game with this kind of exposure and ramifications can shake things up a bit in terms of perception, and that in turn reaches out pretty quickly to impressionable 17-year-olds.<br /> <br /> Granted, there are a lot of Ohio-based prospects who are lifelong Buckeye fans and one setback isn’t going to quell their affinity for all things scarlet and gray or necessarily turn them to another program. Ditto on the other side of the aisle. MSU is a state institution with major reach and a rabid fan base as well. Those who are loyal to the Spartans are going to stay that way.<br /> <br /> Plus, there’s always a way to spin a defeat. You can almost hear the assistant coach on the other end of the phone saying to a recruit. “Yeah, that was a tough loss to them the other night. That’s why we need you. So we can beat ’em next year.”<br /> <br /> That often works, and that’s what those coaches should say.<br /> <br /> However, a lot of today’s teenagers don’t profess pure devotion to one program and understand the importance of keeping their options open. If the Spartans win, Dantonio and staff can try to pick off a few of the top Midwest recruits and possibly have a more national scope. They’d remind those kids they won the Big Ten and Rose Bowl last year and they are at the top of the heap with no designs on leaving it.<br /> <br /> If the Buckeyes win, Meyer would have his first over a top-10 team as OSU coach and add even more legitimacy to a sparkling coaching resume. There wouldn’t be much you could negative-recruit about Ohio State under Meyer’s watch. Maybe point to some off-the-field issues by some players. Or bring up sanctions that have nothing to do with him. That’d be about it.<br /> <br /> A loss, though, and the whispers would build. “Ohio State is just running a jock factory down there. They still haven’t won the Big Ten since Urban’s gotten there. They haven’t beaten a team ranked higher than 16th in the Meyer era. They can’t beat us.”<br /> <br /> Ohio State is about as elite as it comes in recruiting and it’s hard to believe that one game would change that all that much. Still, a loss on Saturday creates doubt and hurts program momentum. And that can lead to some recruiting shortcomings.<br /> <br /> It’s arguable to say OSU has more to lose in terms of recruiting. But, clearly, it’s a hard element to measure, especially right away.<br /> <br /> <strong>Authenticity Of Style –</strong> This ties into the previous point but is worthy of a closer look. That’s because Dantonio’s methodology is not the same as Meyer’s.<br /> <br /> Yes, they are both Ohio guys with similar coaching upbringing and a hard-nose approach. They both talk about toughness, character and having high standards for all aspects of the program. They put more emphasis than most on special teams and they challenge the manhood of their players.<br /> <br /> But there are a lot of differences, too. Meyer is a no-apologies, go-for-the-throat coach who doesn’t care who he pisses off to flip a recruit and doesn’t mind if his quarterback heaves one deep looking for some style points in a blowout.<br /> <br /> He goes after every top-tier recruit he believes OSU has even a remote chance to sign. If Johnny Five-Star doesn’t pan out, the failure is on the youngster himself or the position coach (notice how the head coach seems to be exempt on this one).<br /> <br /> The idea is to load the field with elite speed and athleticism, give them a varied but uncomplicated system and challenge them to be relentless for 6 to 8 seconds on every play. Eventually, his thoroughbreds are going to make more plays and more dynamic plays. Eventually, talent is going to win out.<br /> <br /> That’s not to say that Meyer doesn’t admire limited players who give terrific effort or those who have figured out how to overachieve. As he would say, he loves those guys. But it’s not his Utopia. He wants to get to where he can put studs all over the field and simply overwhelm the Big Ten and contend for national titles just about every year.<br /> <br /> Then there’s our man Dino. A <strong>Jim Tressel</strong> protégé, Dantonio believes in hard work and commitment like Meyer but unlike him doesn’t get as caught up in the recruiting ranking.<br /> <br /> In fact, give Dantonio a roster full of three-stars who fit his system and are coachable and he’ll beat you nine times out of 10. That’s what the Spartans are to a degree.<br /> <br /> Sure, there’s some NFL talent on that team. MSU always has that. But most of Michigan State’s top performers are more about consistency, reliability, fundamentals and execution than high-ceiling, flash-and-dash talent.<br /> <br /> Ohio State’s staff – granted pre-Meyer – didn’t bother to recruit <strong>Le’Veon Bell</strong> out of its own back yard. Bell is a starting running back in the NFL now. A pretty good one, I might add.<br /> <br /> Dantonio thrives on those kind of pick-ups, especially in Ohio. He’s got 28 Ohioans on his roster right now, most of them guys who were Ohio State afterthoughts.<br /> <br /> Michigan State does an exceptional job of developing talent and then finding on-field niches for those players in a very defined system. The results are proven.<br /> <br /> It was fascinating to hear OSU offensive coordinator <strong>Tom Herman</strong> speak earlier this week about his respect for the Spartans defense and how all 11 of them exhibit discipline and take the ideal route to the football. When they get there, it’s play over. Broken tackles just aren’t part of the equation.<br /> <br /> On offense, <strong>Connor Cook</strong> is allowed to show off his uncanny touch and heave the ball downfield from time to time but he still doesn’t within a certain framework and on certain down-and-distances. <strong>Tony Lippett</strong> is a playmaker on the outside but he’s also expected to block and run routes across the middle of the field. <strong>Jeremy Lanfgord</strong> is yet another MSU running back who doesn’t wear down and is more-than-solid in all aspects of his position.<br /> <br /> It’s the Dantonio approach and it doesn’t change. Other than an occasional wry smile or trick play, what you see is what you get.<br /> <br /> <strong>The Spoils Of Victory –</strong> The winning coach will further endear himself to the fanbase and will be able to flash of a gloating smile. Of course, he’ll go into the in interview room and say something to the effect of, “We haven’t won anything yet. This just helps us get closer to our goals. We still have to win the division to get to the Big Ten Championship Game and we have a tough game next week against (fill in the blank). We’re going to enjoy this one and get back to work.”<br /> <br /> That’s what will be said because both of these coaches are smart guys and neither is going to try to gas up a new rivalry afterward.<br /> <br /> But there will be that look of contentment. The critics will be silenced, at least for a while, and the peace of knowing that will wash over either Dantonio or Meyer.<br /> <br /> The loser, on the other hand, will have more explaining to do. Press conferences in the following weeks could get snippy. The coach who comes up short will be on the defensive and have to trudge forward knowing the season is a disappointment.<br /> <br /> Some players and coaches will fall out of contention for postseason awards or slide down the All-Big Ten lists. Gift givers to the program will avoid eye contact at the Monday luncheon or while touring the practice facility.<br /> <br /> Worst of all, the team that comes up short will banished to also-ran status, a stinging rebuke to all of the haughty goals that were within reach moments ago.<br /> <br /> Just a game? Not by a long shot. http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-06/Rapp_Around_Hidden_Stakes.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-06/Rapp_Around_Hidden_Stakes.aspx 82e55cab-416a-495d-8f35-ce5602cb2987 Thu, 06 Nov 2014 21:26:27 GMT Yet Another QB Commits To OSU Recruiting victories are commonplace in Columbus and they have rolled in pretty much as expected since <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> came on board as head coach in November 2011.<br /> <br /> But it certainly bears noting that Monday’s public commitment of well-rated quarterback prospect <strong>Torrance Gibson</strong> indicates that Ohio State is loading up at the position and that Meyer may finally have “his guy” at the future helm of the offense.<br /> <br /> A supreme athlete and 6-4, 200-pound lefty, Gibson appears to be an ideal fit for Meyer’s utopian offense. Recruiting services rate him among the best athletes in the country and among the top 100 prospects nationally regardless of position. Plus, he hails from a recruiting hotbed – Fort Lauderdale, Fla.<br /> <br /> Gibson made his choice known with an announcement at his high school – American Heritage in Plantation – that was beamed out to live audiences online. He had a lengthy list of schools over the summer and turned down the likes of Auburn, LSU, Miami (Fla.), Tennessee and many others to tab Ohio State.<br /> <br /> Offensive coordinator <strong>Tom Herman </strong>was the program’s chief recruiter for Gibson and apparently struck up a good rapport with the youngster. Gibson expressed excitement with his official visit in late September as well as his trip to campus in late July during which he took in OSU’s Friday Night Lights workout.<br /> <br /> He becomes an instant headliner for Ohio State’s 2015 recruiting class, which also includes QB <strong>Joey Burrow</strong> of The Plains (Ohio) Athens and 19 prospects in all. The only class member with a higher composite rating than Gibson, is Cincinnati St. Xavier outside linebacker <strong>Justin Hilliard</strong>, who reportedly had a hand in luring Gibson to his decision.<br /> <br /> Gibson is so well-regarded as an athlete that some analysts speculate he’ll end up being a skill position player in college. But Meyer promised the four-star recruit a fair look at quarterback, which is one reason why he grabbed OSU’s offer.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes are without star QB <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> this season because of a shoulder injury but Miller has told the coaching staff he’ll pursue a medical redshirt and return to the program in 2015. Redshirt freshman <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> has played well in Miller’s absence and <strong>Cardale Jones</strong>, a redshirt sophomore, has had his moments in a backup role.<br /> <br /> True freshman <strong>Stephen Collier</strong> is redshirting this season and the team also carries walk-on QB <strong>Luke Morgan</strong> on the roster.<br /> <br /> Gibson and Burrow, should they sign in February, will join the program next year. The Buckeyes also have an early commitment from Massillon Washington QB <strong>Danny Clark</strong>, currently the only 2017 prospect promised.<br /> <br /> Gibson runs sub-4.5 40 and figures to get the ball in his hands whether it’s as a signal caller or elsewhere. Some analysts already envision a role much like the one <strong>Jalin Marshall</strong> is enjoying – a “pivot” wide receiver/running back who could take over behind center in a wildcat approach.<br /> <br /> Gibson already is proven as both a dynamic performer and a winner. He’s led American Heritage to the last two state titles in Florida and has amassed more than 4,400 yards from scrimmage and 50 touchdowns in his career.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> Gibson’s commitment has shot Ohio State’s national ranking for 2015 recruiting from No. 12 to No. 8 according to a 247Sports composite. That is tops in the Big Ten.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-03/Yet_Another_QB_Commits_To_OSU.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-03/Yet_Another_QB_Commits_To_OSU.aspx 76367882-43a9-4334-b1a9-a5ed69ac970b Tue, 04 Nov 2014 03:24:43 GMT Rapp Around: Just In Time So I’m back at our little produce stand as well call it for our WTVN postgame show and <strong>Stanley Jackson</strong>, who doubles as a Big Ten Network analyst, beats me to the punch.<br /> <br /> “Actually, I feel more confident about the state of our defense right now than I do the offense,” he said.<br /> <br /> Now, for the record, I don’t speak French. I wouldn’t have said “we” when talking about the Buckeyes, even though I am an alumnus. I didn’t play at Ohio State like Stan did in the 1990s and I pride myself on my objectivity.<br /> <br /> In fact, I am right down the middle on next week’s game against Michigan State – but we’ll get to that later.<br /> <br /> However, Stan stole my thought. No. 13 Ohio State (7-1, 4-0) had just wiped out lowly Illinois, 55-14, and became the only FBS team in the country to top the 50-point mark in five games this season yet it was the development on the other side of the ball that was starting to stand out.<br /> <br /> First of all, <strong>Joey Bosa</strong> is an unblockable monster. Throughout the season it had been proven that the bullish defensive end simply couldn’t be held down for an entire game. The last two weeks, though, he has made his presence known early and often. He’s had at least one tackle-for-loss in every game this season and he had a career-high three of them against the Illini (4-5, 1-4) including a pair of sacks.<br /> <br /> The line in general has picked it up after having to overcome the loss of <strong>Noah Spence</strong> at the other end spot. <strong>Steve Miller</strong> appeared to have his best performance of the season against UI. He matched Bosa with four solo tackles and three TFLs.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, the linebacking corps has gone from a topic of frustration in the <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> era to one of surprising strength in 2014.<br /> <br /> <strong>Joshua Perry</strong> followed up a career-best total of 18 tackles at Penn State with a team-leading seven vs. Illinois, <strong>Darron Lee</strong> continues to make hustle plays from the other OLB spot including a pick against UI, and middle man <strong>Curtis Grant</strong>, a senior co-captain, recorded a pair of takeaways on Saturday with an interception and a fumble recovery.<br /> <br /> “It was a special moment for me,” a jubilant Grant said afterward. “It was one of my last games in the ’Shoe and I wanted to give it all I got. I felt like I was complacent at times, but tonight I wanted to come out and play for the guys.”<br /> <br /> Added Lee, “It feels great to get the turnovers and the energy it brings our team. It’s a lot of fun.”<br /> <br /> Freshman LB <strong>Raekwon McMillan</strong> continues to make his presence felt with limited opportunity. On Saturday he had four tackles in relief and a QB hurry. Similarly, strong safety <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong> has been active of late. He had an athletic interception at Penn State; a forced fumble and TFL vs. the Illini.<br /> <br /> <strong>Eli Apple</strong>, victimized in the lone loss of the season against Virginia Tech, is beginning to look confident at the corner spot opposite veteran <strong>Doran Grant</strong>. <strong>Vonn Bell</strong>, another promising youngster in the secondary, is getting settled in at free safety.<br /> <br /> The Ohio State offense slaughtered its guests with 28 first downs, 545 total yards and an average of 7.0 yards per play. Still, Illinois coach <strong>Tim Beckman</strong> was just as impressed with how the Buckeyes put his team in torture chamber with their special teams and opportunistic defense.<br /> <br /> “We didn’t start well and I think as you watched that football game, you realized right away that field position, turnovers, not being able to create turnovers, and all those types of things make a difference when you’re playing a football team like Ohio State,” said Beckman, a former OSU assistant and onetime Meyer staff member. “They’re probably one of the best teams in this conference and you better be playing up to par when you play against them, and we definitely didn’t (do that).”<br /> <br /> Illinois came into the contest leading the Big Ten in passing yards per game at right around 284 and yet managed just 137 in the air while using two quarterbacks. UI was right on its average rushing total with 106 yards but could muster just 2.5 per carry.<br /> <br /> Illinois had racked up 40 plays of 20 or more yards this season and hurt Ohio State with only one such play – a 56-yard pass connection between QB <strong>Reilly O’Toole</strong> and wideout <strong>Mike Dudek</strong>. After that biggee put the Illini in the red zone, OSU clamped down – and kicker <strong>David Reisner</strong> sprayed a field-goal attempt.<br /> <br /> <strong>On To Sparta</strong><br /> <br /> There are many theories as to how the Buckeyes are going to be able to knock off No. 7 Michigan State (7-1, 4-0) in East Lansing. Most of them involve the offense and its quest to overwhelm the Spartans with tempo and an array of weaponry.<br /> <br /> The truth is this still most likely will be a rock’em-sock’em Big Ten football game full of hard hits, aggression on both sides of the ball and a key defensive stops.<br /> <br /> When MSU isn’t trying to corral <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong>, <strong>Curtis Samuel</strong>, <strong>Devin Smith</strong>, <strong>Jalin Marshall</strong>, <strong>Jeff Heuerman</strong> and others, the Buckeyes will have their hands full with QB <strong>Connor Cook</strong>, wide receiver <strong>Tony Lippett</strong> and running back <strong>Jeremy Langford</strong>. All of them played a large role in MSU’s 34-24 win over the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game last year.<br /> <br /> That was Meyer’s first loss as OSU coach after a 24-0 start. The Buckeyes gave up 40 points in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson and 35 in the setback against Virginia Tech in September.<br /> <br /> If the OSU defense can hold MSU under 30 points, it would figure that the Buckeyes will have a great chance to win the rematch and redeem the sting of the December shortcoming in Indianapolis.<br /> <br /> “Last year hurt how things happened,” Bell said. “It’s all about executing. We’re going to challenge each other this week, push each other and hold each other accountable going forward.”<br /> <br /> Some key Buckeyes such as Barrett and right tackle <strong>Darryl Baldwin</strong> didn’t even play against Michigan State last year, but they still understand the significance.<br /> <br /> “This is huge for us,” Baldwin said. “We’ll be ready.”<br /> <br /> “Last year when I redshirted during the Big Ten Championship game, I was just taking it all in and learning as much as I could,” Barrett said. “We’re a different team this year, and so are they. They’re going to get after us defensively, and we need to be prepared.”<br /> <br /> Barrett late used the word “revenge.” Smith dropped in a “redemption.” However, there was no noticeable anger in their voices or eyes – just calm focus.<br /> <br /> Ohio State tied its own conference mark with a 20th straight regular-season Big Ten win on Saturday. Setting a new record and harnessing No. 21 in a row is going to take a monumental feat. Yet I can’t help but think the OSU defense, this time, is going to afford that chance.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-02/Rapp_Around_Just_In_Time.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-11-02/Rapp_Around_Just_In_Time.aspx ae623f72-dbaf-4a4a-92d0-848f06d6caa6 Mon, 03 Nov 2014 05:24:00 GMT Barrett Looking To Bounce Back When <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> takes the field for the November stretch run of the college football regular season, he’ll do so with a bruised knee and an equally bruised ego.<br /> <br /> That’s because the young Ohio State quarterback struggled throughout the second half of the Buckeyes’ narrow double-overtime win at Penn State on Oct. 25, which, perhaps not coincidentally was directly after he was injured.<br /> <br /> However, Barrett also showed in the overtime periods that he has a toughness and resilience that can’t be overlooked. In fact, he gained 32 yards rushing and scored each of OSU’s touchdowns in the extra sessions, leading OSU to a 31-24 victory before nearly 108,000 rabid fans at Beaver Stadium.<br /> <br /> “I’ll probably never forget that look when I saw our offense taking the field against the white-out of the student section, down by seven, against the defense that really kind of shut us down the second half … and take us in for a score,” head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> said during his weekly media address on Monday.<br /> <br /> For much of this season, Meyer has been cautious not to over-praise the play of Barrett, a redshirt freshman from Wichita Falls, Texas. And following the Penn State game, he made sure to point out the youngster still has a ways to go.<br /> <br /> “J.T. actually had just an OK game as far as some of the reads and some of the decisions he had to make,” he said.<br /> <br /> However, Meyer knows what kind of environment the Buckeyes just faced, and he know potential pitfalls are ahead when OSU ventures to Michigan State and Minnesota. Even after the Buckeyes let the crowd reinvigorate in the second half and blew a 17-0 lead, Barrett managed to find the necessary calm when he had to have it.<br /> <br /> And his demeanor going into the first overtime had a similar effect on the entire team, even running backs coach <strong>Stan Drayton</strong>.<br /> <br /> “There’s nothing like looking in a player’s eyes to find comfort as a football coach,” Drayton said. “And I just so happened to see J.T. Barrett’s eyes in that moment. And I’ll tell you what, I got all the confidence that I needed that he was going to at least at that moment give everything that he had to try to put us in a situation to win that ballgame.”<br /> <br /> Drayton then added, “When you see that coming from some young football players right now, you can’t help but get really excited and anxious to see what the future holds for this football team.”<br /> <br /> Barrett was so convincing that some of his teammates didn’t even know he had an injury.<br /> <br /> “After the game, I had no idea he hurt his knee,” offensive guard <strong>Pat Elflein</strong> said.<br /> <br /> “He was fighting through it the whole game, and that says a lot about him. What type of guy he is, and that was awesome.”<br /> <br /> Luckily for the No. 13 Buckeyes, Barrett has responded well to treatment and limited practice this week and has been declared ready to go for OSU’s Saturday night tilt with Illinois (8 p.m. Eastern, ABC).<br /> <br /> Barrett was diagnosed with a sprained MCL, which Meyer called a “very serious” injury. There was even speculation that the coaching staff might opt to hold Barrett out with the Buckeyes heavily favored to dump the Illini and with No. 8 Michigan State looming.<br /> <br /> That would have led to some trepidation given that <strong>Cardale Jones</strong>, who fell below Barrett on the depth chart just before Braxton Miller was lost for the season because of a re-occurring shoulder injury, has thrown just five passes all season.<br /> <br /> The oddsmakers must believe Barrett will play. They have installed Ohio State (6-1, 3-0) as a 29-point favorite over the Illini (4-4, 1-3). <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-31/Barrett_Looking_To_Bounce_Back.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-31/Barrett_Looking_To_Bounce_Back.aspx 21be8579-969a-4b8c-a004-e90a00f07dc9 Fri, 31 Oct 2014 22:38:10 GMT Bosa's Most Beastly Play To Date One day, it stands to reason, there will be a tree in the Buckeye Grove with the name “<strong>Joey Bosa</strong>” affixed to a plaque in front of it.<br /> <br /> That, in fact, is likely, given that Bosa, a hulking defensive end, is on his way to attaining All-American status, which is the criterion to be so recognized at Ohio State.<br /> <br /> And if Bosa ever attains legendary status on campus his resume will include the walkoff sack that secured OSU’s 31-24 double-overtime win at Penn State on Saturday night.<br /> <br /> Not only did Bosa dump <strong>Christian Hackenberg</strong> on fourth-and-5 to end the game, he did so by blasting PSU running back <strong>Akeel Lynch</strong> into Hackenberg, crumpling the legs of the sturdy 6-3 quarterback.<br /> <br /> Since the game ended so abruptly, some onlookers didn’t realize what a super-human effort Bosa turned in, Bosa included.<br /> <br /> “I didn’t even know I sacked him,” he admitted. “I just hit the back and pretty much passed out on the field because I was so tired. <strong>Adolphus</strong> (<strong>Washington</strong>) came to hug me and I just fell down and everyone piled on top of me and, oh man, I was just so exhausted.”<br /> <br /> Added head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong>, “I didn’t really see it until I came in the next day and watched it. It was a tailback that was trying to block that big monster, and he was actually supposed to loop out. He was contained on that, because we had a little pressure, bare pressure against him. That guard blocked down, tackle blocked out, and he took a step and hits him in the back, and he just took it right into him.<br /> <br /> “Obviously tremendous physical specimen what he was able to do.&nbsp; He’s a fast‑twitch guy that’s real big and strong. So, great player.”<br /> <br /> That seems to be the consensus. A 6-5, 278-pound sophomore, Bosa was named to several preseason lists and is more than living up to the hype. Earlier this week he was tabbed as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week as well as Athlon National Defensive Player of the Week.<br /> <br /> Along with his win-clinching play, Bosa logged six tackles including 2.5 for sacks totaling a loss of 18 yards. For the season, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., product has 26 tackles and leads the Buckeyes with 11.5 TFLs, 8.0 sacks and three forced fumbles.<br /> <br /> The TFL and sack totals also lead the Big Ten and rank fifth and sixth in the nation, respectively.<br /> <br /> But his most recent tackle behind the line of scrimmage is his most impressive to date.<br /> <br /> “It was actually a broken play,” Bosa said. “But the guard blocked down and the tackle blocked out, and the hole just opened up, so I took it.<br /> <br /> “I was tired of trying to work my way around the back, so I just ran him over.”<br /> <br /> Bosa’s effort in Happy Valley sparked OSU to 11 TFLs on the evening, a single-game high for the team this season. He also helped the Ohio State defense hold the Nittany Lions to a paltry 0.5 yards per carry.<br /> <br /> Going back to last season, Bosa has a TFL in 13 consecutive games, during which time he has 21 TFLs for a negative 120 yards. In short, teams simply can’t hold him down for a whole game and the sky appears to be the limit.<br /> <br /> “I say this all the time about Joey: I don’t see him changing, and if I do it’s going to be a bad conversation, because what’s got him to this point is … a credit to his dad who played the game and his high school program, St. Thomas (Aquinas),” Meyer said.<br /> <br /> “He’s a practice player. He goes out and practices and does a good job, and it’s effort, and that’s why you continue to see a guy like that improve. And he is getting better. He’s better than he was at the beginning of the season right now.<br /> <br /> Early in the season he made some mistakes. We didn’t probably announce it, but he had some mistakes in the run game when he’s supposed to come under and he didn’t do that. He’s playing much better now.”<br /> <br /> With Bosa on top of his game and the Ohio State defense seemingly improving by the week, the No. 13 Buckeyes (6-1, 3-0) are hitting their defensive stride at the right time. They lead the Big Ten and rank 20th nationally with 52 TFLs, 7.4 per game.<br /> <br /> Ohio State’s defense held Penn State to 240 total yards, including just 16 rushing yards. The unit had four pass break-ups in addition to interceptions by <strong>Vonn Bell </strong>and <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong>. <strong>Darron Lee</strong> joined Bosa with 2.5 TFLs (minus-13 yards), Washington had a sack and 1.5 TFLs. And <strong>Joshua Perry</strong> had a career-high 18 tackles, including two TFLs.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-29/Bosa_s_Most_Beastly_Play_To_Date.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-29/Bosa_s_Most_Beastly_Play_To_Date.aspx 4061428f-5a1c-499b-9b38-32f4e86c3ea0 Thu, 30 Oct 2014 04:00:54 GMT Rapp Around: A Step Backwards So the Buckeyes couldn’t wait to play in front of a substantial and hostile away crowd so they could … almost fall flat on their faces?<br /> <br /> Maybe those black unis would be appropriate next time this team ventures out on the road because the game in East Lansing is going to become a funeral if Ohio State plays like this.<br /> <br /> Yes, No. 13 OSU posted a 31-24 double-overtime win at Penn State on Saturday and, yes, everything is still on track for a run at inclusion in the first-ever College Football Playoff. The Big Ten championship is still right there waiting to be seized and the Buckeyes (6-1, 3-0) are going to fatten up this week on hapless Illinois.<br /> <br /> When <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> takes his troops to Michigan State on Nov. 8 the Big Ten regular-season winning streak will be intact and OSU can improve it to a conference-best 21 straight games. The Buckeyes can seize control of the Big Ten East and basically punch their ticket to Indianapolis.<br /> <br /> An undefeated run through October and November, no doubt, is going to put Ohio State into the top-10 of the polls and consideration for a shot at the national championship.<br /> <br /> But we were here last year and Michigan State got in the way. And it’s safe to say the results are going to be unfavorable again if the Buckeyes think they can get away with a second-half performance similar to the one that just unfolded in Happy Valley.<br /> <br /> Penn State (4-3, 1-3) is not a great football team. Not even close. And yet Ohio State allowed the Nittany Lions to roar back from a 17-0 hole with shoddy execution, an abandonment of the passing game, and an inability to slow down a freshman wide receiver who is clearly <strong>Christian Hackenberg</strong>’s favorite target.<br /> <br /> In fact, it’s shudder-inducing to think that Ohio State came <em>that close</em> to losing to a one-dimensional team – something that is unacceptable given the talented players and capable coaches Meyer has at his disposal.<br /> <br /> Penn State came into the contest averaging just 2.8 yards per carr and tailback <strong>Zach Zwinak</strong>, a 2,000-yard rusher in his PSU career, was injured on the game’s opening kickoff. You knew the Lions weren’t going to be able to rush the ball and they didn’t.<br /> <br /> Penn State still tried, but 31 rushing plays netted a pitiful 16 yards.<br /> <br /> So how did this end up being a nail-biter?<br /> <br /> Let’s just say that all of the good karma that developed in the first half vanished thereafter. And it all started with a pick-6 – a play that has been prevalent in this series, only as a huge positive for Ohio State.<br /> <br /> In the previous 12 games in the series, Ohio State had picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown once in four of them, twice in two of them. The Buckeyes won all six of those games.<br /> <br /> On Saturday, it was finally Penn State’s turn. OSU quarterback <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong>, a redshirt freshman who had been playing well above his age this season, failed to recognize a zone blitz and zipped a pass right into the waiting hands of defensive lineman <strong>Anthony Zettel</strong>, who had dropped back into coverage in the middle of the field.<br /> <br /> Zettel caught the ball cleanly and raced 40 yards for a score, just barely staying inside the pylon after being shoved by Barrett, who, to his credit, never gave up on the play.<br /> <br /> That early third-quarter play put PSU right back in the game, trailing just 17-7, and set off a crowd of 107,895.<br /> <br /> This, of course, was stunning. Barrett had thrown just five interceptions all season and had avoided game-turning mistakes throughout the campaign.<br /> <br /> Plus, Ohio State’s start was supposed to indicate that the Buckeyes had this one under control. They had scored on their opening drive in the four previous games and proceeded to cruise past Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers in those contests, racking up more than 50 points and 500 yards of offense in each.<br /> <br /> At Beaver Stadium, the Buckeyes took advantage of a <strong>Vonn Bell</strong> interception that should have been overturned and used their balance to march 39 yards in seven plays to take a 7-0 lead. Running back <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong> did the honors from 10 yards out with a scoring run.<br /> <br /> Ohio State added a <strong>Sean Nuernberger</strong> 49-yard field goal and a 1-yard touchdown pass from Barrett to tight end <strong>Jeff Heuerman</strong> in the second quarter to forge a 17-0 lead. But the lead wasn’t as safe as it appeared.<br /> <br /> The Zettel play flipped the momentum and Hackenberg finally got hot in the fourth quarter. Ohio State was in danger of losing in regulation before the defense stiffened and forced <strong>Sam Ficken</strong> to kick a 31-yard field goal. The Lions mounted a 19-play drive that included them converting three third-and-shorts.<br /> <br /> Then matters really got murky as Penn State scored on the opening drive of the first overtime to take its first lead, 24-17. The Lions overcame a 10-yard holding penalty on the first play of the extra session, mainly because Hackenberg was able to find <strong>DaeSean Hamilton</strong> for 18 yards on the very next play.<br /> <br /> Penn State’s top receiver, Hamilton ended up burning the Buckeyes for 14 catches for 126 yards. His reception on first-and-20 was his longest of the evening.<br /> <br /> Penn State, of course, struggled to pick up the first down on the ground as <strong>Akeel Lynch</strong>, presumably in for Zwinak, could muster only a yard on second down. But Hackenberg kept the drive alive with a 2-yard rush and then found Hamilton again for a 12-yard gain that set up first-and-goal.<br /> <br /> <strong>Bill Belton</strong>, who had 8 yards on 9 carries, got to be the temporary hero by punching it in from a yard out.<br /> <br /> Earlier in the week, OSU defensive end <strong>Joey Bosa</strong> had lamented that the Buckeyes hadn’t played in a place remotely like Ohio Stadium in recent games. The Buckeyes took care of business in Baltimore against Navy and at Maryland playing before crowds about half of what is packed into the Horseshoe.<br /> <br /> “We play in front of 108,000 people every weekend,” Bosa said on Wednesday. “It kind of sucks when we go away and they don’t have an environment like that.”<br /> <br /> Bosa got his wish. Beaver Stadium was in a frenzy and the Buckeyes had to – HAD TO – come up with some plays.<br /> <br /> The offense rejuvenated – sort of – in the extra session with a pair of tidy three-play drives, each of which was capped off by TD runs by Barrett. However, the second one was aided by a personal-foul penalty that allowed OSU to start from 12½ yards out and the Buckeyes didn’t need to go to the air either time.<br /> <br /> Penn State was still breathing down 31-24 in the second OT when on fourth-and-5 Hackenberg was sacked for an 8-yard loss. Bosa was the culprit. He smashed a helpless running back in to help protect, right into Hackenberg, knocking down the 6-3 QB like a loose twig.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes celebrated, smiled while they sang the alma mater, and left town with a crucial victory. They even got to hang onto their No. 13 ranking in The Associated Press poll. But they have to know that this was a step backwards.<br /> <br /> Barrett threw a second pick in the second half, which allowed Penn State to begin its next drive at the OSU 45 and led to a second TD for the home team. That caused offensive coordinator <strong>Tom Herman</strong> to shut down the passing game. Barrett finished just 12 of 19 for only 74 yards and didn’t complete a pass longer than 14 yards.<br /> <br /> <strong>Devin Smith</strong> caught one ball for 8 yards, <strong>Michael Thomas</strong> had one for 3 and <strong>Evan Spencer</strong>’s lone reception lost a yard. That’s your wide receiver production – unless you want to count the three short catches by scat backs <strong>Jalin Marshall</strong> and <strong>Dontre Wilson</strong>. Heuerman’s three catches and 19 yards receiving were team highs.<br /> <br /> Also, the offensive line struggled with PSU’s defense, which came into the contest sixth in the country and first against the run in terms of yards allowed per game.<br /> <br /> OSU finished with just 3.8 yards per carry, seven of 18 on third-down conversion attempts, and Barrett was sacked three times.<br /> <br /> There were some noteworthy accomplishments, especially on defense.<br /> <br /> Consider the following:<br /> <br /> * Ohio State improved to 8-2 in overtimes games while Meyer is 7-0 as a head coach in such contests.<br /> <br /> * The Buckeyes have won 11 consecutive road games, the longest active streak in the nation.<br /> <br /> * Ohio State has won the last three meetings with Penn State and leads the all-time series, 16-13.<br /> <br /> * Linebacker <strong>Josh Perry</strong> recorded 18 tackles, a career high and the most by a Buckeye this season.<br /> <br /> * Safety <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong> had an athletic interception.<br /> <br /> * Bosa tied career bests with 2.5 sacks, and he and linebacker <strong>Darron Lee</strong> had 2.5 TFLs.<br /> <br /> * Elliott had 109 yards rushing, his third 100-yard performance in the last four games.<br /> <br /> * Punter <strong>Cameron Johnston</strong>, always a weapon but not always on display, kicked six times for a 45.0-yard average and pinned the Nittany Lions inside their 20-yard line four times.<br /> <br /> So that’s all good. However, the next roadie is at Michigan State. And it’s safe to say the Buckeyes will be an underdog in that game. It’s also safe to say they’ll be treated like dogs if they don’t figure out some of their deficiencies.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-26/Rapp_Around_A_Step_Backwards.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-26/Rapp_Around_A_Step_Backwards.aspx b79bb93b-1bdb-4c17-a0f8-963f1d040ffc Sun, 26 Oct 2014 13:57:00 GMT Rapp Around: Bulls Not Ready To Bow On the surface, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason showcase against the Chicago Bulls at the Schottenstein Center on Monday night did everything it was supposed to do.<br /> <br /> Two top-tier NBA teams were on display, King James filled the place to capacity, and the Cavs, playing essentially a home game, won, 107-98.<br /> <br /> Cleveland enjoyed a modest lead throughout the game and led 92-81 with 6:29 to play when <strong>LeBron James</strong> exited the court with 18 points, seven rebounds, six assists, one block and one steal in a tidy 32 minutes of action.<br /> <br /> Most of the 19,049 on hand lifted from their seats and applauded thunderously in recognition of James’ return to the Buckeye State and his adoptive college home. James acknowledged them back with a raised-arm gesture, sending off a bigger roar.<br /> <br /> Ohio State head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> and assistant <strong>Jeff Boals</strong> sat courtside. Columbus Mayor <strong>Michael Coleman</strong> welcomed the Cavs and specifically James to the capital city. Several former players such as <strong>Jim Jackson</strong>, <strong>Scoonie Penn</strong> and the recently departed <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> were on hand, too.<br /> <br /> Smith, who is from Zion, Ill., just outside of Chicago, instead checked in with Cleveland players and chatted up <strong>Kyrie Irving</strong>. <strong>Kevin Love</strong>, who once considered attending Ohio State, came out to join the conversation – and load up a plate with local barbecue fare.<br /> <br /> Love was just 2 of 10 from the field and scored only nine points but he ripped down a game-high 13 rebounds. Irving played more minutes than anybody and didn’t show any effects of an ankle sprain that kept him out of three preseason games. He logged 28 points and seven assists.<br /> <br /> Center <strong>Anderson Varejao</strong> was active early and throughout. He finished with 22 points and eight boards. Varejao started at center but <strong>Tristan Thompson</strong> was still effective off the bench with 10 points and eight boards. <strong>Dion Waiters</strong> also was in double figures with 10 points.<br /> <br /> James, Love and Irving had played in exactly on preseason game prior to the trip to Columbus, which means Cavs head coach <strong>David Blatt</strong> was just as excited to see their chemistry develop as fans were.<br /> <br /> “At least we got a fair view of that tonight, and I thought that went pretty well,” the coach said.<br /> <br /> Bulls lead guard <strong>Derrick Rose</strong> torched Cleveland early and the Cavaliers made a couple halftime adjustments – one was to keep Rose from catching the ball and spring to his right out of pick-and-rolls; the other was attack him back. That meant the 6-3, 193-pound Irving, who is hungry to prove he is the league’s top point guard.<br /> <br /> Cleveland looked to run with James often outletting ahead to Irving for finishes. At one point, Irving was so into rhythm that he just stopped on a dime after a pass from James on a semi-break and rose up for a three. Swish. He was 10 of 19 shooting.<br /> <br /> Love failed to connect on a three but got to the free-throw line for six attempts and doled out three assists.<br /> <br /> Of course, James made it all work. His passes either directly led to quality shots or to another pass that led to a quality shot – the hockey assist, as it were.<br /> <br /> At times, James took over as if to merely work on some of his plethora of moves. A spinner on the right baseline and fadeaway over a much smaller defender; a ball-fake, drive and scoop down the middle of the lane; another turnaround on the other side of the floor.<br /> <br /> For the most part, the offensive movement and creativity was laudable, reminding how scary this team could be when it really clicks.<br /> <br /> “I think it’s just the respect we all have for each other’s games and what we’re all capable of doing,” Irving said. “If somebody catches it in a good spot, we give him space to work with. If he has nothing there then we go backside. Our offense is predicated on making plays and using multiple actions in one possession. The ball is moving, bodies are moving, and that’s the type of offense we want to play.”<br /> <br /> “It felt good,” added Love while seated in the locker room, his feet and knees covered in ice. “We have some things we have to figure out, but as far as how our offense was flowing it was pretty good out there. We’re happy to all be out there healthy and moving in the right direction. We had a number of guys who looked very good tonight and did some different things for us.”<br /> <br /> Irving tried to pay back James late in the contest by tossing a pass off the backboard to the King, but the Bulls broke up the attempt with a foul, keeping the highlight reel from filling. Still, the Cleveland players played to and often recognized the fan support.<br /> <br /> “It’s been a ball to come out and be part of the college atmosphere,” said Love, a product of UCLA and a former All-Star for the Minnesota Timberwolves. “It was a lot of fun to be here and it was a home crowd for us tonight.”<br /> <br /> “The excitement was there from the time we walked in the building,” James told a throng of reporters outside the locker room. “It was a school night; we had a lot of kids, a lot of college kids here. That shows the support there is. The least we can do is try and put on a show.”<br /> <br /> So the Cavs won, their trio of stars looked good, and central Ohio got to embrace them.<br /> <br /> However, there was a little more at work here.<br /> <br /> As well as the evening went for Cleveland, it’s still very clear Chicago could be the main impediment to a championship run. The Bulls are well-coached, defensive-oriented and frightening in their own right with 7-footer <strong>Pau Gasol</strong> joining <strong>Joakim Noah</strong> and Rose looking very well recovered from a second knee injury.<br /> <br /> <strong>Tom Thibodeau</strong> will need a solid season from <strong>Mike Dunleavy</strong> and still needs to develop his bench, although <strong>Taj Gibson</strong> and <strong>Kirk Hinrich</strong> are proven commodities, <strong>Aaron Brooks</strong> appears ready to blossom, and rookie forward <strong>Doug McDermott</strong> shows promise.<br /> <br /> The Bulls don’t give many layups and aren’t the kind of team to intimidate easily.<br /> <br /> Blatt played down any potential rivalry, saying, “It’s no big thing. Obviously it’s just an exhibition game, but certainly a good-level game for fans to see. We had a good crowd here in Columbus and people got their money’s worth. And both teams played hard and played pretty well.<br /> <br /> However, his players understand what’s brewing.<br /> <br /> James said during the shootaround prior to the game that the Bulls are the advanced team in terms of chemistry and are an immediate contender for the title.<br /> <br /> Love, who left a loaded Western Conference to come to Ohio, also is impressed.<br /> <br /> “They are a good team in this conference,” he told me. “They’re going to be right up there with the best teams in the East. We’re going to have to battle with them four times this year and potentially in the playoffs.”<br /> <br /> Love and Thompson are 6-10, Varejao is 6-11 and the team added 7-0 <strong>Brendan Haywood</strong>, presumably to keep up with Chicago’s size.<br /> <br /> “They have a big team, we have a big team, and it’ll be interesting to see how we face each other,” Gasol told me.<br /> <br /> Love knows he could have to contend with both Noah and Gasol in a long playoff series, which is an unsettling thought.<br /> <br /> “And when you add in a guy like Taj Gibson, who I’ve battled with for a long time, that’s no slouch either,” he said. “He’s a guy I respect. The way he plays defensively, he’s a great player. They definitely get our attention.”<br /> <br /> In short, this was no normal preseason game. The level of play and intensity was closer to midseason than anything. When it all gets ratcheted up in the postseason, look out.<br /> <br /> “Both teams wanted to come out and compete, and that’s what we did,” Irving said.<br /> <br /> James, of course, provides the ultimate advantage and has major takeover ability. But he’s on a mission to bring a trophy to Cleveland, not win another scoring title. During the course of the season he will facilitate for the sake of developing the team.<br /> <br /> Love’s numbers my not be quite as lofty. He’ll still explode from time to time, though, the way <strong>Chris Bosh</strong> did with James on the Heat. Irving is set up for a big season – think <strong>Dwyane Wade</strong> in his prime.<br /> <br /> But having a threesome like that can bring out the best in others, especially other stars. Rose certainly was on a mission. He popped for 20 points in the first half and finished with a game-high 30 – in 24 minutes.<br /> <br /> “I’m used to playing with very good people and very good talent,” he said. “That’s all they've got on that team, is talent. When you play against them you know you’ve got to come out here and ball.”<br /> <br /> Said Blatt, “As a basketball person, it’s great to see him back. He means something to this league. It’s good for the NBA. I don’t know if it’s good for us.”<br /> <br /> The Cavs are built to win big now. Veteran forwards <strong>Mike Miller</strong> and <strong>Shawn Marion</strong>, for example, will become even more valuable in the playoffs.<br /> <br /> “We’re not the Big Three,” James said. “We’re a team.”<br /> <br /> Still, the Bulls are not ready ready to bow in reverence just yet.<br /> <br /> “They have a lot of depth, they have high-quality players, they’re a very versatile team,” Gasol said, “but I like my team better.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-21/Rapp_Around_Bulls_Not_Ready_To_Bow.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-21/Rapp_Around_Bulls_Not_Ready_To_Bow.aspx 483770e2-fc9f-41d8-a9d4-5998f2e961da Tue, 21 Oct 2014 16:24:54 GMT Nearing Championship Form One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about the sport of football is how much the outlook can change in the course of a few weeks or even one week.<br /> <br /> We are seeing that again.<br /> <br /> Ohio State still has some work to do – in fact, the No. 13 Buckeyes did not even move up in The Associated Press poll that was released on Sunday – but they certainly have looked the part of a top-10 team lately.<br /> <br /> That was especially true during Saturday’s homecoming win over Rutgers – a 56-17 beatdown before a crowd of 106,795 at Ohio Stadium.<br /> <br /> By halftime the writing was on the wall. OSU (5-1, 2-0) had grip of a 35-7 lead while holding the Scarlet Knights (5-2, 1-2) to 34 rushing yards on 19 carries and a 2-for-8 showing on third down.<br /> <br /> Ohio State quarterback <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong>, who connected on his first nine passing attempts, was 11 of 14 at the break for 147 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions and no sacks. The offensive line was doing what it wanted, the Buckeyes were taking care of the ball and not allowing RU to keep possession.<br /> <br /> OSU was 3 for 3 in the red zone and had added another defensive touchdown when New Jersey native <strong>Eli Apple</strong> scooped up a fumble and jogged 4 tidy yards to the end zone.<br /> <br /> In Ohio State’s first-ever game with Big Ten newcomer Maryland two weeks prior, the Buckeyes picked off four passes, logged a defensive TD and nearly did it again before <strong>Doran Grant</strong> stepped out of bounds at the Terrapins’ 3.<br /> <br /> In OSU’s first-ever meeting with Rutgers, the other new kid on the Big Ten block, the Buckeyes showed even more killer instinct, were even more dominant in the trenches, and offered even more hope for an undefeated run through the remainder of the schedule.<br /> <br /> Here are a few reasons for heavy optimism:<br /> <br /> <strong>J.T. The Unstoppable –</strong> Barrett came into the game leading the conference in total offense at 326.0 yards per game. He was even better than that sensational average with 261 yards rushing (three TDs, no picks) and a game-high 107 yards rushing with two more scores on just seven carries.<br /> <br /> His TD 33-yard scamper up the gut of the defense early in the third quarter was the longest run from scrimmage by a Buckeye all season and effectively quashed any chance at Rutgers getting back into the game.<br /> <br /> By accounting for at least four touchdowns in four straight games Barrett has the best such streak in the country. He also remains extremely efficient and resourceful.<br /> <br /> The redshirt freshman hit his first five passes to five different receivers.<br /> <br /> “That’s great for us,” starting tailback <strong>Ezekiel Elliott </strong>said. “We have a lot of playmakers in the offense so it gives us juice in the huddle and it will help us the rest of the year. That’s when we’re at our best.”<br /> <br /> “That really helps us start fast,” H-back <strong>Jalin Marshall</strong> said. “For him to complete five passes in a row to five different guys, that makes us feel better. We know J.T. is going to throw to the open guy and involve everyone.”<br /> <br /> In short, Barrett was in complete control and perplexed Rutgers all afternoon.<br /> <br /> “He’s very good,” RU linebacker <strong>Kevin Snyder</strong> said in the visiting locker room.<br /> <br /> “I don’t think there’s any part of his game that isn’t elite at this point, and the way that they run their offense allows him to move, to move the pocket and scramble a little bit, run the ball some, which really opens up the pass game for him. He does a great job. Even when they spread us out and we had our opportunities, but he’s such a great athlete, that it’s tough to get him on the ground.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Weekly Explosion –</strong> Rutgers came into the game among the most efficient passing teams in the country. Big plays have been aplenty and the offense also had been maintaining possession well, averaging 31:20 minutes a game.<br /> <br /> That was supposed to give the visitors a chance to keep Barrett and company off the field and perhaps keep RU in the game. The only problem is the Scarlet Knights couldn’t keep up – on either side of the ball.<br /> <br /> “When you look at their offense, they have the ability to be a very physical running football team,” Rutgers head coach <strong>Kyle Flood</strong> said after the game, “but they also have a dual-threat quarterback who throws the ball well. So they force you to defend the width and the length of the field at all times. And as you’re doing that, they put you in one-on-ones. And if you don’t win those one-on-ones, they become big plays.”<br /> <br /> Offensive coordinator <strong>Ralph Friedgen</strong>, the former head coach at Maryland, couldn’t come up with enough to plays to match the OSU offense.<br /> <br /> “They’ve got a football team and they’ve got a lot of good players,” Friedgen told me after the game. “We didn’t play nearly as well as they did and that’s the difference in the game.”<br /> <br /> Rutgers still could have a solid season and be the surprise team of the Big Ten, but it certainly couldn’t handle OSU’s balance, depth or athleticism. The Knights will have good company. As long as Ohio State avoids turnovers and finishes off drives, there may be just one team in the conference that can match up – Michigan State.<br /> <br /> But that monumental test is still a few weeks away. As it is, OSU now has scored 50-plus points in four straight games, which happens to be a program first.<br /> <br /> The play of the offense has been so impressive that the Buckeyes now are considered a legitimate contender for the first-ever College Football Playoff – and pot of gold that looked very far off after OSU’s home-opening loss to Virginia Tech.<br /> <br /> <strong>Developing On Defense – </strong>The Buckeyes also made important strides on the defensive side of the ball in their quest to find championship form.<br /> <br /> OSU held the Knights to 345 yards of total offense (82 below their average) and 19 first downs – and many of those came after grabbing a 49-7 lead.<br /> <br /> Wide receiver <strong>Leonte Carroo</strong> had five catches for 100 yards but no other RU player had much to show for the effort. Senior quarterback <strong>Gary Nova</strong>, who torched Michigan for 404 passing yards and three TDs in the his previous game, didn’t have much fun during his first trip to Columbus.<br /> <br /> Nova was 17 of 28 passing for 192 yards and failed to throw a touchdown. He was picked off once when Grant victimized him in the end zone. <br /> <br /> “I knew it was a possible route between that and the slant, so basically I just read the play right away and it worked out,” Grant said.<br /> <br /> Nova also was sacked four times. In fact, the Buckeyes brought pressure all day, coming from several different angles to harass Nova.<br /> <br /> Defensive end <strong>Joey Bosa</strong> had a pair of sacks while his linemate, <strong>Steve Miller</strong>, also had two tackles-for-loss.<br /> <br /> “The game plan basically was to play football,” Miller said. “Let’s line up and go get him. We tried to stop the zone (run) and then when he passed we attacked the quarterback.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes blitzed their linebackers more frequently than any other game this season. <strong>Josh Perry</strong> logged two QB hurries and <strong>Darron Lee</strong> had a crowd-pleasing sack, slamming Nova for an 11-yard loss.<br /> <br /> “We knew we had to bring pressure and stop their run,” Lee said. “We knew we had to execute.”<br /> <br /> Head coach Urban Meyer challenged the defense repeatedly during the off week and was pleased with the results.<br /> <br /> “You can take the first half, and that’s a credit to our defense,” Meyer said. “They took a team that threw for 400-plus yards against our rivals and really played well, creating turnovers once again and getting the ball to the offense rather quickly.<br /> <br /> Grant said having two weeks of preparation helped but he sensed the defense was primed for a building performance anyway.<br /> <br /> “I think we’re just getting better,” he said. “Of course, extra practice always is going to be great for anybody. So every week we keep preparing – trust your coaches and trust your training.”<br /> <br /> Grant had a game-high seven tackles – all in the first half.<br /> <br /> “It feels like I am more involved,” he said. “I’m just working to get to the ball.”<br /> <br /> Freshman linebacker <strong>Raekwon McMillan</strong> had five tackles including a stop on three straight plays early in the game. He subbed in early for co-captain <strong>Curtis Grant</strong>. Backup OLB <strong>Chris Worley</strong> also saw early action.<br /> <br /> Other Buckeye defenders who shuttled into the game in the first half include tackles <strong>Tommy Schutt</strong> and <strong>Donovan Munger</strong>, ends <strong>Tyquan Lewis </strong>and <strong>Rashad Frazier</strong>, safety <strong>Cam Burrows</strong>, and cornerback <strong>Gareon Conley</strong>.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-19/Nearing_Championship_Form.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-19/Nearing_Championship_Form.aspx b2ce2bde-00a9-491f-9a89-1c51987b4d8f Sun, 19 Oct 2014 05:03:00 GMT Hoopsters Like Their Outlook Mid-October signals the annual start of college basketball practice, but the truth is the 2014-15 season already is underway for Ohio State – sort of.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes actually were afforded eight early practices in preparation for a pair of exhibition games in the Bahamas in early August, thereby getting a head start on building a new team dynamic with several new faces.<br /> <br /> Two very familiar ones are gone. The backcourt will be without longtime starters <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> and <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> <br /> <br /> “It’s different,” senior swingman <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> told SportsRappUp.com. “Me, <strong>Trey</strong> (<strong>McDonald</strong>), <strong>Shannon</strong> (<strong>Scott</strong>) and <strong>Amir</strong> (<strong>Williams</strong>), we’ve all seen them from day one. But they’ve left a good legacy here, and they’ve really instilled in us a certain work ethic and a certain respect for the program that I think will continue on.”<br /> <br /> Craft left as the Big Ten’s all-time steals leader and one of the conferences all-time winners and defensive pests. Smith was a complementary left-handed wing who also brought toughness on both ends of the court.<br /> <br /> Also departed is 6-8 forward <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong>, who led the team in scoring and rebounding last season with respective per-game averages of 15.2 and 5.9. Smith averaged 11.0 ppg and 5.1 rpg last season while Craft was at 9.8 ppg and led the team in minutes (34.4), assists (4.7) and steals (2.5) per game.<br /> <br /> Reserve guard <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong> has returned to his native Italy but head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> has four seniors and program veterans in Thompson, Scott, Williams and McDonald; a senior transfer in the form of power forward <strong>Anthony Lee</strong>; sophomore forward <strong>Marc Loving</strong>; redshirt freshman guard <strong>Kameron Williams</strong>; and four true freshmen – guard <strong>D’Angelo Russell</strong>, forward <strong>Jae’Sean Tate</strong>, combo forward <strong>Keita Bates-Diop</strong>, and center <strong>David Bell</strong>. There’s even a player in wait as 6-11 center <strong>Trevor Thompson</strong> has to sit out the campaign after transferring from Virginia Tech.<br /> <br /> “It is a little bit of a unique mix,” said Matta, “but they have an obligation to us to adjust to what we’re doing and figure out as quick as they can.<br /> <br /> “The good thing is I think that we’ve added guys that are great kids, that have good morals, good values in terms of understanding how we want to do things. And that helps the situation and helps guys get along a lot better.”<br /> <br /> At the team’s Photo Day at the beginning of October, several players spoke very positively about the team chemistry, which was groomed on the Bahamas trip. For the most part, the newcomers have taken well to the vets.<br /> <br /> “They’ve been great,” Scott said. “We have a lot of athleticism and length with the new guys and our camaraderie is great. They’re going to be a huge part of what we do and what we are.”<br /> <br /> Still, the frosh are in for a major adjustment.<br /> <br /> “The mental aspect is without a doubt the biggest thing,” said Thompson, the team’s leading returning scorer at 7.9 ppg last season. “In high school, you’re bigger, stronger, faster than everybody else. You could roll out of bed and score 20 if you wanted to.<br /> <br /> “The truth is I really couldn’t shoot at all when I got here. So you’ve got to work on your game and figure out your role. But I’m confident all these guys will do that.”<br /> <br /> Matta, of course, has had young teams before and still managed to be very successful with them in his previous 14 years as a college head coach. But he does admit he has a lot to discern with his current players.<br /> <br /> “We’re going to practice a certain way and probably have to teach them the way we want to practice,” he said. “It could be a team where there’s a lot more film individually being shown. But we don’t want to deviate in terms of how we practice, how we do things.<br /> <br /> “As far as the scoring and all that, I think you’re looking at more at a collection of guys.”<br /> <br /> One player who could jump right onto that radar is Kam Williams, who sat out last year after getting sick in training camp and falling behind. He showed lots of skill and promise in practice last year and scored 10 points in OSU’s first exhibition game in the Caribbean.<br /> <br /> “He’s a terrific scorer,” Scott said. “He had some great practices for us last year and he’s playing really well right now. He could come in and do a lot for us.”<br /> <br /> Ditto for Russell, who will have to learn to play off the ball more efficiently but oozes talent and a natural left hand to score the ball.<br /> <br /> Bates-Diop can shoot threes and play in the high post. He, too, should receive regular minutes in the rotation.<br /> <br /> Also, Tate is a high-energy wing who may be too valuable to keep on the bench despite his 6-4 frame and developing shot.<br /> <br /> McDonald said he was stunned to how willing Tate was to go after loose balls, compete and defend, big guys included.<br /> <br /> “He’s a really competitive guy,” the 6-8 McDonald said. “That’s what sticks out. He plays so hard out there. It’s impressive, to be honest.”<br /> <br /> Tate, Russell and KBD are all post options according to Matta. Bell is expected to redshirt, although Matta said the young center has practiced effectively and has been a pleasant surprise thus far.<br /> <br /> <strong>Taking Over Inside</strong><br /> <br /> Perhaps the biggest reason why the Buckeyes believe they can be the surprise of the Big Ten is the addition of Lee, a 6-9, 230-pound force who led the American Athletic Conference in rebounding last season at Temple.<br /> <br /> “He just goes and gets the ball,” McDonald said. “He finds a way to find it. He has a knack for it. It’s positioning, boxing out, the little things. He just does it.”<br /> <br /> Added Thompson, “He’s a big that’s very active, very athletic, strong, can finish around the rim. He does a lot on the basketball court. It’s going to be huge for our basketball team.”<br /> <br /> Lee said he concentrates mostly on positioning for rebounding and defense and lets his offense flow out of his hustle.<br /> <br /> “I bring a <strong>Dennis Rodman</strong> type of mentality, which will give more possessions to our team,” he said. “It’s basically just desire, wanting the ball, being quick to it, and knowing the benefits of rebounding. It helps your team, it helps you individually, and it helps bring wins.”<br /> <br /> Lee still needs some polish – he’s an average free-throw shooter at best and is a little mechanical in the post – but he’s a sure bet to start and play more minutes than any other Buckeye frontliner this season. Even though he’s very familiar with major college basketball, Lee has a wide-eyed appreciation of his new environment – and teammates.<br /> <br /> “The adjustment has been good,” he said. “They’ve taken me in very well. We’ve all become a tight-knit group so far, and I really think it’s great to see how a group of guys can really come together in such a short period of time.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Some Proving To Do</strong><br /> <br /> OSU has some light touches in the preconference schedule but will host Marquette on Nov. 18 and has December run-ins with Louisville and North Carolina. The Buckeyes also should be well-motivated for Christmastime contests with Miami (Ohio) and Wright State, especially considering how last season ended.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes won 25 games in 2013-14 but never really contended for the Big Ten crown and lost their opening NCAA Tournament game to, of all teams, the University of Dayton.<br /> <br /> That 60-59 loss to UD in Buffalo on March 20 still haunts. Thompson, for example, hasn’t had the temerity to watch a replay of it.<br /> <br /> “That’s really what’s been driving us this offseason,” he said. “We don’t want another repeat of last year. We don’t want to lose the close games that we feel we should win. We want to take care of business this year.<br /> <br /> “Whether we’re ranked where we’re ranked or we’re top-five in the country, which we’ve been, we still have to work as hard and still have to play the game. We don’t worry what the public thinks about us. We still have to go out and do what we need to do, and everything will take care of itself.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-15/Hoopsters_Like_Their_Outlook.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-15/Hoopsters_Like_Their_Outlook.aspx a2c40abe-78a1-4860-83a2-aab277ac4a30 Thu, 16 Oct 2014 00:12:17 GMT Time To Get Back To Work So the station breaks are out of the way.<br /> <br /> Ohio State still hasn’t reached the midway point of the regular season – that will come at some point Saturday after the No. 13 Buckeyes host Rutgers (3:30 p.m. Eastern, ABC) – but <strong>Urban Meyer</strong>’s team has been through plenty, including a pair of open weeks.<br /> <br /> After sitting out last weekend, the Buckeyes (4-1, 1-0) inched up a couple spots in The Associated Press poll as teams such as Arizona, Texas A&amp;M, UCLA and LSU all suffered defeat. Rutgers (5-1, 1-1) is coming off a student body-pleasing win over Michigan and also is extra rested.<br /> <br /> Ohio State probably was less glad to see to break in the schedule, though, since the team has responded to the Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech with rousing wins over Kent State, Cincinnati and Maryland – scoring 66, 50 and 52 points, respectively, in the process.<br /> <br /> Playing in their first home game this month, the Buckeyes will head into the contest with the Scarlet Knights ranked in the top three in the conference in pass efficiency (183.5, 1st), first downs (28.4 per game, 1st), third-down conversions (48.4 percent, 1st), total offense (523.6 yards per game, 2nd), scoring offense (44.6 points per game, 2nd), and passing offense (276.6 ypg, 3rd).<br /> <br /> OSU’s scoring average actually ranks fifth nationally and the yards=per-game figure – aided by a 710-yard output vs. UC – is 12th overall.<br /> <br /> On Monday, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach <strong>Tom Herman</strong> was asked to react to the eye-opening production, which has come with redshirt freshman quarterback <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> at the helm instead of two-time Big Ten MVP <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>, who is out with an injured shoulder.<br /> <br /> “I don’t know that surprised is the right word,” Herman said. “I don’t think anytime you do well offensively you say that the emotion is surprised. I think you expect to do well offensively no matter what the circumstances are.<br /> <br /> “But I’m pleased with the progress that we’ve made with a lot of the inexperienced guys that we do have and I’m happy with the trajectory that we’re on. But I think the expectation is to always do well.”<br /> <br /> Of the 24 listed OSU starters on each side of the ball, including specialists <strong>Sean Nuernberger</strong> and <strong>Cameron Johnston</strong>, 13 are freshmen and sophomores. Ohio State also features the second-least experienced offensive line in the country behind only the front five of Tennessee.<br /> <br /> With unproven players up front and under center, teams have continued to dare Barrett to throw the ball – and have been continually burned. Barrett leads the conference in total offense with 326.0 yards per game and has dispersed the football with aplomb and accuracy.<br /> <br /> So far this season, the second-year player has connected on 88 of 133 pass attempts (66.2 percent) for 1,354 yards 17 touchdowns and five interceptions.<br /> <br /> “I don’t know what the reason is; I don’t know the thought process behind it,” Herman said of the aggressive fronts OSU has faced. “I do know we’re a lot better at throwing the football now than we were in week one or week two. So, if teams continue to do that, there is no hesitation on our part to throw the football and hopefully make them pay for having that philosophy.”<br /> <br /> Still, the Ohio State coaches are far from satisfied, of course. Herman said he sees players lose their focus and abandon technique at times. Meyer lamented his team’s red-zone efficiency of 68 percent, well below that of the previous two seasons.<br /> <br /> Barrett has been a solid No. 2 rushing option with 276 yards on the ground compared to 462 by tailback <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong>, who is averaging 5.8 yards per pop. Still, the Buckeyes are glad to welcome back freshman <strong>Curtis Samuel</strong>, who also appears to have a role in the run game.<br /> <br /> The line also needs to keep improving, although the signs there have been very positive of late.<br /> <br /> “The thing I was the happiest about – I think I said it after the Cincinnati game – <strong>Taylor Decker</strong> probably played his nastiest game as a Buckeye,” Herman said. “And I think the three inside guys have kind of always had that nastiness to them. And then <strong>Darryl Baldwin</strong> continues to develop that as well.<br /> <br /> “So, they’re getting there. They kind of see, over the last couple of weeks, ‘Hey, we can be pretty good.’ They’ve developed a little bit of confidence.”<br /> <br /> The line will be challenged to put together another solid outing vs. Rutgers, which has compiled 24 sacks this season and has an elaborate third-down package to combat obvious pass plays.<br /> <br /> “On first and second down, they’re getting their sacks because their front four is very active; quick hands, quick feet,” Herman said. “And then on third down, it’s a lot of confusion.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Meanwhile, On Defense …</strong><br /> <br /> While the offense figures to be a headache for a Rutgers defense that is allowing nearly 400 yards per game, the OSU defense hopes to build off a performance at Maryland that included four takeaways, three sacks and an exclamation-point touchdown by freshman linebacker <strong>Raekwon McMillan</strong>.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes are tied for first in the Big Ten in first downs allowed per game (17.0) and interceptions (nine) and are second in pass defense (178.8 yards allowed per game).<br /> <br /> Starting spots are now set, pass coverage has settled a bit and the ballyhooed defensive line is beginning to create havoc.<br /> <br /> “So far, we’re progressing nicely,” first-year defensive coordinator <strong>Chris Ash</strong> said. “We’re getting more and more different looks and different types of rushes that we can show on, and I think we’ve been pretty productive with that in the last couple games. Overall, on third down I think we’ve been decent and I like the direction we’re headed.”<br /> <br /> Defensive end <strong>Joey Bosa</strong> continues to be a force while the linebackers are showing consistent hustle. In the secondary, the Buckeyes believe they have the talent to hold up.<br /> <br /> Plus, the defense is beginning to play with an attitude, which, strong safety <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong> said is partly fueled by the fact that Ohio State is not in the current national championship discussion.<br /> <br /> “Honestly, that makes me angry,” said Powell, who ranks fourth on the team with 27 tackles.<br /> <br /> Rutgers hasn’t been nearly as balanced offensively as OSU to this point, but the Scarlet Knights still cause problems at times with a decent rushing attack and a play-action pass game. Offensive coordinator <strong>Ralph Friedgen</strong> employs somewhat of a pro-style offense with two backs and at least one tight end.<br /> <br /> “Obviously, it’s more of my type of game – fullbacks and staying inside the box,” OSU middle LB <strong>Curtis Grant</strong> said. “Running to go fit gaps is a lot easier than trying to carry a speed receiver at the No. 3 spot.”<br /> <br /> Still, Grant and his cohorts in the middle of the defense are going to have to drop back into coverage at the correct times or get to QB <strong>Gary Nova</strong>, who is coming off a 400-yard passing outing against Michigan.<br /> <br /> “He’s a good athlete,” Grant said. “He can run and he can hit you with the pass, too. You’ve got to play him. You can’t take him for granted and just drop back in coverage and not think he’s going to run because he can make the first-down play.<br /> <br /> “And he can throw the ball very well. Our pass coverage is going to have to be very good this week.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-13/Time_To_Get_Back_To_Work.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-13/Time_To_Get_Back_To_Work.aspx 81d92f3e-759f-4ee3-a993-f528447627b1 Mon, 13 Oct 2014 21:55:49 GMT Get Ready: Brutus Vs. Sparty Let’s go ahead and get way ahead of ourselves, shall we?<br /> <br /> Ohio State passed it’s first real road test of the season and also won its Big Ten opener with an impressive 52-24 destruction of Maryland in College Park on Saturday afternoon.<br /> <br /> Redshirt freshman <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> continued to impersonate a standout, veteran quarterback and the defense, while still in need of some tweaking, came up with backbreaking takeaways in the second half. The Buckeyes (4-1, 1-0) beat the best special teams units in the conference at their own game and again displayed uncanny balance offensively.<br /> <br /> Later that night, Michigan State made a statement of its own with a 27-22 win over Nebraska in East Lansing in the only Big Ten game matching ranked teams and the only one that could for a while. The Spartans (4-1, 1-0) didn’t close well but got their defensive mojo back and beat the Cornhuskers in all phases.<br /> <br /> MSU, which lost at Oregon the same evening OSU lost a home game to Virginia Tech, appears to be back on track and still is in position to chase down a spot in the first-ever, four-team College Football Playoff.<br /> <br /> In fact, Michigan State jumped up two spots in The Associated Press poll to No. 8 while Ohio State sprang up five places to No. 15.<br /> <br /> You may already know those two teams are going to clash at Spartan Stadium on Nov. 8 on national television. What you may not realize is that this is shaping up to be THE marquee game in the conference this season and perhaps <strong>Jim Delany</strong>’s only hope to stump for a Big Ten team to be included in the national championship discussion.<br /> <br /> Is it too early to have this kind of outlook? Of course it is. OSU and MSU were the only Big Ten teams yet to play a conference game heading into the first weekend in October and, well, it’s early October. Plus, it’s already proven that each team is beatable.<br /> <br /> On the other hand, considering the way the Spartans and Buckeyes are now playing and perusing the upcoming schedules, it’s clear to see their trains are likely to keep rolling until they crash into each other in a month.<br /> <br /> <strong>Urban Meyer</strong>’s Buckeyes will enjoy their second open week with no game on Saturday and finally will be back at home when they face Rutgers on Oct. 18. After that is a very important trip to Penn State and yet another night game on Nov. 1 vs. Illinois.<br /> <br /> OSU will be favored in all those games and should be able to handle Rutgers and Penn State if the secondary can improve – or if Barrett and the offense continue at the same torrid pace.<br /> <br /> Michigan State, meanwhile, has very winnable back-to-back road games against Purdue (Oct. 11) and Indiana (Oct. 18) before coming home to face rivals Michigan (Oct. 25) and, after a week off, Ohio State.<br /> <br /> The defending Rose Bowl champion, Michigan State gets its West Division games out of the way and then faces a six-game gauntlet of East Division foes. However, it’s hard to imagine the Spartans having much difficulty before facing Ohio State and wins in the games afterward look attainable, too – at Maryland (Nov. 15), Rutgers (Nov. 22) and at Penn State (Nov. 29).<br /> <br /> Meyer won his first-ever league game as a Big Ten coach when he OSU survived at Spartan Stadium in 2012 by the count of 17-16. Of course, MSU coach <strong>Mark Dantonio</strong> got major revenge last year in the Big Ten Championship Game with a 34-24 victory.<br /> <br /> Last year, Ohio State led the Big Ten in most offensive categories such as per-game averages in scoring (45.5 points), rushing yards (308.6 yards) and total yards (511.9). MSU was tops in every major defensive category, most notably in points allowed (13.2) and rushing defense (86.6).<br /> <br /> Several of the key figures in those units have changed but the teams still match up intriguingly. It’s arguable right now that Michigan State and Ohio State have the two best coaches, quarterbacks, defensive lines and special teams in the league. They even have the best two punters as MSU’s <strong>Mike Sadler</strong> and OSU’s <strong>Cameron Johnston</strong> are living up to preseason All-American mention.<br /> <br /> It’s even possible that after Michigan State one could say Ohio State has the best collection of talent in its defensive backfield. Granted, the Buckeyes need to keep improving in the back of the defense but the ability is there.<br /> <br /> MSU’s team strengths are evening out wth QB <strong>Connor Cook</strong> and wide receiver <strong>Tony Lippett</strong> coming into stardom while Ohio State has some young studs on defense in <strong>Joey Bosa</strong> and <strong>Raekwon McMillan</strong>.<br /> <br /> And given the head-scratching developments in Ann Arbor this season, it’s becoming clear that Michigan State-Ohio State is gaining in stature and importance.<br /> <br /> Will the winner of their Nov. 8 meeting win the East Division of the Big Ten. Almost certainly.<br /> <br /> And could a win-out scenario lead to big things for either team? Entirely possible.<br /> <br /> No. 1 Florida State and No. 6 Notre Dame will meet on Oct. 18. No. 2 Auburn still faces five teams that are currently ranked in the top 15. In fact, all the SEC teams sitting above Ohio State have multiple games against elite teams remaining.<br /> <br /> Baylor has to go to West Virginia and Oklahoma, Arizona still has to traverse through the Pac-12, and on and on it goes.<br /> <br /> Somehow the Big Ten can be relevant through it all. But likely only when Ohio State travels to Michigan State – until we get to December anyway.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-07/Get_Ready_Brutus_Vs_Sparty.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-07/Get_Ready_Brutus_Vs_Sparty.aspx 3cd665dd-323e-4bfa-8cbc-a970e4807132 Tue, 07 Oct 2014 22:31:25 GMT Big Ten Opener, Splashy Results On a crisp autumn Saturday that signaled the universal start of conference play, the Big Ten wasn’t about to measure up to the SEC – again.<br /> <br /> After all, the Southeastern Conference had three showcase games involving ranked teams including Auburn-LSU, Alabama-Ole Miss and Texas A&amp;M-Mississippi State while the Big Ten had only one affair that was primetime worthy in Nebraska-Michigan State.<br /> <br /> However, there was still a decent amount of intrigue with the league schedule, especially involving games with Big Ten newbies Maryland and Rutgers. As fate would have it, each was at home Saturday facing a traditional Midwest power – Rutgers hosting Michigan and Maryland welcoming Ohio State.<br /> <br /> While many peered down into New Jersey because the visiting Wolverines are such a train wreck, the OSU-Maryland matchup also had some juice given the circumstances.<br /> <br /> The Terrapins entered their first-ever Big Ten home game off their first-ever Big Ten win – a convincing defeat of Indiana – and played before a sellout crowd at Byrd Stadium for the first time since 2008.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes, meanwhile, were coming off consecutive offensive explosions in a 66-0 whitewashing of Kent State and a 50-28 win over Cincinnati that featured 45 first downs (a school record) and 710 yards of total offense (nearly a school record).<br /> <br /> That trend continued, and Maryland’s bubble was burst in the first-ever matchup between the two schools. Ohio State gained control of the contest by mid-afternoon, scored early and often, and churned out a 52-24 victory in College Park.<br /> <br /> Redshirt freshman <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong>, already a multiple winner of the Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors this season, is now worthy of being mentioned with the elite signal callers in the conference. He again spread the wealth, this time connecting with nine different receivers, and was an efficient 18 of 23 for 267 yards and four touchdown tosses. He added another 71 yards on the ground and another score.<br /> <br /> With Barrett again on his game and the Buckeyes (4-1, 1-0) hanging onto the football – they recovered their own fumble in the red zone and Barrett had one pass that was nearly picked by Maryland linebacker <strong>Cole Farrand</strong> – OSU’s fate was never really in doubt.<br /> <br /> <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> calmly presided over the win as Ohio State racked up 533 yards and 26 first downs, again easily covering a couple defensive wounds. In fact, the only real moment of strife for the offense, if it even counts, was when freshman placekicker <strong>Sean Nuernberger</strong> pushed a 48-yard field-goal attempt moments into the second quarter.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes led 14-3 at the time but their dominance would continue. On subsequent drives, Barrett found <strong>Michael Thomas</strong> in the back of the end zone for a score and Nuernberger added a 28-yard field goal for a 24-3 lead. Thomas’ catch was an impressive leaping grab through contact, which he finished by athletically getting both feet in bounds.<br /> <br /> Maryland (4-2, 1-1) showed some life with an answer touchdown and a defensive stop late in the first half. Down 24-10 and assured of having the ball first in the second half, the Terps still pushed the envelope – and the envelope tore in half.<br /> <br /> Linebacker <strong>Darron Lee</strong> intercepted quarterback <strong>C.J. Brown</strong> with 1:12 left, spelling disaster for the home team. Lee fumbled during the return but freshman <strong>Raekwon McMillan</strong> – remember the name – scooped the ball and nearly scored, taking it to the 1. Showing confidence in Barrett, offensive coordinator <strong>Tom Herman</strong> called for the youngster to drop back on first down. On cue, he threw a strike to tight end <strong>Nick Vannett</strong> to provide a 31-10 lead at the break.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes cruised from there and even went to a modest ground game with backup QB <strong>Cardale Jones</strong> in with a chance to up the point total to 59.<br /> <br /> The buildup to this game suggested a potentially daunting task for Ohio State. It turned out to be nothing of the sort.<br /> <br /> Once again, we take a look at the pregame questions that were raised heading into this crucial Big Ten opener for the Buckeyes and the results.<br /> <br /> Here goes:<br /> <br /> <strong>1. Will special teams play a vital role?</strong><br /> <br /> Sort of, but not the way the Terps had hoped.<br /> <br /> Maryland entered play tops in the Big Ten in the major ST categories such as placekicking, kickoff returns and punt returns. <strong>William Likely</strong>, a 5-7 waterbug, had been particularly dangerous on punt returns and <strong>Stefon Diggs</strong> was among the nation’s best kick returners.<br /> <br /> Also, kicker <strong>Brad Craddock</strong> has been close to automatic on placements and it is worth noting that the Terrapins already have blocked three kicks this season.<br /> <br /> On the flip side, the Buckeyes fared better than any league team at covering kickoffs in their first four games but certainly were challenged to slow down Diggs and company. Still, that’s exactly what they did.<br /> <br /> Diggs had just three returns with a long of 19 yards and Likely wasn’t able to return either of <strong>Cameron Johnston</strong>’s punts. Johnston’s 69-yard blast rolled to the Maryland 7 with 1:24 left in the half, setting up the fateful Brown interception.<br /> <br /> Craddock fired the first special-teams blow with an impressive 57-yard field goal. That improved him to 11-for-11 on three-pointers for the season and stretched his string of consecutive makes to 17.<br /> <br /> Still, the Buckeyes won the overall battle here. In fact, at one point OSU’s <strong>Dontre Wilson</strong> grabbed a 32-yard punt by <strong>Nathan Renfro</strong> into the wind and returned it 32 yards to the Maryland 29. That’s a turnover – or at least it is in terms of result.<br /> <br /> <strong>2. Will Ezekiel Elliott have another banner day and provide balance for the OSU offense?</strong><br /> <br /> It was quieter this time but Elliott was still very good, finding holes and creating yards after initial contact. One week after taking 28 handoffs against UC and turning them into 182 yards, Elliott logged 24 attempts for 139 yards, an average of 5.8 per carry.<br /> <br /> With Elliott running hard and effectively again and with Barrett also making connections via the air, Maryland was virtually unable to come up with defensive stops.<br /> <br /> <strong>3. Can the offensive line take control?</strong><br /> <br /> Yes. This group continues to emerge. Barrett ran through some rather large holes on several of his keepers and his protection was sturdy again. The Terps did get to Barrett a handful of times but a couple of those were on Barrett for not feeling pressure and holding onto the ball too long.<br /> <br /> Also, the run-pass ratio was virtually identical in the first quarter and that balance continued all day. At the game’s conclusion, OSU amassed 269 yards rushing and 264 passing. That is a reflection on the play up front.<br /> <br /> <strong>4. Will the Ohio State secondary be able to slow down Stefon Diggs and Deon Long?<br /> <br /> </strong>Amazingly, yes.<br /> <br /> One week after looking like lost lambs against the Bearcats, the secondary came to play and held down one of the most explosive tandems in the Big Ten.<br /> <br /> Long had six catches and Diggs had seven but neither had a catch of 20 or more yards or an average per reception that reached double figures. That’s significant given their big-play ability and knack for turning short tosses into long gainers.<br /> <br /> A onetime priority recruit of the Buckeyes, Diggs scored a touchdown, but that didn’t come until the fourth quarter with the Buckeyes up by four TDs.<br /> <br /> Meyer said there is more work to do in the defensive backfield and declared after the win, “That’s not a championship-level defense.”<br /> <br /> Still, the coaches should be decently encouraged.<br /> <br /> At halftime, OSU held a yardage advantage of 289 to 104 and essentially knocked Brown out of the game with Lee’s backbreaking pick. Maryland coach <strong>Randy Edsall</strong> went with <strong>Caleb Rowe</strong> under center in the second half and OSU victimized the junior by picking him off three times. One by <strong>Doran Grant</strong> set up a short touchdown. Another led directly to a 19-yard TD return by McMillan that closed the scoring.<br /> <br /> <strong>5. How will Edsall utilize his quarterbacks and can the Buckeyes affect them with physicality and pressure?</strong><br /> <br /> Brown played with a sore shoulder and was rather ineffective, especially since he either was left out of the rushing game plan or was mostly unwilling to tuck and go. He did burn OSU with a run from the pocket on fourth down but ended up with minus-3 rushing yards on eight attempts and averaged just 3.9 yards per completion.<br /> <br /> Rowe finished 13 of 22 for 173 yards with most of those coming in garbage time.<br /> <br /> As it turned out, it was Ohio State who trotted out the better pair of QBs. Along with Barrett’s big day, Jones rushed for 50 yards including one carry where the 6-5, 250-pounder hurdled a defender.<br /> <br /> <strong>6. Are the Terrapins a legitimate contender in the Big Ten East?</strong><br /> <br /> It appears not. They clearly were out-athleted on this day.<br /> <br /> A win would have been earth-shaking for the Terrapins. A close loss would have been encouraging. Maryland still could get Iowa and Rutgers at home, and its fan base will be jacked for the contest at Penn State. Plus, the Terps could win at Michigan given the sorry state of affairs in Ann Arbor.<br /> <br /> But Maryland doesn’t have enough to trip up Michigan State, should have a very tough time at Wisconsin and certainly didn’t have enough resistance for the Buckeyes.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-04/Big_Ten_Opener_Splashy_Results.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-10-04/Big_Ten_Opener_Splashy_Results.aspx a5a70f54-587e-4282-adbe-baf40188e2f8 Sat, 04 Oct 2014 22:33:19 GMT Answering In The Affirmative Expectations for Saturday’s Ohio State-Cincinnati game probably depended upon preconceived notions.<br /> <br /> After all, Bearcats fans likely expected UC to be able to show off its polished passing game with <strong>Gunner Kiel</strong> slinging the ball to a multitude of receivers. They believed they were ready to show they belong on the same stage with a traditional power program, and that overvalued, in-state foe Ohio State would be the ideal combatant.<br /> <br /> Ohio State followers, on the other hand, reminded their upstart visitors that the No. 20 Buckeyes are ranked, rested, the home team, and haven’t lost to an in-state school in 93 years. They also had last saw their team when it destroyed Kent State, 66-0, two weeks ago – a game in which quarterback <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> tied a school record with six touchdown passes.<br /> <br /> The reality, it turned out, was that UC wasn’t ready to pull off an upset of this magnitude and the Buckeyes, while still clearly flawed in some areas, weren’t going to drop another nonconference dud under the lights.<br /> <br /> Ohio State allowed matters to get interesting – hey, is there any other script? – but pulled away with 17 unanswered points down the stretch and posted a 50-28 win. That moved OSU to 3-1 on the season entering Big Ten play while the Bearcats dropped to 2-1.<br /> <br /> Considering OSU was favored by 17, bolted to a 30-7 lead, allowed the score to tighten to 33-28 and won by 22, one could argue that the outcome was somewhere close to the line of the actual unbiased expectation. However, there were several pregame questions that were answered.<br /> <br /> I wrote down a few questions prior to the game and raised some of these on our WTVN (610 AM) pregame show. The following are those very questions and how they were addressed as the game unfolded:<br /> <br /> <strong>1. Will this game be a shootout and would that make the Buckeyes uncomfortable?</strong><br /> <br /> Well, an interesting reply developed here. Barrett and the Buckeyes certainly weren’t shy about throwing the football and managed to keep up with Kiel and Co.<br /> <br /> Barrett chucked 36 passes, completed 26, amassed 330 yards passing, tossed four TDs, was sacked just once and did not throw a pick. That’s a splendid day at the office. It’s also a noteworthy follow-up after becoming the first Ohio State QB since Troy Smith in 2006 to have a 300-yard day.<br /> <br /> Barrett’s accuracy was on display again, especially considering he had one sequence where three catchable balls hit receivers in the hands and none of them were caught.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes played fast, threw on first down, spread the ball to 10 different receivers, and burned UC with big plays in the air. Eight different Buckeyes had at least one catch of 15 yards or more. And when OSU had to step on the gas to separate from Cincinnati in the fourth quarter it was Barrett finding <strong>Dontre Wilson</strong> from 24 yards out and <strong>Devin Smith</strong> on a 34-yard pass that sealed the deal.<br /> <br /> However, it needs to be noted that the Buckeyes didn’t just match their visitors by throwing the ball. They also ran for 380 yards, a career-best 182 of them by sophomore <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong>.<br /> <br /> That adds up to 710 yards of total offense, which is just 8 yards shy of the school record.<br /> <br /> “The crazy part is we didn’t even play our best on offense,” tight end <strong>Jeff Heuerman</strong> said. “We left points out there. And we left yards out there, too. We punted, we gave up a fumble one time and kicked two field goals.<br /> <br /> “But it was obviously pretty impressive, looking at it.”<br /> <br /> Heuerman returned after sitting out the Ken State game and made his first reception of the season. In fact, he had three catches for 38 yards including a 24-yarder, which shows he is still in the passing game equation.<br /> <br /> However, as a tight end he’s also happy the Buckeyes averaged 5.8 yards per carry and were just as effective on the ground.<br /> <br /> “The biggest thing is the pass yards and the rush yards, the balance,” he said. “Having a balanced offense, it’s super hard to scheme against.<br /> <br /> “I think that’s what we were looking for, one of those running backs to just pop off. I think he did that tonight and it was special tonight. It was fun blocking for (Elliott).”<br /> <br /> Kiel was as advertised with 352 passing yards and four TDs. <strong>Chris Moore</strong> accounted for 221 of those yards on just three catches – all of them for scores. His 83-yard streak in the final seconds of the first half cut the OSU lead to 30-21 at the break and showed the Bearcats weren’t going to go away quietly.<br /> <br /> <strong>2. Will Ohio State get its offensive line settled?</strong><br /> <br /> Eventually. Both <strong>Pat Elflein</strong> and <strong>Billy Price</strong> rotated in at center behind starter <strong>Jacoby Boren</strong>. And former defensive linemen <strong>Chase Farris</strong> and <strong>Joel Hale</strong> played extended minutes up front – Farris in relief of <strong>Darryl Baldwin</strong> at right tackle and Hale at guard when Elflein or Price shifted to center.<br /> <br /> However, event though position coach <strong>Ed Warinner</strong> is still tinkering, there was much to praise about the overall effort of the offensive line as a whopping 710 yards and just one sack attest.<br /> <br /> “I think you saw tonight whoever came in played and played well,” left tackle <strong>Taylor Decker</strong> said. “I don’t think there was any kind of a let-up.”<br /> <br /> Added Warinner, “I think we’re improving. I think we’re starting to come to where we thought we could get. We’ve had back-to-back really good games up front. We’ve still got a long way to go but just the physicality and demeanor were very good.”<br /> <br /> Warinner is especially encouraged about the strides made by Farris, whom he dubbed a “sixth piece.”<br /> <br /> The line also is to be commended for holding up well on a day when the Buckeyes had an astounding 101 plays. That was a credit in large part to the group keeping up with the fast pace of the game and still managing to hold blocks and open up holes in the second half.<br /> <br /> “We practice like that,” Decker said. “We always do a lot of up-tempo. And we knew if we up-tempoed them they were going to get more tired than we were. They weren’t able to sub their guys out and I think that’s why we were able to move them later in the game.”<br /> <br /> Offensive coordinator <strong>Tom Herman</strong> liked the results of the quicker play.<br /> <br /> “There was certainly a conscious effort the last two weeks to play with a better pace,” he said. “We feel that we’ve got depth at the receiver position, depth at the tailback position that we can rotate guys in and not have them get blow out. But the only thing that matters is getting first downs. I mean, if you’re playing a really fast pace and you’re going three-and-out or five-and-out or whatever the case may be, you’re doing your team an injustice.”<br /> <br /> <strong>3. Will the Buckeyes be able to possess the ball and keep UC’s potent offense off the field?</strong><br /> <br /> Uh, yeah.<br /> <br /> Check this out: Ohio State’s advantage in time of possession was 41:56 to 18:04. That’s absurd.<br /> <br /> And remember Herman’s comment about first downs? The Buckeyes had 45 of them. That’s a school record. In fact, that ties an NCAA record.<br /> <br /> “That’s a neat stat,” Herman said with a smile. “We’re proud of that, although it’s not a goal to get X number of first downs.”<br /> <br /> OSU attained 27 of them via rushing, 17 of them passing and just one because of penalty. That’s earning your keep.<br /> <br /> As much as head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> wants to see an explosion of big plays from his offense it’s hard to argue with the current results and more station-to-station makeup.<br /> <br /> Barrett is a distributor who knows how to keep everyone happy and move the sticks. <strong>Michael Thomas</strong>, OSU’s leading receiver going into the contest, only had two catches but Wilson had six, Elliott five, Smith four and Heuerman three. Defenses are getting less sure about whom to try to contain.<br /> <br /> And the running game suddenly appears to be in good shape. Elliott, Barrett and <strong>Rod Smith</strong> all carried it at least 11 times and all averaged at least 5.5 yards per carry. <strong>Curtis Samuel</strong>’s fumble and resulting reduced role (just five carries) were disappointing, but Elliott showed he can handle a rather big load.<br /> <br /> The soph took 28 handoffs to get his 182 yards and looks like the clear-cut No. 1 option on the ground.<br /> <br /> “It’s really important,” he said of the role. “It’s what you dream about as a little kid, to be the guy at a big school like Ohio State.”<br /> <br /> <strong>4. How is the Ohio State defense going to fare against a sophisticated passing attack?</strong><br /> <br /> Not so great.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes did play some of the press-up coverage they promised to show but they still weren’t very disruptive. Leading wideout <strong>Mekale McKay</strong>, who is 6-6, was held to just one catch, and much of that credit should go to OSU corner <strong>Doran Grant</strong>.<br /> <br /> However, Kiel had no problem finding alternate receivers and spread the ball to nine different people. He, too, was sacked just once and looked unrattled throughout.<br /> <br /> Just 1:24 into the game, Kiel lofted a pass for Moore, who pulled it in near the numbers and raced for a 60-yard touchdown. More distressing was that the OSU defense let Moore get through for the 83-yarder with 26 seconds left in the second quarter.<br /> <br /> The longest pass play in UC history should not occur when Ohio State has the luxury of playing deep in the final minute of a half.<br /> <br /> <strong>Eli Apple</strong>, who had a rough time checking Moore all day, was burned but the entire scheme played right into the Bearcats’ claws.<br /> <br /> “They play what we call zone coverage,” UC coach <strong>Tommy Tuberville</strong> explained. “They play their linebackers inside. They don’t cover the inside receiver and they don’t give help with the post route. That’s kind of their forte with what they do defensively.<br /> <br /> “So our plan was to go in and throw the deep ball on play-action pass and try to go one on one. That was the best matchup we had.”<br /> <br /> “Our coaches do a great job with execution,” Kiel said. “They watched a lot of tape and saw where we could hurt them.<br /> <br /> “They were just playing Cover 4 and we dialed up a post. That’s a Cover 4-beater. I saw that and I told the team before the play, ‘Hey, we’re going to score on this play. I’m going to throw a touchdown right here, guys.’ ”<br /> <br /> Kiel also found Moore for a 78-yard TD in the second half. Ohio State was faked out on that play as well, looking for a screen pass.<br /> <br /> Apple had a forgettable night and safety <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong>, a former nickel back, also didn’t look comfortable. Powell is the strong safety and has played respectably against the run. But on a night when the opponent was pass-happy he made exactly one tackle.<br /> <br /> OSU broke up just three passes on the night and one was a tip at the line by <strong>Michael Bennett</strong>.<br /> <br /> <strong>5. Will the off week help Ohio State in terms of energy and execution?</strong><br /> <br /> It certainly appeared so. The Buckeyes never let up offensively and managed more than a hundred snaps. The defense got confused in the back seven at times but showed good intensity as well.<br /> <br /> And for the first time all year, Ohio State looked enthused ramming the ball at someone.<br /> <br /> “They looked a lot fresher than us,” Tuberville said. “They had a good a plan, they changed some things on us, and we were slow to get adjustments done to slow down their power play and their zone play out of different formations.”<br /> <br /> OSU also was typically good on covering kickoffs, allowing Cincinnati to average just 16.6 yards on those plays.<br /> <br /> Most important, mistakes were at a minimum. Six of OSU’s seven penalties were of the 5-yard variety and Samuel’s fumble was the only turnover.<br /> <br /> <strong>6. Are the Bearcats for real?</strong><br /> <br /> Not yet.<br /> <br /> Tuberville said as much after the game, realizing that his team was going to have to develop a power rushing game and find some resistance from its defense if it’s going to crack the rankings and beat a high-quality opponent. However, Cincinnati could be good enough to win the American Athletic Conference, which would lead to a decent bowl game and help Ohio State’s resume.<br /> <br /> As for beating Ohio State, Tuberville admitted he wasn’t quite as confident as some alumni were.<br /> <br /> “We knew going into this game that they were going to get their yards,” he said. “We were hoping we’d get turnovers, we were hoping we would outscore them. But they didn’t make a lot of mistakes.<br /> <br /> “We took advantage of some mistakes they made in the secondary and got back close. We were pretty average tonight, but they’ve got a good football team. They can make you look average.”<br /> <br /> Middle linebacker <strong>Jeff Luc</strong>, a 260-pound senior who plays with serious heart, was outstanding. In fact, he led all tacklers with 18 stops. However, the rest of the UC defense either got pushed around, ran into blocks or chased the ball too much.<br /> <br /> The offense, meanwhile, was held to 95 yards rushing and didn’t give the defense enough time to catch its breath.<br /> <br /> “We don’t take a lot of time off the clock,” Tuberville said. “We either score quick or punt, so we’ve got to get a little better running the football.”<br /> <br /> Will this game have any signature plays or memorable moments?<br /> <br /> Certainly several plays will make the season-recap highlight reel, especially Elliott bowling over defenders for extra yards, Smith’s clinching TD catch, and <strong>Joey Bosa</strong> railroading a UC blocker, causing Kiel to fumble and another lineman to bat the ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety.<br /> <br /> However, the prettiest play may have been <strong>Evan Spencer</strong>’s 19-yard touchdown in which he made a nice catch with his hands extended on a slant, changed direction in one fluid motion and darted through the defense untouched. A senior and the son of former Ohio State running back <strong>Tim Spencer</strong>, Evan hasn’t had as many crowd-pleasing catches in his career as he’d like, but he’s still in the receiver rotation and still able to help the cause.<br /> <br /> Earlier in the week, Spencer was asked about the quiet start to his season and he said, “The playmakers are going to come. We’re going to spread the ball around to the playmakers, myself included, and we’re going to get the ball out to us in the open field and we’re going to do things.”<br /> <br /> They did and he did.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-09-28/Answering_In_The_Affirmative.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-09-28/Answering_In_The_Affirmative.aspx 9555cb54-2fd8-4bae-9aad-71c5d2d6d653 Sun, 28 Sep 2014 15:22:00 GMT Rapp Around: Fresh Nittany Air I’m not sure what the NCAA stands for anymore and I’m also confused on how to feel about Penn State suddenly being allowed to shuck some of its punishment.<br /> <br /> After all, I have nothing against <strong>Christian Hackenberg</strong> and innocent PSU players, especially those who stayed true to their commitment knowing the program was about to be ravaged with sanctions. And there’s no reason to root against new coach <strong>James Franklin</strong>, a high-energy, for-the-kids coach who took over when <strong>Bill O’Brien</strong> left knowing more penance was ahead.<br /> <br /> Plus, I don’t want to characterize the situation as a wrist-slap. It wasn’t. The university suffered an incalculable reputation hit, had to fork over $60 million, a bevy of scholarships, 14 years of wins, and put its top officials on the chopping block after the disgrace of former assistant coach <strong>Jerry Sandusky</strong>’s lewd, criminal and predatory behavior.<br /> <br /> The school was dealing with all that while laying the iconic and suddenly tarnished <strong>Joe Paterno</strong> to rest. That’s about as rough as it gets for a once-proud institution and football program.<br /> <br /> However, earlier this month it was announced that the NCAA had opted to further modify sanctions that were handed down to PSU two years ago – a lightened sentence that includes the elimination of a postseason ban and the restoration of the school’s full complement of football scholarships beginning with the 2015-16 academic year.<br /> <br /> Right on cue – hey, follow the power (money, that is) – the Big Ten Conference, through its Council of Presidents and Chancellors, agreed to restore Penn State’s eligibility for the upcoming postseason. That means the Nittany Lions are suddenly eligible for the Big Ten championship game and can accept a bowl bid of their choosing.<br /> <br /> The NCAA did what it does best, made this all look official and deliberative and processional. Steps A-Z were met, Z being former U.S. Senator <strong>George Mitchell</strong> given the title of Independent Athletics Integrity Monitor and handing over recommendations after thoroughly examining Penn State’s on-campus behavior in this matter.<br /> <br /> Mitchell has been eating steak dinners in State College since August 2012. After two full years of overseeing PSU officials on their best behavior, he filed a report and then shared it with the Big Ten<br /> <br /> According to a Big Ten release, “Mitchell’s recommendation was based on the significant progress Penn State has continually made in its compliance and reform efforts over the last two years and focused exclusively on NCAA penalties that directly impacted student-athletes.”<br /> <br /> COPC Chair and Iowa President <strong>Sally Mason</strong> concluded, “We support the NCAA announcement acting on that recommendation, thank Senator Mitchell for his dedicated service and appreciate Penn State’s ongoing commitment to improvement.”<br /> <br /> That’s a nice, tidy way to avoid the public seeing the NCAA slapped around Penn State, reached into the coffers and came away with an eight-figure money grab, and then sent those silly little rubes skipping back to their livelihoods in Happy Valley.<br /> <br /> <em>Hey, and next time don’t let the creepy defensive coordinator have keys to the locker room. OK, good seeing you guys. Thanks for the suggestion on ordering the lamb chops.</em><br /> <br /> The release also reminded that Penn State still has to serve its five-year probation. Ooooh.<br /> <br /> This isn’t a whole lot different than the judiciary system we have in place today. Judges run for the bench on a platform that is “tough on crime,” the book is thrown at high-profile offenders, parole still seems to come too quickly, but the perpetrator is reminded that he’s on thin ice.<br /> <br /> But we know that’s really not the case. Almost no one in the football program relates back to the Paterno era anymore and the ones who do will soon be gone. If an administrator screws up, someone in compliance will smooth it over or self-report something or another, and we’ll be back to football business.<br /> <br /> So why did the Big Ten follow suit so quickly? Well, the decision happened to coincide with a weekend in which Michigan was shut out at Notre Dame, Ohio State lost at home to Virginia Tech and Michigan State collapsed in a decisive loss at Oregon.<br /> <br /> All of those teams play in the newly formed East Division of the Big Ten. So does Penn State. If the Lions weren’t able to go to Indianapolis for the title game and none of the other power teams in the division proved worthy, the league might have been left with Maryland or Rutgers there.<br /> <br /> That is not the script, of course. <strong>Jim Delany</strong> has spent years spinning us yarns about Maryland and Rutgers adding charm and prestige to the conference but certainly he would like those schools to have paid their league dues for a few years before they played for a championship.<br /> <br /> That’d be like Texas A&amp;M knocking off Alabama (twice) soon after joining the SEC or Missouri playing in the SEC title game in its fledgling season, but I digress.<br /> <br /> Plus, what a great story it would be if Penn State makes it to Indy. Am I right or am I right?<br /> <br /> If this isn’t the worst era of Big Ten football then please don’t wake me up and tell me when it arrives.<br /> <br /> And now … back to the <strong>Brady Hoke</strong> death watch.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-09-24/Rapp_Around_Fresh_Nittany_Air.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-09-24/Rapp_Around_Fresh_Nittany_Air.aspx 468e107e-ce05-45fa-a267-10f919295ee4 Wed, 24 Sep 2014 18:10:51 GMT Bearing Down For The Bearcats The last time we saw the Ohio State football team, the Buckeyes were in full domination mode and capping off a 66-0 whitewashing of in-state foe Kent State.<br /> <br /> The last time <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> faced the University of Cincinnati, which happens to be his alma mater, his team completely overran the Bearcats as Florida put a 51-24 pasting on them in the 2010 Sugar Bowl. That was the final collegiate performance of quarterback <strong>Tim Tebow</strong>.<br /> <br /> The last time UC came calling to the Horseshoe – 2006 – Ohio State was a bona-fide national championship contender and the Buckeyes rolled to a 37-7 victory.<br /> <br /> Expect none of those scenarios to unfold when Cincinnati returns on Saturday night (6 p.m. Eastern, BTN). Why?<br /> <br /> Well, the jury is still out but it appears <strong>Tommy Tuberville</strong>’s Bearcats might be pretty good and certainly are a scary opponent for an Ohio State squad (2-1) that lost to Virginia Tech at the beginning of the month and is still trying to prove it can survive a sophisticated passing attack.<br /> <br /> UC’s quarterback, appropriately named <strong>Gunner Kiel</strong>, lit up Toledo in a season-opening 58-34 win with 418 passing yards and six touchdown tosses. UC came back down to Earth a bit this past Saturday while hanging on for a 31-24 victory over Miami (Ohio), but Kiel again took control and spread the wealth.<br /> <br /> In fact, in UC’s 2-0 start, seven different receivers already have found the end zone and wideout <strong>Mekale McKay</strong> has been <strong>Devin Smith</strong>-like with three long scoring plays. A Notre Dame transfer, Kiel has 10 TDs compared to just two interceptions and is completing 65.8 percent of his passes.<br /> <br /> “I look at him and I see a talented player,” OSU cornerback <strong>Doran Grant</strong> said. “This is going to be a great challenge for us. If they hit us for some yards on a drive we have to have a short memory because if you think on that you’re going to get beat on the next play.”<br /> <br /> Added Meyer, “Big, strong arm and a courageous player that throws into the oncoming pass rush. Like most really good quarterbacks, he has really good personnel around him, really good. I see one of the top quarterbacks in the country.”<br /> <br /> The running game also has provided some pop. Who better to complement Gunner than a slippery running back named Hosey – <strong>Hosey Williams</strong>, who has 114 yards rushing in just 19 carries, which is 6.0 per attempt. Williams is a 5-9, 199-pound senior.<br /> <br /> “Offensively they’ve been good in the past; they’re exceptional now,” Meyer said of the Bearcats. “I saw that live firsthand that Friday night when they put 400 plus yards in the air against Toledo, a good team, and they continued this week with another good win against Miami of Ohio. So we have a lot of respect for their skill.<br /> <br /> “The one thing that I remember Tommy Tuberville saying is that they’re the best group of receivers he’s coached, and that struck a chord with me because I know what he’s coached, some good teams and good players.<br /> <br /> “So we have to be at our best Saturday. Expect us to be that.”<br /> <br /> Meyer based the last part of his statement on the fact that the Buckeyes, who inched up to No. 20 in the latest Associated press poll, are well-rested coming off an open week and seem to be approaching the UC game with the proper preparation and concern.<br /> <br /> “With a bye week we practiced Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, last week, back at it today, plus‑one day, and we’re ready to go,” said Meyer, who is 49-5 as a head coach in games played in August and September.<br /> <br /> The open week came early – OSU also does not play the weekend of Oct. 11 – but that could prove to be beneficial for a team that has skill positions littered with youth. The top two rushers are freshman <strong>Curtis Samuel</strong> (171 yards, 6.3 per carry) and sophomore <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong> (141, 5.2). The quarterback is redshirt freshman <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> (44 of 74, 757 yards, nine TDs), and sophomore <strong>Michael Thomas</strong> (11 catches for 214 yards, four TDs) has emerged as his favorite receiving target.<br /> <br /> On defense, leadership has emerged in the form of linebacker <strong>Joshua Perry</strong>, who has a team-best 26 tackles.<br /> <br /> “We know we have to play really well to win this game,” he said. “And we’re looking forward to it.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Game Notes</strong><br /> <br /> * Ohio State is 13-2 all-time vs. Cincinnati with the two losses coming before 1900. The only neutral-site game between the two came in 2002 when OSU survived, 23-19, over a plucky UC team at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.<br /> <br /> * Meyer admitted the OSU staff is still trying to figure out the best five to put on the field at offensive line. Center <strong>Jacoby Boren</strong> will try to practice with a high ankle sprain this week and guard <strong>Pat Elflein</strong> has had issues with the arches in his feet, but also should be ready to go on Saturday.<br /> <br /> Meyer said <strong>Chase Farris</strong> is pushing <strong>Darryl Baldwin</strong> at right tackle. The coach also didn’t rule out the idea of shifting Elflein to center and putting <strong>Joel Hale</strong> in at left guard.<br /> <br /> * OSU has not lost in 44 straight games vs. in-state opponents, including 39 consecutive wins.<br /> <br /> * The last night game left a record crowd flat as the Buckeyes lost a 35-21 decision to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6. Still, OSU’s official record in night games (starting at 5 p.m. or later) is 39-23.<br /> <br /> * Full-time assistants <strong>Kerry Coombs</strong> and <strong>Tim Hinton</strong> formerly worked at UC as did assistant AD for sports performance <strong>Mickey Marotti</strong>, who was Cincinnati's strength and conditioning coach throughout the 1990s.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, Meyer said he will have abnormal feelings facing the very program that made him a college defensive back.<br /> <br /> “Very strong emotional attachment,” he said. “My sister is associate provost at Cincinnati. My other sister was a homecoming queen there. Obviously my dad, my grandfather … just strong history at UC.<br /> <br /> “There is a strong tie, a lot of respect, and Cincinnati is a great town, great university.<br /> <br /> * Meyer said that suspended defensive end <strong>Noah Spence</strong> is no longer practicing with the team as he did last week after it was reported that the junior failed a second drug test.<br /> <br /> “He’s not going to practice now,” he said. “That was just last week. He’s getting full‑time treatment. He is working out just for his well‑being. When a diction is set in, or a decision to harm yourself and harm your teammate, those are things we wrestle with all the time. I’ve been criticized for many years about (how) I treat these guys like they’re my kid, and I’m not a big fan of dismissal.&nbsp; I just don’t do that very often.<br /> <br /> “What the future holds for Noah, I have no idea, but to throw him to the street, I didn’t feel like that was appropriate just yet. And we’re going to do the best we can to help a guy that was a Academic All‑Big Ten, good student, great family, that has a problem, and it’s our job to help him.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-09-22/Bearing_Down_For_The_Bearcats.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-09-22/Bearing_Down_For_The_Bearcats.aspx c4728308-597f-4d1c-9103-7df5f8bd9af4 Mon, 22 Sep 2014 19:24:32 GMT Ohio Basketball HOF Reloads Ohio State’s first All-American, a three-point shooting machine from Ohio U. and one of the state’s best all-time women’s coaches headline another stellar class to be inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame.<br /> <br /> The Hall, which will celebrate its 10th year of existence with the 11-person class, announced the group earlier this week. The induction ceremony is set for May 2 in Columbus.<br /> <br /> The class comprises seven former players, three coaches and an official and includes ex-OSU guard <strong>Johnny Miner</strong>, onetime Bobcat sharpshooter <strong>Dave Jamerson</strong> and immensely successful former Central State coach <strong>Theresa Check</strong>.<br /> <br /> The Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame recognizes players, coaches, referees, administrators and broadcasters who once handled their craft in the state of Ohio. The Hall also makes sure to give recognition to different eras of the game and makes sure to reach into the high school, collegiate and professional levels.<br /> <br /> The latest class reflects that effort with Miner and Jamerson joined by the following former players: <strong>Tom Dinger</strong> (College of Wooster), <strong>Bert Price</strong> (Wittenberg), <strong>Marlene Stollings</strong> (Ohio University), <strong>Brooke Wyckoff</strong> (Lakota High School), and <strong>Zydrunas Ilgauskas</strong> (Cleveland Cavaliers).<br /> <br /> Along with Cheek, the former coaches selected are <strong>Edith Spivey</strong> (Cleveland Shaw High School) and the late <strong>Al Van Wie</strong> (College of Wooster).<br /> <br /> <strong>John Tipton</strong> of Oak Hill, the referee in the class, was selected by his fellow officials. <br /> <br /> The OBHOF board of directors votes on the nominees presented. The 11-person class of 2015 brings the total of individual inductees to 176. Several championship teams also have been inducted, although none were added to the Hall with the most recent class.<br /> <br /> The OBHOF is loaded with some of the top names in roundball, such as <strong>Jerry Lucas</strong>, <strong>Oscar Robertson</strong>, <strong>Bob Knight</strong>, <strong>Jim Jackson</strong>, <strong>Katie Smith</strong> and <strong>Wayne Embry</strong>.<br /> <br /> Executive director <strong>Sheila Fox</strong> told SRU the Hall is hoping to lure in members of the original class in May to celebrate the 10-year anniversary.<br /> <br /> The Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame’s first induction ceremony was in 2006. The not-for-profit organization has designs to grow in both stature and membership while promoting the outstanding contributions to Ohio basketball.<br /> <br /> The following are thumbnails on each 2015 inductee (with follow-up coverage and more detailed bios coming in May):<br /> <br /> * Miner, a graduate of Columbus East High School, was Ohio State’s first All-American. The diminutive (5-8, 130) guard was the Western Conference’s top scorer when he led the Buckeyes to the championship in 1925. A walk-on to the program, Miner became a team captain under coach <strong>Harold Olsen</strong>.<br /> <br /> * Jamerson, a 6-5 wing, was a big star at Ohio University after graduating from Stow High School. He was second in the nation in scoring in 1989-90, averaging 31.2 points a game for OU. He went on to play in the NBA with the Houston Rockets.<br /> <br /> * Dinger, a 5-11 point guard, averaged 24 points per game game as a senior at Mansfield High School. He bettered that in four years at the College of Wooster where he scored 2,370 points and had 37 consecutive games in which he scored 20 or more points.<br /> <br /> * Price graduated from Cleveland Heights High School and spent a year at Kent State University before transferring to Wittenberg, where he led the Tigers to the 1961 NCAA College Division national championship. He led the team in scoring and rebounding.<br /> <br /> * Stollings, currently head women’s basketball coach at the University of Minnesota, grew up in the small town of Beaver in Pike County. At Eastern High School she became the state’s all-time leading scorer (boys or girls) with 3,514 points. She played two years at Ohio State and two at Ohio University where she once made 10 three-point shots in a game.<br /> <br /> * Wyckoff, who played high school ball at Lakota in West Chester, was one of the nation’s leading prep scorers. The 6-1 forward made the Division I All-Ohio first team twice before enrolling at Florida State University in 1997. As a senior she was an All-American. She played in the WNBA for nine years before joining the FSU coaching staff.<br /> <br /> * Ilgauskas, a 7-3 native of Lithuania, was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1996. Limited by foot and ankle injuries early in his career, "Big Z" blossomed in 2002-03 and was part of a <strong>Lebron James</strong>-led team that reached the NBA finals in 2007.<br /> <br /> * Check, who grew up in Cedarville, played basketball at Delphi University and Central State University. After coaching seven years at Alter High School in Kettering and three at Western Illinois University, she coached the Central State women’s team for 17 years, winning 387 games and losing 112 – a .778 winning percentage.<br /> <br /> * Spivey was born in Deerfield Beach, Fla., and graduated from Tuskegee University in 1967. She was a teacher in Florida for six years before moving to Ohio and becoming varsity girls coach at Shaw High School in East Cleveland. In the next 25 years (1978-2004) her teams won 433 and lost 183, a .702 winning percentage. Her teams were state Class AAA runners-up in 1981 and 1982<br /> <br /> * Al Van Wie enters the Hall posthumously. He graduated from the College of Wooster in 1952 and became the school’s head basketball coach in 1961. During the next 21 years, his teams compiled a record of 303-215 and played in three NCAA postseason tournaments. He became Wooster’s director of athletics in 1974 and was a crusader for small college athletics.<br /> <br /> * Tipton, a 1974 graduate of Rio Grande College, was a teacher and baseball coach in the Portsmouth City Schools before retiring. He was an Ohio High School Athletic Association basketball official for 43 years, working his first state tournament game at the age of 23. He officiated college games for 41 years, working for the Mid-America, North Coast and Ohio Athletic conferences.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-09-20/Ohio_Basketball_HOF_Reloads.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-09-20/Ohio_Basketball_HOF_Reloads.aspx c458c6fa-e5cd-4335-914f-76712ca95b1e Sat, 20 Sep 2014 19:00:15 GMT Good, Bad & Ugly: Kent State As my 610 WTVN colleagues and I were handling our pregame duties before the Ohio State-Kent State game on Saturday, sports director <strong>Matt McCoy</strong> said the day had the feel of a season opener.<br /> <br /> <strong>Urban Meyer</strong>, it turns out, had the same reaction.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes usually don’t start a campaign away from home and the first game in the Horseshoe rarely is a nighttime affair against a traditional power. However, that’s how the agenda shook out as OSU tangled with Navy in Baltimore and then Virginia Tech on national television.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes struggled in the first half of both of those games and didn’t recover in the 35-21 loss to the Hokies before a record crowd of 107,517 last weekend.<br /> <br /> The Golden Flashes turned out to be the elixir as OSU drubbed its in-state visitor, 66-0, which begged the following question: Where was Kent State when the Buckeyes needed it?<br /> <br /> No. 18 Ohio State scored 21 points in the first quarter and 24 more in the second to coast to the victory and improved to 2-1 on the young season. KSU, which barely was able to cross midfield, fell to 0-3.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes spread the wealth around, emptied the bench and dominated in every phase of the game. Still, well aware of all the criticism tossed at his team during the week, Meyer’s first thoughts when he took to the podium after the game were about the support of the fans in attendance.<br /> <br /> “A noon game against a MAC opponent and still every seat was filled,” Meyer said proudly. “I keep hearing about how student bodies across the country aren’t showing up for games. Ours certainly is and I want to thank them. I never want to take them for granted, because one day you’ll look up there and they won’t be there for you.<br /> <br /> “I think a big reason we jumped out fast was because of the environment created by our students and our fans, so I just want to make sure we show our appreciation.”<br /> <br /> OSU was a hefty 32-point favorite and yet Meyer and his players were relieved.<br /> <br /> “This is Ohio State; that’s how we have to play,” offensive guard <strong>Pat Elflein</strong> said.<br /> <br /> Still, it’s doubtful anyone required the Buckeyes to have a record-setting day.<br /> <br /> They were plus-502 in yards differential – 628 yards of total offense to Kent’s measly 126 – and completely overwhelmed the Golden Flashes with their athleticism.<br /> <br /> Redshirt freshman quarterback <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> was sensational. He completed 23 of 30 passes for 312 yards and six touchdowns. The yardage output made Barrett the first OSU quarterback to topple 300 since <strong>Troy Smith</strong> did so in a 42-39 win over Michigan in 2006’s epic 1-vs.-2 game. The TD mark tied the school record that <strong>Kenny Guiton</strong> set last year.<br /> <br /> Barrett did his damage in one half and one series. Before the left he completed passes to 11 different receivers.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, the running back situation became less cloudy even though seldom-used reserves <strong>Warren Ball</strong> and <strong>Bri’onte Dunn</strong> saw the field in the second half.<br /> <br /> Freshman <strong>Curtis Samuel</strong> hit the century mark with exactly 100 yards rushing in 15 attempts and added a pair of TDs. <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong>, though, gained 65 yards in just seven attempts for an average of 9.3. Another back, <strong>Rod Smith</strong>, rushed for a score and caught another.<br /> <br /> “Zeke (Elliott) is our starting tailback, but he only had seven carries,” Meyer said. “Curtis Samuel, we started feeding it to him because I think he’s got a really good future here.<br /> <br /> “I think we’ve settled in on two that are going to be kind of our workhorses for us.”<br /> <br /> With so many people involved offensively vs. Kent, the Buckeyes rebuilt their confidence but still left questions as to who the go-to performers will be.<br /> <br /> “We’re still kind of trying to figure out who we are offensively,” Meyer said. “The identity was clear two years ago, and it was <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> right, Braxton Miller left, because that was kind of our best player.<br /> <br /> “Last year we developed this big tailback (<strong>Carlos Hyde</strong>) and a really good offensive line, so that identity was started. At this point I think we have a lot of speed, and you can tell we’re trying to get guys in open space to see what they can do because you’ve got <strong>Jalin Marshall</strong>, who’s a very talented guy; <strong>Dontre Wilson</strong>, I could go down the list, but we’re still trying to get our hands on exactly who’s going to touch that ball.”<br /> <br /> Defensively, the Buckeyes were coming off another subpar effort against Virginia Tech and responded ideally.<br /> <br /> Freshman <strong>Raekwon McMillan</strong> led OSU with seven tackles, three for loss, and two sacks. The Buckeyes picked off KSU quarterback <strong>Colin Reardon</strong> three times. <strong>Joshua Perry</strong> had one of them to go along with six tackles.<br /> <br /> Kent couldn’t manage a drive of more than six plays and averaged just 2.2 yards per offensive snap. The Flashes accumulated just 10 first downs and 47 rushing yards.<br /> <br /> “I think effort was good,” Meyer said of the defense. “I think we denied throws. You’re really going to be challenged in two weeks with the Cincinnati group of receivers and their quarterback. But I think everybody has heard me say I just want to challenge throws, and I thought you saw that today.<br /> <br /> “We obviously over matched them a little bit, and I wanted to see what I saw, and it seemed like they had a hard time moving the ball on us, which should happen.”<br /> <br /> Here are a few more high points and concerns:<br /> <br /> <strong>The Good</strong><br /> <br /> <strong>Bouncing Back –</strong> No one in or around the program thought Ohio State was in danger of losing for the fourth time in five games, but the Buckeyes still needed to show a little resiliency and put together a building-block performance vs. Kent. They did.<br /> <br /> In fact, Perry said the loss meant bad news for he next team on the schedule, whoever it was.<br /> <br /> “It would have been a bad time for a lot of teams to come in just because of what we had to prove,” he said. “When you have a lot of bad feelings and a bad taste in your mouth you’ve got to spit it out somehow. And we did a lot of that through execution.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Quick Start –</strong> Ohio State had just one first-half touchdown in the first two games of the season and had been outscored 28-13 in the first 30 minutes of those two contests. That changed in a hurry vs. Kent State as the Buckeyes found the end zone 1:44 into the game and never let off the gas the entire first half.<br /> <br /> Barrett had 297 yards and five TD tosses by halftime. His sixth came at the 9:20 mark of the third quarter after a short flip to a motioning Marshall resulted in another easy score.<br /> <br /> A product of Wichita Falls (Texas) Rider, Barrett said the most TDs he’d ever thrown in an organized game was four in a high school blowout. He beat that in half of a college game.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes led 45-0 at the break and had 392 yards of offense and 22 first downs in the half.<br /> <br /> <strong>Connectivity –</strong> The question regarding which receiver will emerge as the top target appears to be answered. Even though the Buckeyes still have veterans <strong>Devin Smith</strong> and <strong>Evan Spencer</strong> it’s clear Barrett has the easiest time spotting <strong>Michael Thomas</strong> – a 6-3, 203-pound redshirt sophomore who is coming into his own.<br /> <br /> Thomas entered the game with nine catches – Smith and Wilson were next with three apiece – and had a banner day against the overwhelmed Flashes with two touchdown catches.<br /> <br /> Thomas opened the scoring by finding the end zone from 14 yards out. Later in the first period he let a Barrett strike bounce off of him for an interception in the red zone that wasn’t the QB’s fault.<br /> <br /> “I told him I owed him one, so I had to give him one back,” Thomas said.<br /> <br /> He made good on his word by catching a pass in the slot and racing through the KSU defense for a 63-yard score in the second quarter, the most dynamic play of the day.<br /> <br /> Barrett said he had no hesitation looking for Thomas again.<br /> <br /> “They’re playing press on Mike and he’s a big receiver, so I looked for him on certain plays and he’s in the progression,” he said. “And it just so happened today he’s open.”<br /> <br /> “J.T. is a real mature guy,” Thomas said. “We just hold each other accountable. I just trust him and I always tell him I’ve got his back out there. And he just trusts me.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Marshall Plan –</strong> Marshall’s scoring play in the red zone showed he’s also a viable option now and the youngster also was stellar on punt returns with two of them for 66 yards. That included a 51-yarder slicing through the middle of the field.<br /> <br /> “That’s one of the funnest things to do in a football game,” said the Middletown, Ohio, product.<br /> <br /> Marshall is a weapon running on jet sweeps, can make catches all over the field, is a dangerous return man and even finds other ways to contribute. The coaches pointed out that Marshall had a pair of blocks that sprung teammates for touchdowns.<br /> <br /> Just a week earlier, Barrett missed a wide-open Marshall in the flat on a crucial play.<br /> <br /> “That happens with a young offense,” Marshall said. “You leave some plays out on the field, and with it being early in the season there are some plays you can’t fix. But I feel like we’re going to be all right.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Goose Egg –</strong> Even though Kent State is nothing close to a high-quality opponent, the Buckeyes still showed the focus and fortitude to keep their visitor from scoring – even as substitutes littered the field.<br /> <br /> “I think anytime you have the opportunity to get a shutout the coaches want it, the players want it,” admitted co-defensive coordinator <strong>Chris Ash</strong>. “If it happened, great. We were going to get a lot of young players in the game and when you do that you never know what’s going to happen. But we wanted to make sure the expectations were the same if it was the ones, twos or threes out there and we walked away with a zero on the scoreboard.”<br /> <br /> <strong>The Bad</strong><br /> <br /> <strong>Now What? –</strong> As soothing as the blowout win was, many questions remain as to how well the Buckeyes can hold up the next time they face a worthy foe. The offense, for example, has a long way to go in terms of finding reliable plays and the best personnel for them.<br /> <br /> “We’re a work in progress in a lot of places,” offensive coordinator <strong>Tom Herman</strong> said. “But the biggest question mark other than guys continuing to get better and establish their role on the offense is can we sustain this kind of success.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Time To Say Bye? –</strong> After wiping out Kent and feeling much better about themselves, the Buckeyes now have to sit out next weekend with an opening on the schedule.<br /> <br /> Meyer said he plans to take advantage of the extra time to allow his coaches and players a couple days off and come back refreshed and ready to work on Cincinnati, a team OSU will need to take seriously. Still, it remains to be seen if the bye week halts the recent momentum.<br /> <br /> “Anytime you’re on a roll, you’d like to keep playing,” Ash said.<br /> <br /> <strong>Great Ex-Spence –</strong> The Buckeyes like the direction of their defense but it’s hard to deny that the group could have been even more intimidating with <strong>Noah Spence</strong>. The junior end was suspended indefinitely late in the week after reports he failed another drug test.<br /> <br /> A former five-star recruit as a Pennsylvania prepster, Spence was suspended for the Orange Bowl at the end of last season and the fist two games of the current campaign for using a banned substance. His 2014 debut was supposed to occur against Kent State.<br /> <br /> Meyer termed news of Spence’s repeat offense a “sucker punch.” The coach stuck up for Spence late last year and even publicly backed Spence’s parents’ claim that their son was the victim of a spiked drink at a party.<br /> <br /> Now Spence’s college career could be over. Meyer said the outlook for any return is “undefined.”<br /> <br /> <strong>The Ugly</strong><br /> <br /> <strong>Shanks For The Memories –</strong> Punter <strong>Cameron Johnston</strong> entered the season as an All-America candidate but he’s not off to a blazing start. After shanking his first punt last week against Virginia Tech, he was afforded just one chance against KSU – and wobbled a 28-yarder.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-09-15/Good_Bad_Ugly_Kent_State.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-09-15/Good_Bad_Ugly_Kent_State.aspx f1d3d7c6-2866-40cd-b0e5-f316b868cf0f Mon, 15 Sep 2014 15:20:35 GMT Flashes Offer Chance For Ignition Last in the Big Ten in time of possession. Last in the conference in third-down conversions. Last in rushing yards allowed.<br /> <br /> These are the kind of statistics that accompany a league doormat, not Ohio State, and yet the Buckeyes (1-1) are staring them in the face heading into their contest with in-state visitor Kent State (0-2) on Saturday (noon Eastern, ABC).<br /> <br /> After surviving a scare in Baltimore against Navy, Ohio State tripped under the lights in the home opener with Virginia Tech last week, a 35-21 loss that exposed several warts such as the complete lack of a power running game, an offensive line that is stuck in mud, a receiving corps that is undefined, and a defense that lacks consistency.<br /> <br /> Not only are the Buckeyes without dynamic quarterback <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>, who will miss the season because of a shoulder injury, other key players keep dropping off the game sheet.<br /> <br /> Early in the week, OSU announced talented tight end <strong>Jeff Heuerman</strong> is going to sit this game out and use the ensuing open week to completely heal a sore foot. Also, center <strong>Chad Lindsay</strong>, an Alabama transfer who was expected to solidify the rebuilding offensive line, released a statement saying his college playing days are done. He, too, has a bum shoulder and can’t go.<br /> <br /> Then the bombshell arrived on Friday: defensive end <strong>Noah Spence</strong>, who was supposed to return from a suspension and take the field against Kent State, is now suspended indefinitely because of another failed drug test.<br /> <br /> A former five-star recruit, Spence is a junior who was supposed to be poised for a huge season on a line that also includes future pros <strong>Joey Bosa</strong>, <strong>Michael Bennett</strong> and <strong>Adolphus Washington</strong>. Instead, senior <strong>Steve Miller</strong> and others will try to make up for the loss.<br /> <br /> Despite all this and a precipitous slide in the polls, the Buckeyes are a 32-point favorite against Kent State.<br /> <br /> Why?<br /> <br /> Well, not only are the Golden Flashes struggling offensively with a total of 27 points and 95 rushing yards in their winless start, the matchups don’t look good on paper.<br /> <br /> Quarterback <strong>Colin Reardon</strong> has performed decently but is only a sophomore and doesn’t have a running game to help his cause. The KSU offensive line averages 6-4½ and 300 pounds but should be a better matchup for the OSU defensive front than the Navy and Virginia Tech lines that are built to move.<br /> <br /> The Flashes are averaging just 286.0 yards per game, not a good stat, especially considering the first two foes were Ohio University and South Alabama. <br /> <br /> On defense, Kent State is relying more on takeaways then holding up against the likes of Ohio State.<br /> <br /> Ohio State’s 25-game regular-season winning streak is over. But a new one is expected to begin on Saturday. And the odds of OSU losing a second straight time to an unranked nonconference opponent at home are astronomical considering that the last time one such defeat had occurred prior to the Virginia Tech game was in 1982. That was when Florida State came to town, won 34-17, and <strong>Bobby Bowden</strong> ignited one of the best runs of success in college football history,<br /> <br /> That’s a span of 66 games against such teams.<br /> <br /> Also, head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> simply doesn’t lose these types of games. He’s 2-0 lifetime against Kent State and 72-8 as a head coach in home games.<br /> <br /> His opposite headset, <strong>Paul Haynes</strong>, is a Columbus native and former Ohio State assistant of seven years under <strong>Jim Tressel</strong> and <strong>Luke Fickell</strong>. He’s also a KSU alum.<br /> <br /> The Golden Flashes won 11 games just two seasons ago under another former OSU aide – <strong>Darrell Hazell</strong>, now the head coach at Purdue – but Haynes is in rebuilding mode.<br /> <br /> He’s one of nine ex-OSU assistants currently serving as a head coach in college or the NFL.<br /> <br /> Kent State at Ohio State<br /> <br /> * Date, Time: Sat., Sept. 13, noon (Eastern)<br /> <br /> * Location: Ohio Stadium<br /> <br /> * TV: ABC (regional telecast with reverse mirror on ESPN2 outside region; announcers: <strong>Bob Wischusen</strong>, <strong>Matt Millen</strong> and <strong>Quint Kessenich</strong>)<br /> <br /> * 2014 Records: Ohio State, 1-1 overall; Kent State, 0-2 overall.<br /> <br /> * 2014 Rankings: Ohio State, 22nd in Associated Press poll and 18th in USA Today coaches poll; Kent State, unranked.<br /> <br /> * Coaches: Ohio State, Urban Meyer (third year at OSU, 25-3; 13th year overall, 129-26; vs. Kent State, 2-0); Kent State, Paul Haynes (second year at KSU, 4-10; vs. Ohio State, first meeting).<br /> <br /> * Series History: This is just the third-ever meeting between Ohio State and Kent State. OSU won the two previous meetings in Ohio Stadium in 2002 (51-17) and 2007 (48-3).<br /> <br /> * Kent State Schedule: Aug. 30, Ohio U., L 17-14; Sept. 6, South Alabama, L 23-13; Sept. 13, at Ohio State, noon (ABC/ESPN2); Sept. 27, at Virginia; Oct. 4, at Northern Illinois; Oct. 11, Massachusetts; Oct. 18, Army, 3:30 p.m.; Oct. 25, at Miami (Ohio); Nov 4, Toledo, 8 p.m.; Nov. 12, at Bowling Green, 8 p.m.; Nov. 19, at Buffalo, 8 p.m.; Nov. 25, Akron, 7 p.m.<br /> <br /> * Ohio State Schedule: Aug. 30, vs. Navy (at Baltimore), W 34-17; Sept. 6, Virginia Tech, L 35-21; Sept. 13, Kent State, noon (ABC, ESPN or ESPN2); Sept. 27, Cincinnati, 6 p.m. (Big Ten Network); Oct. 4, at Maryland; Oct. 18, Rutgers, 3:30 p.m. (ABC, ESPN2 or BTN); Oct. 25, at Penn State, 8 p.m. (ABC, ESPN or ESPN2); Nov. 1, Illinois, 8 p.m. (ABC or ESPN2); Nov. 8, at Michigan State, 8 p.m. (ABC); Nov. 15, at Minnesota; Nov. 22, Indiana; Nov. 29, Michigan.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-09-13/Flashes_Offer_Chance_For_Ignition.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-09-13/Flashes_Offer_Chance_For_Ignition.aspx 592c685c-648d-4199-9995-979664049de9 Sat, 13 Sep 2014 15:53:23 GMT First-Time Starters Become Key Not everybody takes Labor Day off and certainly not the Buckeyes.<br /> <br /> After Ohio State pulled away late from Navy in a 34-17 win on Saturday, it was back to business as usual with another opponent awaiting the No. 5 Buckeyes (who are likely to drop in The Associated Press poll when it is released Tuesday despite the win).<br /> <br /> While the Midshipmen certainly were a worthy test in the season opener, OSU returns home to face a hungry Virginia Tech team is on the cusp of the top 25 and has its usual allotment of athletes.<br /> <br /> That battle will take place on Saturday night (8 p.m. Eastern, ESPN) in front of a nationally televised audience and figures to show the country and especially the OSU coaches just exactly what the Buckeyes have.<br /> <br /> And, no doubt, it will afford several Ohio State freshmen the chance to grow up rapidly.<br /> <br /> Last weekend was a series of experiments as the coaches worked the game plan around redshirt freshman quarterback <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> and a completely revamped offensive line. Meanwhile, the defense was without suspended end <strong>Noah Spence</strong> and rotated several candidates in the back seven.<br /> <br /> That included the mysterious decision to start <strong>Chris Worley</strong> on the outside over <strong>Josh Perry</strong>, the team’s most proven linebacker, and have Perry spend a lot of time relieving co-captain <strong>Curtis Grant</strong> in the middle so as not to expose true freshman <strong>Raekwon McMillan</strong> there against a triple-option attack.<br /> <br /> The results were mixed at best. The Buckeyes did play well up front as expected but still allowed 370 yards rushing, by far the worst such showing for any Big Ten team – and all 14 played in Week 1.<br /> <br /> Granted Navy only threw four passes and completed two for 20 yards, but OSU’s 390 yards allowed still ranked ninth among conference teams.<br /> <br /> Worley and other defenders struggled at times to properly contain plays and the Buckeyes were gashed for 144 yards the seven times the Midshipmen ran a simple misdirection play to the boundary side of the field.<br /> <br /> Perhaps the best indicator of how disjointed the defense appeared at times is that Perry (nine tackles) and safety <strong>Vonn Bell</strong> (seven) ranked second and third on the day in stops and did not even start the game.<br /> <br /> Strong safety <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong>, who had a team-best 13 tackles including eight solos, also whiffed a few times.<br /> <br /> Still, as head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> pointed out, the defense did its job by holding Navy to just seven first-half points – and that one touchdown seemed questionable since it appeared tailback <strong>DeBrandon Sanders</strong>’ knee may have touched out a fraction of a second before he touched the pylon with the ball on a 4th-and-goal sweep that was actually very well defended.<br /> <br /> Also, linebacker <strong>Darron Lee</strong> – a former high school QB – put the Buckeyes ahead 13-7 minutes into the second half by scooping a fumbled lateral and ripping 61 yards to paydirt.<br /> <br /> Plus, it needs to be noted that Navy signal caller <strong>Keenan Reynolds</strong>, a true college start who rambled for no less than 31 TDs last season, was stymied. He netted just 42 yards rushing on 23 keepers and was forced to make the biggest mistake of the day when defensive end <strong>Joey Bosa</strong> grabbed him and forced an errant pitch, leading to the Lee touchdown.<br /> <br /> So given all the inexperience, shuttling of personnel and unique test that Navy presented with an offense that virtually no other program employs, the defense still deserves a passing mark. However, the moves at linebacker remain a bit head-scratching.<br /> <br /> Perry explained that he knew he wasn’t starting so Worley’s speed could be of use on the edge as the Buckeyes tried to slow down the option game. He also admitted that the coaches wanted more experienced players instead of McMillan, a true freshman and former five-star recruit, in the middle of the defense.<br /> <br /> “It was selfless on everyone’s part,” Perry said. “Even though we didn’t play perfectly by any means, it worked out OK. Now we have to play even better.”<br /> <br /> Yes, they do. The defense will have to account for an actual passing game on Saturday when the Hokies arrive. On offense, Barrett and company will face a defense that held William &amp; Mary below 200 yards in a 34-9 win and features a pair of All-American candidates in defensive back <strong>Kendall Fuller</strong> and defensive tackle <strong>Luther Maddy</strong>.<br /> <br /> Fuller is a highly active cornerback who logged five tackles on Saturday. Maddy is a 6-1, 293-pound senior who could become a quick headache for the interior part of Ohio State’s offensive line, which had issues vs. Navy.<br /> <br /> In fact, Meyer proclaimed at his Labor Day press conference that he considers the offensive line to be the No. 1 concern going forward and said the group simply wasn’t up to Ohio State standards.<br /> <br /> Left tackle <strong>Taylor Decker</strong> – the only returning starter, although he played RT last season – didn’t disagree.<br /> <br /> “It wasn’t terrible but that’s not how an Ohio State offensive line should play,” he said.<br /> <br /> However, he reminded that <strong>Jacoby Boren</strong>, <strong>Billy Price</strong> and <strong>Joel Hale</strong> were making their debuts as starters.<br /> <br /> “I remember my first start – it didn’t go very well,” said Decker, a junior. “They’ve got that under their belt now and I think we can be much better now that that’s out of the way.” <br /> <br /> Barrett has a much taller building block. He was just the fifth freshman to start at quarterback and only the second to open a season in the role. The other was the painful 1978 baptism of <strong>Art Schlichter</strong>, who was picked off repeatedly in a 19-0 home loss to Penn State. The Buckeyes entered that season No. 6 in the nation, by the way.<br /> <br /> Barrett was the first frosh to start under center for OSU away from home and the first to win an opener. He was 12 of 15 for 226 yards, a pair of TD passes and one interception. The pick was costly – it thwarted a drive in the red zone – but Barret still had an efficient day that included a team-high 50 yards rushing.<br /> <br /> For his effort, he was named on Monday as the Big Ten Freshman of the Week.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, true freshmen <strong>Curtis Samuel</strong> led the squad in yards per carry at 6.4 as his seven rushing attempts netted 45 yards. Also, newbie <strong>Sean Nuerberger</strong> was perfect on six kicks – two field goals and four extra points.<br /> <br /> McMillan and <strong>Erick Smith</strong>, a safety by trade, did see action on special teams, but Meyer said his team will need more than four members of the incoming class to participate if the Buckeyes are going to be an elite team this year. He added that McMillan will be thrust into action at middle linebacker this week.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-09-01/First-Time_Starters_Become_Key.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-09-01/First-Time_Starters_Become_Key.aspx d461cef6-1cfa-4466-9c77-68c7046c4e54 Mon, 01 Sep 2014 19:01:59 GMT Good, Bad & Ugly: Navy So Ohio State defeated Navy 34-17 on Saturday afternoon, but you may still be wondering what to think about the performance. After all, the No. 5 Buckeyes faced plenty of adversity throughout the game, which was still very much in doubt well into the fourth quarter.<br /> <br /> OSU’s running game didn’t spring to life until late and, meanwhile, the Midshipmen, who were playing much closer to home in Baltimore, Md., managed to rack up 370 rushing yards.<br /> <br /> Redshirt freshman quarterback <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> made some plays in his OSU debut but clearly the Buckeye offense wasn’t as dynamic without <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> taking snaps.<br /> <br /> On defense, new assistants <strong>Chris Ash</strong> and <strong>Larry Johnson</strong> were hoping to bring more aggression and patch many of the issues on the side of the ball but it’s hard to tell how sound that unit is after playing a triple-option team and continuing to struggle at times with containing the ball.<br /> <br /> Therefore, let’s break this down a bit with a new postgame analysis we’re calling The Good, The Bad &amp; The Ugly (OK, a ripoff, I know, but bear with me).<br /> <br /> Here we go:<br /> <br /> <strong>The Good</strong><br /> <br /> <strong>J.T. The Kid –</strong> Barrett easily could have looked nervous or overwhelmed, and when he forced a ball into the red zone that was intercepted it wouldn’t have been shocking to see whatever pregame confidence he had ooze right out of him.<br /> <br /> Instead, the former Texas schoolboy got better as the game wore on and put together in A-minus performance. He was 12 of 15 passing for 226 yards and two touchdowns to go with that one interception. He also led the way on the ground with 50 rushing yards including a 19-yarder.<br /> <br /> Despite completing just a dozen passes, Barrett was able to spread the ball around and connect with six different receivers. His deep strike to <strong>Devin Smith</strong> was right on the bingo and led to an 80-yard TD that changed a 14-13 deficit into a 20-14 lead. With 2:09 remaining, he kept working and zipped one out to <strong>Michael Thomas</strong> on a receiver screen that produced a 9-yard score and the game’s final points.<br /> <br /> In short, Barrett is no Miller but he throws an accurate ball, knows how to lead, stays poised and can hurt defenses by taking off from the pocket. That should be good enough at the quarterback position at Ohio State – even though the design this year was for it to center on one of the most explosive players in college football.<br /> <br /> Barrett was just the second freshman to start a season opener at quarterback for the Buckeyes, the other being <strong>Art Schlichter</strong>, who had a forgettable performance against Penn State in 1978. Considering that, OSU fans should be happy with the outcome.<br /> <br /> <strong>Local Boys –</strong> Central Ohio was well-represented at M&amp;T Bank Stadium. <strong>Jacoby Boren</strong> of Pickerington Central won the starting center spot over senior transfer <strong>Chad Lindsay</strong> and next to him at right guard, as expected, was Pickerington North product <strong>Pat Elflein</strong>. <strong>Kyle Clinton</strong> of Dublin Coffman handled the kickoffs for the Buckeyes and <strong>Ron Tanner</strong> of Columbus Eastmoor was a key cover man on special teams.<br /> <br /> Also, it should be noted, that Navy’s second-leading rusher on the afternoon was <strong>Geoffrey Whiteside</strong> of Columbus Bishop Hartley.<br /> <br /> But most noteworthy is that the Buckeyes appear to have a talented combo at outside linebacker in <strong>Josh Perry</strong> (Galena Olentangy) and <strong>Darron Lee</strong> (New Albany). Each got caught out of position at times against the Midshipmen’s tough-to-defend triple option, and mysteriously Perry did not start the game. However, each played a fierce brand of football and showed the necessary quickness to cover the outside portion of the field.<br /> <br /> Perry has a chance to emerge as the leading tackler on this team. Lee, meanwhile, continues to be a nice story. He’s a former high school QB who is now listed 6-2, 228 and has the look of a playmaker.<br /> <br /> In fact, Lee ended up scoring the first touchdown of Ohio State’s 2014 season when he scooped up a dropped lateral and raced 61 yards for a score. That play, which was due in part to a well-timed hit by defensive end <strong>Joey Bosa</strong> on quarterback <strong>Keenan Reynolds</strong>, gave the Buckeyes their first lead of the day – in the third quarter.<br /> <br /> Head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> labeled that moment “the turning point” of the game.<br /> <br /> <strong>Bosa And The Batter Boys –</strong> <strong>Noah Spence</strong> was the highest rated defensive line prospect when he became a Buckeye but his buddies have started the party without him.<br /> <br /> Spence was serving the second game of a three-game suspension that dates back to the Orange Bowl in January and senior <strong>Steve Miller</strong> started in his place at end. While Miller was quiet on Saturday, Bosa was a force on the other side and interior linemen <strong>Michael Bennett</strong> and <strong>Adolphus Washington</strong> were highly disruptive.<br /> <br /> Given the veteran line it was facing and the discipline needed to contain Reynolds – who managed just 1.8 yard per rush and one TD and year after scoring an NCAA record 31 times – the D-line showed why many consider it the best in the country.<br /> <br /> After the win, Bosa tweeted that he had even more respect for Navy’s offensive line and called them “relentless, hard-hittin’ dudes.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Getting Their Kicks –</strong> OSU’s kicking game was very good in the opener.<br /> <br /> <strong>Sean Nuernberger</strong> nailed a pair of field goals, including a 44-yarder, and easily connected on all four extra points. Also, <strong>Cameron Johnston</strong> picked up right where he left off last year. In fact, his first punt rolled inside the 10 and was downed at the 1-yard line. His second was a 58-yard screamer that was such a boomer it made it into the end zone.<br /> <br /> <strong>Dontre Wilson</strong> was solid on kick returns and the coverage was excellent once again as Navy didn’t return a kickoff more than 19 yards.<br /> <br /> The only two hiccups were a penalty on <strong>Eli Apple</strong> that negated a healthy punt return by Wilson and Clinton sending one of his kickoffs out of bounds, which nearly led to a Navy scoring drive at the end of the first half.<br /> <br /> <strong>Clean As A Marine –</strong> The Buckeyes had just two penalties all day, which is outstanding for a young team starting its season away from home.<br /> <br /> It’s also important considering Navy led the nation last season in fewest infractions at just 2.6 per game. The Midshipmen ended up with three penalties, a pretty standard number.<br /> <br /> A sloppy outing by the Buckeyes could have been a major equalizer against a team that simply doesn’t beat itself. It has to be taken as a good sign that OSU didn’t allow that to happen.<br /> <br /> <strong>God Bless America –</strong> I think it’s great to see my alma mater play against service academy teams every once in a while. <strong>Jim Tressel</strong> was a big fan of the idea and also believed in a show of respect for the military as part of the event.<br /> <br /> That unfolded again Saturday as the two teams met at midfield prior to the game and exchanged pleasantries. Just a beautiful scene and a reminder of how good collegiate athletics can be.<br /> <br /> <strong>Left-Hand Column –</strong> This may sound like pithy analysis, but in these parts after a hardfought win like this a reminder needs to go out that it was, indeed, a win. Alabama, UCLA and Penn State were among the many quality teams that found themselves in dogfights Saturday, but they survived and will move on.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes and their fans need to as well. This was an OSU team that was coming off two straight losses (Meyer had only lost three in a row once in his head coaching career) and also was without several key performers from past years such as leading rusher <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong>, leading receiver <strong>Philly Brown</strong>, leading tackler <strong>Ryan Shazier</strong>, four multiyear starters along the offensive line and three multiyear starters in the secondary.<br /> <br /> Plus, the game was not at home and not against a vastly inferior foe. In fact, Navy won nine games last year and is poised for another run at a respectable bowl with seniors and juniors all over the two-deep and Reynolds, who is an out-and-out star.<br /> <br /> The defense wanted to unleash Ash’s signature aggression but had to dial that back because of the option attack of the Midshipmen. OSU won’t have to prepare for a team like that the rest of the season and may actually match up better with the Virginia Techs and Michigans of the world.<br /> <br /> “The best thing about it is it’s in the rearview mirror and we won,” Meyer said.<br /> <br /> <strong>The Bad</strong><br /> <br /> <strong>Squiggly Line –</strong> Meyer said he was “very disappointed” in the front five and that “it didn’t resemble and offensive line at Ohio State.”<br /> <br /> His first address to an assistant after the game, no doubt, was to line coach <strong>Ed Warinner</strong> to see where they can find answers.<br /> <br /> By my eye, tackles <strong>Taylor Decker</strong> and <strong>Darryl Baldwin</strong> fared pretty well. However, the interior part of the line was a glaring issue.<br /> <br /> Left guard was a mess with <strong>Billy Price</strong> getting an early holding call and struggling with Navy’s small and quick D-line. <strong>Joel Hale</strong> played most of the second half and seemed to solidify the spot a bit but also struggled to open up any holes of note. Same for Boren.<br /> <br /> Elflein was labeled as a preseason All-Big Ten player at right guard but didn’t look like it on Saturday.<br /> <br /> Many runs right up the middle didn’t net much and the Buckeyes also struggled on short-yardage plays on third down. At one point, offensive coordinator Tom Herman called for an option on third-and-1, which lost yardage, forcing the Buckeyes to settle for an early field goal.<br /> <br /> Plus, every time OSU tries to rush to the line and go with a quick snap it seems to merit, well, absolutely nothing. This group needs to get in sync and fire off the ball better.<br /> <br /> <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong> is a good running back but didn’t get much chance to show it against Navy. He took 12 handoffs and netted just 44 yards, 3.7 per carry, and that was with a 20-yard scamper.<br /> <br /> <strong>Curtis Samuel</strong>, <strong>Dontre Wilson</strong> and <strong>Jalin Marshall</strong> all showed flashes but could use a little more space. The line needs to work to provide that.<br /> <br /> <strong>’Backer Rotation –</strong> So what exactly was going on at linebacker?<br /> <br /> I’m not sure why Perry, who clearly was listed at the starter at Shazier’s old weakside spot, didn’t start the game. I don’t remember hearing a whole lot about <strong>Chris Worley</strong> in the spring and preseason – or seeing him do much for that matter. But there was No. 35 out there starting and playing hefty minutes – and struggling mightily.<br /> <br /> We didn’t see <strong>Raekwon McMillan</strong> and it’s obvious the coaches wanted Perry to rotate into the middle some for starter <strong>Curtis Grant</strong>, who is a captain, by the way. Maybe McMillan simply isn’t ready and/or they are holding out the idea to redshirt him.<br /> <br /> That’s doubtful, however. What’s more likely is the coaches didn’t want McMillan exposed in a game like this where lane integrity and discipline on the pitch are so important.<br /> <br /> But that still doesn’t explain why Perry didn’t start.<br /> <br /> Quite frankly, all the shuttling on defense seemed like a distraction that kept the Buckeyes from getting settled on that side of the ball. <strong>Rashad Frazier</strong> played a lot for Miller. <strong>Vonn Bell</strong> and <strong>Cam Burrows</strong> traded off at free safety. <strong>Gareon Conley</strong> played quite a bit even though Apple started at corner.<br /> <br /> That’s fine if you’re playing Youngstown State, but the Buckeyes gave up more than 300 yards rushing for the first time in 15 years and looked disjointed in the back seven most of the afternoon.<br /> <br /> That’s got to get sorted out.<br /> <br /> <strong>The Whiff –</strong> Tackling once again was an issue as OSU linebackers and defensive backs simply missed on too many attempts to bring down ball carriers. That as much as anything explains the Midshipmen averaging 5.9 yards per rush.<br /> <br /> Strong safety <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong> played fast as promised but whiffed on several stops. Worley ran into blocks. Lee let a few runners creep through his area. Grant looked slow getting to the ball.<br /> <br /> This still could be a good defense but the back seven has got to do much better or the defensive line is going to start getting frustrated soon.<br /> <br /> <strong>The Ugly</strong><br /> <br /> <strong>Um, Excuse Me –</strong> Ohio State’s lack of push up front on obvious, short-yardage rushing downs was hard to watch. Navy has some feisty, experience guys in the trenches but something clearly was amiss with the Buckeyes.<br /> <br /> It’s a good bet Warinner wants to see much better results on plays where the Buckeyes need to flex some muscle.<br /> <br /> <strong>Is That You, Braxton? – Jeff Heuerman</strong>’s decision to wear a No. 5 jersey was a neat tribute to Miller, who didn’t make the trip after having shoulder surgery at the beginning of the week. However, the number just plain looked goofy on Heuerman, a 6-5, 255-pound tight end.<br /> <br /> Plus, I suppose it would have been cool to see No. 5 zipping through the field again, only Heuerman never touched the ball.<br /> <br /> Let’s hope this was a one-time deal.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-08-31/Good_Bad_Ugly_Navy.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-08-31/Good_Bad_Ugly_Navy.aspx efed19c2-5247-46de-836b-6048b3529219 Sun, 31 Aug 2014 18:28:20 GMT Ready To Punch The Clock The first grab of the eye when looking in the direction of Ohio State defensive back <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong> is his size.<br /> <br /> In an era when even safeties tend to be about 5-11 and 185 pounds, Powell is every bit of 6-3 and carries a listed weight of 208.<br /> <br /> But Powell’s imposing presence wouldn’t be very noteworthy if he couldn’t cover wideouts and make plays. It turns out he can – and could be as important a piece as anyone in coordinator <strong>Chris Ash</strong>’s defense.<br /> <br /> “Tyvis has a lot on his plate and has a chance to be a great player for us,” Ash said this week with OSU’s season opener with Navy looming (Saturday, noon Eastern, CBS Sports Network). “When you watch him you see a guy who’s around the ball.”<br /> <br /> A third-year sophomore from Bedford, Ohio, Powell played in all 14 games last season, contributing on special teams and in the secondary. His primary role was at nickel, and there were key moments when he found the ball headed in his direction.<br /> <br /> One such time occurred in the final seconds of a shootout at Michigan. With the Buckeyes clinging to a 42-41 lead, UM head coach <strong>Brady Hoke</strong> decided to attempt a game-winning two-point conversion rather than slog through overtime with quarterback <strong>Devin Gardner</strong> injured.<br /> <br /> Gardner tried to fit a quick slant to a receiver at the goal line but Powell made a game-saving interception to add his name to the list of OSU grid heroes.<br /> <br /> With seniors <strong>C.J. Barnett</strong>, <strong>Christian Bryant</strong> and <strong>Corey Brown</strong> all moved on, the safety spots suddenly were wide open this offseason. Powell, though, quickly seized one of them and appears entrenched at strong safety – a very demanding spot in Ash’s system.<br /> <br /> “Playing strong is more complex,” the DB said. “There’s more that goes into it. You have to be able to study the formations and know the checks and the adjustments to make. Being in nickel wasn’t too hard. All you had to do was read routes and play man when they told you to play man.”<br /> <br /> “I like this better. It’s definitely more involved. But that’s what I like.”<br /> <br /> Powell carried a hefty load last season by playing 953 snaps – fifth-most on the team – and logging five starts. He showed laudable cover skills and a willingness to mix it up with 48 tackles including a career-high seven vs. Penn State. With a pressing need at safety emerged at the end of the season, Powell was thrust into the spot and started the Orange Bowl.<br /> <br /> Now the challenge is to build on that experience and prove he can handle being on the back end of a defense that will be more aggressive and physical on the edge.<br /> <br /> “In the Orange Bowl I was more like a deep safety,” he said. “Now I’m more aggressive and we have more man-to-man. Plus, I’m more involved in the run game and stuff like that.”<br /> <br /> “I’m kind of excited about it because teams have moved to the spread and it’s not about that big, hard-hitting safety anymore. You’ve got to come down and cover, and I’ve shown I have the ability to do that.”<br /> <br /> Powell intends to punch the time clock this season and prove his reliability, which is his trademark. Throughout high school, for example, he never missed a single day of class.<br /> <br /> Powell has put a lot of extra work into his film studies so that he can make quick, decisive plays at safety. Ash, who is also the secondary coach, wants his strong safety to creep up when needed to both slow down the run and also thwart quick-hitters in the passing game.<br /> <br /> “What it does is it allows me to jump short routes,” Powell said. “So it’s like real quick. We basically pattern-match a lot of stuff so once I see it, I can react to it right then and there. Last year I was in zone, so it was kind of react to whatever came into my zone.<br /> <br /> “When we were in the Orange Bowl and we saw all those screens being completed it was kind of frustrating and we kind of questioned why we wouldn’t switch it up. I guess we did what we were practicing.<br /> <br /> “Now you go out there and see people making more plays on the quick, short stuff, it makes you more confident to know that the coaches know exactly what they’re doing.”<br /> <br /> Powell not only has to be quick-minded this season, please the coaches and anchor the secondary, he also has to make sure he fends off highly talented freshman <strong>Erick Smith</strong>. The Cleveland Glenville product has been one of the pleasant surprises of the run-up to the 2014 season.<br /> <br /> “He’s hungry, he’s young, he’s picking up fast with the defense and making plays out there,” said <strong>Vonn Bell</strong>, who is expected to line up next to Powell at free safety.<br /> <br /> “Erick is a very promising young player,” Ash said, “but we like where Tyvis is right now. He’s ready to go right now.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-08-26/Ready_To_Punch_The_Clock.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-08-26/Ready_To_Punch_The_Clock.aspx eb5e5518-17c7-4203-8548-49543b0b8241 Tue, 26 Aug 2014 23:27:13 GMT High Risk ... High Reward? In <strong>Chris Ash</strong>’s short time on campus and working under head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong>, the new defensive coordinator’s hardcore, no-nonsense approach has been evident.<br /> <br /> Ash gained a reputation as a DC who attacks while working for <strong>Bret Bielema</strong> at both Wisconsin and Arkansas, and that’s exactly what he wants the Buckeyes, particularly the OSU defensive backs, to do.<br /> <br /> Ohio State enters the campaign ranked No. 5 in the country and most of the concern now is for the quarterback position as <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> will miss the season. However, the secondary also is a large question mark with the 2014 season looming.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes lost three longtime starters in cornerback <strong>Bradley Roby</strong> and safeties <strong>Christian Bryant</strong> and <strong>C.J. Barnett</strong>. Also, safeties coach and co-DC <strong>Everett Withers</strong> left to become the head coach at James Madison.<br /> <br /> Enter Ash, who like Meyer expects maximum effort and toughness. However, there is a catch. Ash admits one of the keys to the season will be to NOT ride a player for giving up a big play.<br /> <br /> Wait, what?<br /> <br /> “It’s kind of like a punt return team,” Ash explained. “It’s you’re going to be a block team and go after it, every now and then you’re going to rough the punter. And you have to live with that.<br /> <br /> “It’s no different on defense. If you want an aggressive, attacking style of defense, there’s going to be a lot of big plays made. But every now and then it’s going to be feast or famine. We’ve got to avoid that as much as we can but every now and then a play is going to happen, and how we respond as a coaching staff is going to allow the players to respond in a certain way.”<br /> <br /> And the response of the Buckeye defenders, especially those on the back end of the unit, will be key to the effort. Ash and cornerbacks coach <strong>Kerry Coombs</strong> – who also doesn’t believe in backing down – know that the DBs have to keep their head up and their helmets pointed at the next play instead of the ground.<br /> <br /> “I think it all stems from the coaches,” Ash said. “If the coaches are responding in a negative way and a negative manner and always getting on a player for giving up a play, well eventually a player is going to be like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore because I’m just going to get yelled at every time.’<br /> <br /> “So we understand what’s happening and the benefit from playing that way – and we move on. Next play.”<br /> <br /> Sophomore safety <strong>Vonn Bell</strong> is among those who seems to be receiving the memos.<br /> <br /> “It’s give-and-take,” he said of the new approach. “We’re going to play press-up, so we’re going to give up the long ball. You’ve just got to shake it off and don’t think about it. Next down and next play. Our offense is going to score a lot of points, so that’s how we look at it. We’re still going to be aggressive.”<br /> <br /> As Bell described the pass defense, a smile crept across his face.<br /> <br /> “The corners are going to be up in your face,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot of big hits and lot of big plays. The secondary is very involved in everything.<br /> <br /> “It’s very fun. With the coaches dialing up something every time on third down, we’re going to come. I like where we’re heading.”<br /> <br /> On Tuesday, Ohio State will release its two-deep for the opener with Navy on Saturday (noon Eastern, CBS Sports Network). <strong>Doran Grant </strong>will be the starting boundary corner and the other spot could go to <strong>Eli Apple</strong>, <strong>Gareon Conley</strong> or <strong>Armani Reeves</strong>.<br /> <br /> The conjecture is that Reeves will be the nickel but Ohio State may not employ that alignment too often.<br /> <br /> Starting strong safety <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong> is a former nickel with solid cover skills and both players battling at free safety – Bell and <strong>Cam Burrows</strong> – are deserving of major playing time.<br /> <br /> <strong>Last Line Of Defense</strong><br /> <br /> The Buckeyes lost the services of seniors Barnett, Bryant and <strong>Corey Brown</strong> at safety but the strong and free spots still appear to be in good hands. Clearly, Ash will proceed with belief in them.<br /> <br /> When asked to compare the role of the safeties this season to last, Ash said, “I can’t speak to last year but they’re going to be the generals of our defense. They’re going to have to get everybody lined up, they’re going to have to make adjustments when the formation changes, whether by shift or motion, and they’re going to have to make a lot of plays.<br /> <br /> “They’re going to be involved in the run game and they’re going to have to play the pass. They’re going to be heavily involved in both aspects.”<br /> <br /> As for the free safety spot, Ash described the competition between Bell and Burrows as “very close” and added that he’s comfortable with either result.<br /> <br /> “Vonn is very athletic, very tough, he’s a hitter; Cam is a smart player, more of a cover guy,” said the coordinator. “So they both bring different aspects to it but I like the way both of them play.”<br /> <br /> While Powell is solidified, Ash said freshman <strong>Erick Smith</strong> is challenging veteran <strong>Ron Tanner</strong> for the backup SS spot.<br /> <br /> Yet another product of Cleveland Glenville, Smith has put on 13 pounds of muscle and is now listed 6-0, 198.<br /> <br /> “He’s tremendously talented,” Ash said of the rookie. “He’s got a good football mind and he’s competitive. He can run, he can hit and he’s picked up the scheme stuff pretty well.”<br /> <br /> With the corners pressing up and getting into the receivers, the safeties will have to make quick reads and fly to the right spot. That might be a scary proposition for some coaches given the relative lack of inexperience at safety, but Ash likes the clay he is molding.<br /> <br /> “They’ve got a chance to be an outstanding group,” he said of the safeties.<br /> <br /> Plus, there is only one direction for the secondary to go statistically. Last season, the Buckeyes allowed 283 first downs, which ranked 91st among FBS schools, and also gave up an average of 268.0 passing yards per contest, which was a pitiful 110th.<br /> <br /> “When Coach Ash came in, he knew we had one of the worst passing defenses in college football,” Bell said. “He really wants to attack that and we’re using that as motivation now. We’re ready to show the world.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-08-25/High_Risk_High_Reward.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-08-25/High_Risk_High_Reward.aspx 7248822d-02c1-4d65-913a-c555d9f63569 Mon, 25 Aug 2014 18:20:32 GMT Rapp Around: Senior Castoff So there was <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>, two-time winner of the Silver Football award as the Big Ten’s best player, telling reporters, “I’m 100 percent” … and my skeptic meter went off.<br /> <br /> Why?<br /> <br /> I don’t know. How do moms intuitively know when you’re about to get hurt? How does Nate Silver use data to predict everything? Who invented liquid soap and why?<br /> <br /> It just didn’t feel right, even when, between practices on Monday, Miller was smiling and acting like his shoulder situation was no big deal and the only problem he was encountering was a slightly sore muscle behind the joint.<br /> <br /> Clearly, Miller needed a good week, a productive week, a healthy week, and it all was supposed to lead into a worry-free game week for the August 30 opener vs. Navy in Baltimore, Md. (noon Eastern, CBS Sports Network).<br /> <br /> “I’m doing fine,” Miller told reporters right around noon on Monday. “It’s just progression in my shoulder and we’re being precautious (with it). I don’t want to overdo it during camp and then the first game I’ve got to sit out because my muscle is too sore back in the back. It’s just part of playing.<br /> <br /> “I’m throwing every other day and we’re doing strengthening exercises to get it strengthened back up. So, I’ll be good.”<br /> <br /> Anything short of an uptick with Miller’s health and game readiness was going to lead to some serious concern. Also, after talking up backups <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> and <strong>Cardale Jones</strong>, offensive coordinator <strong>Tom Herman</strong> said, “By no stretch of the imagination are we where we were at that position with <strong>Kenny Guiton</strong>, arguably the best backup in college football the last two years.”<br /> <br /> So the week behind with a Heisman Trophy contender still on a pitch count and no “Ol’ Righthander” ready to come out of the bullpen.<br /> <br /> And then … well, unless you were sedated Monday night and Tuesday you know why all of this is ominous now.<br /> <br /> Simply making a throw with no contact Monday afternoon, Miller felt his shoulder give and crumpled. Early indications were that while the three-year starter had to undergo an MRI that the injury was serious enough to believe he could miss the entire 2014 season.<br /> <br /> Sure enough, reports surfaced on Tuesday indicating that nightmare scenario and eventually the university confirmed it rather late in the day.<br /> <br /> Ohio State was supposed to have several coaches and players available for more interviews in Tuesday but cancelled them with the MRI results and Miller updates still pending. It still didn’t stop Buckeye Nation from nearly grinding to a halt and for citywide depression to set in.<br /> <br /> BRAXTON MILLER IS OUT FOR THE SEASON.<br /> <br /> It hit followers of the Buckeyes between the eyes and also apparently shook head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong>.<br /> <br /> “My thoughts and prayers are with Braxton and his family,” Meyer said in a statement. "This is an unfortunate injury to a young man who means so much to this program and to Buckeye nation.”<br /> <br /> Miller threw for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns and ran for more than a 1,000 yards and 12 more scores in leading the Buckeyes to a 12-2 campaign. He’s accounted for 84 TDs in his OSU career – 52 throwing and another 32 rushing – and was on his way to eclipsing many career schools records such as total offense.<br /> <br /> But statistics still may not measure his worth. After news spread of his season ending injury, odds on the Buckeyes winning the national championship shot from 12-to-1 to 50-to-1 according to one online service.<br /> <br /> Miller wrenched his shoulder early in the 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl but for some reason didn’t undergo reparative surgery until the end of February. He sat out spring drills and Jones, a redshirt sophomore, appeared to take advantage of his time with the first team and drew praise from Meyer for solidifying himself at QB.<br /> <br /> Instead, Barrett nudged past Jones on the depth chart as the coaches perhaps began to assess the position differently knowing Miller wasn’t entirely functional.<br /> <br /> Then Miller’s senior season and perhaps college career ended in a thud, leaving him to addressing fans mourning his absence.<br /> <br /> “I love Ohio State and Buckeye nation, and my goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever,” he said. “I am on course to graduate in December and I want to attend graduate school, and then return to lead the Buckeyes next season.<br /> <br /> “In the meantime, I want to give all the support I can to my coaches and teammates as they chase a championship this season.”<br /> <br /> Miller admitted in Chicago at Big Ten Media Days that the senior class – a group that has undergone some major ups and downs and turnover to the coaching staff – was targeting a conference title this season. The Buckeyes got close last season but suffered a 34-24 loss to Michigan State in Indianapolis. That result busted OSU’s 24-game win streak and sent Sparty to the Rose Bowl.<br /> <br /> <strong>Now What?</strong><br /> <br /> Hopefully Miller really is considering a return to Ohio State next season. Agents, of course, will advise him against it, but it can’t be ideal to go into the NFL draft as damaged goods.<br /> <br /> Miller reportedly has a $1 million total disability policy that he could collect if he never plays football again. According to ESPN, that premium has been paid for by Ohio State, but Miller does not have loss of value insurance that would cover him if he significantly slipped in the NFL draft.<br /> <br /> If Miller really wants to recover, cares about his place in OSU history, and has intentions of playing quarterback professionally then he needs to make good on his pledge to wear scarlet and gray again next year.<br /> <br /> And, oh, by the way, the Buckeyes could be insanely good in 2015 with Miller piloting a suddenly veteran offense and the talented defense likely formidable.<br /> <br /> Until that time, though, someone has to play under center – or behind center – and it appears that somebody is going to be Barrett.<br /> <br /> A 6-1, 225-pound redshirt freshman, Barrett tore his ACL in October 2012 as a senior at Wichita Falls (Texas) Rider High School. He was one of the highest ranked dual-threat QBs in his class at the time of the setback.<br /> <br /> He enrolled at OSU and sat out the 2013 season. This past April he led the Gray squad to a win in the Spring Game and completed 15 of 33 passes for 151 yards. Receiver <strong>Michael Thomas</strong> caught six of those aerials for 64 yards.<br /> <br /> In preseason camp, Barrett has turned it up a notch and played decently well in Saturday’s team scrimmage.<br /> <br /> “The offense moves better when he’s in there,” Herman said.<br /> <br /> Still, has thrown 666 passes in his OSU career, Jones has thrown two collegiate passes and Barrett hasn’t played in a meaningful game in 22 months.<br /> <br /> At Media Day last weekend, Herman said Barrett is developing into a more-than-serviceable QB.<br /> <br /> “Gets the ball out quickly,” Herman said. “Very efficient. Smooth release. Very accurate. Extremely cerebral. Very magnetic leader. I think the kids kind of gravitate towards him.<br /> <br /> “We’ve got to work on strengthening his arm. He’s a distant third to Braxton and Cardale in terms of just rearing back and trying to throw it through a wall. But he makes up for it in his anticipation and his accuracy and all that. You don’t have to have a howitzer to be successful in college football. I’m very pleased with his continuing growth.”<br /> <br /> Now Barrett has to find an even higher plane – and Miller has to work through a painful injury and figure out his future.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-08-19/Rapp_Around_Senior_Castoff.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-08-19/Rapp_Around_Senior_Castoff.aspx 89078756-b39f-422e-bffc-e8e6ad14aa8c Wed, 20 Aug 2014 02:13:00 GMT Meyer Opens Lid On Program Ohio State’s preseason camp has carried a level of mystery considering practices have been closed for the most part and the Buckeyes’ premier player, <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>, continues to progress at a guarded pace.<br /> <br /> The team opened itself up to the media last weekend then brought down the garage door with nine practices over the next six days and no public interaction.<br /> <br /> However, head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> did assent to give reporters an update on the state of the 2014 team after Saturday morning’s scrimmage.<br /> <br /> A few highlights follow:<br /> <br /> * Meyer was adamant last Sunday during Media Day that he wasn’t interested in getting into issues that took away from Ohio State’s Aug. 30 opener against Navy at Baltimore’s M&amp;T Bank Stadium (noon Eastern, CBS Sports Network).<br /> <br /> However, he did admit Saturday that the clock is ticking and that a few positions are still up for grabs.<br /> <br /> Also the quarterback spot is coming into focus but with a noteworthy change. Meyer said that redshirt freshman <strong>J.T. Barrett</strong> technically has inched past <strong>Cardale Jones</strong> on the depth chart as the team’s backup QB.<br /> <br /> “Functionality, completing passes, growing up a bit, understanding things … he was always kind of a quiet guy,” Meyer said of Barrett. “Now he is acting like a quarterback.”<br /> <br /> Jones took the vast majority of the first-team snaps in the spring and drew tempered praise from Meyer. However, the young QB is still a runner first and has not inspired in the passing game. Barrett, who is starting to get enough reps in practice to show what he can do, simply is better at reading defense and hitting receivers in stride.<br /> <br /> Meyer and offensive coordinator <strong>Tom Herman</strong> want the offense to hit a higher gear this season, and that will require a more dynamic passing game with <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong> no longer around to take handoffs.<br /> <br /> Since Miller’s health is an ongoing issue, the coaches apparently prefer bringing in Barrett in relief so the passing attack wouldn’t have to be shut down.<br /> <br /> * As for Miller, Meyer said his senior standout is still somewhat limited.<br /> <br /> “From what they tell me, he’s still right on schedule,” Meyer said. “He scrimmaged today but just limited throws, obviously. We are expecting Monday to take a big step. You’d like him to do a little bit more. His attitude is great.<br /> <br /> “I know he will be ready. I trust that he will be ready. I’d like to run the first team out there and go, but we’re not able to do that right now.”<br /> <br /> Miller suffered a shoulder injury in the Orange Bowl and didn’t undergo surgery to address the problem until right before spring ball.<br /> <br /> Meyer admitted that the team doctors are still concerned about Miller making a high amount of throws in practice since soreness is still hindering his right shoulder.<br /> <br /> Miller threw for more than 2,000 yards last year while greatly improved his accuracy. Still, his early-season limitations and the loss of leading receiver Philly Brown has left a couple question marks regarding the reliability of the passing game – not to mention that the offensive line is going through an overhaul.<br /> <br /> A top target early on could be tight end <strong>Jeff Heuerman</strong>, who essentially already has been named as a team captain.<br /> <br /> Heuerman is a very well-rounded tight end but is slightly better at going out into routes and catching the football. <strong>Nick Vannett</strong> also can block and catch but may be a little bit better option when the Buckeyes need some extra protection.<br /> <br /> * Speaking of blocking, Meyer indicated that <strong>Darryl Baldwin</strong> has taken control of the right tackle position as expected. That means that three of the five spots are accounted for at the moment with Baldwin at RT, <strong>Taylor Decker</strong> secure at left tackle and <strong>Pat Elflein</strong> the clear starter at right guard.<br /> <br /> Of Decker, a junior who is the only returning starter up front, Meyer said, “He acts like a captain. I am impressed with his leadership skills.”<br /> <br /> Meyer also confirmed that veteran <strong>Jacoby Boren</strong> and Alabama transfer <strong>Chad Lindsay</strong> are still in pitched battle for the center spot. The expectation was that Lindsay would emerge but he’s been slowed by a banged-up shoulder and Boren has seized his time in the spotlight.<br /> <br /> Lindsay, however, scrimmaged on Saturday and is still in the mix.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, the other guard spot is the most undecided of the 22 positions on the field. <strong>Antonio Underwood</strong> has one career start and is still vying for the starter spot but he’s trying to hold off three converted defensive linemen who have drawn praise for their toughness – <strong>Billy Price</strong>, <strong>Joel Hale</strong> and <strong>Chase Farris</strong>.<br /> <br /> * Speaking of fierce competition, the coaches are still dangling carrots for all the scholarship running backs in camp.<br /> <br /> <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong> is still listed as the starter but he’s missed some practice time with a fractured wrist, which required surgery and the insertion of a pin the previous weekend. The coaches admire Elliott’s commitment and ability to play through pain but they also like what they are seeing from more experienced backs <strong>Bri’onte Dunn</strong> and <strong>Rod Smith</strong>.<br /> <br /> “They have made every practice and done pretty well,” Meyer said of the tandem. “Every day they have shown up and worked their tails off. They are in the mix.”<br /> <br /> Meyer also has offered consistent plaudits for freshman <strong>Curtis Samuel</strong>, a burner from New York City who will find his way onto the field.<br /> <br /> “I tell our guys right now it is a street fight for the ball,” Meyer said. “Don’t have a bad day because that will take away a couple of carries or a couple of catch opportunities.”<br /> <br /> * On the other side of the ball, Meyer has been very pleased with the results and the collaborative efforts of co-coordinators <strong>Chris Ash</strong> and <strong>Luke Fickell</strong>. Meyer hired Ash away from Arkansas early in the year and is giving him a lot of say in the defensive approach.<br /> <br /> Ash wants to press up on the outside and get more defenders going forward while Fickell was criticized for having a bend-but-don’t-break defense that still broke with regularity the past couple years.<br /> <br /> “The biggest issue has been the ability to think from the back end forward,” Meyer said. “It’s usually been stop the run/run the ball. I think we have that ability now. Luke and Chris are working together to put together a pretty nice package. So far, it’s exactly how I wanted to see it work.”<br /> <br /> * On paper, the defense has a hole at safety where longtime starters <strong>C.J. Barnett</strong> and <strong>Christian Bryant</strong> used to roam. However, Meyer likes the outlook there.<br /> <br /> “The safety position is strong,” he said. “You have <strong>Cam Burrows</strong>, <strong>Vonn Bell</strong>, <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong> and (freshman) <strong>Erick Smith</strong> is right on their (heels). And (<strong>Ron</strong>) <strong>Tanner</strong> would be the fifth.”<br /> <br /> Corner is the only secondary area with a returning starter but <strong>Doran Grant</strong> has been held out of practice with a sore hamstring. Meyer said that <strong>Marshon Lattimore</strong> and <strong>Armani Reeves</strong> have similar injuries right now and while <strong>Gareon Conley</strong> is dealing with a back issue.<br /> <br /> * OSU’s most tenured wide receiver, <strong>Devin Smith</strong>, also has missed the last few days of practice. Smith has a tight hamstring but Meyer believes the senior will return full-go on Monday.<br /> <br /> Evan Spencer is the likely starter opposite Smith and the Buckeyes are sure to rotate at least two more wideouts onto the field with regularity as well as use <strong>Dontre Wilson</strong> and possibly Samuel in an H-back role.<br /> <br /> “<strong>Michael Thomas</strong> and <strong>Corey Smith</strong> have seized the opportunity there,” Meyer said of the wide receiver rotation.<br /> <br /> * When Meyer was asked to name a player who has shown the most improvement during preseason camp, he didn’t hesitate.<br /> <br /> “<strong>Tommy Schutt</strong> is the most improved player at Ohio State right now, along with <strong>Darryl Baldwin</strong>,” he said. “They were non-factors last year but will deep into the mix this year. Those are the little things you need to see in camp and we are seeing.”<br /> <br /> The head coach has made it clear he believes in the defensive line and the depth in that area.<br /> <br /> Star defensive end <strong>Noah Spence</strong> will miss the first two games of the season to complete a suspension that was handed down prior to the Orange Bowl but Meyer said the position is in good hands with seniors <strong>Steve Miller</strong> and <strong>Rashad Frazier</strong> able to replace Spence.<br /> <br /> Spence has been on the scout team when the offense prepares for Navy.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-08-17/Meyer_Opens_Lid_On_Program.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-08-17/Meyer_Opens_Lid_On_Program.aspx e84676b3-0bf9-485d-92a2-f7f4cdac7839 Sun, 17 Aug 2014 17:44:53 GMT Getting Them All In Line With the college football season near its arrival, I keep finding myself being asked to assess the Ohio State outlook, at least from a preseason point of view.<br /> <br /> My friends, my family and even a radio listening audience seem to want to know what I think since I have covered the team for 20-plus years.<br /> <br /> Such conversations lead to the inevitable follow-up question: “What concerns you most?”<br /> <br /> Well, the rising economic gap between wealthy and the poor, but let’s not get into that right now.<br /> <br /> From a Buckeye standpoint, the answer has to be the offensive line. Doesn’t it?<br /> <br /> Sure, you could stay up at night wondering if <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> is going to get through the season in one piece or how the running game is going to function without <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong> or if the Buckeyes can be anywhere near as dynamic as last season when they actually set several seasonal offensive records. But doesn’t that all connect back to the blocking up front?<br /> <br /> It was so solid last season, such a strength after years of hand-wringing about spotty play in the trenches, that we managed to take it for granted.<br /> <br /> And now here we are, looking at a completely new front five.<br /> <br /> Well, that’s not entirely true since <strong>Taylor Decker</strong> clearly will remain one of the OL starters, although his shift from right tackle to the vital left tackle spot still is noteworthy – along with the loss of <strong>Jack Mewhort</strong>, <strong>Andrew Norwell</strong>, <strong>Corey Linsley</strong> and <strong>Marcus Hall</strong>.<br /> <br /> The departees were borderline fantastic all of the past couple seasons manning down left tackle, left guard, center and right guard, respectively. Granted, many will remember Hall for his Big Ten exit, which entailed him being tossed from the Michigan game and flipping off the Big House on his way to the tunnel.<br /> <br /> And it’s not like all four of those players reached an All-American status, although Mewhort did appear on several such lists.<br /> <br /> The fact that there is even hope that the line can somehow remain a plus even with so much changeover is a credit to position coach <strong>Ed Warinner</strong>, who also serves as co-coordinator. <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> probably would admit behind closed doors that Warinner has become his most valuable assistant, and that’s saying a lot considering the quality up and down the staff.<br /> <br /> Certainly, the entire coaching staff has worked to bring in high-quality O-line prospects during the Meyer era, but Warinner is charged with developing the bunch and the environment in the meeting room. In fact, Meyer said Sunday that Decker is a product of culture, the best culture of any position group.<br /> <br /> Starting with the 6-7, 315-pound Decker’s spot, let’s take a quick jaunt along the line.<br /> <br /> <strong>LEFT TACKLE</strong><br /> Decker is now the anchor and he appears up to the challenge. Just to prove he’s serious now, the veteran decided to trim his long locks and go with a more clean-cut look under the helmet.<br /> <br /> Decker is a talent who appears ready to flourish under Warinner’s tutelage. The two originally were pegged to work together at Notre Dame until Warinner was hired by Meyer and Decker decided to follow the coach. Decker believes in Warinner’s teachings and has seen firsthand what it takes to excel in the Big Ten. He’s a warrior who is ready to lead others and he knows that time is now.<br /> <br /> Look for Decker to have a solid if not spectacular season at LT. <strong>Kyle Dodson</strong> (6-6, 310) most likely will be the backup and also can display laudable all-around ability if pressed into service.<br /> <br /> <strong>LEFT GUARD</strong><br /> Meyer proclaimed this to be perhaps the premier battle of camp and it’s difficult to say who has the edge at the moment.<br /> <br /> Junior <strong>Antonio Underwood</strong> (6-2, 303) is the man to write down in pencil for now given that he already has one career start and the coaches list him first. However, converted defensive linemen <strong>Joel Hale</strong> (6-4, 310) and <strong>Billy Price</strong> (6-4, 305) are more than willing to knock heads and have made the coaches take notice.<br /> <br /> Hale held down a starting spot in the middle of the D-line last year and understands how to use his hands and get leverage at the snap. Price plays with a snarl and can drive people, although he is not quite as polished with his technique.<br /> <br /> Norwell earned this spot by being the most willing to hurtle his body around and then became a very good lineman. Underwood will have to be consistent throughout the preseason an in the early going or he could end up at the end of the line.<br /> <br /> This will be interesting to follow.<br /> <br /> <strong>CENTER</strong><br /> The Buckeyes appear to have two well-qualified candidates.<br /> <br /> <strong>Chad Lindsay</strong> (6-2, 302) played his prep ball in Texas and his previous college career at the University of Alabama, where he toiled in some very important games for the Crimson Tide. That gets your attention right away, as does Lindsay’s size and ability to fire off the ball.<br /> <br /> However, <strong>Jacoby Boren</strong> (6-1, 285) is, well, a Boren, and that makes him a harsh hombre. The baby brother of former OSU tough guys <strong>Justin Boren</strong> and <strong>Zach Boren</strong>, and the son of ex-Michigan defender <strong>Mike Boren</strong>, Jacoby never backs down in the trenches and usually finds a way to win play after play despite a lack of overwhelming gifts.<br /> <br /> Boren was solid in his minutes last season and apparently is doing well enough in camp to have several believing he could start over Lindsay.<br /> <br /> It’s a safe bet that each will play some, but Warinner doesn’t want to platoon Lindsay and Boren at the expense of consistency, especially when it comes to snapping the ball. It would help Lindsay’s case if he showed he can handle shotgun snaps with no issues.<br /> <br /> <strong>RIGHT GUARD</strong><br /> A year ago, a lot of ardent followers of Ohio State football probably couldn’t have told you who the heck <strong>Pat Elflein</strong> was. After all, Hall and Norwell were entrenched at guard and&nbsp; the 6-3, 300-pound Elflein was an afterthought when he arrived from nearby Pickerington a few years ago.<br /> <br /> However, Elflein played very well in a backup role and then came to the fore in the Michigan game and the Big Ten title game with Hall out of commission.<br /> <br /> So impressive was Elflein in his short time on the field and in handling his off-field duties that Warinner rewarded him by keeping him out of the Spring Game – a sure sign that the junior had locked down a starting role. Now he’s expected to come into his own and help hold the fort on the right side of the line.<br /> <br /> Price likely will serve as the backup while freshmen <strong>Demetrius Knox</strong> (6-4, 285) and <strong>Marcelys Jones</strong> (6-4, 345) also would get some spot time at either guard spot in a perfect world, especially with <strong>Tommy Brown</strong> transferred to Akron.<br /> <br /> <strong>RIGHT TACKLE</strong><br /> Meyer and Warinner aren’t quite ready to name <strong>Darryl Baldwin</strong> as the starter, but that seems imminent. Baldwin is a senior who understands the clock is ticking and he has good feet and ideal size (6-6, 307) for the position.<br /> <br /> Baldwin is yet another lineman who has developed under Warinner’s tutelage and his time to make his hard work pay off is at hand. Most close to the situation believe he’s ready to prove himself.<br /> <br /> Sophomore <strong>Evan Lisle</strong> (6-6, 300) is the most likely candidate to also vie for time, although the coaches also believe junior <strong>Chase Farris</strong> (6-4, 300) has put in admirable work and deserves to see the field as well.<br /> <br /> Another recent recruiting victory came in the form of <strong>Jamarco Jones</strong> (6-5, 315), a true freshman who appears to be the future at the position.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes actually have as much quality depth up front as they’ve had in many years, even with a couple spots up for grabs. Now the challenge is to find the right fivesome and allow it time to jell.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-08-11/Getting_Them_All_In_Line.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-08-11/Getting_Them_All_In_Line.aspx 9b6f2a13-7534-4653-8f80-5e196f35325d Mon, 11 Aug 2014 20:23:12 GMT On The Brink Of Greatness? The imminent return of Ohio State football means it’s almost Braxton time.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes are the pick to win the Big Ten and a nationally elite team, they have one of the premier head coaches in college football and perhaps the best defensive line of any outfit in America.<br /> <br /> Still, the OSU fortunes and the notoriety of the 2014 team begin and end with <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>, who will embark on what figures to be a record-setting year at quarterback.<br /> <br /> Miller committed to Ohio State out of Huber Heights Wayne when <strong>Jim Tressel</strong> was still firmly in control of the program. Since then the young QB has seen Tressel’s demise, won the starting job as a frosh, witnessed <strong>Luke Fickell</strong>’s one-year turn at the helm, the arrival of boss <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> and coordinator <strong>Tom Herman</strong>, the third assistant charged with pointing the offense in the right direction in the Miller era.<br /> <br /> Miller has done more than his part, especially the past two seasons when he did what no other Buckeye signal caller did – throw for more than 2,000 yards and a rush for another 1,000. He also tied a Big Ten accomplishment by winning a second straight Silver Football award as the conference’s designated MVP.<br /> <br /> Miller could have bolted for the NFL but smartly stayed out of a QB-heavy draft and now can look forward to a fourth year under center – OK, behind center.<br /> <br /> He hurt his shoulder early in the 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl and underwent a reparative surgical procedure prior to spring practice, which he skipped. With preseason camp underway, the coaches are still being cautious with their most important player and are limiting his reps.<br /> <br /> Co-offensive coordinator <strong>Ed Warinner</strong> recently equated it to a pitcher starting with a low innings total in spring training and working his way back to full strength.<br /> <br /> The following is an excerpt from an interview Miller conducted with SRU and a handful of other news agencies just prior to the start of camp:<br /> <br /> <strong>On the offensive line having to start over with four new first-teamers in place –</strong> “I’m a little bit concerned. I feel like we’re going to be pretty good, though. I was anxious about the offensive line my sophomore year, too, though, because we didn’t know what we had. But they got it together. Coach Warinner and Coach Meyer, they took care of that situation. So I’m not too worried about it. During camp, everybody will be playing to prove themselves to be a starter, so everybody will be playing well.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On a similar situation in the receiving corps, which no longer features top target Philly Brown but is loaded with depth –</strong> “I can tell how people run their routes and how fast they are. It is a different vibe when you get into a practice situation because everything is going fast. Seven-on-seven is half-speed. I want to know how guys play when competition is on the line, so it’s going to be fun. We’ve got to go out with a bang this year, so a lot of guys have to make a lot of big plays this year.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On if it is the more the merrier at that position or is it better to have a reliable core group of receivers –</strong> “In order for guys to make big-time plays, they’ve got to play (regularly). That’s what they were recruited here for. And I feel like that is going to happen this year, too. I feel like those guys are confident and they’re comfortable with what they’re doing, too.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On if he had to circle one game on the schedule this year, would it be Nov. 8 at Michigan State –</strong> “Nope. Michigan is our rival and that’s never going to change. Plus, it’s a home game, too. The other one at Michigan State is a night game and everybody is going to be hyping that up because it was the Big Ten championship last year.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On if he admits the MSU series has heated up recently –</strong> “Yeah, man, it is getting bigger ever since we lost the Big Ten championship. We’ve got to improve ourselves from last year. We came up short at the end of the game and we’ve got to make sure we’re on the right page this year.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On the thought of playing five regular-season games at night this season –</strong> “It’s going to be fun, man. I just love playing those night games, You get to sleep in a little bit and you have some extra time to watch film, extra time to take care of your body. It should be fun, man. A lot of the guys like playing night games because of playing under Friday night lights in high school.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On if he wished the Michigan game were at night –</strong> “I feel like it should be, but if it’s going to be a night game it’s got to be earlier in the season, because on Nov. 30 at the end of the season last year it was so cold. It was freezing. But a traditional game, a rivalry game, it should be a night game so it can be more hyped. Plus, everybody will be watching.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On what he thinks about recruiting rankings –</strong> “I think rankings, it’s all a number. Any guy can beat out any guy in any situation. People think if you have a guy who’s two-star and a guy who’s four-star, the four-star guy will always be better. But that’s not really true. Some guys use it to motivate themselves.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On Ohio State’s outlook at running back without Carlos Hyde –</strong> “We’ve got three prime-time guys, really four. We’ve got Zeke (<strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong>), <strong>Rod</strong> (<strong>Smith</strong>), we’ve got <strong>Curtis Samuel</strong>, we’ve got <strong>Bri’onte</strong> (<strong>Dunn</strong>). It’s going to be a lot of competition. Everybody is going to be fighting for that position.”<br /> <strong><br /> On admitting in the past to being a bit of a homebody –</strong> “I go out sometimes. The reason why people probably don’t recognize that I go out is because I stay out of trouble. I bring guys who are in my circle and they take care of situations. If I go to a bar or something like that, I’m not going to interact with any nonsense. The guys that I bring around me are going to take care of that and make sure I stay out of trouble, make sure I’m out of the limelight.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On what he does when he needs to decompress –</strong> “I like to hang out on the weekends and I like to go fishing. I like to go to the reservoir that’s in my hometown. And I hang out with the guys. We just chill out and play a game or whatever. I like to go four-wheeling, too, a little bit. It’s activities like that. I like to go outdoors when I want to get away from being the Ohio State quarterback.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On if he ever gets jealous when he sees Johnny Manziel hanging out with Justin Bieber –</strong> “No. I don’t expose what I do. I don’t usually take a picture with guys that I meet. I just want to build a relationship. Plus, I’m more careful.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On his playful suggestion that he might “beat up” teammate Michael Bennett for stealing his spot at a massage table earlier this year –</strong> “Mike is real people. He’s just like a brother. We’ve been playing against each other since high school.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On how he would characterize the senior class –</strong> “I feel like we’ve been through it all – ups and downs, success, the worst, coaching change. I think it’s our time coming. This year we’ve got to grasp the whole team. We understand what we need to do to reach the high peak.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On Meyer insisting that Ohio State has only one rival –</strong> “I agree with him. Whatever he says I’m going to agree with. It’s a tradition. The Team Up North is our rival.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On if The Game has lost any luster –</strong> “No. Ever since I’ve been playing in it it’s been the same type of crazy atmosphere every year. So, no, I don’t think so. It’s been pretty good to us.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On his earliest memory of playing football –</strong> “When I was 5 years old, we were playing for the Broncos in Little League. <strong>Trey DePriest</strong>, he went to Alabama, and a couple other good guys and I were on the team, and every time we traveled to play a game the other coaches always thought we were older than what we were. They thought we were cheating and stuff so they wanted to see our birth certificates. They were always shocked at how good we were, how big we were, how hard we hit, and how we gained yards and things like that, how easy it was for us to score points. It was crazy. We went through the whole process of being investigated and everything. We had to come from Springfield to Columbus to play in an older division and we still dominated teams. It was fun.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On playing defense back then and getting to hit people –</strong> “That’s what my dad played and I wanted to be like my dad when I grew up. But after a while (laughs), my talents took over and I was a better athlete than him. So I had to change my game around. I played safety at first. Man, I used to bring heat.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-08-07/On_The_Brink_Of_Greatness.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-08-07/On_The_Brink_Of_Greatness.aspx 467c940d-a609-445e-b550-4d0b00a75b2c Thu, 07 Aug 2014 22:49:52 GMT Experts Believe Bucks Are Elite <strong>CHICAGO – Chris Spielman</strong> couldn’t help but laugh.<br /> <br /> A reporter was interviewing him at the Chicago Hilton on Monday during Big Ten Media Days and Spielman had just explained that he felt his alma mater, Ohio State, had the most loaded roster of any team in the conference.<br /> <br /> The other experts on hand pretty much agree. So do the preseason publications that tended to hail the Buckeyes as the premier team in the Big Ten. The poll voters likely will follow suit and place OSU in the top five.<br /> <br /> That’s not a major headline in Columbus, where the Buckeyes reside and are expected to compete for titles on an annual basis. Still, it seems a little presumptuous to skeptics and even those who remember Ohio State’s flaws on defense last year and realize there are holes to fill this fall.<br /> <br /> How well the Buckeyes fare, of course, remains to be seen. But there’s no questioning the overall ability and Meyer’s recent recruiting successes.<br /> <br /> So when the aforementioned reporter asked Spielman if the OSU coaches could have a problem trying to find the right players from a large pool of candidates the former superstar linebacker chuckled and said, “Is it a problem to have too much talent?”<br /> <br /> Well, that wasn’t exactly the question.<br /> <br /> The point being instead that <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> and his staff still have to find the right combination of personnel on the field, albeit from a large pool of skilled players.<br /> <br /> “That’s why he gets paid $5 million a year, to find the best guys and put them in a position to make plays,” said Spielman, now a prominent game analyst for ESPN. “That’s what their jobs are are, to do that. You could ask the same question at Alabama.<br /> <br /> “They should have them in place. They have spring ball, they have the summer. You coach them in the spring and you say, ‘OK, Coach Meyer, this is the guy that I thin is going to be our best player at this position.’ The coach has to sign his name to a player and then the player has to perform. If he doesn’t perform, you find someone else who does. If he doesn’t perform and the next guy doesn’t perform then you find a new coach.”<br /> <br /> And those very coaches have strong track records. Meyer likes what he’s seeing so far from new co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach <strong>Chris Ash</strong>. <strong>Luke Fickell</strong>, who preceded Meyer as head coach, remains highly involved on that side of the ball as well. Also, Meyer hired longtime Penn State assistant <strong>Larry Johnson</strong> to head up his defensive line.<br /> <br /> The defense allowed 268.0 yards passing per game last season, a shortcoming that bit down in the losses to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game and to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. At the behest of Meyer, Ash will employ a more press-up look with his corners and dare opponents to throw the ball to areas out of their comfort zone.<br /> <br /> “I had a chance to sit down with Luke a little bit and talk a little philosophy and see what they were trying to do, and I think when you have <strong>Sammy Watkins</strong> catch a thousand yards of screen passes in one game, you have to do something to adjust because other teams are going to do that,” Spielman said.<br /> <br /> “Plus, I don’t think Urban has the patience to be a bend-but-don’t-break defense. So you have to get up and challenge guys on the edges. Now, when you do that you have to be able to live with the fact that that ball is going to go over your head once in a while. You can’t get too frustrated with it.<br /> <br /> “But the fact that they have an offense that can score points, I don’t they’ll get too worried about getting beaten occasionally on defense, which allows them to be more aggressive.”<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, <strong>Ed Warinner</strong>, who could be OSU’s most accomplished aide, has shown he knows how to rebuild an offensive line. He’ll have to do it again with four starters departed.<br /> <br /> Normally a team that has a new O-line, has to reconfigure its back seven and is without its leading rusher and leading receiver from a year ago isn’t a lock to be picked to win its conference and participate in the first-ever College Football Playoff. But that’s exactly the case with Ohio State.<br /> <br /> When asked if he felt comfortable calling OSU an elite team, Spielman said, “Yeah. I think they’re very elite. They have so much talent and when you have an abundance of talent that breeds competition, and competition usually brings out the best in talented players. So I would call them elite, absolutely.”<br /> <br /> Former college and NFL coach <strong>Dave Wannstedt</strong>, now an analyst for FOX Sports, agrees.<br /> <br /> “I put them as one of my final four,” Wannstedt told SportsRappUp.com. “One, Urban has done a great job of recruiting, so you know they’ve gotten players the last few years. And I really like <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>. The guys numbers are as good as anyone’s. He’s gotten better with his completion percentage.<br /> <br /> “So I think offensively they’re going to score points. And they made a little adjustment on defense with their defensive coordinator. I know for a fact that’s where Urban’s focus has been. He’s had some guest coaches come in. <strong>Greg Schiano</strong> has been up there for a few days in the spring.<br /> <br /> “So he’s putting the emphasis where it needs to be. He’s not sticking his head in the sand like they’re fine.”<br /> <br /> Wannstedt, though, doesn’t see a cakewalk for the Buckeyes in the Big Ten. He also likes Sparty – a lot.<br /> <br /> “I think Michigan State has probably been under the radar as much as anybody in the country,” he said. “They’ve got Oregon and then they’ve got Michigan and Ohio State at home.<br /> <br /> “They’ve graduated a few guys and I don’t know if they’ve got the overall team experience right now, but they could be a factor.”<br /> <br /> And it is very noteworthy that the Buckeyes will play in East Lansing under the lights in what is now a divisional game. New members Rutgers and Maryland are in the East Division along with Indiana, but Ohio State also has to deal with Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State on an annual basis.<br /> <br /> “Well, if we’re being honest we have to say the East looks like the tougher division,” Spielman said. “However, I think if Nebraska plays where I think they can play – if <strong>Tommy Armstrong Jr.</strong> plays and you have (<strong>Ameer</strong>) <strong>Abdullah</strong> back …<br /> <br /> “Then you have Wisconsin, who I think is very good and will be very good. Iowa is supposed to have people back and be an up-and-comer. And then a team I like, and always like because I think he’s an outstanding coach (is Northwestern) because of how Pat Fitzgerald interacts with his guys and you have one quarterback this year, which I think will help them.<br /> <br /> “I think both divisions are very good and better than people think. And I think Penn State will be very good this year also.”<br /> <br /> Spielman also worries a bit about Ohio State’s rushing attack.<br /> <br /> “For me, the concern is how are you going to replace the yards that <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong> provided? The thing I loved about Carlos Hyde is he had like two carries for loss last season. And how do you replace the hidden yards that he gets, the yards after contact?<br /> <br /> Because instead of having a second-and-9 you have a second-and-5, and that opens up your playbook.<br /> <br /> “So that’s the biggest challenge, I think, on offense, replacing him.”<br /> <br /> Tight end <strong>Jeff Heuerman</strong> and defensive lineman <strong>Michael Bennett</strong> joined Miller and Meyer to represent Ohio State in Chicago, and they said they are fine with the Buckeyes being perceived as the Big Ten favorite.<br /> <br /> However, Heuerman admitted that is may have been an appointment based mostly on reputation.<br /> <br /> “Twenty-four straight wins, it doesn’t happen a whole lot,” he said. “We do need to accomplish something. Our group of seniors, we don’t have a Big Ten championship and we don’t have a bowl win since we’ve been here. We’re going to do everything we can to do that.<br /> <br /> “We got some young studs on this team that are going to have to step up and play. Some guys on defense and even some guys on offense. That’s a big thing that a lot of them are going to have to go through, and they’re going to step up.<br /> <br /> “But we’re The Ohio State, and history plays a big factor in it, I guess. But then again, it’s not everything. If they thought we were going to be terrible they’re not going to pick us based solely on our history.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-07-29/Experts_Believe_Bucks_Are_Elite.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-07-29/Experts_Believe_Bucks_Are_Elite.aspx a8d7e21d-5657-43b4-b0b5-1b72f743e4d9 Tue, 29 Jul 2014 16:22:00 GMT 'Pride Of The Buckeyes' Zapped It didn’t take newly named Ohio State president <strong>Michael Drake</strong> long to be saddled with an administrative headache – and to shake up the university community and OSU fans.<br /> <br /> Saying he was “profoundly disappointed” with news of misconduct within the university’s famed marching band, Drake announced on Thursday via an online video that he has fired band director <strong>Jon Waters</strong> following a two-month investigation into the matter.<br /> <br /> Drake was officially named university president three weeks ago, but inherited the problem, which now has become a black eye for the school and its storied gameday tradition.<br /> <br /> The jaw-dropping report and reaction by the school was triggered by the complaint of a parent. It revealed evidence that the student members of the band routinely harassed one another, hazed new musicians and claimed that Waters turned a blind eye to lewd behavior, pranks and the incessant innuendo.<br /> <br /> Drake described the findings uncovered “very serious cultural issues and an environment conducive to sexual harassment within the band, creating a hostile environment for students.”<br /> <br /> The 38-year-old Waters was popular with band members and the public, especially after the band received lots of national notoriety last season for intricate and elaborate halftime shows of OSU football games. Waters was in just his second year as director.<br /> <br /> Drake said the school will now conduct a thorough search for a permanent replacement and also will proceed with eyes wide open to past problems and potential issues going forward. <br /> <br /> He said former Ohio Attorney General <strong>Betty Montgomery</strong> will lead a task force of nationally recognized experts to review the administrative processes and also provide council on Title IX regulations. An Ernst &amp; Young’s investigation unit will assist Montgomery.<br /> <br /> “We care about what is happening when we are looking, but we also care about what is happening when we are not looking, and our leaders have a responsibility to set that standard and to enforce it,” Drake told The Columbus Dispatch.<br /> <br /> “We’re looking for a future where that band can continue to thrive and do wonderful things, but some of the aspects of how the band was guided are not acceptable in the modern world,” he added.<br /> <br /> Waters served as an assistant director for the university band program for 10 years. Most of the allegations and issues brought to light predate his two-year tenure as director but the investigation places blame on him for not changing the culture and makes almost no mention of emeritus director <strong>Jon Woods</strong>, who headed the band the previous 25 years.<br /> <br /> Waters graduated from Ohio State in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in music education, and he was a member of the marching band from 1995 to 1999. According to his university biography, he earned two master’s degrees at Ohio State in music education and conducting.<br /> <br /> Waters was a visible figurehead for the band, often referred to as “the pride of the Buckeyes” and “the best damn band in the land.” He was widely applauded for allowing the students to use iPads to chart highly staged halftime performances such as a <strong>Michael Jackson</strong> image moonwalking and a dinosaur munching on a Michigan football player.<br /> <br /> Videos of those shows went viral and drew millions of online viewers, bringing even more acclaim to the marching band. Last year, in fact, the band was shown in a television ad for the iPad.<br /> <br /> But the band is now a punchline after news of Waters’ firing and a 23-page report that details examples of abuse such as drunken midnight practices with members in their underwear, improper touching, sexually explicit nicknames, songbooks with raunchy lyrics and the acting out of sex acts to initiate rookie members.<br /> <br /> The report says one student suffered alcohol poisoning at a recent “underwear” practice and Waters was present.<br /> <br /> Several witnesses said that students performed a “flying 69” on tour buses, in which band members hung from the luggage racks and posed in a sexual position. Waters was on the bus when that happened as recently as last fall, according to a band staff member who quit last year.<br /> <br /> The report also states Waters knew about the nicknames and even addressed at least one student by hers. Also, the director apparently ignored pleas from one female student to change the expectation of having to change in front of members of the opposite sex on the team bus, which made her feel uncomfortable.<br /> <br /> The University Office of Compliance and Integrity – created following the “Tattoogate” scandal that led to the demise of <strong>Jim Tressel</strong> and <strong>Terrelle Pryor</strong> – led the investigation beginning on May 23.<br /> <br /> Waters denied some of the claims and said he has addressed issues such as asking the students to cancel the underwear practices.<br /> <br /> Along with providing more oversight for the day-to-day operations of the band, the university plans to implement new training for band members and staff members.<br /> <br /> Drake closed his video address with the following: “We will make this a better and safer institution, and we will begin today.” http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-07-25/Pride_Of_The_Buckeyes_Zapped.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-07-25/Pride_Of_The_Buckeyes_Zapped.aspx d4bacb94-bb2b-40d3-8ed1-852c3b6fdf25 Fri, 25 Jul 2014 17:54:32 GMT Rapp Around: Well Hello, LBJ A recruiting company saw that my resume, floating around somewhere in cyberspace, matched up with a current job opening and asked me if I’d like to apply.<br /> <br /> The position was for an online beat reporter covering the Cleveland Cavaliers. The job actually was posted before The Return but the timing of the query still made me laugh.<br /> <br /> <strong>LeBron James</strong> is heading back to Cleveland. Would you like to come be his shadow?<br /> <br /> Unlike a lot of my colleagues who cover Ohio State athletics, I’ve never even lived in northeast Ohio and I’m not much of a Cleveland fan. Still, I’m a lover of basketball and would even consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of the sport.<br /> <br /> I’ve covered roundball on the prep, AAU, college and professional level and I’ve been comfortable around the sport my whole life. People I’ve interviewed mano y mano include <strong>Michael Jordan</strong>, <strong>Bobby Knight</strong>, <strong>Anthony Davis</strong>, <strong>John Havlicek</strong>, <strong>Red Auerbach</strong>, <strong>David Robinson</strong>, <strong>Kevin Love</strong>, <strong>Pat Riley</strong>, <strong>Gary Williams</strong>, <strong>Thad Matta</strong>, <strong>Sean Miller</strong> and <strong>Fred Taylor</strong>.<br /> <br /> I once had the gall to go introduce myself to <strong>Magic Johnson</strong>, my childhood idol, at the Final Four, and he graciously chatted with me for a few minutes about the power of the Big Ten. I remember bumping into <strong>Bill Self</strong> in the press box of an Illinois football game and ribbing him about being nicknamed “Hollywood.”<br /> <br /> And I even had some face time once with LeBron, spotting him at his own Nike showcase and approaching him to see if I get could him to answer a couple quick questions.<br /> <br /> “I did my media yesterday, boss,” he told me while seated next to his mother.<br /> <br /> I just wanted to ask him about <strong>Jared Sullinger</strong> and a couple other players at the camp but his response was understandable. The Decision was afoot – he made it the next day – and LeBron wasn’t going to risk letting any information slip to a reporter he didn’t even know.<br /> <br /> The King’s ascension to the throne has been mesmerizing, especially for someone who witnessed his greatness in person at the Ohio high school state tournament from 2000 to 2003. By the time James was a senior he was a national sensation whose Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary games were even occasionally found on ESPN.<br /> <br /> When James was a scrawny sophomore, SVSM scheduled a game against Oak Hill Academy out of Virginia and the site was Battelle Hall in Columbus. I made sure to get a media credential for the event and charted a sequence in which LeBron made about eight or nine mind-boggling plays in a two-minute window.<br /> <br /> We often hear references to upside and high ceilings but very rarely do you see someone dominate and affect all areas of a game virtually at once. I knew when I saw that we were dealing with a freak of nature. Yes, I was already a Witness.<br /> <br /> Ohio resident <strong>Ivan Harris</strong> ended up playing for that same Oak Hill program and got to face of with LeBron in another nationally televised prep game in Cleveland. Harris also was named to play in the 2003 McDonald’s All-American Game in Cleveland, which drew me another courtside seat to see LeBron.<br /> <br /> To say he was the star of the show would be a vast understatement. Everyone knew James was going to be the first pick of the NBA draft and there was hope the Cavaliers would have the pick. Either way, the McDonald’s game served as a sendoff into professional superstardom and a tribute to perhaps the greatest player ever to play high school basketball in Ohio.<br /> <br /> James first showed off his amazing court sense, passing skills and unselfishness but setting up teammate <strong>Charlie Villanueva</strong> with several alley-oops. Then Akron’s finest took over and rocked downtown with several spectacular plays and finishes.<br /> <br /> Before the game, <strong>John Wooden</strong> himself motioned The King over and gave him some advice – a Kodak moment, to be sure.<br /> <br /> LeBron was so good in high school it was almost comical that <strong>Jim O’Brien</strong> was criticized for not pursuing him heavily.<br /> <br /> “I don’t recruit posses,” Obie famously said to a group of us during interviews when the subject arose.<br /> <br /> It’s just as funny to hear James say he would have gone to Ohio State if he picked a college – not that I doubt his in-state allegiance. It’s just that it’s akin to me naming what lunar station I planned to live in next year.<br /> <br /> LeBron was never going to bother with college. He was ready – and he most certainly already had a posse.<br /> <br /> Still, I find it interesting that in his letter to Sports Illustrated explaining the thinking behind his return to Cleveland, James compared his four years in Miami to his college experience. That’s a healthy approach, and I’m sure he had plenty of fun on South Beach.<br /> <br /> But the time in Florida gives James the ultimate peace of mind because he made it to four NBA Finals in that span and won two championships. Nobody can be considered the greatest player in the NBA without that kind of hardware, and the monkey has now disappeared.<br /> <br /> LeBron is a two-time NBA champion, the best all-around player in the game today and, finally, this highest-paid player on his team (is there anything more amazing about his career thus far than the fact it took 11 years for the latter to occur?).<br /> <br /> He showed impeccable PR savvy in his handling of his free agency and eventual announcement – even if he didn’t write it – as well as laudable maturity by forgiving owner <strong>Dan Gilbert</strong> for his ridiculous letter/anti-LeBron rant.<br /> <br /> Cleveland may not deserve LBJ but he’s coming back anyway. And now he has contract leverage, the city in his hand and, presumably, plenty of say in all pertinent team matters and roster decisions.<br /> <br /> The only thing left is to seek another championship in Cleveland, which has been as elusive as an Academy Award for <strong>Tori Spelling</strong>.<br /> <br /> It’s about as compelling a storyline as there is in sports right now and perhaps in a long time.<br /> <br /> So would I like to get another front-row view? Yeah, why not. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to take my talents to C-Town.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-07-19/Rapp_Around_Well_Hello_LBJ.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-07-19/Rapp_Around_Well_Hello_LBJ.aspx 77df6aeb-f092-46c0-af75-84b0f88ac547 Sat, 19 Jul 2014 22:40:40 GMT Dream Summer Continues For Ahmad So far, <strong>Esa Ahmad</strong> is having a summer most kids can’t even fathom.<br /> <br /> While his Shaker Heights High School classmate are heading off to the pool or perhaps highlighting their down time with a venture to an amusement park, Ahmad has been nose-to-nose with the best basketball players in the world as well as some of the elite of his class.<br /> <br /> A 6-7, 220-pound forward with eye-opening ball-handling and passing skills, Ahmad entered the summer among the top 20 power forward prospects and is now considered one of the fast-rising seniors-to-be in the nation.<br /> <br /> His AAU season actually kicked into gear in April as he and his All-Ohio Red squad stood out at a tournament in Milwaukee. They also conquered the field at the Run-n-Slam All-Star Classic, which was held the first weekend in May at the Spiece Fieldhouse in Fort Wayne, Ind.<br /> <br /> Ahmad played in that event with a smile on his face since he had just embarked on a visit to Ohio State that included a complete tour of campus and one-on-one time with head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong>.<br /> <br /> At Spiece, Ahmad didn’t put the scoring load on his shoulders and instead made sure to get his teammates involved knowing tougher tourneys lay just ahead.<br /> <br /> “I feel like I’ve been playing great,” he told SportsRappUp.com in Fort Wayne. “I’m really trying to create for my teammates and be a playmaker. That’s what I’ve been trying to work on.”<br /> <br /> A four-star recruit who continues to draw interest from major programs, Ahmad also made a visit to another Big Ten school – Maryland – on his way to Washington, D.C., to participate in the <strong>Kevin Durant</strong> Skills Academy.<br /> <br /> Ahmad also spoke well of that visit and his rapport with Terrapins head coach <strong>Mark Turgeon</strong>.<br /> <br /> At KD Camp, Ahmad actually played in a pickup game matched with Durant and scored seven points with the Oklahoma City superstar shadowing him.<br /> <br /> Recruiting has hit a “dead period” – coaches are unable to observe prospects in the first half of July – but Ahmad has stayed busy. He’s currently in Las Vegas for the <strong>LeBron James</strong> Skills Academy, another premier Nike event, and, sure enough, he ended up facing the King.<br /> <br /> Word traveled quickly that James jumped into a game with campers considering he currently is weighing his options and appears to be down to staying in Miami or returning to Cleveland. For whatever reason, he made sure the Cleveland-area kid was matched with him at the camp.<br /> <br /> Even so, Ahmad still considers being offered a scholarship by Matta among his best moments this summer. He went down to Columbus the Thursday before the Run-n-Slam and soaked in the entire day.<br /> <br /> “I was talking to Thad Matta on my visit and he offered,” he said with a smile. “It was a big moment for me, just having grown up watching the Buckeyes. It was a good deal.<br /> <br /> “The whole day was great. They just showed me around campus, took me through the facility, and I liked it. I liked everything.”<br /> <br /> Ahmad said he visited with current OSU forward <strong>Marc Loving</strong> and also met several former Buckeyes on the visit, including the recently departed <strong>Aaron Craft</strong>.<br /> <br /> “I like that guy a lot,” he said. “I just look up to the way he plays, the effort he gives every time he takes the court.”<br /> <br /> Ahmad has been working on being a consistent force in his own right. He certainly filled the net with regularity as a junior last season, logging averages of 26.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game for Shaker Heights.<br /> <br /> That production enabled him to be named Cleveland.com’s Player of the Year last season as well as the POY of the Northeast Lakes District. Also, he was tabbed first-team all-state in Division I by The Associated Press.<br /> <br /> ESPN.com considers Ahmad as the No. 51 recruit nationally in the 2015 class. According to a composite compiled by 247Sports.com, he ranks No. 64 in the class.<br /> <br /> The next time those ratings are updated, chances are Ahmad will have moved up into the top 40. Already considered a four-star prospect by virtually every service, the youngster has rare all-around skills that have put him in demand.<br /> <br /> Earlier this summer when asked about his recruiting outlook, Ahmad gave a rather standard reply: “Right now I’m real open,” he said. “I really don’t have a top 10 right now.”<br /> <br /> Still, it appears there is some focus developing.<br /> <br /> In addition to OSU and Maryland, Big Ten schools Indiana, Iowa, Penn State and Rutgers have issued solid offers. Other schools in contention include Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa State and West Virginia while Ahmad also is listening to overtures from Wisconsin, Connecticut, UNLV, Arizona and Texas Tech.<br /> <br /> Ahmad said he wants to have a more refined list by the end of the summer and is planning to take visits to Michigan, Michigan State, West Virginia, Iowa, Iowa State and Indiana.<br /> <br /> Ahmad is most intrigued with the idea of playing as an essential point-forward at the next level, and he added Ohio State is among the schools expressing an interest in that kind of role for him.<br /> <br /> When asked if style of play could be a deciding factor, Ahmad told SRU, “It’s very important. Style of play, the coaching staff, the players that are there. I’m really looking at those things.”<br /> <br /> As far as the rest of the summer is concerned, Ahmad said he is trying not to audition for colleges and instead wants to cherish his final months of AAU tournaments and camps.<br /> <br /> “I still really enjoy it,” he said of the offseason basketball. “You can work on your game and you always want to play with and against the best. It’s also fun when you’re playing well and playing together, and that’s what we’re doing.”<br /> <br /> When asked if his role for All-Ohio Red is different than when he plays for Shaker Heights, Ahmad added, “It’s not really different. I pretty much do the same things in high school. It’s not a big difference.<br /> <br /> “I’m going to continue to do what I do, keep working on my ball handling an try to play at a high level.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-07-10/Dream_Summer_Continues_For_Ahmad.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-07-10/Dream_Summer_Continues_For_Ahmad.aspx e56a9410-7d43-4451-941d-0aa4f5c246e0 Thu, 10 Jul 2014 21:18:38 GMT Rapp Around: Meyer Aims Higher I’m always a little humored by those who think rankings and other ambiguous figures are sure indicators of how a college football prospect will pan out.<br /> <br /> If you actually believe that, let me just save you some time: They aren’t.<br /> <br /> I don’t follow football recruiting religiously but I’ve been close enough to it for decades now to fully understand what a crap shoot this whole endeavor can be. And I’m old enough and finger-wavy enough to be able to come up with <strong>Buster Howe</strong>/<strong>Mike D’Andrea</strong>-like examples of recruiting busts.<br /> <br /> (Seriously, look those guys up.)<br /> <br /> Most who flood message boards and chat rooms with pleas that “we have to get this guy” are basing their opinion on numbers and perhaps who else Joe Prospect is considering. If Joe is down to Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Florida, Oklahoma, USC and Ohio State then “we have to get this guy.”<br /> <br /> What they often fail to realize is despite all the online articles about Joe the vast majority of the information about him is being put out by people who have never seen him play. And often times those who can attest to seeing Joe in person became witness to him running sprints and shuttle drills without a shirt on let alone pads and a helmet.<br /> <br /> Hell, even I can look fast like that.<br /> <br /> (OK, actually not – and sorry for the visual.)<br /> <br /> Still, there’s a point here.<br /> <br /> I make the football/basketball comparison all the time because basketball recruiting is an entirely different animal. We can follow Joe during his high school season and AAU, and we can see how he stacks up at major tournaments and camps against other top players in a competitive setting.<br /> <br /> When <strong>Jared Sullinger</strong> was dominating down low and winning a state title at Columbus Northland it was pretty easy to see he was a special talent. When he was schooling everyone on the AAU circuit and at national showcases it became clear he was one of the top prospects in the country.<br /> <br /> Football recruiting doesn’t really work that way, but it manages to become really enjoyable for me when there are memorable success stories such as <strong>Troy Smith</strong> going from afterthought “athlete” to Heisman Trophy winner and <strong>James Laurinaitis</strong> going from three-star recruit and novelty (son of a professional wrestler) to a star linebacker and centerpiece of an NFL defense.<br /> <br /> And what’s great about covering a program like Ohio State football is there are as many <strong>Kenny Guiton</strong>s and <strong>Marcus Marek</strong>s as there are Ray Smalls and Paul Breeds.<br /> <br /> There are kids out there who are well-rated and have the drive and ambition to live up to the billings. There are those out there who are below the elite line and will use that perceived snub to drive them to success on the next level. And there are youngsters who are barely a blip on the radar because they are late developers or, for whatever reason, have been completely overlooked, and they, too, will find a niche on a college roster and even have their day in the sun,<br /> <br /> So there are wonderful stories out there – always are.<br /> <br /> Sometimes it’s difficult to see them coming; sometimes it’s pretty apparent.<br /> <br /> When <strong>Eddie George</strong> was signed out of a military academy in Virginia he was already an intriguing prospect. He was a topflight recruit in Pennsylvania and <strong>Joe Paterno</strong> wanted him to play at Linebacker U. as, well, a linebacker, but <strong>John Cooper</strong> eventually roped him and told him he could try to make a mark at running back.<br /> <br /> Ohio State’s backfield was a crowded house at the time – <strong>Robert Smith</strong>, <strong>Raymont Harris</strong>, <strong>Jeff Cothran</strong> and <strong>Butler By’not’e</strong> were already entrenched – but it was easy see George would earn some time. The guy had an incredible work ethic, was built like a brick outhouse and had a chip on his shoulder.<br /> <br /> Cooper was turning a corner with recruiting and George was part of a stellar incoming class that would set the tone for years to come. Guys like him, <strong>Bobby Hoying</strong>, <strong>Mike Vrabel</strong> and <strong>Matt Finkes</strong> begat <strong>Andy Katzenmoyer</strong> and <strong>Antoine Winfield</strong> and led to hardworking out-of-staters such as <strong>Greg Bellisari</strong>, <strong>Joe Montgomery</strong> and <strong>Joe Germaine</strong> wanting to join ranks and earn their keep.<br /> <br /> That’s an even bigger success story – when recruiting reaches a level when the coaches are no longer begging and merely presenting.<br /> <br /> Longtime recruiting coordinator <strong>Bill Conley</strong> – who played for <strong>Woody Hayes</strong> and served on the OSU staff under <strong>Earle Bruce</strong>, Cooper and <strong>Jim Tressel</strong> – used to always say the players, Ohio Stadium and the overall state of the program used to win recruits better than any pitch from a coach.<br /> <br /> <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> now has the recruiting train rolling and it just gained more steam when five-star defenders <strong>Justin Hilliard</strong> and <strong>Jashon Cornell</strong> committed on Wednesday with a live announcement on ESPN.com.<br /> <br /> Don’t worry, I’m not going to rain on that parade.<br /> <br /> Hilliard is a case of high ceiling. He was hurt part of last season and only played in seven games for Cincinnati St. Xavier. However, he’s a premier athlete at 6-2, 230 and his older brother, <strong>C.J. Hilliard</strong>, already is at Iowa and has a promising future there.<br /> <br /> Plus, Justin is considered by some to be the top linebacker prospect in the country and as high as No. 13 overall by ESPN.com.<br /> <br /> I know I just knocked the rankings system as a projector but it’s safe to say you have to have high-end talent to be rated that highly.<br /> <br /> What’s more exciting, I think, is that most seem to rave about Hilliard as a person and that he comes from such a well-respect family.<br /> <br /> Meyer has vowed to turn around OSU’s outlook at linebacker, an area that was shockingly thin when he arrived, and he has responded by signing <strong>Raekwon McMillan</strong>, <strong>Dante Booker</strong> and now Hilliard – just to name a few of the highly regarded LBs who have become Buckeyes in the last couple years.<br /> <br /> McMillan, out of Georgia, was considered the top inside linebacker in the country last year and Booker, who prepped at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, was the first defensive player to win Ohio’s coveted “Mr. Football” award since Katzenmoyer.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, Cornell (6-3, 265) is ESPN.com’s No. 16 overall prospect and the No. 5 defensive end – another area where Meyer is compiling an embarrassment of riches.<br /> <br /> A prep star in Minnesota, Cornell had a laundry list of schools but cited his excitement of playing for new OSU assistant coach <strong>Larry Johnson</strong>, calling him “one of the top defensive line coaches in college football.”<br /> <br /> While most recruiting “victories” still need to be met with some level of caution, Hilliard and Cornell certainly appear to be low-risk as well as a potential positive jolt in terms of future efforts. Each brings instant notoriety and has said he will be involved in helping the coaches land more topflight talent.<br /> <br /> Among those the Buckeyes are hotly pursuing are running back Damian Harris of Kentucky and wideout <strong>Christian Kirk</strong> of Arizona.<br /> <br /> But again, the goal here is not simply to compile the top-rated class in the country but to create the “culture” that Meyer so desperately wants.<br /> <br /> If nothing else, this week showed Meyer is deathly serious about addressing his needs on one side of the ball.<br /> <br /> Hilliard could decide he hates <strong>Chris Ash</strong>’s system and transfer to Notre Dame. Cornell could blow out his knee this fall and never regain form. And Lord knows what else could happen.<br /> <br /> But their dual commitment is still cause for celebration – and further proof that Meyer is hyperfocused on getting his defense to an elite (read that SEC) level.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-07-03/Rapp_Around_Meyer_Aims_Higher.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-07-03/Rapp_Around_Meyer_Aims_Higher.aspx 16ff77a5-390f-4efb-8845-ba1420ef3884 Thu, 03 Jul 2014 17:47:38 GMT Athlon Digs Ohio State Again As summer sets in and anticipation for the upcoming college football season swells, various annual preview publications begin to show up on store shelves.<br /> <br /> In fact, it seems they come sooner every year and in more abundance.<br /> <br /> One of the best of the bunch is Athlon, which just released a typically slick and comprehensive 184-page magazine chock full of outstanding information and crystal-ball-like opinion.<br /> <br /> During its existence, Athlon has expressed a pretty lofty opinion of Ohio State and this year is no exception. Despite the Buckeyes dropping their final two games of the 2013 season – a 34-24 setback to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game and a 40-35 shootout loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl – the publication lists <strong>Urban Meyer</strong>’s squad as the preseason No. 3 team.<br /> <br /> Defending titlist Florida State is picked as the favorite followed by Alabama, OSU, Oklahoma and Auburn. Oregon, UCLA, Georgia, South Carolina and Baylor round out Athlon’s preseason top 10.<br /> <br /> Rose Bowl champion Michigan State is next at 11, joining Ohio State, Wisconsin (15) and Penn State (22) in the preseason top 25. Iowa just missed out at No. 26 and Nebraska is at No. 29.<br /> <br /> Of the Buckeyes, Athlon points out <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>’s decision to return at quarterback and another stellar recruiting class offset the bad taste left from two straight postseason losses.<br /> <br /> “All of a sudden, plans for an SEC-style program on the Olentangy were raging forward once again,” the magazine said. “The Bucks must re-tool their O-line and secondary, while making sure a big-time back emerges. But woe to the Big Ten when the young talent at OSU matures. They’ll think they have been transported somehow to Tuscaloosa.”<br /> <br /> As for Michigan State, OSU’s sudden rival in the newly formed East Division of the Big Ten, Athlon points out the goal is for head coach <strong>Mark Dantonio</strong> and defensive coordinator <strong>Pat Narduzzi</strong> to emulate the 2013 nastiness.<br /> <br /> “Last year, the Spartans’ defense was so strong that it could have kept Putin’s goons out of the Crimea,” Athlon said.<br /> <br /> The mag predicts marks of 7-1 in regular-season league play and 12-1 overall (including a Big Ten title game win over Wisconsin) for the Buckeyes. It has Michigan State just a notch behind at 10-2, 7-1.<br /> <br /> The publication also has a very high preseason opinion of Penn State and new coach <strong>James Franklin</strong> – and believes the Nittany Lions can pull off a 10-2 season. It also points out PSU has a soft preconference schedule and won’t play four teams in the Big Ten West that are picked to finish in the top five of the division standings.<br /> <br /> Athlon again takes a thorough look at the conference and tabs top games to watch, a preseason all-league squad out to three teams, and rankings for every position group for all 14 teams.<br /> <br /> Ohio State made the top five for every unit ranking including first for quarterbacks and defensive linemen and second for linebackers and defensive backs.<br /> <br /> The publication doesn’t have nearly as many good things to say about archrival Michigan, however, and the state of the Wolverines’ program.<br /> <br /> Athlon deems UM’s running backs to be 13th in the conference and its offensive line to be 12th. It contends the Wolverines, who were 7-6 last year, will end the regular season at 8-4 and in fourth place in the East. It also suggests fifth-year quarterback <strong>Devin Gardner</strong> will be fighting for his job this season – and that <strong>Brady Hoke</strong> could be looking for one if he doesn’t turn it around.<br /> <br /> In an article titled, “Time To Panic?” which outlines the state of UM football, author <strong>Michael Bradley</strong> writes, “Fans and media are indeed unaware of the inner machinations of a football program, They only know what they see, and last year the optical evidence against Michigan was pretty damning.<br /> <br /> “The Wolverines lost to both Michigan State – the Spartans punched them in the mouth – and Ohio State. They finished 102nd nationally running the football and 105th in sacks allowed, slaps to the face of a program that has boasted about its toughness since <strong>Bo Schembechler</strong> first growled on an Ann Arbor sideline in 1969.”<br /> <br /> However, Athlon points out the cupboard is not exactly bare at Michigan as wide receiver <strong>Devin Funchess</strong>, linebacker <strong>Jake Ryan</strong> and cornerback <strong>Blake Countess</strong> all were listed as preseason All-Big Ten first-teamers.<br /> <br /> Ohio State had four players on the first team – Miller, tight end <strong>Jeff Heuerman</strong>, guard <strong>Pat Elflein</strong>, and defensive tackle <strong>Michael Bennett</strong>. Six more Buckeyes were on the second team (OT <strong>Taylor Decker</strong>, DEs <strong>Joey Bosa</strong> and <strong>Noah Spence</strong>, DT <strong>Adolphus Washington</strong>, CB <strong>Doran Grant</strong>, and P <strong>Cameron Johnston</strong>) and four on the third team (RB <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong>, WR <strong>Devin Smith</strong>, LB <strong>Josh Perry</strong>, and S <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong>).<br /> <br /> The publication also lists a top 30 of incoming recruits for the conference and identifies a whopping 14 OSU rookies among them including six of the first seven. That includes top newbie <strong>Raekwon McMillan</strong>, who is expected to play right away at middle linebacker.<br /> <br /> Athlon points out the Buckeyes will need to overcome the loss of four starters up front but that Miller and a stingier defense will give them a chance each time out. In the end, the magazine sees Ohio State getting to the Rose Bowl and taking on Alabama there as part of the sport’s first-even four-team playoff.<br /> <br /> “Ohio State has struggled on defense under Meyer,” it said, “but the defensive line should be stout, and changes on the coaching staff should help. Provided the Buckeyes can win at Michigan State and Penn State, they should be in the mix for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-06-30/Athlon_Digs_Ohio_State_Again.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-06-30/Athlon_Digs_Ohio_State_Again.aspx 91cde722-1d10-4372-85b1-a82792017bc2 Mon, 30 Jun 2014 15:19:11 GMT NBA Takes Pass On Craft, Ross Concerns about <strong>Aaron Craft</strong>’s shooting kept his name from the proceedings Thursday night and former Ohio State teammate <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> apparently picked a bad year to seek early entry.<br /> <br /> The NBA draft went two full rounds and past midnight and none of the eligible Buckeyes were selected.<br /> <br /> There was no expectation of guard <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> being among the 60 collegians and foreign players to be drafted but the 6-1 Craft and 6-8 Ross were listed in some mocks leading up to the event.<br /> <br /> It’s been a rarity in the <strong>Thad Matta</strong> era for no Buckeyes to be chosen. In fact, the oh-fer marks the first time in eight years the NBA draft did not include one of his players.<br /> <br /> Both Craft and Ross are expected to sign with teams as free agents to play in the NBA Summer League in July and try to earn an invitation to a team’s preseason training camp. Smith’s intentions are not known.<br /> <br /> The Big Ten still was well represented with five players – <strong>Nik Stauskas</strong> and <strong>Mitch McGary</strong> of Michigan, <strong>Adreian Payne</strong> and <strong>Gary Harris</strong> of Michigan State, and <strong>Noah Vonleh</strong> of Indiana – going in the first round. That’s the most from the conference since 1990.<br /> <br /> The record for the Big Ten is six first-rounders in 1980 – a draft that included top overall pick <strong>Joe Barry Carroll</strong> of Purdue, <strong>Kevin McHale</strong> of Minnesota (third) and Ohio State point guard <strong>Kelvin Ransey</strong> (fourth).<br /> <br /> Ohio State owned the best run of consecutive years with at least one player being selected, but that streak ended Thursday. Kentucky tied that mark with two players, <strong>Julius Randle</strong> and <strong>James Young</strong>, taken in the first round. Randle was the seventh overall pick of the Los Angeles Lakers; Young went 17th to the Boston Celtics.<br /> <br /> Boston also had the sixth overall pick, using it to select Oklahoma State point guard <strong>Marcus Smart</strong>. It was just the third time the Celtics and Lakers each had a top-10 pick in the same draft.<br /> <br /> Randle is eighth lottery pick from Kentucky since <strong>John Calipari </strong>became the Wildcats’ coach in 2009. UK produced first overall pick in 2010 with guard <strong>John Wall</strong> and two years later with center <strong>Anthony Davis</strong>.<br /> <br /> The Cleveland Cavaliers have utilized the first pick in three of the last four drafts – <strong>Kyrie Irving</strong> of Duke in 2011, <strong>Anthony Bennett</strong> of UNLV last year and <strong>Andrew Wiggins</strong> of Kansas on Thursday. Wiggins was a standout freshman forward for the Jayhawks and was rated slightly ahead of Duke forward <strong>Jabari Parker</strong> in the Cavs’ war room.<br /> <br /> Parker was the second pick of the Milwaukee Bucks and will get to play professionally not far from his childhood home in Chicago.<br /> <br /> Kansas center <strong>Joel Embiid</strong>, who will miss the next few months because of foot surgery, still went third overall to Philadelphia. Stauskas, the reigning Big Ten Player of the year, became the first player selected from the conference when he went eighth to Sacramento.<br /> <br /> Harris dipped all the way to 19th – four picks after MSU teammate Payne of Dayton – even though some mocks considered him the highest rated Big Ten player. As the draft continued, several other players who might have been lottery picks in other years were tabbed.<br /> <br /> “This is one of the best drafts we’ve seen in a long time in terms of depth of talent,” analyst <strong>Jay Bilas</strong> said during the ESPN broadcast.<br /> <br /> It wasn’t good timing for Craft or Ross, who led OSU with 15.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last season.<br /> <br /> Craft was not a premier scorer during his Ohio State career – he averaged 8.9 points per game in his four seasons – and he didn’t strike fear into opposing teams with his outside shooting. However, he was widely regarded as one of college basketball’s premier on-ball defenders the last few years and left OSU with 337 career steals, an all-time Big Ten record.<br /> <br /> Craft also was a steady distributor of the ball, averaging between 4.6 and 4.8 assists a game throughout his OSU career.<br /> <br /> He may be in a better situation by trying to earn his keep with an NBA and showing his wares over the course of several months in an organization.<br /> <br /> However, the exclusion of Craft and Ross from the draft ends a stretch that began in 2007 when <strong>Greg Oden</strong> became the first-ever No. 1 overall pick of the NBA draft from Ohio State. Fellow freshmen <strong>Mike Conley Jr.</strong>, and <strong>Daequan Cook</strong> also were first-rounders that year and the program produced one drafted player the next six years – <strong>Kosta Koufos</strong> in 2008, <strong>B.J. Mullens</strong> in 2009, <strong>Evan Turner</strong> in 2010, <strong>Jon Diebler</strong> in 2011, <strong>Jared Sullinger</strong> in 2012 and <strong>Deshaun Thomas</strong> in 2013.<br /> <br /> That brings the total to nine OSU players in seven years to be selected. Prior to that, the Buckeyes had nine players drafted in a 26-year span.<br /> <br /> Diebler and Thomas were second-round picks and are yet to play for an NBA team. They both play professionally in Europe.<br /> <br /> <p>Diebler was drafted by Portland and his rights were traded to Houston. Thomas’ rights were retained by San Antonio, and he is expected to play for the Spurs’ summer league squad.</p> <p></p> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-06-27/NBA_Takes_Pass_On_Craft_Ross.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-06-27/NBA_Takes_Pass_On_Craft_Ross.aspx f150ed6f-2ebe-4a45-8a5a-167a7c928367 Fri, 27 Jun 2014 17:07:48 GMT Loading Up The OSU Defense As <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> and staff continue to put together what promises to be another knockout recruiting class, the acquisition that has garnered the most attention so far is the commitment of quarterback <strong>Joey Burrow</strong>.<br /> <br /> The son of Ohio University assistant head coach <strong>Jimmy Burrow</strong>, Joey is a rising in-state star, an accomplished slinger of the football and a weapon as a runner as well. As a potential quarterback of the future at Ohio State, he becomes an immediate headliner of the 2015 class.<br /> <br /> However, it is now even more noteworthy that the OSU coaches are beginning to load up with defensive personnel that appear to fit the unit’s new approach, which is spearheaded recently appointed co-defensive coordinator <strong>Chris Ash</strong> and line coach <strong>Larry Johnson</strong>.<br /> <br /> In fact, the class swelled from six to nine last week with verbals from three well-rated defensive prospects in consecutive days.<br /> <br /> First on board of that group was local standout <strong>Nick Conner</strong>, a tackle machine at inside linebacker for Dublin Scioto. Conner committed to Ohio State on Tuesday to become the first linebacker in the class.<br /> <br /> The following day, the OSU coaches received good news from <strong>Dre’Mont Jones</strong> of Cleveland St. Ignatius, who may be the best defensive line prospect in the entire state.<br /> <br /> On Thursday, the Buckeyes added to a suddenly deep well of talented young defensive backs by landing <strong>Denzel Ward</strong> of Macedonia (Ohio) Nordonia.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes made a statement at the very beginning of this class by nailing down commitments from four-star cornerbacks <strong>Eric Glover-Williams</strong> of Canton McKinley and <strong>Jamel Dean</strong> of Cocoa, Fla. – premier athletes who will have a chance to impact the OSU secondary quickly.<br /> <br /> Earlier this month, OSU also enjoyed another three-day run of commitments with good word coming from safety <strong>Tyler Green</strong> of Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha, offensive tackle <strong>Grant Schmidt</strong> of Sioux Falls (S.D.) Roosevelt, and long snapper <strong>Liam McCullough</strong> of nearby Worthington Kilbourne.<br /> <br /> The following is a closer look at the most recent additions to Ohio State’s 2015 class:<br /> <br /> <strong>Nick Conner<br /> LB<br /> 6-3, 225<br /> Dublin (Ohio) Scioto</strong><br /> According to some who track recruiting closely, the expectation was that Conner would end up at Michigan State and fill a similar role to that of recently departed middle linebacker <strong>Max Bullough</strong>.<br /> <br /> It turned out that Ohio State had plenty to offer the local star.<br /> <br /> Conner is considered an inside linebacker prospect and certainly looks comfortable there with 129 tackles and 5.5 sacks last season as a junior. However, he has 4.60 speed and possibly is athletic enough to play on the outside at the next level depending upon his development.<br /> <br /> Position coach <strong>Luke Fickell</strong> likes reliable and smart defenders, two attributes which Conner clearly possesses. And the youngster also has the aggression that Ash and Meyer are seeking on defense.<br /> <br /> Last season, Conner picked off three passes and also forced a fumble, which is not surprising considering how much he is around the ball.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes added some special talent to the position with the signing of <strong>Raekwon McMillan</strong> and <strong>Dante Booker</strong> in February. A Georgia product, McMillan enrolled early and already is vying for major time in the middle of the OSU defense. The speedy Booker of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary was named Ohio’s “Mr. Football” as a senior – the first defender to receive that honor since <strong>Andy Katzenmoyer</strong> in 1995 – and also has a blinding future.<br /> <br /> OSU also roped in 6-6, 230-pound <strong>Sam Hubbard</strong> of Cincinnati Moeller, a freakish athlete, as well as the talented <strong>Kyle Berger</strong> of Cleveland St. Ignatius.<br /> <br /> Therefore, Conner may have to wait his turn. In fact, he appears to be an ideal player to redshirt – someone who is already sold on the program and willing to see the big picture.<br /> <br /> Even so, the OSU coaches are going to keep plugging to load up at the position, which has had a glaring lack of depth in Meyer’s first couple years at the helm.<br /> <br /> Along with Conner, the other top LB prospects in the state are <strong>Justin Hilliard</strong> of Cincinnati St. Xavier and <strong>Jerome Baker</strong> of Cleveland Benedictine. Some close to the recruiting situation believe the OSU coaches would be thrilled to lock down those two players and put a bow on the linebacker outlook for now.<br /> <br /> Both Hilliard and Baker are expected to give Ohio State heavy consideration.<br /> <br /> <strong>Dre’Mont Jones<br /> DE<br /> 6-5, 250<br /> Cleveland St. Ignatius</strong><br /> St. Iggy keeps producing topflight talent and Jones is the latest standout. A natural strongside defensive end, Jones had 43 tackles, 5.0 sacks and 8.5 TFLs last season but that only hints at his impressive upside.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes offered Jones a scholarship in the spring and Johnson, who had been aware of his talents for a while, reportedly closed the deal.<br /> <br /> Composite rankings show Jones to be considered the 15th-best player in Ohio, the 12th-rated SDE in the country and among the top 300 prospects in his class regardless of position.<br /> <br /> Notre Dame and Michigan were among Jones’ top pursuers when he decided to end his recruitment and commit to OSU coaches in person last week. It didn’t hurt that he is a close friend of Berger.<br /> <br /> Jones shows good leverage for a young man of his size and can be disruptive up front. Ohio State is fairly well stocked with solid young defensive linemen at the moment but will lose the likes of <strong>Michael Bennett</strong> and <strong>Steve Miller</strong> after the 2014 season.<br /> <br /> <strong>Denzel Ward<br /> DB<br /> 5-11, 165<br /> Macedonia (Ohio) Nordonia</strong><br /> Like many of the top-rated defensive backs in Ohio, Ward is not yet filled out and able to make many plays because of his speed and instincts. However, some analysts believe he is a future safety if he can fill out and become more physical around the ball.<br /> <br /> But for now Ward figures to arrive to OSU as a cornerback. In fact, corners coach <strong>Kerry Coombs</strong> was his prime recruiter.<br /> <br /> Ward emerged during his sophomore season and followed up with an even more promising junior season. Most head-turning, though, is that he has been clocked as fast as 4.31 in the 40-yard dash.<br /> <br /> After the youngster showed off those wheels at OSU’s one-day camp last week, Meyer confirmed the scholarship offer and Ward accepted on the spot to become the ninth member of the 2015 class.<br /> <br /> Most observers agree that Ward still has some work to do as his ball skills and coverage skills are not even close to polished. And his tackling will have to improve if he is to see the field with regularity as a Buckeye.<br /> <br /> Still, the raw talent is in place, and it wouldn’t be odd to see Ward get a chance to return kicks and even find spot time in the secondary early in his college career.<br /> <br /> He might even get a few reps on offense as a slot receiver as the OSU coaches will exhaust all avenues to using his breakneck speed.<br /> <br /> What is clear is that the Buckeyes have begun to fill holes at defensive back with elite athletes – Dean, Glover-Williams and Ward.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-06-23/Loading_Up_The_OSU_Defense.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-06-23/Loading_Up_The_OSU_Defense.aspx cfed024b-ebf9-4bfd-99e1-038a058769ae Mon, 23 Jun 2014 15:36:10 GMT Fourth Time The Charm? While NFL players participate in OTAs this month and recently drafted rookies are inking contracts, no doubt <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> has at least taken a moment to ponder the idea that he could have joined them in professional football.<br /> <br /> Most would agree that Miller made a prudent decision to return for his senior season at Ohio State given that he is recovering from shoulder surgery in February, the draft was rife with talented quarterbacks, and even his own coach, <strong>Urban Meyer</strong>, declared him not quite NFL-ready.<br /> <br /> Plus, there are concerns about Miller’s durability and supposed inability to read defenses.<br /> <br /> Still, there’s no denying that Miller is a supremely gifted athlete and capable of leading Ohio State to another bushel of wins this fall. If he plays up to that capability, shows impressive development and keeps the Buckeyes in the title hunt, Heisman Trophy votes are sure to follow – again.<br /> <br /> But what are reasonable expectations for Miller? And can he really ascend to an All-American level?<br /> <br /> Considering Ohio State will have four new starters along the offensive line and that the offense also will be without leading rusher <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong> and leading receiver <strong>Philly Brown</strong>, it’s easy to see that a lot rests on the shoulders of Miller – and did we mention his throwing one just went under the knife?<br /> <br /> Maybe it’s just as noteworthy to point out that the roster also no longer includes <strong>Kenny Guiton</strong>, OSU’s backup QB extraordinare who saved the Buckeyes when Miller was out with a banged up knee and might have done it again if Meyer would have rolled the dice and used him in the final moments of the Orange Bowl.<br /> <br /> So the Buckeyes will start over with no proven commodities behind Miller and with holes surrounding him. While young players such as <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong>, <strong>Jalin Marshall</strong> and <strong>Dontre Wilson</strong> try to exhibit some measure of reliability, Miller is going to have to carry the offense.<br /> <br /> The good news is his teammates wholeheartedly believe he is up to the challenge and tough enough to bounce back from injury as he has done throughout his career.<br /> <br /> “You’re going to get bumps and bruises,” tight end <strong>Jeff Heuerman</strong> said late last season when asked to assess Miller’s toughness. “You’re going to have things not always go your way. There’s no reason to be concerned.<br /> <br /> “Braxton plays a huge role in this offense, especially with his legs. So he's moving around a lot, he’s throwing the ball, he’s got a bunch of reads. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. But I don’t think there’s any major concern about the way he plays. He’s a dynamic, incredible athlete.”<br /> <br /> Despite still being knocked for not making the OSU offense appear more sophisticated, Miller did improve his passing percentage considerably in 2013, raising it from 58.3 as a sophomore to 63.5. In fact, his passing attempts were virtually identical – 255 last season compared to 254 in 2012 – and he improved his touchdown passes by nine (24 to 15) and his QB rating by almost 18 points (158.1 to 140.5).<br /> <br /> He also managed another 1,000-yard rushing season despite missing two-and-a-half games because of his knee and improved his rushing average from 5.6 to 6.2 yards per carry.<br /> <br /> Miller comes into his senior campaign with 557 career carries for 3,054 yards and 32 TDs. He’s been sacked 88 times and hit countless others.<br /> <br /> “He’s strong,” Meyer told CBSSports.com this spring, noting the shoulder injury occurred with Miller still in the pocket. “Can he take a lot of hits? He’s had some dings. It’s not just running. Quarterback is a violent position. It’s the most unique position in all of sports where you’re not ready for the contact. We’ll get the ball out fast, break contain and then teach him when it’s coming, get out.”<br /> <br /> However, Meyer pledged to cut down on Miller’s designed runs this season.<br /> <br /> “Two years ago he was our whole offense,” said the coach. “Last year, we leaned on him too heavily in the Michigan State game. He’s still the best player. Some of those are just scrambles. Two years ago almost all his rushing yards were called runs. This year it was scrambles.”<br /> <br /> On one hand, Miller enters his final season in scarlet and gray with a chance to be an all-timer. On the other, he needs a bit of a start-over.<br /> <br /> In the last three games of the season – a one-point win over Michigan, a loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, and the 40-35 setback to Clemson in the Orange Bowl – Miller completed just 50.0 percent of his throws for 468 yards with five TDs and three interceptions.<br /> <br /> He did most of his damage against UM and MSU as a runner but Clemson banged him around early and held him to 35 yards rushing. Miller ripped off a 33-yard run in the bowl game but didn’t do much else on the ground and threw two costly picks.<br /> <br /> If the Hubert Heights (Ohio) Wayne product can get his groove back, he will threaten several major school records. He needs 2,256 passing yards to top <strong>Art Schlichter</strong>’s school-record total of 7,547, six more touchdown passes to surpass Bobby Hoying’s record total of 57, and is 505 yards away from Ohio State’s total offense mark of 8,850 yards, also held by Schlichter.<br /> <br /> Still, records and Heisman talk aren’t what seem to drive the soft-spoken Miller, who always is most at ease in the aftermath of victory.<br /> <br /> “I want to help this team win a Big Ten championship next year,” Miller said in a statement after he decided to return for his senior season. “Plus, I want to improve as a quarterback in all aspects of my game. I’m looking forward to working for another year with Coach Meyer and (quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator <strong>Tom</strong>) <strong>Herman</strong>. And I want to graduate, so this will help get me closer to my academic goal.”<br /> <br /> Miller isn’t immune from a few rough patches on Saturday and those may resurface. But the bottom line is his teammates believe in him.<br /> <br /> “Everyone has bad games,” defensive lineman <strong>Michael Bennett</strong> said. “He does a good job of not letting that affect him, though. He has confidence in his O-line and in his receivers to go out and get the ball. And he creates a lot out there.<br /> <br /> “He’s still mortal. But we know what he can do – and we’ve always believed in his ability.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-06-10/Fourth_Time_The_Charm.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-06-10/Fourth_Time_The_Charm.aspx aaef3226-d446-45c0-9648-efd96d3443bf Wed, 11 Jun 2014 03:40:36 GMT Rapp Around: Oh, Bubba <strong>Hideki Matsuyama</strong> is the latest champion at Muirfield Village Golf Club.<br /> <br /> The Japanese golfer has familiarity with the course after having played on it in October for the The Presidents Cup. In fact, many American and Internationals did well this week at The Memorial.<br /> <br /> Matsuyama tamed Muirfield all week – a solid 70 on Thursday followed by three rounds in the 60s – and made the fewest mistakes on Sunday while others faltered. Even after breaking his driver on his 72nd hole of the tournament, he still managed to birdie No. 18, which was as mean as a viper to most of the remainder of the field.<br /> <br /> He also took advantage of <strong>Kevin Na</strong>’s poor tee shot on the very same hole moments later and won the playoff, earning all the spoils, including a check for $1,116,000 and a congratulatory handshake from tourney host <strong>Jack Nicklaus</strong>.<br /> <br /> Na blistered the course for a 64 on Sunday, sat in the clubhouse for hours as the low man in at 13-under and the total would have held up if not for Matsuyama’s heroic 3 on 18.<br /> <br /> Na was one of nine Americans to finish in the top 12 at The Memorial, a group that included local boy <strong>Ben Curtis</strong> (-9) as well as Presidents Cup teammates <strong>Steve Stricker</strong> (-9) and <strong>Bill Haas</strong> (-8). Another notable who vied for the championship was Australian <strong>Adam Scott</strong> (-10), who also was here last fall.<br /> <br /> But the reality is all of them were sidenotes, even Matsuyama and the world’s top-ranked player (Scott), to the man they call “Bubba” – Gerry Lester Watson, Jr.<br /> <br /> I suspected with <strong>Tiger Woods</strong> home nursing a balky back (he also declared himself out of the U.S. Open in a couple weeks) that <strong>Bubba Watson</strong> was going to draw the largest galleries this past week. That was exactly the case, especially after the popular product of Bagdad, Fla., bolted onto the leaderboard and was a fixture there over the weekend. Everywhere he roamed you could see a guy holding a cup of beer simply blurting out “Bubba!” It feels good to say it; it’s an easy association.<br /> <br /> Watson is naturally boyish looking, left-handed, 6-3 and slender. He uses a pink driver and buttons his shirts all the way up to the collar. Plus, his talent is immeasurable. Still, despite his uniqueness, he’s a man of the people. They love that he never took a lesson and isn’t afraid to take chances. They cheer as he invents shots. Oh, and they especially like that with his unorthodox swing he can mash the ball like a rotten tomato.<br /> <br /> Watson is a household name after winning two Masters and he’s that player you can’t take your eyes off as he strolls around the course and readies to strike the ball. Bubba has the name, the game, the charm and the swagger – and it’s OK if he doesn’t win all the time, doesn’t stare down the course or his opponents the way Woods does, the way a hyena looks at a carcass.<br /> <br /> So as the tide shifted throughout the weekend and the tournament remained up for grabs all the way until the last group was on the course and Watson missed a bender of a birdie putt attempt on No. 18, the spectators – or “patrons” as they are called around here – merely enjoyed the Bubba show.<br /> <br /> And it was pretty entertaining.<br /> <br /> Hitting a wide variety of drives, approaches, blasts and flip shots, Watson was must-see TV all week. He had one of the best rounds of anyone on Thursday with a 66 and followed with a pair of 69s that were riddled with both brilliance and lost opportunity.<br /> <br /> On Friday, I watched his group play 14 and got a treat. While others play the short and delicate par 4 with care, Watson, ripped his tee shot up a hill and behind a tree where it settled on the cart path.<br /> <br /> “He’s not actually going to hit it from there, is he?” a woman near me said to her male companion. “No, they get to take a crop from there,” he said.<br /> <br /> But as Watson quickly surveyed the situation and perhaps realized a drop would have trickled down the hill twice before he got to place the ball, he pulled a Bubba. Whack. Right off the tar and pebbles went his wedge. The ball somehow flew the green and landed safely. The crowd roared.<br /> <br /> It was great theater except Watson bogeyed the hole. And the decision left me wondering how much time would have been spent at that same spot with marshals and an exhaustion of options if, say, Woods were the one figuring out the next move. It wouldn’t have taken 30 seconds, I can assure you that.<br /> <br /> But that’s Bubba.<br /> <br /> On Sunday, Watson strolled to the tee at No. 9 in charge of the tournament. He hooked his drive and mishit his punch out shot, leaving him to have to steer a draw onto the green to even have a chance at par. He did, but missed the putt.<br /> <br /> Next came two birdies and two pars then more shenanigans at 14. Another wayward tee shot left him another difficult approach, this time from the rough, but he hit a low screamer 146 yards that ran to the back of the green and 10 feet from the cup. The crowd roared again.<br /> <br /> “Bubba!”<br /> <br /> Watson just missed the putt and then made the mistake of the tournament, blasting his driver to the right on No. 15, a testing uphill par 5.<br /> <br /> Watson’s follow-through was enough indicator that the ball was on its way to Pluto yet he had hope it would scrape a tree branch and fall somewhere in view. Instead it ended up in a back yard where a family and a dog found it.<br /> <br /> Classic Bubba.<br /> <br /> He pulled another ball out of his golf bag and hit a provisional fearing he may not find his drive only CBS analyst <strong>David Feherty</strong> already was trekking straight up the fairway to track Watson’s tee shot. When Feherty was unable to hear people yelling and imploring him to move to the side because his headphones were covering his ears, Watson simply lined up and cranked another drive – whistling it 50 feet right over Feherty’s head.<br /> <br /> No friggin’ way Tiger would have done anything like that with a tournament title on the line. But Tiger ain’t Bubba.<br /> <br /> Watson ended up with a 7 out of the whole mess and finished the day at 12-under. In other words, a par would have been good enough to win the trophy.<br /> <br /> One bad decision and it cost me two shots,” said Watson, lamenting not using his 4-wood instead of his driver. “Trying to be a hero.<br /> <br /> “It’s not a comfortable tee shot for me, because I like to cut it. I was trying to go over the tree and I just pulled it.”<br /> <br /> Watson talked to reporters with his 2-year-old son, Caleb, on his lap. After explaining the mistake at 15 he shrugged and added, “I could slice my 4-wood off the tee (too).”<br /> <br /> On the last 10 holes, Watson hit just two fairways. When his tee shot at No. 17 ended up in a cavernous bunker he knew he needed a birdie on one of the last two holes to tie Na and had to try to fly one to the green. He did … but barely missed the putt again.<br /> <br /> At 18, Watson was left having to hole a shot from just off the green. He flopped a soft shot well above the hole in hopes it would trickle down to the cup but left it too high. Just about any other golfer would have banged something toward the hole or played it safe fearing bogey or double bogey would be very costly.<br /> <br /> But Bubba doesn’t seem to worry about money or image or even his record. He just plays the way that best suits him.<br /> <br /> “I’m not trying to be the next great champion,” he said Saturday with a three-day lead on the field. “I’m just trying to play golf.'”<br /> <br /> Watson admits he sometimes struggles to concentrate. On Friday, he had words for a rude fan seconds after he made a par-saving putt on No. 18. When in doubt, he tries to rip the ball off the tee or attempt a high-risk, high-reward iron shot.<br /> <br /> Bubba is not the next Tiger. Few if any have that kind of drive, focus and flesh-eating competitiveness. But Watson clearly is a character who is good for the game and its following. Like another charismatic lefty, <strong>Phil Mickelson</strong>, he’s good enough to win several majors, play for the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and win the hearts of even passing fans.<br /> <br /> Congratulations to Mr. Matsuyama. Now, anyone know Bubba’s Thursday tee time at the U.S. Open?<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-06-03/Rapp_Around_Oh_Bubba.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-06-03/Rapp_Around_Oh_Bubba.aspx 19568c72-33da-4568-8d9c-c60055386704 Tue, 03 Jun 2014 18:20:47 GMT Rapp Around: CBJ All Set Up It’s been a full month since the season ended for the Columbus Blue Jackets, but there is now time to look back at what just transpired and look ahead to a promising horizon.<br /> <br /> Only four teams remain in the Stanley Cup Playoffs picture, two hanging on by a thin thread of elimination and it’s safe to say the Blue Jackets are not yet on a final-four level. It’s also now actually feasible to think they aren’t all that far away.<br /> <br /> The CBJ didn’t just make the playoffs and finally vacate the position of NHL doormat, they played right with the super-talented Pittsburgh Penguins before succumbing in six games. Five of those contests, amazingly, had final scores of 4-3 including the fateful sixth one April 28 at Nationwide Arena.<br /> <br /> I was there and won’t soon forget what I witnessed – and what the evening represents in terms of hope for the franchise.<br /> <br /> No, the Blue Jackets didn’t just squeak into the playoffs; they played a series all the way through. In the process, they put belief into the organization and the growing fan base. They showed their ability is nearing their grit and that the NHL had better take notice.<br /> <br /> These are exciting times in the Blue Jackets offices, even with the NHL season winding down and the cannon fire on hold during the offseason.<br /> <br /> The front office appears to be in its best hands with majority owner <strong>John P. McConnell</strong>, team president <strong>John Davidson</strong>, and general manager <strong>Jarmo Kekalainen</strong> at the controls. Coach <strong>Todd Richards</strong>, clearly the right man for the job, just had his contract extended two years to the end of the 2016-17 season.<br /> <br /> As Fox Sports Ohio’s <strong>Dave Maetzold</strong> pointed out, Richards’ extension is in step with the CBJ’s “brick-by-brick” approach.<br /> <br /> Also, the roster is in good health and has essential building blocks such as award-winning goaltender <strong>Sergei Bobrovsky</strong> (25), forward <strong>Matt Calvert</strong> (24) and center <strong>Ryan Johansen</strong> (21). Center <strong>Boone Jenner</strong> and defenseman <strong>Ryan Murray</strong> don’t turn 21 until later this summer. Meanhwile, Kekalainen figures to tab more your talent in the upcoming draft.<br /> <br /> Key figures such as <strong>Brandon Dubinsky</strong> and <strong>Jack Johnson</strong> are proven leaders. <strong>Nick Foligno</strong>, who provided an all-time thrill with a game-winning goal in overtime of Game 4, is now a fan favorite and an outstanding team spokesman.<br /> <br /> <strong>Cam Atkinson</strong> can fly and isn’t shy about firing in at the net. <strong>Jared Boll</strong> and <strong>Nikita Nikitin</strong> can knock people around. <strong>Fedor Tyutin</strong> has a knack for being in the right place at the right time and had a plus/minus rating of plus-6 last season.<br /> <br /> And the mix of experience is fairly ideal. The leading scorer, Johansen, will turn 22 in July. The team’s second-leading scorer this past season, defenseman <strong>James Wisniewski</strong>, is a much more tenured 30.<br /> <br /> The shift to the Eastern Conference coincided with a breakthrough – a record of 43-32-7. Twenty-two of the wins came at home, 21 on the road.<br /> <br /> That trend continued in the postseason as the Jackets showed equal fight in Pittsburgh and when playing before the rowdies in downtown Columbus, rallying in each win.<br /> <br /> The landscape is set up for success and the organization even gets to land in the spotlight next year when hosting the NHL All-Star Game.<br /> <br /> By all accounts, the Jackets are in the strange position of future contender.<br /> <br /> “They’ve turned a corner,” Fox Sports Ohio’s <strong>Mark Wyant</strong> told SportsRappUp.com.<br /> <br /> Consider not only the Jackets’ fairly miserable existence over the years but the surge that has occurred lately. In fact, since the team opened the 2012-13 campaign a lowly 5-12-2, the CBJ has gone 62-37-12, which equates to 136 points in 111 games.<br /> <br /> Much of that has to do with the very encouraging development of recently acquired players. And it appears that trend will continue.<br /> <br /> “Our young players want to keep getting better and improve,” Richards said at the press conference to announce his contract extension. “They’re sponges. There’s lots to be excited about.”<br /> <br /> But most of all, the optimism is linked to the unforgettable finale a month ago. Yes, the Jackets lost – 4-3, of course. However, they looked completely out of synch and overmatched in falling behind 4-0 to the Penguins. Playoff experience, talent and guile finally appeared to be separators.<br /> <br /> And then it happened – one of the most exciting rallies I’ve seen in sports. The CBJ broke the seal and scored with 9:39 remaining and changed the momentum. Furious it was.<br /> <br /> Tyutin, Anisimov and Foligno scored in a span of 4:52 and set Nationwide ablaze. Late in the game, the Jackets nearly poked in another and had the puck in front of the net when the final horn sounded. Not a single fan, as far as I could tell, sat down during the explosion. The Jackets were in desperation mode but also were playing on pride and emotion – and showed Pittsburgh and perhaps the league what a scary combination that is.<br /> <br /> “We said in here we’re going to leave it all on the ice and see what happens,” Johansen said.<br /> <br /> Foligno said the Jackets were never going to just fold their tents, especially at home.<br /> <br /> “I think it’s to a man,” he said. “The character that we have in this room allows us to battle like that and have that pride. I think every guy in here is a proud player and wants to make that difference, and when you have 20 guys like that together it’s going to show some sparks and you’re going to see some comebacks.”<br /> <br /> Athletes show resiliency, especially when their season is on the line. But this felt beyond the norm. Columbus fell back in love with their gutty Blue Jackets and this time the investment was completely justified.<br /> <br /> The crescendo actually came at the moment of elimination. After the two teams shook hands, the sellout throng on hand went wild with admiration and erupted into a building-shaking chant of “C-B-J! C-B-J!”<br /> <br /> “We can’t tell you how much we appreciate that,” said Johnson, who came over from the Los Angeles Kings in the <strong>Jeff Carter</strong> trade three years ago. “I’ve played in a few playoff buildings and that was the best playoff building I’ve ever played in. That was awesome. We plan on making this place rock like that many, many more times.”<br /> <br /> “That was amazing,” Foligno added. “You could see the energy build when we started getting going. It was loud. And the way they saw us off the ice was real special. We’re building something here and we’re proud of the support we get from our fans. We want to keep the winning ways going and have that same kind of atmosphere.<br /> <br /> “You’re going to look back with the what-ifs and that’s just part of hockey and it’s part of sports. But we have to be proud of a lot of things we’ve accomplished this year. We have to get regrouped and focused and understand how hard it is to win in this league and in the playoffs. Hopefully that motivates us for a real good summer and we come back and push further than the first round.”<br /> <br /> Johansen agreed.<br /> <br /> “We gained some experience against a great hockey club and found a way to win a couple games,” he said. “I still feel we could have taken it to a Game 7 at least, but I’m really proud of the guys and the way they played the series – and all year.<br /> <br /> “We got our first franchise win in the playoffs – which is a step, for sure – but we’re not satisfied. We learned a lot of things individually and as a team and now it’s about moving forward.”<br /> <br /> In other words, now it’s time to ascend; time to get greedy.<br /> <br /> “I think that’s the only approach you can have,” Johnson said. “You set the bar that high and everyone else rises up to accomplish that goal. By no means are guys happy with losing in the first round. It’s pretty disheartening. We know we’re going to have to be bigger and better next year.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-05-30/Rapp_Around_CBJ_All_Set_Up.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-05-30/Rapp_Around_CBJ_All_Set_Up.aspx 46adb3b6-b658-4233-993e-8fc8f4af50f3 Fri, 30 May 2014 16:07:56 GMT Matta Has His Shooter When college programs land well-rated recruits, their fan bases usually greet the news with giddy approval.<br /> <br /> That seemed to be doubly the case earlier this month when 6-5 <strong>Austin Grandstaff</strong> of Rockwall, Texas, announced he was committed to Ohio State men’s basketball coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong>.<br /> <br /> Those who follow the Buckeyes are well aware of their need for more shooters, both on the current team and down the line. Grandstaff, who scored 51 points in a game for Rockwall High School as a sophomore last season, seems to fit that bill.<br /> <br /> He’s known for his outstanding form and range on his jump shot as well as the ability to fill the basket. While Matta continues to try to load up the 2015 class he can now do so knowing he’s got an accomplished outside shooter.<br /> <br /> But the news, which broke on May 4 right after Grandstaff made an unofficial visit to campus, is even more encouraging than normal. That’s because the addition of Grandstaff seems to signal that 2015 forward <strong>Mickey Mitchell</strong> might be willing to honor his commitment.<br /> <br /> A 6-7 lefty forward, Mitchell previously committed along with 5-9 point guard <strong>A.J. Harris</strong> of Dayton Dunbar. However, speculation and doubt as to Mitchell’s future grew when his older brother, <strong>Mike Mitchell</strong>, bolted from the Ohio State football program.<br /> <br /> Mike claimed he wanted to be closer to the family home in Plano, Texas, because of his father’s health concerns, but those close to the situation say the real issue was the linebacker barely seeing the field last season after head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> all but promised the elder Mitchell immediate playing time.<br /> <br /> With Mike apparently disappointed and/or his father ailing, many were left to wonder if Mickey ever would become a Buckeye.<br /> <br /> But that outlook has brightened with the addition of Grandstaff, who said Mickey Mitchell made a strong pitch for him to join the OSU class.<br /> <br /> Just about every reputable recruiting service considers Grandstaff to be a four-star prospect. Rivals.com has him slotted at No. 30 in the country among juniors-to-be. Grandstaff averaged right around 27 points per game last season and has continued to light it up on the AAU circuit.<br /> <br /> He originally committed to Oklahoma State, but in early February re-opened his recruitment. Others in contention for Grandstaff’s services include Arizona, Florida, Virginia, Georgetown, Marquette, Texas, and Maryland.<br /> <br /> “I just loved the people there,” Grandstaff told Eleven Warriors after his Ohio State visit. “The relationships are great.”<br /> <br /> Grandstaff also admitted being an admirer of outgoing Buckeye point guard <strong>Aaron Craft</strong>, who was working out at The Schott when the youngster visited. The two met at the <strong>LeBron James</strong> U.S. Skills Academy last summer.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-05-23/Matta_Has_His_Shooter.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-05-23/Matta_Has_His_Shooter.aspx 1691f619-a029-418d-b566-f1525024ebcb Fri, 23 May 2014 18:21:38 GMT Rapp Around: Hailing The Hall Maybe it’s appropriate that the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame is a hidden gem in the local sportsworld.<br /> <br /> After all – and no disrespect to the origins and massive popularity of football in the state – roundball just doesn’t have quite the same panache when compared in these parts to the reach of the NFL, college and even high school football.<br /> <br /> That isn’t likely to change, but it needs to be pointed out from time to time that the state actually has a phenomenal basketball track record and heritage. All-time great basketball players, successful coaches, memorable teams – there is no shortage of them in the Buckeye State.<br /> <br /> Therefore, the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame now enters a very important phase of its mission. The charter class of 2006 was loaded with such recognizable names as <strong>Jerry Lucas</strong>, <strong>Bob Knight</strong>, <strong>Jim Jackson</strong>, <strong>Clark Kellogg</strong>, <strong>Fred Taylor</strong>, <strong>John Havlicek</strong>, <strong>Jay Burson</strong>, <strong>Bill Hosket</strong>, <strong>Katie Smith</strong> and <strong>Gary Bradds</strong> – former Ohio State greats all. It also included <strong>Oscar Robertson</strong>, <strong>Wayne Embry</strong>, <strong>Nate Thurmond</strong> and <strong>Bevo Francis</strong> since the Hall includes those from Ohio or who played, coached, broadcasted or officiated in Ohio.<br /> <br /> The Hall has continued to honor some of the best and brightest in the sport over the years, a group that includes <strong>Robin Freeman</strong> and <strong>Scott May</strong> (2007); <strong>Jim Cleamons</strong>, <strong>Bob Huggins</strong> and <strong>Herb Williams</strong> (’08), <strong>Tracey Hall Yarbrough</strong>, <strong>Michael Redd</strong> and <strong>Joe Tait</strong> (’09); <strong>Lenny Wilkens</strong> and <strong>George Wilson</strong> (’10); <strong>Charlie Coles</strong> and <strong>Paul Ebert</strong> (’11); <strong>Mark Price</strong>, <strong>Vonda Ward</strong> and <strong>David West</strong> (’12); and <strong>Randy Ayers</strong> and <strong>Brad Daugherty</strong> (’13).<br /> <br /> Many great teams also have been enshrined including the OSU national championship squad of 1960, the Wittenberg men’s teams of 1961 and ’77, and the <strong>LeBron James</strong>-led Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s teams from 2000-03.<br /> <br /> I’ve followed basketball my entire life and been close to the game as a reporter who has had the privilege of attending countless Ohio State games, Big Ten Tournaments, NCAA Tournament games, the MAC postseason tournament, high school state championships, premier prep clashes, AAU events, recruiting showcases and even NBA games all over the country.<br /> <br /> So when I was afforded the opportunity to attend the Hall of Fame’s 9th Annual Induction Ceremony at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on Saturday night, I wasn’t about to spoil the chance. It turns out this is not only a well-run, high-end event, the organization itself continued to show it has impeccable taste when it comes to identifying a worthy new batch of inductees.<br /> <br /> The 2014 class that was honored over the weekend follows:<br /> <br /> <strong>Brian Agler</strong>, best known in central Ohio as the man who coached Smith when they were together on the ABL championship Columbus Quest squad as well as at various WNBA outposts. Agler also was the starting point guard on Wittenberg’s aforementioned 1977 team.<br /> <br /> <strong>Dean Chance</strong>, a former Major League Baseball pitcher who scored 1,378 points at West Salem (Ohio) Northwestern and helped that school capture a state title in 1958. The following year as a senior, Chance averaged right around 25 points and 16 rebounds per game and was named the Class A Player of the Year.<br /> <br /> <strong>Vince Chickerella</strong>, a coaching legend in central Ohio who won boys high school state championships at Columbus Linden McKinley (1967) and Columbus St. Francis DeSales 20 years later (1987). He also posted a 10-year mark of 179-72 at Capital University.<br /> <br /> <strong>Helen Darling</strong>, a standout at Columbus Brookhaven High School, Penn State University and during a 10-year career in the WNBA. She led Brookhaven to the 1995 state title and became the first Penn State basketball player to be named Big Ten Player of the Year.<br /> <br /> <strong>Henry "Hank" Finkel</strong>, a 7-foot center who helped put University of Dayton basketball on the map and also logged nine seasons in the NBA. Finkel left UD as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,968 points and still ranks third in that category.<br /> <br /> <strong>Walter Harrop, Sr.</strong>, who became a high school basketball coach almost by accident as a 17-year-old in 1919. After serving as captain of both the football and basketball teams at Muskingum College, he enjoyed a prosperous 36-year tenure as boys basketball coach at Shawnee High School, racking up a record of 516-242.<br /> <br /> <strong>Dennis Hopson</strong>, the all-time leading scorer in Ohio State men’s basketball history. “Hop” ranked second in the nation in scoring in his senior season of 1986-87 with an average of 29.0 ppg and was the third pick of the NBA draft that summer when the New Jersey Nets selected him. He won an NBA title with the Chicago Bulls in 1991.<br /> <br /> <strong>D’Artis Jones</strong>, one of the greatest players in history at Ohio Northern after transferring from Northwestern University. Jones immediately led the Polar Bears to the 1993 NCAA Division III national championship and averaged 19.9 ppg in his ONU career.<br /> <br /> <strong>Ed Jucker</strong>, who, amazingly, won NCAA national championships in his first two seasons at the University of Cincinnati, leading the Bearcats to title-game victories over favored Ohio State in both 1961 and ’62. Jucker nearly turned it into a hat trick before UC lost in the 1963 national championship game to Loyola of Chicago.<br /> <br /> <strong>Helen Ludwig</strong>, a pioneer for women’s athletics at Ohio Northern who graduated from the school in 1944 and was a prominent athletics administrator there from 1963-84.<br /> <br /> <strong>Joe Pangrazio</strong>, a Dennison, Ohio, native who was a player and coach in the area while also working at his family’s pizza parlor then became a highly respected high school and college referee. The 89-year-old Pangrazio served as an official for more than 50 years and still observes Ohio State games on behalf of the Big Ten.<br /> <br /> <strong>Campy Russell</strong>, the former Cleveland Cavalier great who previously starred in the Big Ten at the University of Michigan. Russell was an outstanding shooter and scorer who also rebounded his position with aplomb. He was the eighth pick of the 1974 draft, spent six seasons in Cleveland, three in New York and finished up his NBA career briefly with the Cavs in 1984.<br /> <br /> <strong>Jerry Scheve</strong>, the 2004 Division III National Coach of the Year after directing Wilmington College to the NCAA championship. Wilmington’s coach since 1990, Scheve has amassed more than 400 wins and eight regular-season conference titles.<br /> <br /> <strong>Georgia Schweitzer Beasley</strong>, a Gahanna, Ohio, native who starred at Columbus Bishop Hartley before helping build Duke women’s basketball into a national power. The ACC Player of the Year in both 2000 and ’01, Schweitzer Beasley became the first Duke player to record at least 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists and 150 steals.<br /> <br /> <strong>Nick Weatherspoon</strong>, a former Canton McKinley star who played collegiately at the University of Illinois and for several years in the NBA. A sleek 6-7 forward, Weatherspoon scored 1,431 points at McKinley and set the mark at UI with 1,481. He was an All-Big performer with the Illini who left with career averages of 20.9 ppg and 11.4 rpg.<br /> <br /> Also, two national championship teams were honored: the 1982-83 Wright State University men’s squad that captured the NCAA Division II crown and the 2003-04 women’s team at Wilmington College that won the Division III title.<br /> <br /> <strong>Highlights Aplenty</strong><br /> <br /> The program honoring this magnificent class was a three-hour extravaganza filled with entertaining and heartfelt highlights. Hall member <strong>Jim Burson</strong>, father of Jay, made opening and closing remarks, WBNS 10-TV’s <strong>Jeff Hogan</strong> served as emcee, and Agler spoke on behalf of the class after all the awards were doled out.<br /> <br /> A record turnout of more than 600 was on hand including 13 tables full of people representing Wilmington women’s basketball. Family, friends, fans and basketball aficionados filled the ballroom to celebrate the new class.<br /> <br /> Unlike other banquets I’ve attended, not many war stories arose. However, there were lots of hearty thank-yous, shared memories and even some tears, especially when Pangrazio, while leaning on a cane because of a fractured hip, talked about losing his wife of 66 years, growing up the son of Italian immigrants and saying repeatedly with a shaken voice, “I am so blessed” when looking back on his life.<br /> <br /> Many organizers and inductees made sure to praise <strong>Sheila Fox</strong>, a professional event planner who became involved with the organization in 2010 and recently was named the Hall’s executive director.<br /> <br /> Those who may have wondered if the organization could continue to top itself or find suitable new inductees certainly lost those doubts on this night.<br /> <br /> The latest class is an impressive bunch as well as a wide-reaching array of basketball excellence.<br /> <br /> Five of the inductees entered the Hall posthumously – Chickerella, Harrop Sr., Jucker, Ludwig, and Weatherspoon – while Finkel was not able to attend because of health concerns.<br /> <br /> Longtime Dayton coach <strong>Don Donoher</strong>, himself a Hall member, accepted on behalf of Finkel. The others were represented by family members.<br /> <br /> “My dad always had a special place for his players,” <strong>Tom Chickerella</strong> said at the microphone. “That bond that he formed with his players was very special, and I know if he were here tonight he’d be so tickled to have a lot of those folks here.”<br /> <br /> While his imprint on basketball wasn’t as great, Chance also made his mark as prep standout. The famous hurler said winning a state basketball title in high school was “one of the greatest thrills in my athletic career.”<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, Russell gave some of the credit for his success to Weatherspoon, who died in 2008.<br /> <br /> “I was a hotshot sophomore on the cover of Sports Illustrated and we played the University of Illinois, and Nick Weatherspoon probably gave me one of the biggest awakenings of all time,” Russell said. “He really brought the house down on me that night, so badly that I remember leaving the arena and walking home in my uniform. That’s how disappointed I was.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Hop Was Tops</strong><br /> <br /> Russell was a top attraction as was Hopson, the sweet-shooting former OSU forward who could tickle the twines from just about anywhere on the court.<br /> <br /> His induction was especially enjoyable for me since we went to school together. In fact, we are one day apart in age.<br /> <br /> Still attached to the game as a coach – Hopson served as an assistant at Bowling Green under <strong>Louis Orr</strong> the past five years – the northwest Ohio native was gracious and humorous during his acceptance speech.<br /> <br /> “The reason I averaged 29 points a game is because I never passed the ball,” he joked. “I shot it every time I touched it. I’ve got a teammate back there, <strong>Tony White</strong>, who can attest to that. I shot it every time.”<br /> <br /> Of course, that wasn’t entirely true. Hopson also managed to average 3.6 assists and 8.2 rebounds per game during his incredible senior season. He also shot 51.8 percent from the floor, 41.9 percent from three-point range, and 81.4 percent from the free-throw line.<br /> <br /> The 6-5 Hopson thanked many including former Ohio State coaches <strong>Gary Williams</strong> and <strong>Eldon Miller</strong>, the latter of which also in attendance. And he took time out to realize that he actually overachieved.<br /> <br /> “Growing up, basketball wasn’t something that I wanted to do,” he admitted. “I didn’t like the game. But a lot of people recognized the talent I had and pushed me to play this game, and I appreciate that.”<br /> <br /> Hopson also cited four driving forces that led to his success: commitment, dedication, love and passion.<br /> <br /> “Once I developed all four of those things, that’s when the game became easy for me, and that’s something that I live by today,” he said.<br /> <br /> <strong>What I Learned</strong><br /> <br /> * Chance, while being honored for his hoops exploits, of course, is best known for the sport of baseball. Given his Major League success, one can only assume he was a dominant force in high school. How dominant? Well, while prepping at Northwestern High School, Chance tossed 17 no-hitters. Hello.<br /> <br /> * Darling took a year off from her professional basketball career because she was about to become a mother, which happens occasionally at the WNBA level. Her reason for sitting out the entire 2002 season, however, wasn’t merely related to overcoming the physical toll of the pregnancy and childbirth. Darling also needed a readjustment period after delivering … triplets.<br /> <br /> * Russell’s nickname actually is a derivative of his middle name. His full given name is Michael Campanella Russell. Some of his teammates also called him “Camperson.” The gregarious former NBA forward was a two-time Michigan high school player of the year and set multiple records in his two years at the University of Michigan, where he averaged 23.7 points and 11.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Russell closed his well-received acceptance speech with “How did get here? I’m from Michigan.”<br /> <br /> * Schweitzer Beasley returned to her alma mater to help coach the Lady Blue Devils and also entered Duke’s medical school in 2004. She did cancer research in conjunction with her master’s program and has been a surgeon for the last several years. She admitted her goal is to return to central Ohio to take up a medical residency.<br /> <br /> * Donoher said Finkel was instrumental is helping build UD’s basketball program and bypassed multiple opportunities to leave school early to head to the NBA. In fact, he was drafted after his sophomore and junior seasons but opted not to sign with a professional team either time. “With the prevalence of today’s one-and-done, we should celebrate his decision of four-and-more,” Donoher said.<br /> <br /> After leading the Flyers to a pair of Sweet 16 runs, Finkel did, in fact, latch on in the NBA. He was drafted 17th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers and also had stints in San Diego and Boston. Filling the center role vacated by all-time great <strong>Bill Russell</strong>, Finkel helped the Celtics win the 1974 NBA title.<br /> <br /> * Even those who may recall Wright State had a championship team in 1983 may not know that the Raiders had to upend District of Columbia in the title game that March. That may not sound like a tall order, but it was.<br /> <br /> The Firebirds were the defending Division II national champs and were led by a pair of All-Americans who were later drafted by NBA teams – <strong>Michael Britt</strong> and <strong>Earl Jones</strong>.<br /> <br /> A slender 6-6, Britt was dubbed “The Flying Pencil” during his playing career. He was drafted by the Washington Bullets after leaving UDC. The 6-10 Jones was a first-round pick of the mighty Lakers in 1984.<br /> <br /> One of UDC’s victims during the 1982 postseason run was Virginia Union, which featured eventual NBA power forward <strong>Charles Oakley</strong>.<br /> <br /> * Much like Taylor, Jucker was a baseball standout and an aspiring coach in both sports. In fact, the Norwood, Ohio, native, recruited and mentored <strong>Sandy Koufax</strong> at UC while also serving as an assistant coach for the Bearcats' basketball program. After seven years on the staff, Jucker was head-spinningly successful at his alma mater but lasted only five years as head coach.<br /> <br /> He resigned in 1965 citing job pressure that was affecting his health. When he did, he owned a record of 113-28 at UC.<br /> <br /> * The Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame is a growing organization that awards scholarships and plans to “build a brick-and-mortar museum” some day. Contributions can be made ranging from a nominal amount of $25 for students all the way up to Legend status ($10,000 and above).<br /> <br /> For more information, visit <a href="http://ohiobasketballhalloffame.com/">ohiobasketballhalloffame.com</a>. http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-05-20/Rapp_Around_Hailing_The_Hall.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-05-20/Rapp_Around_Hailing_The_Hall.aspx 9cdf29c5-20a5-4fd4-84df-1b681c69b986 Tue, 20 May 2014 21:15:02 GMT Rapp Around: Professional Grade In all the years I have watched professional sports drafts I’ve always been amazed how much upside and potential wins out over production.<br /> <br /> Guys like <strong>Chris Spielman</strong> and <strong>James Laurinaitis</strong>, for example, dropped to the second round because they didn’t quite fit the physical prototype that NFL scouts covet. I always seem to respond to this with, “Did you watch him play?”<br /> <br /> Consistency, tenacity and reliability aren’t established with just a good game here and there or an occasional play that makes the highlight reel. They are accomplished over time and through blood, sweat and tears.<br /> <br /> You want a warrior? Go find a guy who never shied away from the war.<br /> <br /> <strong>Ryan Shazier</strong>, who also happens to be a former Ohio State linebacker, is just such a guy. He also happens to be someone who was stellar in all his predraft workouts, which is a big reason why he was the first Buckeye taken in this year’s NFL draft, going in the No. 15 slot to the Pittsburgh Steelers.<br /> <br /> The Steelers are good at this. They tend to take tough, proven guys, usually from major conference teams. The New York Giants have the same philosophy. Not surprisingly, they seem to have fewer draft busts than most other teams.<br /> <br /> Some are skeptical about Shazier. At 6-2, 230 he’s not quite up to NFL standards for outside linebackers. Also, he played in a 4-3 defense at Ohio State, not the 3-4 scheme that Hall of Fame defensive coordinator <strong>Dick LeBeau</strong> likes to employ.<br /> <br /> But the Steelers aren’t worried about their critics. They know the trend now is to have front seven players who can chase down mobile quarterbacks like, oh, say, <strong>Johnny Manziel</strong>, who is headed to the rival Cleveland Browns.<br /> <br /> The Rams invested similarly recently by drafting speedy and tenacious OLB <strong>Alec Ogletree</strong> knowing they were going to have to hunt down the likes of <strong>Colin Kaepernick</strong> and <strong>Russell Wilson</strong> year after year.<br /> <br /> Plus, Shazier has been too steady to find minor fault with and mistakenly pass by in the draft. In 2013, he amassed 144 tackles – 102 of them of the solo variety – for an averaged of 10.3 per game. He also led the Big Ten with 7.0 sacks and 23.5 tackles-for-loss while mixing in four fumbles forced, four passes broken up and six QB hurries.<br /> <br /> In short, Shazier was all over the field last year – and the year before that, for that matter. He’s a much-improved tackler and reader of plays, and he’s got the instincts, speed and desire to run around and slam ball carriers all day.<br /> <br /> Will he make an impact in the Steel City? I wouldn’t bet against it.<br /> <br /> <strong>Roby Also A First-Rounder</strong><br /> <br /> One of my first reactions to seeing <strong>Bradley Roby</strong> walking on stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York City wasn’t just that another former Buckeye had made it nor the risk the Broncos supposedly took, but the humble beginnings to his college career.<br /> <br /> Yes, he was considered a standout recruit when he signed with Ohio State. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, and star performer at Suwannee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge, Roby came from a football-rich environment and was born with athletic aggression.<br /> <br /> He has decent size (5-11, 195) for a defensive back but also a nose for the football and sub-4.4 speed.<br /> <br /> It’s not shocking at all that he parlayed his wonderful natural talents and the opportunity to play on the highest plane of college football into a chance to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft.<br /> <br /> However, he was just a guy in the OSU secondary trying to make a name for himself not that long ago. He was clean-cut – no dreadlocks. And he looked to have just as good a chance to see the field as a safety or even a nickel back in the early going.<br /> <br /> But then one blustery, raw day in the spring after his first fall on campus he started smacking people. And covering people. And breaking up passes. And picking off passes.<br /> <br /> All of the reporters holding onto their ballcaps in the south stands of Ohio Stadium could see, even from a distance, that the kid was starting to show he had the goods. Sure enough, he played on special teams and emerged in the defensive backfield. The following year as a redshirt sophomore he became a star – so good that no one would have been too surprised if he decided to bolt for the NFL after the 2012 season.<br /> <br /> But Roby told reporters he wanted to come back and try to win a national championship and maybe a Thorpe Award along the way.<br /> <br /> It didn’t happen. He had a disappointing season that began with a suspension, included missed tackles in several early games, a disputed dismissal from another contest for targeting, an embarrassing one-on-one lesson from Wisconsin wideout <strong>Jared Abbrederis</strong>, and an injury that conveniently left him off the field for the Orange Bowl – and possibly saved him from being exposed by Clemson’s high-octane passing game and receiver extraordinare <strong>Sammy Watkins</strong>.<br /> <br /> Still, I see no reason to be angry at Roby for still ending up in the first round. The raw ability always was there. He still showed a penchant for breaking up passes and coming up with game-turning plays on special teams. He still was respected by his teammates.<br /> <br /> Did Denver reach a little too far in selecting him 31st overall? Maybe. Maybe not. Super Bowl teams can roll the dice on players like Roby, who just may end up being the best corner in the entire 2014 draft when it’s all said and done.<br /> <br /> <strong>Hyde, Mewhort Plucked On Day 2</strong><br /> <br /> Shazier and Roby each left a year of eligibility on the table and managed to cash in from the decision. That’s not a new concept, of course. In fact, a record 102 players applied for early entry and 15 of them managed to be selected on Thursday during the first round of the draft.<br /> <br /> However, Friday was less about teams seeking youth and potential and more about filling needs. That paved the way for a couple seniors who had highly successful careers at Ohio State – <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong> and <strong>Jack Mewhort</strong>.<br /> <br /> Like Shazier, Hyde is a Florida native who has been a standout his entire football life. He definitely can play with the big boys but just needed a team to give him the chance.<br /> <br /> That opportunity was a bit slow in coming as most draft experts assessed Hyde as the best running back in the draft yet he ended up going third among all runners. Also, a year after no running backs went in the first round since the common draft was instituted in 1967, teams put even less of a premium, believe it or not, on ball carriers.<br /> <br /> <strong>Bishop Sankey</strong> of Washington was the first RB to go at No. 54 overall – a record wait for the position. Hyde, the first tailback to crack the 1,000-yard single-season rushing barrier under <strong>Urban Meyer</strong>, finally landed in San Francisco with pick No. 57.<br /> <br /> Before that, receivers fell off of trees and four tight ends were selected. Still, the initial disappointment of not receiving first-round money goes away eventually, I suspect, for players who land in good situations. And Hyde certainly appears to have found one.<br /> <br /> The 49ers are a power team in the NFC and play in a division that values the power rushing attack. In fact, San Francisco added Hyde to a roster that already includes <strong>Frank Gore</strong>, <strong>Kendall Hunter</strong>, <strong>LaMichael James</strong> and <strong>Marcus Lattimore</strong>.<br /> <br /> Hyde grew up idolizing Gore and considers the veteran to be the running back after which he patterns himself.<br /> <br /> Eventually, the Niners are going to have to give Hyde his shot. After all, he is coming off a season in which he totaled 1,521 rushing yards despite missing the first three games of the season. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry and topped 100 yards in the last nine games of his terrific college career.<br /> <br /> Hyde burst into the end zone 16 times in 2012 and another 15 times last season. He’s never averaged below 5.0 yards per carry as a football player. Most of all, he’s a gamer. Hyde will play through pain and bring the thunder when necessary. He’s also shown he’s an outstanding option when the game is on the line.<br /> <br /> Another Buckeye who endured two head coaching changes and emerged as a force for the offense is Mewhort. A product of Toledo, Mewhort worked all along the offensive line, excelled as a blocker and became a team leader, especially under the tutelage of current line coach <strong>Ed Warinner</strong>.<br /> <br /> He went just two picks after Hyde at No. 59 overall when the Indianapolis Colts called his name.<br /> <br /> Indianapolis was without a first-round pick thanks to the trade in which the franchise acquired running back <strong>Trent Richardson</strong> from Cleveland. Snagging Mewhort in the second as the team’s first pick of the 2014 draft is as sure a sign as any that the Colts addressed a starting need and will to commit to Mewhort.<br /> <br /> That means, he, too, just had a very good day.<br /> <br /> As for Mewhort now having to look across the line at Houston defensive ends <strong>Jadeveon Clowney</strong> and <strong>J.J. Watt</strong>, well, welcome to big-boy football.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-05-10/Rapp_Around_Professional_Grade.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-05-10/Rapp_Around_Professional_Grade.aspx bcd81332-26bd-44d3-b8d1-5c76389ac77b Sat, 10 May 2014 14:51:11 GMT Rapp Around: Craft Can't Be Sole Answer <strong>BUFFALO, N.Y. –</strong> As <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> was facing reporters Sunday night, discussing Ohio State’s just-announced NCAA Tournament draw and coming to the realization that his next college basketball game could very well be his last, a thought crossed over me.<br /> <br /> Actually, two thoughts.<br /> <br /> One, why do we garner so much entertainment and euphoria from an event that actually is filled with so much heartache? And, two, what box was left to be checked on Craft’s March Madness dossier?<br /> <br /> Allow me to attempt to answer my own queries after watching Craft and the Buckeyes ride the emotional teeter-totter in the final seconds of a 60-59 loss to in-state foe Dayton on Thursday.<br /> <br /> First of all, the vast majority of those wrapped into the tournament really have nothing at stake – except maybe $5 and a little office pride.<br /> <br /> The thrill of NCAA victory and the agony of tournament defeat is Romanesque theater to the casual and occasionally obtuse sports fan. It’s not our livelihood and it’s not our lifelong reputation.<br /> <br /> The athletes, meanwhile – student-athletes, if you must – are elated to participate in the spectacle that is the NCAA Tournament and to “shock the world.”<br /> <br /> “Any competitor wants to play against the best and have a chance to prove they’re the best, and this tournament is no different,” said OSU junior forward <strong>Sam Thompson</strong>, who certainly lived up to the moment with a game-high 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting.<br /> <br /> So, that means that being on Cloud Nine about taking part in an event in which 67 of the 68 teams go home disappointed lends itself to the idea that there actually is more to gain – the satisfaction of taking that best shot, perhaps.<br /> <br /> Therefore, I asked Thompson if that means he’ll be able to some day look back with affection for the experience of this year’s NCAA Tournament.<br /> <br /> “No,” he said sternly. “I don’t exactly call losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Dayton an experience, so it’s not something I’ll come to grips with. It looked like they wanted it more than us and they played like it.”<br /> <br /> OK, dumb question.<br /> <br /> So I went over to coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong>, who has made a living off of postseason runs, and asked him a different version: “Is this tournament cruel?”<br /> <br /> “It’s the profession,” he said flatly.<br /> <br /> True, but that statement comes for the wisdom of being around this postseason frenzy for two full decades.<br /> <br /> Even a youngster as grounded as Craft has a hard time dealing with such a fate, as evidence by him linking this bitter disappointment to ones of the past when the Buckeyes were dumped from the Sweet 16 (2011), Final Four (2012) and Elite Eight (2013).<br /> <br /> “I’ve lost by nine points total in my four NCAA Tournament losses – two points, two points, four points and now one point,” he said with a pained expression. “Those are all one-possession and two-possession games, and that’s the most frustrating part. We didn’t value possessions early in the game; we didn’t value possessions early in the second half.”<br /> <br /> And because of it, because of Craft’s astute observation that the Buckeyes were simply too casual for extended stretches of the contest with Dayton, the 6-2 senior point guard got to notch one final essential category for postseason drama – missing the game-winning shot at the buzzer.<br /> <br /> This, of course, is unfair even to point out since Craft was a nuisance to UD for much of the afternoon and had just 3.8 seconds to race the other way with the ball after Dayton guard <strong>Vee Sanford</strong> played hero and banked in a runner for the game’s final points.<br /> <br /> However, Sanford did score over Craft, who allowed him to go to his strong hand.<br /> <br /> “I thought we were getting stops when we needed to, then on the last shot the guy made a good play,” OSU’s <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> said. “Basically, we were going to switch everything with all guards on the floor. The guy just drove strong right and was able to finish.”<br /> <br /> After Craft failed to answer, he couldn’t lift his body off the First Niagara Center floor for several seconds.<br /> <br /> In the interviews afterward and again in the locker room, his voice shook while trying to address questions.<br /> <br /> But Craft insisted he wasn’t awash in sentimentality about his four-year career and the hurt that accompanied its very sudden end.<br /> <br /> “To be honest with you, I’m more upset we lost the game,” he said. “I’m not upset that I’m done and I’m not upset that I don’t get to play for Ohio State again. I’m angry at myself for letting him get a shot over me with his right hand and not making one more play down the stretch. That’s what hurts right now.<br /> <br /> “It’s done now, and now it’s on these guys to learn from what this season has been and how hard it has been.”<br /> <br /> But what is the lesson other than losing in the final seconds of a single-elimination tournament stings like grabbing an electric fence?<br /> <br /> That was the question for which there really was no answer – at least not from this group and not after a 25-10 campaign that seemed to elicit more head-scratching than back-patting.<br /> <br /> “We put ourselves in a position to win and we couldn’t make the plays down the stretch,” Craft said, his voice trailing off. “They punched more than we did.”<br /> <br /> “I think it’s mostly mental,” added Ross. “We knew Dayton was going to come out with energy and we needed to match it, and I didn’t think we did that.”<br /> <br /> Senior guard <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> made an even stronger statement.<br /> <br /> “We didn’t come to play today,” he said. “Our coach is trying to fire us up and give us energy in the NCAA Tournament, and they couldn’t do it. You shouldn’t need a coach to fire you up when it can possibly be the last game.”<br /> <br /> Shannon Scott agreed.<br /> <br /> “I feel like if we would have come in with a different mentality it would have been a whole different ballgame,” he said.<br /> <br /> Certainly, the Buckeyes entered with some flaws and as a 6-seed were no guarantee to get by 11th-seeded Dayton (24-10), especially considering the extra incentive the Flyers had playing the big-name in-state school and that leading scorer <strong>Jordan Sibert</strong> is an OSU transfer.<br /> <br /> Still, not being ready to play? That one can’t be explained to the fan base.<br /> <br /> “They deserve an answer,” Craft said. “Nothing is guaranteed, and that’s one of the toughest things to get across to people.”<br /> <br /> Craft has made his share of mistakes this season and some of them came at very inopportune times. Just five days ago in Indianapolis, for example. he was racing upcourt with a chance to fire in a tying three-pointer against rival Michigan and the ball never made it cleanly to his shooting hand, spilling away.<br /> <br /> Unexplainable miscues and painful shortcomings – that would be one way to describe the 2013-14 season.<br /> <br /> But no one could accuse Craft of not understanding the magnitude of the moment and not giving his all.<br /> <br /> Against Dayton he racked up 16 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals to go along with several dives onto the floor for loose balls.<br /> <br /> It was Craft who scored nine quick points after the Buckeyes fell behind 10-7 and looked lifeless in the game’s first five minutes. It was Craft who gave OSU leads of 22-21, 52-51 and 59-58. And it was Craft who also tied the game at 55 with a huge three-point play with 2:05 to play moments after Sibert canned a trey.<br /> <br /> Still, he was left to be the goat as Sanford attacked him. No one helped defensively. Heck, other than Thompson no one helped offensively. Post men <strong>Amir Williams</strong> and <strong>Trey McDonald</strong> combined to eat a doughnut – no points.<br /> <br /> Ross had 10 points but was just 2 of 7 in the first half and sulked around on defense. Smith finished with just six points and three rebounds.<br /> <br /> However, Dayton didn’t have a single player with more than a dozen points and was a middling 22 of 40 (44.9 percent) from the field.<br /> <br /> The real difference seemed to be in effort plays – or lack thereof – and, as often was the case this season, empty possessions down the stretch.<br /> <br /> “I don’t know what it is,” Thompson whispered. “These are the games where we had to find a way to win and we didn’t, and it cost us our season.”<br /> <br /> Added Smith, “We get super close and we can’t close it out because we’re not tough enough. The season definitely shouldn’t have ended this way. We allowed it to happen because we couldn’t answer the call.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-20/Rapp_Around_Craft_Can_t_Be_Sole_Answer.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-20/Rapp_Around_Craft_Can_t_Be_Sole_Answer.aspx 6f2b961a-1ff7-44c4-940f-e9f5f48406e0 Fri, 21 Mar 2014 00:31:35 GMT The New King At SVSM Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, no stranger to athletic success, again boasts one of the top teams in Ohio and could very well cut down the nets at the Schottenstein Center this weekend in celebration of another state title.<br /> <br /> And if that happens, the dominance of the Fighting Irish will be only part of the story.<br /> <br /> That’s because for the first time since a guy named <strong>LeBron James</strong> led SVSM to basketball glory at the beginning of the millennium, the school is home to one of the most gifted wing players in the entire country.<br /> <br /> His name is <strong>VJ King</strong>, and he’s a marvel. Already a legitimate 6-7 and still only a sophomore, King is not quite as good as King James – who is? – but he possesses a fluid and pretty much unstoppable floor game.<br /> <br /> SVSM has advanced to the Division II state semifinals in Columbus and is the favorite to win another crown despite arriving with nine losses, the most of any of the 16 boys teams still playing.<br /> <br /> Head coach <strong>Dru Joyce</strong> accepts the blame for the 19-9 record since he scheduled several games against national competition, mostly to showcase King. Some of the losses also are a result of King missing the first half of the season with a fractured wrist.<br /> <br /> But King is all healed and ready to put on a show in the state tournament, which concluded Saturday with championships in all four divisions.<br /> <br /> In one particularly noteworthy contest back in January, the Irish showed they were a true Midwest power team by posting an 89-78 win over the University Pioneers of Normal, Ill., at Flyin’ To The Hoop in Dayton. In that game, King was matched with Ohio State signee <strong>Keita Bates-Diop</strong>, also a 6-7 forward, and made an impression.<br /> <br /> Bates-Diop put on a splendid show for the OSU fans in attendance with four made threes in the first period, 31 points and 10 rebounds (for a look at his performance, click <a href="http://www.sportsrappup.com/sections/stories/14-01-26/KBD_Offers_Glimpse_Into_Future.aspx">HERE</a>).<br /> <br /> However, King matched him with 30 points, eight rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot. He was 9 of 18 from the field, 10 of 11 from the free-throw line and looked comfortable throughout as the Irish romped.<br /> <br /> “He’s very good,” Bates-Diop said afterward of King. “He’s only a sophomore and he’s very smooth with the ball. He plays more mature than he really is. He plays like a senior. If you didn’t know, you’d think he was.<br /> <br /> “He’s a great player. He can shoot and do a lot of different things.”<br /> <br /> King returned the compliment and also labeled Bates-Diop “a great player.”<br /> <br /> “Just before the game he just told me to slow down and let the game come to me, and that’s what I did,” said King, who also faced Bates-Diop in his first varsity appearance last season. “We have similar games, so we were talking throughout the game. He really gave us tough matchups out there and we threw a whole bunch of people at him.<br /> <br /> “We didn’t really shut him down but we got the win. That’s all that matters. We knew the offense was going to be there, and my shot was hitting tonight, so it was a good team win for us.”<br /> <br /> Bates-Diop hinted he wouldn’t mind being a teammate with King some day.<br /> <br /> “He’s not a selfish player,” he said. “He’s a good guy. I’d love playing with him. We talked a little out on the court, but I’m trying to win, he’s trying to win, so we didn’t talk a whole bunch.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Thad Matta</strong> is trying to make that happen, of course. King and AAU teammate 6-5 guard <strong>Luke Kennard</strong> of Franklin, Ohio, are priority recruits for Ohio State, but King, who is ranked sixth nationally in the 2016 class, it <em>the</em> priority.<br /> <br /> King already has a boatload of offers from all over the country. Ohio State is trying to fend off Big Ten brethren Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, Illinois and Iowa along with the likes of Arizona, Georgetown, UConn, Iowa State and Cincinnati. Those who follow the situation closely also believe Duke and North Carolina will get involved and could vault right to the forefront.<br /> <br /> But, of course, most who know King would love him to become a Buckeye.<br /> <br /> “Ohio State is a great program,” Joyce said. “Thad has done a great job. But there’s no pressure. That’s just the reality of college basketball. We have a great program here in the state. I’d love for him to stay in Ohio but that’s their family decision and I’m going to leave that up to them.”<br /> <br /> King said his father his handling his recruiting for now and he hasn’t bothered to whittle his list much.<br /> <br /> “I really don’t have favorites out there,” he said. “I didn’t really watch college basketball until my seventh- or eighth-grade year.<br /> <br /> “I couldn’t tell you (which school is in the lead), to be honest with you. I’m focusing on my game and trying to finish high school.”<br /> <br /> King, though, admits he is aware the spotlight is beginning to shine on him.<br /> <br /> “It’s pressure because of who I am, and you all know who went to this school before I did,” he said. “There’s definitely pressure, but I try not to focus on that and I try to work on my game and do whatever I can to win.<br /> <br /> “I haven’t really talked to (James) about college. He just talked to me about my high school career. He just told me to start a new chapter and just play my game, and that’s just what I’ve been doing.”<br /> <br /> Added Joyce, “We tell him to control what he can control, and that’s the basketball. We can’t control what you guys (in the media) do. That’s what I told LeBron and that’s how we went about it back then. Just control what you can control with your attitude and your effort.<br /> <br /> “Hey everybody’s in your face now, but if you trip up they’re going to be gone.”<br /> <br /> While he handles the microscope that comes with being a top recruit, King also is tasked with doing what James did before him, which is make the Fighting Irish a state superpower once again. However, he knows that doesn't happen overnight, or with just one person taking all the key shots.<br /> <br /> “We’ve gotten closer together, we’ve got more chemistry and we like playing with each other more," he said. "I’m more comfortable with this team and the coaches are really trusting my game now. So I feel I’ve grown a lot and the coaches are helping me progress my game.”<br /> <br /> Part of that trust and progression simply has come from Joyce allowing King to explore all he can do on the court, which appears to be just about everything.<br /> <br /> “The offense is kind of wipe open,” Joyce said. “Like I used to say with ’Bron is ‘Look, if you guys guard, if you defend, I’m going to give you a lot of freedom. I’m not going to try to chain you down to run a whole bunch of sets. I’m going to let you play. But you’ve got to guard.’ ”<br /> <br /> King appears to be garnering the concept. He’s also showing an aptitude for time-and-score situations and when to take a higher percentage shot. In the matchup with Bates-Diop, he already had hurt University with long-range jumpers, drive and free throws, but when the game tightened he created offense out of the low post.<br /> <br /> “That’s him understanding,” Joyce said excitedly. “That’s the basketball IQ.<br /> <br /> “People forget. When we needed a basket, LeBron got his butt down in the post and went to work. So I’ve told him, ‘You’re 6-7. When I need one, it doesn’t have to be from beyond the three-point line. Go get me one.’ And that’s what he’s understanding: The more things you add to your game, the tougher it is to guard you.<br /> <br /> “And by the time he’s a senior, look out.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-19/The_New_King_At_SVSM.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-19/The_New_King_At_SVSM.aspx 81578454-eef7-4ea9-8c3a-cf47944a48ef Wed, 19 Mar 2014 19:40:31 GMT Numbers, Geography Don't Matter It’s funny how this Mach madness stuff works out.<br /> <br /> Had Ohio State beaten Michigan in Saturday’s semifinal of the Big Ten Tournament, the Buckeyes likely would have secured a 5-seed, maybe even a 4, in the NCAA Tournament, which begins Tuesday.<br /> <br /> They also might be packing for Spokane or San Diego, which are three time zones away.<br /> <br /> Instead, Ohio State (25-9), which failed to make it to the BTT finals for the first time in six years, fell to a 6-seed and was placed in the loaded South Region of the NCAA field of 68.<br /> <br /> However, the Buckeyes also ended up in the best possible geographic shape as they will face in-state foe Dayton (23-10) in a 6-11 game in Buffalo on Thursday (12:15 Eastern, CBS).<br /> <br /> Granted, Buffalo is no San Diego when it comes to climate and aesthetics, but the Buckeyes will take it.<br /> <br /> “I thought we’d be a 5,” OSU coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> told reporters moments after finding out his team’s position in the bracket. “As many Big Ten teams that get in, how it was explained to me, we might have gotten bumped, which is fine.”<br /> <br /> Plus, the Buckeyes claim they will be just as motivated as before even though the program has advanced to the Sweet 16 as a 1- or 2-seed the past three years.<br /> <br /> “We know whatever seed we get, wherever we’re placed in the NCAA Tournament, there’s no such thing as an easy game, there’s no such thing as an easy opponent,” junior swingman <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> said. “We have to bring our best basketball for 40 minutes if we want to have success in the tournament. Whether we have a 2 next to our name or a 6 next to our name that doesn’t change.”<br /> <br /> Perhaps more eyebrow-raising than OSU’s position and seeding is the second-round – the play-in games in Dayton now comprise the first round – opponent that awaits. Dayton received an at-large bid for the first time since 2009 and enters the tourney a confident team.<br /> <br /> The Flyers have won 10 of their last 12 games against competition in the Atlantic 10 – a conference, like the Big Ten, that is sending six teams to the Big Dance. In fact, the only team to defeat UD since Jan. 25 is A-10 tournament champion St. Joseph’s.<br /> <br /> The last time Ohio State faced Dayton was in the 2008 NIT quarterfinals. The Buckeyes dealt with a pesky Flyers team and hordes of UD fans but won that contest at the Schottenstein Center, 74-63, to advance to New York City. OSU ended up winning the event – and has been back in the NCAA Tournament every year following.<br /> <br /> “I think for this team it’s a great thing,” Matta said of his Buckeyes drawing Dayton, “and I say that because there won’t need to be a wakeup call, a ‘Who is this? Where are they? What conference is this? I haven’t heard of that guy’ or any of that. So I like that from that perspective.”<br /> <br /> On the other hand …<br /> <br /> “My first initial reaction was I was so excited to see Dayton up there, because I wanted Arch (coach <strong>Archie Miller</strong>) to get in the NCAA Tournament,” Matta said. “Then it was like, ‘uhh, here we go.’ ”<br /> <br /> Matta well recalls that the 2007 run to the Final Four and last year’s Sweet 16 matchup with Arizona included battles with his best friend, <strong>Sean Miller</strong>, who replaced him as the head coach at Xavier in 2004 when he came to Columbus. Sean and Archie are brothers and each has worked directly with Matta – Sean at Miami (Ohio) and Xavier and Archie at OSU.<br /> <br /> In fact, Archie Miller was a Matta assistant at OSU in 2007-08 and, ironically, helped scout the Flyers before the Buckeyes faced them in the 2008 NIT.<br /> <br /> “It’s funny because we talk all the time,” Matta said. “It’s a little like playing Arizona last year. He knows a lot about my team; I know a lot about his team.”<br /> <br /> Matta also has experience facing an in-state foe in the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes had to get by Cincinnati two years ago in the Sweet 16 and followed that with a win over Syracuse to advance to the 2012 Final Four.<br /> <br /> Matta shrugged about the matchup then and is shrugging now.<br /> <br /> “No matter who you play in the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to be a really, really good basketball team,” he said. “The fact that we’re playing a team an hour away five hours away, it’s kind of irrelevant to me. Eventually it all kind of comes full circle.”<br /> <br /> Still, the subplots persist. Dayton assistant <strong>Kevin Kuwik</strong> also once served under Matta at OSU. Plus, the Flyers are led by 6-4 guard <strong>Jordan Sibert</strong>, who was a prominent member of the 2010 recruiting class along with <strong>Jared Sullinger</strong>, <strong>Deshaun Thomas</strong>, <strong>J.D. Weatherspoon</strong> and current OSU seniors <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> and <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong><br /> <br /> A former prep star at Cincinnati Princeton, Sibert transferred after two somewhat underwhelming seasons at OSU, sat out last season, and is now Dayton’s top scorer at 12.5 points per game. He also is one of the A-10’s top three-point shooters at 43.9 percent from behind the arc.<br /> <br /> Craft said he still keeps in touch with Sibert, who also was his AAU backcourt mate. Smith, meanwhile, knows the media will play up a rivalry between him and the UD off-guard.<br /> <br /> When a reporters asked him is he expected Sibert to be extra motivated Thursday, Smith said, “Trying to put myself in his shoes, absolutely. But at the same time we’re both in the same boat – you lose, you go home.”<br /> <br /> If there was animosity between the two, Smith didn’t address it.<br /> <br /> “We were brothers, we were teammates,” he said. “We had support for each other in hard times. I guess things really didn’t pan out for him as well as it did for me. I guess I was just the fortunate one to get that starting position and remain here and play. Then again, I’m pretty sure he’s pretty happy with what he did with his decision and he’s looking forward to playing us.”<br /> <br /> Added Matta, “When he left he said, ‘Look, I want to play a lot,’ and he’s definitely doing that and he’s having a great career there. I’m one of these guys that as long as everybody’s happy in terms of where they are and what they’re doing, I’m happy for them.”<br /> <br /> Sibert, though, is no one-man show. <strong>Devin Oliver</strong>, a 6-7 senior forward, is logging 12.1 points and 7.5 rebounds a game for UD while 6-6 <strong>Dyshawn Pierre</strong> is at 11.1 ppg and 5.6 rpg. <strong>Vee Sanford</strong>, a 6-4 senior guard, is yet another threat (9.9 ppg).<br /> <br /> If the Buckeyes can survive their 10th all-time meeting with Dayton, they will play the winner of the Syracuse-Western Michigan 3-14 game Saturday in Buffalo. That means the strong possibility of another important encounter with the Orange and <strong>Jim Boeheim</strong>’s vaunted zone defense – with less than two days of preparation.<br /> <br /> “I just hope I see it,” Matta said.<br /> <br /> Two wins in Buffalo would mean a trip to Memphis but could set up contests with the likes of Kansas and Florida.<br /> <br /> Daunting as that may be, Matta believes lots of team’s have a sporting chance to make the Final Four this year.<br /> <br /> “I don’t know if you have that one dominant team where you say, ‘They should win the national championship,’ ” he said. “Wichita State obviously is undefeated, Florida is rolling, Arizona is very, very talented as well. I haven’t seen Virginia but they must be playing well. I think the tournament is wide open.<br /> <br /> “I still can’t get over that a guy is willing to pay a billion dollars if somebody gets it right. It must be pretty up in the air. You’re going to see some crazy things.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-17/Numbers_Geography_Don_t_Matter.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-17/Numbers_Geography_Don_t_Matter.aspx 723137a2-3586-45df-897c-771fd79001ef Tue, 18 Mar 2014 04:27:14 GMT Another Comeback, But An Exit On Saturday at the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, a few trends continued for the Ohio State men’s basketball team as it tangled with rival Michigan in the first semifinal.<br /> <br /> For example, the fifth-seeded Buckeyes again dug themselves a deep hole and again they returned to the hardwood at Bankers Life Fieldhouse despite the deficit. <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> led the way offensively and, as was the case in Friday’s win over Nebraska, an unlikely surge of production came from a reserve.<br /> <br /> Now for the bad news (and form-breakers): Ohio State lost to the Wolverines for the first time in seven league tournament matchups with UM. Also, OSU failed to advance from the semifinals to the Sunday final for the first time in the 10-year era of coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong>.<br /> <br /> After failing behind 15-2 in the early going and as much as 16 points (32-16), the Buckeyes rallied to take a brief lead and continued to look like a team of destiny. But top-seeded Michigan made a couple more key plays down the stretch to post a 72-69 victory.<br /> <br /> No. 8 UM (25-7) survived and earned a date with in-state foe Michigan State, the 3-seed, in the championship. The No. 24 Buckeyes (25-9) failed to make the BTT finale for the first time in six years, but Matta still found the positive.<br /> <br /> “We’re a better basketball team today than we were when we got here,” he said. “I think some guys showed they can make plays when they need to make plays.”<br /> <br /> The 6-8 Ross certainly was one of them. He had 19 points and a career-high 15 rebounds in OSU’s 63-61 survival against 12th-seeded Purdue on Thursday and followed up with a career-best 26 points and 13 rebounds in the quarterfinal clash with Nebraska, a 71-67 win.<br /> <br /> On Saturday, Ross brought it again with 19 points and six boards, although he missed all five of his three-point attempts. <br /> <br /> Wing <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> struggled mightily with just thee points and a 1-for-7 shooting day but backup guard <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> picked up the slack much the way <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong> did the previous day. The speedy junior riddled Michigan with 18 points, five rebounds, six assists and three steals.<br /> <br /> “Shannon was tremendous,” Matta said. “I thought his shot preparation and what he was doing on the court was huge. He got us back in the basketball game.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Nik Stauskas</strong> had 18 points and <strong>Caris LeVert</strong> had 17 to lead the Wolverines, who won for the seventh straight time. UM also got 11 points from <strong>Glenn Robinson III</strong> and eight from center <strong>Jordan Morgan</strong>.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes did a much better job on the boards than they did in the 70-60 home loss to the Wolverines, holding a 31-26 edge there, and were a respectable 7 of 19 from long range (36.8 percent) and 27 of 56 from the field overall (48.2 percent). They also committed just 11 turnovers.<br /> <br /> Still, considering the deep-shooting show the Wolverines put on, it’s hard to believe the Buckeyes still had a chance until <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> lost control of a three-point pull-up just before the buzzer.<br /> <br /> Michigan nailed six of its first eight shots from behind the arc and finished 12 of 23 (52.3 percent).<br /> <br /> But a day after crawling out of a 48-30 chasm against Nebraska the Buckeyes again showed the heart and grit necessary to put suspense back into the ballgame. In fact, they grabbed a lead of 61-60 with 7:57 to play when <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> threw down a patented alley-oop dunk and also led 68-65 with 4:12 on the game clock.<br /> <br /> Michigan cut the Ohio State lead to 68-67 on an 18-foot jumper from Stauskas, the recently named Big Ten Player of the Year, and retook the lead for good when Robinson made two free throws with 2:55 to play.<br /> <br /> UM owned a 71-68 lead when Ross drew a foul but only made 1 of 2 at the free-throw line.<br /> <br /> Michigan’s <strong>Spike Albrecht</strong> had a chance to ice the win with 6.2 seconds left but after making his first free throw – and a timeout – he missed the second.<br /> <br /> Craft grabbed the defensive rebound and raced the other way through the middle of the floor. He appeared to have enough control and room to launch a three from the top of the key but lost the ball while going into his shooting motion.<br /> <br /> The Wolverines came up with the loose ball and Stauskas threw down a one-handed slam after time had expired for an exclamation point. UM advanced to the BTT final for the first time since the initial tournament in 1998. The Wolverines won that event but the title has since been vacated because of NCAA rules.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes put together a 21-9 run to produce a manageable halftime deficit of 41-37 but Michigan started the second half like it did the first and quickly up the lead to 54-42.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes used a 9-2 spurt to get within 56-51 and also put together a 10-2 run to take the lead mainly with Craft on the bench with four fouls.<br /> <br /> Still, it wasn’t enough this time.<br /> <br /> When reminded his team would at least get an extra day of rest for not making it to Sunday – which would have meant a record 13th BTT game for Craft and Smith – Matta shrugged at the notion.<br /> <br /> “We’ve played 21 straight games (against Big Ten teams) and the last four games have gone down to the horn,” he said. “That can really take a toll on a team.<br /> <br /> “Still, I’d probably rather have the exhaustion.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-16/Another_Comeback_But_An_Exit.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-16/Another_Comeback_But_An_Exit.aspx 4357e465-ffaf-4d04-a7b9-192408327abf Sun, 16 Mar 2014 21:52:41 GMT What Just Happened? <strong>INDIANAPOLIS –</strong> As his Buckeyes continued to sputter and Nebraska built a second-half lead of 18 points in the second quarterfinal Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, <strong>Thad Matta</strong> often turned to his assistants and offered a “what else” look of bewilderment.<br /> <br /> After the game – which included an epic comeback by No. 24 Ohio State and a hard-to-explain 71-67 win by the 5-seed over the 4-seed – the 10-year OSU head coach was asked what was entering his mind.<br /> <br /> “How long does it take to get back to Columbus?” he replied.<br /> <br /> The fan version of that may have been, “Where’s the remote?’<br /> <br /> In reality, though, Matta never was going to give up on a team, flawed as it is, that has never given up on him this season.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes (25-8) fell out of the top five of the polls and Big Ten contention after a 15-0 start, but none of their league losses was by more than 10 points.<br /> <br /> Plus, the Buckeyes had rallied feverishly in a December win over Notre Dame in New York City, sent the game to overtime and nearly won at Michigan State after trailing by 17 points with seven minutes to play, and completely turned it around in several other contests including a home win over Minnesota last month.<br /> <br /> The outlook against Nebraska, though, may have been the most bleak of all. Looking to secure an NCAA Tournament bid and continue their torrid play of the last few weeks, the Cornhuskers (19-12) grabbed a 31-28 halftime lead and ballooned it to 48-30 with 13:45 to play.<br /> <br /> “The way we closed out the first half, the way we started the second half, was bad,” Matta understated. “I gauge that by three fouls in the first two minutes and 10 seconds of the half, the missed free throws, those types of things.<br /> <br /> “But these guys stayed together, they fought, they clawed and found ways to pick up the defensive intensity. The greatest thing is everyone of those guys who made those mistakes played their way out of it, and that was the difference in the game.”<br /> <br /> One of the culprits/heroes was junior forward <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong>, who was whistled for a technical foul after shoving a ’Husker and was contributing to a turnover-plagued first half.<br /> <br /> He ended up with game highs of 26 points and 13 rebounds to outduel Big Ten leading scorer <strong>Terran Petteway</strong>, who fouled out with 20 points and five boards.<br /> <br /> OSU’s second-leading scorer, amazingly, was sophomore guard <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong>, who finished with 12 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals – all of them seemingly vital.<br /> <br /> Matta stuck with a five-guard lineup and played Della Valle 16 minutes in the second half yet could have pulled him after the youngster missed a pair of free throws.<br /> <br /> Point guard <strong>Aaron Craft</strong>, who embodies OSU’s guttiness, was just 2 of 7 from the field but finished with six points, six rebounds and six assists. He also came up big in the final minutes.<br /> <br /> And <strong>Shannon Scott</strong>, dismal in the first half with four turnovers, suddenly tortured Nebraska during the frantic rally. He logged nine points, four rebounds and five assists.<br /> <br /> Even with so many players suddenly finding their game, the sellout crowd still was left with mouths agape as the scarlet-clad Buckeyes ripped off a 41-19 closing salvo.<br /> <br /> How could that have just happened? And why are the Buckeyes never out of a game?<br /> <br /> “It’s a combination of a things,” junior <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> explained. “I think, one, we’re just a tough group of guys. We have a lot of pride in what’s across our chest and what this program is about. And we know that we’re never going to give up on a game.<br /> <br /> “We’re confident. We’ve been down eight with 50-some seconds left vs. Notre Dame. We were way down at the Breslin Center vs. Michigan State. We didn’t win that game but we were right there. We had a shot in regulation to win it and a shot in overtime to win it.<br /> <br /> “We know that no lead is insurmountable and we can always come back as long as we do what we do.”<br /> <br /> Added senior <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong>, who ceded his spot to Della Valle the majority of the second half, “It was a team win. We fought to the end and guys out there on the floor got energy from the bench. We fell apart momentarily but from that point we rallied as a team and drew a line in the sand.”<br /> <br /> That line looked nearly pointless when the Cornhuskers appear to gain total control of the contest minutes into the second half.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes shot 50.0 percent in the first half but trailed at the break thanks to nine turnovers and a 1-for-8 showing from behind the arc.&nbsp; Despite a very sloppy start to the second half, a basket by Ross kept the deficit manageable at 36-30.<br /> <br /> That’s when NU posted a 12-0 surge to open up a 48-30 lead. In that stretch, OSU missed three layups and a tip-in attempt, committed a pair of turnovers and also committed five fouls including Ross’ technical.<br /> <br /> Petteway made the two free throws, <strong>Benny Parker</strong> added a basket and Petteway dropped home two more freebies after the shove to push the lead to 18.<br /> <br /> That’s when the Buckeyes woke up and cranked up their fullcourt pressure with aplomb.<br /> <br /> “It was kind of like an NBA game where a player or coach gets fired up, you get a technical and then you start rallying around it,” Craft said. “I don’t condone that. I’m pretty sure we got down 16 from it, so you don’t want that to happen. But if it works out, it works out.”<br /> <br /> Ross actually started the comeback by splashing a three to cut the lead to 48-33.<br /> <br /> “That play was over,” he said of the T. “I wasn’t thinking about that play again. I looked up and saw the score and knew how bad we were down. We just had to get some motivation to come back in that game.”<br /> <br /> The turnaround came from fierce defense.<br /> <br /> “If you’re down 18 and trade buckets, it doesn’t do us much good,” Thompson said. “We had to get some stops and get ourselves going.”<br /> <br /> Many of those key defensive possessions came with Craft and Scott in the backcourt, Smith on the wing, the 6-5 Della Valle at power forward and the 6-7 Thompson at center.<br /> <br /> “We’ve never done that, but it was time to play,” Thompson said. “There’s really no time to ask questions at that point in the game. You’ve got to find a way to get it done.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Shavon Shields</strong> had 12 points for Nebraska but just four in the second half. <strong>Ray Gallegos</strong> had eight points by halftime and a doughnut thereafter.<br /> <br /> Della Valle allowed OSU to switch easier on the perimeter and he also managed to affect the Cornhuskers in the open court.<br /> <br /> His defensive rebound and coast-to-coast drive cut the lead to 48-37 and moments later he provided a steal and a another hanging basket to make it 48-39.<br /> <br /> A dunk by Thompson with 4:39 to play trimmed it to 58-56 but <strong>Walter Pitchford</strong>, who hurt OSU with three treys and 15 points, made a 21-footer from the top of the key for a 61-56 edge.<br /> <br /> Della Valle responded with consecutive blocked shots and three-point to pull OSU back to within a hoop at 63-61. He added four made free throws in the final 12 seconds, providing the Buckeyes with a four-point lead each time.<br /> <br /> “He’s a gamer,” Craft said. “He’s done a phenomenal job of just humbling himself and waiting for his opportunity, and he took advantage today. That’s what we see in practice on a daily basis.”<br /> <br /> “Amedeo is a great player, man,” Ross added. “You can see what he did in the summertime over there in his league (in Italy), winning MVP and he won a championship. He plays with a swag. I don’t know, it’s something about his body. He’s able to do some stuff that I didn’t think he was supposed to do.”<br /> <br /> Della Valle drew a horde of reporters afterward but shrugged at the idea of being an impact player.<br /> <br /> “Really my confidence doesn’t go down,” he said. “I know the player I can be even though sometimes I don’t show it on the court. I know what I do in practice and how hard I work.”<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, Ross scored in double figures for the 15th time in his last 17 games and set a new career high.<br /> <br /> “He’s been great,” Della Valle said. “He’s been good for us, scoring the ball when we need him to, even playing defense. I think he’s really stepping up.”<br /> <br /> With the win, OSU improved to 21-5 at the Big Ten Tournament in the Matta era and will move on to face rival Michigan in the first semifinal on Saturday afternoon (1:40 p.m. Eastern, CBS). The top-seeded Wolverines 24-7 also had a fright but edged 9-seed Illinois 64-63.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes will be playing on the third consecutive day but are used to such challenges. Smith and Craft, for example, will be playing in their 12th BTT game and figure to have some fight left in them.<br /> <br /> “It’s Michigan,” Smith said. “There’s no other team we’ll pull together and have energy for more than those guys. They’re just as good as anyone in the country and we’re looking forward to it.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-14/What_Just_Happened.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-14/What_Just_Happened.aspx 52eac3fe-b8a1-4931-b2be-94510c464e88 Sat, 15 Mar 2014 01:12:35 GMT Q On One End, Lenzelle On The Other <strong>INDIANAPOLIS –</strong> You can’t put lipstick on a pig but sometimes you’ve got to use that swine to get you from point A to point B – like from Thursday to Friday.<br /> <br /> The 24th-ranked Ohio State basketball team did basically that on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament here at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, edging league bottom feeder Purdue 63-61 in the 5-12 game to advance to the quarterfinals.<br /> <br /> For the Buckeyes (24-8), the victory even counts as momentum considering they came up with a bevy of key defensive stops in a 69-67 regular-season-ending win over Michigan State on Sunday and that they dropped their share of tight contests during the conference season.<br /> <br /> “It’s another ugly game that we’ve found ourselves in, and we’ve been in quite a few this year,” point guard <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> said. “It’s nice to find a way to win one.”<br /> <br /> Like on Sunday, the blueprint centered on the defensive end of the court. The Buckeyes trailed for much of the second half and never led by more than five points down the stretch but came up with clutch plays while digging in on defense.<br /> <br /> After PU’s <strong>Kendall Stephens</strong> nailed a three to tie the score at 54 with 6:06 to play, the Boilermakers (15-17) made just 2 of 6 shots and committed four turnovers, many of them under intense pressure.<br /> <br /> Still, they stayed right in the fray with four players in double figures and pivot <strong>A.J. Hammons</strong> adding nine rebounds and five blocked shots to his team-high 15 points.<br /> <br /> “They got experienced guards, guys who attack you, they’ve got Stephens knocking down all kinds of shots, and A.J. Hammons is always a load and always gives us trouble, so it’s not your typical 12-seed,” OSU junior <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> said.<br /> <br /> “They’re a not a team that you can just brush over. You’ve got to go out and beat them. It wasn’t pretty but we got it done – but this is definitely the last game we can come out and play like this and win in March.”<br /> <br /> Certainly the path tightens quickly. Fifth-seeded Ohio State, playing on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since <strong>Thad Matta</strong>’s initial season as coach (2004-05), next faces 4-seed Nebraska (19-11) on Friday (approx. 2:30 Eastern, ESPN).<br /> <br /> The Cornhuskers, who went 11-7 in the Big Ten regular season after most experts picked them to finish dead-last, are on top of their game and coming off a huge home win over Wisconsin.<br /> <br /> Ohio State might not be able to match their firepower but has a hot hand in forward <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong>, who notched his fifth career double-double with 19 points and a career-best 15 rebounds vs. the Boilermakers.<br /> <br /> Ross was not incredibly efficient – he was 8 of 21 from the field – but he held up through 37 bruising minutes of court time and befuddled Purdue.<br /> <br /> “I’ve got to give him credit, he kept playing today,” Matta said. “If he thought something should have been called, he kept playing, he stuck with it, and really had a heck of a game.”<br /> <br /> Ross spun, drop-stepped and twisted into traffic to flip and float up soft attempts in the lane. He also took a three in the second half just to keep the Boilers honest.<br /> <br /> “Finding different ways to score is what I do, so that’s always been a part of my game,” said the gangly 6-8 junior. “I’m fine either way, as long as the ball goes in the hole. That just shows my versatility being able to go outside to shoot the three or down in the paint to handle what I can.”<br /> <br /> Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Ross was up to the task of scoring down low on a day when they were a miserable 1 of 14 from behind the arc.<br /> <br /> “When you’re having quote-unquote one of those days, you’ve got to find ways to generate points and today Q was a great generator of productivity for us,” Matta said.<br /> <br /> However, Purdue actually outscored the Buckeyes in the paint, 42-36, thanks in large part to the yeoman work of 7-foot, 251-pound Hammons, who continued to create problems for OSU.<br /> <br /> “That’s a big dude,” Ross said. “He’s in the paint disturbing shots or blocking shots and he takes up a lot of space.”<br /> <br /> Hammons came into the game with 29 points and 23 rebounds in two regular-season contests with the Buckeyes and did more damage in perhaps his last game as a collegian. The sophomore is contemplating whether or not to seek early entry into the NBA draft.<br /> <br /> Craft was able to offset Hammons with 16 points and added two rebounds, five assists and three steals.<br /> <br /> Perhaps the top performer of the outing, though, was senior backcourt mate <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> Even though he didn’t have a made field goal in the second half, his defensive prowess and three made free throws were the difference.<br /> <br /> With OSU trying to protect a 62-60 lead, Smith broke up a handoff to PU guard <strong>Terone Johnson</strong> and zipped the other way with the ball. He was fouled with 5.1 seconds and made 1 of 2 free throws.<br /> <br /> “I hit the ball and he bobbled it,” Smith explained. “In my mind it was ‘ go score,’ but I remember what happened to us at Wisconsin, so it was ‘slow down, get fouled, make the free throws.’<br /> <br /> “That’s big-time right there. Any time you get a stop you want to capitalize off of that. It takes the gusto away from teams.”<br /> <br /> Earlier, after Craft kept alive a key possession by stealing the ball from Hammons on his way down with a rebound, Smith had fought his way for position for an offensive rebound of a missed three by Thompson and drew a foul on <strong>Errick Peck</strong>. He made both free throws with 28 seconds remaining to push the OSU lead to 61-58.<br /> <br /> After Smith provided the 63-60 lead, Matta elected to have <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> purposely foul <strong>Ronnie Johnson</strong> with 2.7 seconds remaining, a tactic that nearly backfired.<br /> <br /> Ronnie Johnson made the first free throw, purposely missed the second, and, after officials checked the monitor for several minutes, ruled the ball went off Smith’s fingertips.<br /> <br /> “That was a great call,” Smith said. “They got that one right.”<br /> <br /> Purdue coach <strong>Matt Painter</strong> called timeout and drew up a potential winning play as Terone Johnson found himself lining up a three with a tick to go. Smith swerved around Hammons to fly out on the shot, which was on line but short.<br /> <br /> “In my history here I think that was just as good a screen as any,” Smith said. “Hammons, obviously, is huge, and at that point I had a decision to stay on the screen and call for help or try to fight around it as much as possible.”<br /> <br /> He chose correctly and again was a difference-maker.<br /> <br /> “Those are game-winning plays, and that’s exactly what we need this time of year,” Craft said.<br /> <br /> “He turned it around,” Matta added when asked about Smith. “He was not very good in the first half and to his credit he played a lot better basketball in the second half.”<br /> <br /> Matta subbed in <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong> with 12:05 to play and left the sophomore on the floor until the 7:16 mark, allowing Smith to be fresh for the stretch.<br /> <br /> It turned out the Buckeyes needed every ounce of that energy just to survive.<br /> <br /> “You don’t come into these games expecting it to be easy,” Craft said. “Anything worth having you’ve got to work for.”<br /> <br /> Matta improved to 20-5 in the Big Ten Tournament, which is the best record by any coach in the history of the event, and many of the victories were pre-weekend squeakers like this one.<br /> <br /> “Despite how we played this game we know our main goal was to find a way to win, so we’re satisfied,” Scott said. “There’s not enough time to dwell on how we played today. That would affect us the rest of the tournament.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-13/Q_On_One_End_Lenzelle_On_The_Other.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-13/Q_On_One_End_Lenzelle_On_The_Other.aspx 102cd8f0-5111-43cf-aed1-106255da2b1c Fri, 14 Mar 2014 01:17:42 GMT Look Out, Indy -- Matta's Back If any of the 12 member institutions have an intimidation edge heading to the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis this week, it could be argued that it is Ohio State.<br /> <br /> No, the Buckeyes did not mop up the league and win the regular-season crown as in some recent years. And, no, OSU is not the hottest team in the Midwest right now.<br /> <br /> Far from it.<br /> <br /> However, the Buckeyes still have <strong>Thad Matta</strong> as their coach and his success at this time of year is, well, staggering.<br /> <br /> In Matta’s 10 seasons at the helm of the program, the Buckeyes are a very robust 54-14 in March, which equates to a winning percentage a shade below 80. No OSU team under his watch has lost more than two games in the most crucial month of college basketball and his teams simply find a way in the postseason.<br /> <br /> The Big Ten Tournament, for example, has been a playground for Ohio State. The Buckeyes have advanced to Sunday’s tournament final five years in a row and are the defending champs after cutting down the nets at Chicago’s United Center last year.<br /> <br /> This time the tourney returns to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the Buckeyes reigned in 2010 – who can forget <strong>Evan Turner</strong>’s 37-foot buzzer beater against Michigan? – and again in 2011, when they wiped the field and headed to the Big Dance as the nation’s No. 1 team.<br /> <br /> The last time the event was in Indy, 2012, Ohio State lost in a doozy of a championship game with Michigan State but went on to the Final Four.<br /> <br /> So it seems there are almost good results and major momentum for Matta’s crew at the conclusion of the league tournament.<br /> <br /> “I’ve had a lot of coaches call me and ask (about the success,” Matta said. “But in terms of preparation, in terms of pregame speeches, in terms of what we eat, it’s kind of always the same. I wish I had a secret.”<br /> <br /> While Matta can’t explain the phenomenon, he is proud of his 19-5 mark in the BTT – and seven conference tournament titles in his previous 13 seasons as a head coach.<br /> <br /> “It does make you feel good,” he admitted. “It probably says, hey, you’re playing pretty good basketball at the end of the year. It means a lot more, I think, to the players and fans than all the coaches combined.”<br /> <br /> To enjoy another extended stay, Matta has stressed concentration, effort and toughness as much as X’s and O’s.<br /> <br /> “All he wants is for us to come out and play our best basketball for 40 minutes,” junior wing <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> said. “He doesn’t care about our tournament seeding, he doesn’t care about the regular season we had, he doesn’t care about anything going on. He just wants to win the next basketball game we’re going out to play.”<br /> <br /> The fifth-seeded Buckeyes (23-8) are favored to do just that as they’ll face league doormat Purdue (15-16) in the 5-12 game on Thursday (approx. 2:30 Eastern, Big Ten Network).<br /> <br /> No. 8 Indiana and No. 9 Illinois clash in the first game of the tourney and the Buckeyes and Boilermakers follow.<br /> <br /> A win for OSU sets up a date with No. 4 Nebraska, perhaps the hottest team in the conference, on Friday afternoon. If the Buckeyes should make it to Saturday’s semifinals they likely could find themselves paired with top-seeded Michigan.<br /> <br /> And even the first test will be no picnic. OSU swept the season series with Purdue with a 78-69 win in West Lafayette and a 67-49 wipeout of the Boilers last month in Columbus. Still, Matt Painter’s team is known for its physical play, ball pressure and the presence of 7-foot center <strong>A.J. Hammons</strong>, who had a combined 29 points and 23 rebounds in the two regular-season contests.<br /> <br /> “We have seen them over the course of the last couple weeks play some unbelievable basketball,” Matta said of the Boilers.<br /> <br /> Even if OSU can get by Purdue it may come with a price. And weariness is sure to set in at some point if the Buckeyes make it to the weekend.<br /> <br /> “Last year when we played Wisconsin (in the championship), guys’ legs were heavy and there was a little bit of fatigue going on, but I still think I’m a young guy,” Thompson said. “I still remember playing five games in eight hours in AAU. We’re in good condition, we have the player that can do it, and I think we’re tough enough to do it.<br /> <br /> “Everything we do in June and July and August is geared towards March and hopefully April.”<br /> <br /> Experts and even casual fans, though, would dispute the idea of the Buckeyes playing deep into March this year. After all, they have to play on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since Matta’s initial season of 2004-05 and have been maddeningly inconsistent throughout the season and even during the course of several games.<br /> <br /> OSU even limped into the regular-season stretch drive with consecutive losses at Penn State (Feb. 27) and Indiana (March 2). However, the Buckeyes appear to have some mojo back after Sunday’s 69-67 survival against Michigan State on Senior Day.<br /> <br /> “We didn’t play perfect on both sides of the ball by any means – our offensive could have played better, our defense could have played better – but I think that we really fought for 40 minutes,” Thompson said. “They went on a few big runs in the second half and every time they went on a run we punched back. That’s just what we need to bring in the tournament.”<br /> <br /> And, if you’re lucky enough clothes and personal items for a four-day stay.<br /> <br /> “I know there’s a mall down there and you can get something if you shop there,” Matta joked.<br /> <br /> Matta won’t field an elite team this year, but he knows the conference tournament will have an anything-goes flavor to it, especially after a regular season rife with upsets like Illinois winning at Michigan State, Penn State sweeping OSU and Northwestern rolling at Wisconsin.<br /> <br /> “I think this year’s Big Ten Tournament could be one of the classics of all-time,” said the OSU coach, who played some of his college ball in Indy at Butler University. “I see where <strong>Warren Buffett</strong> is giving a billion dollars (to someone who picks every game correctly in the 2014 NCAA Tournament). I’d like to see somebody pick the route of this one as well.”<br /> <br /> Added senior point guard <strong>Aaron Craft</strong>, “Hopefully we can play a few games. It’s another opportunity to play more basketball and hopefully we can take advantage of it.”<br /> <br /> Thompson said the one-and-done nature of the postseason will be reason enough for the Buckeyes to give maximum effort.<br /> <br /> “It’s always a different mind-set when you get to tournament time,” he said. “Something small can end your season.<br /> <br /> “We’re packed for four days. We expect to stay through Sunday.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-12/Look_Out_Indy_--_Matta_s_Back.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-12/Look_Out_Indy_--_Matta_s_Back.aspx 7785ac81-2e7b-472b-8c08-6bb126d1f33c Thu, 13 Mar 2014 03:13:38 GMT Vintage Craft, Perfect Sendoff <strong>Tom Izzo</strong> was in a foul mood after his Michigan State Spartans lost a palpitating 69-67 decision to Ohio State Sunday evening.<br /> <br /> Foul as in he couldn’t stop talking about the foul trouble MSU encountered, which, of course, is coach code for THE REFEREES STUNK.<br /> <br /> But just before The Iz got up to head to the bus and back to East Lansing, a reporter decided to fire off a question about OSU seniors <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> and <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong>, who were honored prior to their final game at the Schottenstein Center.<br /> <br /> “I think they stand for everything that I would want a player to stand for and I was honored to coach against them for four years,” the longtime MSU coach said with his scowl still drawn on his face.<br /> <br /> Izzo then turned his comments specifically to Craft, OSU’s pain-in-the-rump point guard who also embodies what hard-nose basketball is all about.<br /> <br /> “He represents everything that I think is right,” Izzo said. “He struggled a little bit this year for a lot of different reasons but he made some big plays and had a very good game on Senior Night. A kid like that deserves to, and that was kind of his staple, so it was probably a poetic justice way to end the game the way he did it, and I give him a lot of credit for that.”<br /> <br /> Izzo referred basically to the final 4:30 of the game, when the Spartans went scoreless. Or maybe he was talking about the 9-2 run the Buckeyes (23-8, 10-8) used to close the game that included 1-for-5 MSU shooting and five turnovers by the No. 22 Spartans (23-8, 12-6).<br /> <br /> Or maybe he was thinking of the diving rebound by Craft or the way he flew out onto shooters with the game on the line or that he caused <strong>Denzel Valentine</strong> to travel on a key possession or almost single-handedly thwarted MSU’s fast break or how he suffocated <strong>Gary Harris</strong> and forced him to short a jumper on the game’s final shot.<br /> <br /> No matter how you look back on it, Ohio State came up with a must-have, not-so-pretty, blood-and-guts win thanks to blinding defense – and No. 4 was the key to all of it.<br /> <br /> Poetic justice indeed.<br /> <br /> Craft not only waved goodbye to the sellout crowd of 18,809 and set the all-time Big Ten record for career steals, he also was vintage Craft down the stretch, flaws and all.<br /> <br /> The most memorable moment, though, came with 29 seconds to go in the game. That’s when, trailing 68-67, Izzo drew up a play for <strong>Adreian Payne</strong> to launch a go-ahead three. <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> flew out on Payne and bothered the shot and Craft then swan-dived onto the rebound as it hit the floor.<br /> <br /> The Findlay, Ohio, product rose to his feet and pumped his fist, turning an already throaty crowd into delirium.<br /> <br /> “As only Aaron Craft can do,” OSU head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> said, “he comes over (to the huddle) and says, ‘Why did you call time out? It was a possession, you didn’t have to waste the timeout.’ I said, ‘I didn’t call the timeout’ Sam Thompson chimes in and says, ‘I called the timeout.’<br /> <br /> “But for him to have that awareness and question my coaching intellect … I will forgive him.<br /> <br /> “It was just a big-time play. I would say that would probably be the most fitting end to an Ohio State guy’s career in his last home game to make that play. For him to come up with that, I don’t know if you could describe his career any better than that.”<br /> <br /> A former high school quarterback who quickly won over Ohio State fans with his toughness, hustle and derring-do, Craft, of course, bloodied his elbow on the play.<br /> <br /> “At that moment, that’s what I have to do for our team,” Craft said with some of the blood stained on his jersey.<br /> <br /> Craft, however, was fouled with 21 ticks left and made just 1 of 2 free throws, which set up the gut-wrenching final seconds as All-Big Ten guard Harris headed the other direction with a chance to ruin Senior Night.<br /> <br /> “He’s a taller guy so I just wanted to keep him from getting to the basket and try to contest his shot as much as possible,” Craft said. “I didn’t want him to get a three off because that beats us, so the worst thing I wanted to happen was for us to go to overtime.<br /> <br /> “He made a good move, got a good shot off and luckily it was short. And Lenzelle did a phenomenal job of tipping the ball so Adreian couldn’t tip-dunk it to make it go into overtime.”<br /> <br /> Game over. Craft and Smith embrace to celebrate their 117th win together at OSU – the most for any group in program history – and last at home. They helped guide OSU to 52 Big Ten wins, a Final Four appearance, two Elite Eights, and three Sweet 16s. The duo combined to record 2,260 points, 1,007 rebounds, 863 assists, and 408 steals.<br /> <br /> Craft recorded 12 points, three rebounds, seven assists and four steals vs. the Spartans – a seemingly ideal line. He will walk away as the program’s all-time leader in assists (673) and steals (328), the latter now four better than the conference mark set decades ago by Illinois’ <strong>Bruce Douglas</strong>.<br /> <br /> When a reporter congratulated him on that feat, Craft replied, “What? Oh. All right. I honestly thought I had it already.<br /> <br /> “It feels good, though. It doesn’t mean a ton right now but looking back when I’m older I can tell the people around me I was decent playing basketball back in the day.”<br /> <br /> Few student-athletes actually attain the status of beloved, but Craft would be very high on that list as well. His father, <strong>John Craft</strong>, told SportsRappUp.com it’s because of his fierce play, obvious passion to win, and statements like the sheepish reaction to the steals record.<br /> <br /> “I think what it goes back to is he’s very genuine,” Mr. Craft said. “What you get is truly what is there. He is very much a genuine person whether it’s academics, whether it comes to helping his community or the basketball team. And the other thing is, he’s a true Buckeye. And he will be that way for the rest of his life.”<br /> <br /> Craft was a freshman bench player in 2010-11 on one of the best Ohio State teams of all-time. All five starters and several reserves on that team were Ohioans born and bred. This season, Craft is the only one with such roots.<br /> <br /> During that initial season until now, the former Liberty Benton two-sport standout has become an all-time great Buckeye.<br /> <br /> “I remember the night <strong>David Lighty</strong>, <strong>Jon Diebler</strong>, <strong>Dallas</strong> (<strong>Lauderdale</strong>) and <strong>Eddie Days</strong> had their Senior Night (in 2011),” John Craft said. “It was spectacular and everything that went with it and what the game meant, but it seems like it was just a couple months ago. For this day to be here, it’s kind of out there for me.”<br /> <br /> “The other thing is our attention has been diverted with the women, which is kind of a blessing. We’ve been driving back and forth from Indianapolis the last three days. We haven’t really had a chance to fret over this or think about it too much because we’ve been so excited by the way they’ve started playing.”<br /> <br /> Mr. Craft referred to his daughter, <strong>Caity Craft</strong>, who is a sophomore guard for the Ohio State women’s team and turned in a sensational showing at the Big Ten Tournament.<br /> <br /> The women saw their season end in a tough 77-73 semifinal loss to Iowa, but that allowed the entire family and Aaron’s fiancée, <strong>Amber Petersen</strong>, to attend the Senior Night festivities.<br /> <br /> The presence of Cait may have been as important as anything to Aaron.<br /> <br /> “If they weren’t brother and sister they’d be soul mates,” John Craft said. “They confide in each other in things. He’ll tell her things that he won’t tell anyone else, and there’s been that trust there, which has been a huge part of his support system. He has a great support system in place, Buckeye Nation has been great for him, but to have Cait here and have him be able to be here for Cait, it speaks volumes.”<br /> <br /> When asked if his son seemed sentimental about his final home appareance, Mr. Craft said, “He might have gone through a couple periods of that but I think right now his main concern is this single game and what he needs to do to help the team win. Knowing him as well as I do, I think he’s probably shut everything out about the Senior Day.”<br /> <br /> Aaron agreed.<br /> <br /> “The toughest time was being around my parents before the game,” he said. “After that, once we got back in the locker room it was back to business and doing whatever we had to do to win this game. It’s a lot more fun right now than if we would have lost.”<br /> <br /> That was evident in the joyous scene after the final horn sounded. Craft had helped improve Matta’s record to 9-1 in senior sendoffs, but, more important, he and Smith – who had nine points, eight rebounds and four assists – put the Buckeyes in the right frame of mind with the postseason just ahead.<br /> <br /> “It means a lot to me personally, but this is a huge step for our team,” Smith said. “It just shows that when we come to play and fight for one another, we can beat anybody in the country, I think.”<br /> <br /> Added Craft, “I’m not worried about how I’m going to be remembered and any of that. It’s all moving forward. This is what we need to continue to do, this is how we need to play, especially down the stretch.<br /> <br /> “The way we played defense and really stepped up is what needs to be our calling card, and when we don’t do that we’re not going to win too many games.”<br /> <br /> That, too, is Aaron Craft in a nutshell – a competitor ever-determined to find the edge.<br /> <br /> “He’s pretty much the same person he was when he came down here four years ago, and it would have been real easy for him to divert away from that,” his father said.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-10/Vintage_Craft_Perfect_Sendoff.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-10/Vintage_Craft_Perfect_Sendoff.aspx d8c01050-74f4-4019-b23f-71137c49f015 Mon, 10 Mar 2014 14:25:00 GMT Fickell Says He Never Fretted Thursday provided a second day of workouts for the Ohio State football team, which is trying to spit out the bitter taste of the end of the 2013 season.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes are more than happy to be back to work, especially the coaches, after seeing their 24-game win streak end in a Big Ten Championship setback to Michigan State followed by a 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.<br /> <br /> The defense was sieve-like in both of those contests, leading to speculation that <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> might relieve <strong>Luke Fickell</strong> of his defensive coordinator duties or even fire him.<br /> <br /> Cooler heads prevailed, and Meyer instead made two noteworthy pickups to the defensive staff – longtime Penn State D-line coach <strong>Larry Johnson</strong> was hired to replace the departed <strong>Mike Vrabel</strong>, and former Wisconsin and Arkansas assistant <strong>Chris Ash</strong> moved into the safties/co-coordinator role of <strong>Everett Withers</strong>, now the head coach at James Madison.<br /> <br /> Even when Ash was brought aboard, some followers of the program assumed Fickell’s role would be devalued. But that is not the case. On Thursday, Fickell addressed the media as he has many times, as OSU’s top defensive coach, and reporters asked how he handled all the conjecture about his job.<br /> <br /> “You know what, like I do everything else,” Fickell said. “Statistics, at the end of the year, you really look back at them, do you want to dive into statistics? Well, where were you in scoring defense? What is the most important? You can always find something that you can get better at, you’ve got to find something that you can hang your hat on.<br /> <br /> “But the reality is as you go on battling, if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. But what are you going to do, live your life worried about everything? How would that be? How much excitement, what would that do for you? You know what, you’re confident in what you do and you believe in what you do. If that’s what the plan is, that’s what the plan is. I want what’s best for this place. Coach Meyer knows that and we talked about that from day one.<br /> <br /> “If something is better for this place, then so be it because I want what is best for my alma mater, my university. Obviously, we have enough confidence in what it is that we do. We don’t just look at one single stat. I know you keep dwelling upon it and everybody dwells upon it, but the reality is this is a team game. People ask all kinds of questions. Why is this the best sport known to man? Because it’s a team sport. It’s more like life. If something happens to one of your buddies and he doesn’t pick you up, do you de-friend him for the rest of his life? Things like that. That’s what you learn from this.<br /> <br /> “The examples we set for our guys are the same examples we all live our life by. You can’t worry. Because there was a bombing in the World Trade Center a few years ago, do you never want to fly again? What are you going to do? I know it’s comparing it to different things, but the reality is you have confidence in what you do and believe in what you do and whatever happens, happens.”<br /> <br /> Fickell was asked if he could pinpoint what went wrong for OSU defensively last season.<br /> <br /> “There was a combination of things,” he said. “It’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish. And when things start to go and you lose your confidence, it’s tough. As coaches, you try and put a finger in all the holes you’ve got. You try and stop everything and you can’t stop anything.<br /> <br /> “As you look back, that’s the one thing you could say, ‘Hey, man, we tried to stop everything and we didn’t do a good job of stopping one thing in particular,’ and it cost us.”<br /> <br /> Fickell said he will continue to coach with the wishes of Meyer in mind.<br /> <br /> “He wants to be great,” Fickell said. “It’s pretty self-explanatory. We want to challenge everything now and say you’re going to give up a play here or there, but we can’t lose confidence in what we’re doing. If a guy catches one, he catches one. The idea of bend but don’t break is not exactly the mentality that Coach Meyer likes.<br /> <br /> “As we get into our third year together, you figure out each other and hopefully you can do a better job with it.”<br /> <br /> Fickell, who also tutors the linebackers, was quick to remind that OSU still posted 12 wins last year but also said he is open to change with the approach. With spring drills afoot, he said the concentration right now is to make sure all four defensive assistants – <strong>Kerry Coombs</strong> will continue to work with the cornerbacks as well as serve as special teams coordinator – are on the same page.<br /> <br /> The first step is simplifying the defense.<br /> <br /> “I think that’s where it’s got to start,” Fickell said. “The offenses, in everything they do, make you prepare for every single thing. That’s the hard development for young guys. The idea is to go back and simplify things and let those young guys play fast.”<br /> <br /> As for working with Ash and Johnson instead of Withers and his buddy Vrabel, Fickell assured there would be no issues.<br /> <br /> “The most important thing is we ask our guys to do their one-11th and play together,” he said. “It’s not any different for the coaches. It doesn’t matter about titles. Coach (Meyer) has challenged us. For the last month, we have been in there and battling through things so we can be on the same page.<br /> <br /> “Chris brings that ability to broaden yourself. You’ve done things a certain way for a long time. There are a bunch of different ways. In my time here at Ohio State, we’ve probably played every different kind of defense. He brings a different perspective on where he’s been, whether it was in the SEC or Wisconsin or Drake, where he went to school.<br /> <br /> “Just like having Larry, you have a guy who has done it a long time and you have a guy who brings some calmness and confidence to your room. It’s how the four of us mesh together. That’s been the most exciting thing for me the last four weeks.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Shoring Up The Middle</strong><br /> <br /> Fickell has two returning starting linebackers at his disposal but will be hard-pressed to find a suitable replacement for All-American <strong>Ryan Shazier</strong>, OSU’s leading tackler the past couple years.<br /> <br /> Shazier left after a monster junior year for the NFL draft and just ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash at Ohio State’s Pro Day on Friday.<br /> <br /> Back to claim their starting spots – if they can hold off all challengers – are <strong>Curtis Grant</strong> and <strong>Joshua Perry</strong>.<br /> <br /> A senior who has failed to live up to the hype as a topflight recruit, Grant says he is healthy and ready to hold down the fort at middle linebacker. Perry came on strong last year on the strong side, often taking advantage of opponents’ preoccupation with Shazier.<br /> <br /> In the very early going, redshirt freshmen <strong>Darron Lee</strong> and <strong>Chris Worley</strong> have taken the majority of reps at Shazier’s weakside spot.<br /> <br /> Pushing Perry will be <strong>Camren Williams</strong> and <strong>Trey Johnson</strong> while true freshman <strong>Raekwon McMillan</strong>, already enrolled, is breathing down the neck of Grant. Walk-on <strong>Joe Burger</strong> also is getting work in the middle.<br /> <br /> “We will rely on those older guys,” Fickell said of Grant and Perry. “They have been through a lot of battles and a lot of ups and downs. They’ve been through a 24-game winning streak and a two-game losing streak. They have to feed off of those experiences they’ve had.”<br /> <br /> Grant confirmed he was slowed for much of last season with a high ankle sprain and pinched nerve in his back. He’s now full-go.<br /> <br /> “I think he is refocused,” Fickell said. “We need senior leadership. You’re best when your seniors play best. When they play really good, you’re going to have a good season.”<br /> <br /> Adding to that focus is the presence of McMillan, considered by some services as the nation’s top interior LB prospect while dominating as a Georgia prepster. McMillan, who will don No. 5, is a 6-2, 240-pound specimen who admitted on National Signing Day that he is thinking about starting right away for the Buckeyes.<br /> <br /> Fickell, though, was cautious about talking up the youngster too much after just two days on the field with him.<br /> <br /> “It’s hard because nobody has put a true helmet on anybody yet,” Fickell said. “But you can see the confidence of a guy and a guy who has a lot of true instincts. It’s something you hold your breath on. Coach (Meyer) keeps coming over to me. I said I’m going to hold my tongue until we put some shoulder pads and get out of the underwear stuff.<br /> <br /> “Raekwon is a great kid. He is level-headed. He’s not walking around like he’s an angel because he was a five-star (recruit). You wouldn’t know it. He doesn’t get caught up in all of that stuff. He’s working hard and he’s grinding.”<br /> <br /> And that, believe it or not, is music to the ears of Grant.<br /> <br /> “He is very talented,” Grant said of McMillan. “He came in with a lot of things that a lot of freshmen don’t come in with. He brings in good competition. When a guy comes in like that, it makes you want to work on your craft even more and do the things you have to do to get better.<br /> <br /> “That’s like my little brother. Part of my job is to help him and make sure he doesn’t get caught up in some of the things I did. He’s doing great so far and I know he’s going to have success here, and I want to share in that.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-07/Fickell_Says_He_Never_Fretted.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-03-07/Fickell_Says_He_Never_Fretted.aspx b53208ef-05b6-4177-ac8e-41681785b4cc Fri, 07 Mar 2014 18:59:43 GMT In Fourth Place And Desperate Athletes usually don’t like to describe their outlook as desperate, but Ohio State swingman <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> had no problem admitting that’s his mind-set with the team heading to Penn State with just three regular-season games remaining.<br /> <br /> The No. 22 Buckeyes (22-6, 9-6 in the Big Ten) are not exactly downtrodden – a lot of college teams would love to swap positions with them – but they want to at least hang onto fourth place in the conference and find some more momentum with the Big Ten Tournament beckoning.<br /> <br /> Winners of six of its last seven games after a stunning 71-70 overtime loss in Columbus to PSU on Jan. 29, Ohio State begins its stretch run Thursday night (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2) in Happy Valley and also treks to Bloomington to face Indiana on Sunday before hosting the regular-season finale with rival Michigan State on March 9.<br /> <br /> The scenario has the Buckeyes thinking tic-tac-toe … with a W in each box.<br /> <br /> “It’s definitely desperation,” Thompson said. “Every game from here on out is a must-win. These last three games do a lot for our seeding in the Big Ten Tournament and hopefully the NCAA Tournament. And obviously when we get to those tournaments it’s one and out.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes can’t envision heading into the postseason soon after being swept by Penn State and they will do everything in their power to erase that possibility.<br /> <br /> The Nittany Lions (13-14, 4-10) are the doormat of the Big Ten but are feisty and have been very competitive in the vast majority of their games. Plus, they’ve already proved they can handle Ohio State.<br /> <br /> On the flip side, the Buckeyes now know what to expect and will have revenge on their minds.<br /> <br /> “We know what they want to do offensively, we know what they want to do defensively, and we’ve got the added incentive from the loss we had here at home,” Thompson said.<br /> <br /> In the first meeting, the Lions took ownership of the boards, knocked around OSU leading scorer <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> and got a monster night from veteran guard <strong>D.J. Newbill</strong>, who went off for 25 points and hit several big shots including a three that sent the game to overtime.<br /> <br /> How will the Buckeyes counter?<br /> <br /> “Just stick to our principles,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to take anything away from (Newbill), he hit some big shots, but the shot at the end of regulation, that’s a messed-up switch on our part on just a guard-to-guard handoff. We usually switch those and we didn’t switch that. So I think if we stick to our principles we’ll do a better job.<br /> <br /> “They’re one of the hardest-playing teams in the Big Ten, they’re one of the most physical teams in the Big Ten, and they obviously have confidence against us. We have to come out with a high level of focus, a high level of intensity to get the win.”<br /> <br /> OSU’s focus and intensity certainly have varied during the season but the Buckeyes seem to be steadying. They opened February with wins at Wisconsin and Iowa – who sit just above them and just below them in the league standings, respectively – and wiped away Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota by an average of 15 points.<br /> <br /> “It’s amazing when you look at where we were at that point and the level that we’ve been playing at (lately),” said head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong>.<br /> <br /> The turning point appears to be the loss to Penn State, which left senior <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> sniffling in postgame interviews and labeling the setback “embarrassing.”<br /> <br /> “I think that was an attention-getter,” Matta said.<br /> <br /> This month has brought welcome performances from several Buckeyes, especially Thompson, who found his outside shooting stroke vs. Northwestern and helped launch a second-half explosion against Minnesota by torturing the Golden Gophers with several awe-inducing fastbreak finishes.<br /> <br /> When asked if he believes he can be a consistent secondary scorer to Ross, Thompson said, “I think so. I have to continue to be aggressive, continue to make plays, and do so in the flow of the offense and in the flow of the team.”<br /> <br /> Added Matta, “As long as Sam keeps the focus on the right things in terms of taking what is given to him and making the most of those opportunities. I like the energy he’s playing with and defensively he’s really, really doing a heck of a job for us. And the fact that he is scoring the ball has been very beneficial to us.<br /> <br /> “He’s made some timely baskets for us, and that’s good to see. I want Sam being aggressive.”<br /> <br /> Ross continues to lead OSU with 14.3 points per game, but he’s as excited as anyone to see others rise up and held the cause.<br /> <br /> “I think we’re a way better team when everybody is being aggressive and trying hard to attack on the offensive end,” he said. “When we’re playing offense like we play our defense, I think we’re a great team.”<br /> <br /> Matta has admitted struggling to push the right buttons at times this season, but believes the Buckeyes finally may be clicking. <br /> <br /> “We’re showing signs of getting a lot better,” he said. “We’ve had some letdowns here and there, but seeing us play out of them is important to me in terms of how we’ve done it.<br /> <br /> “I think our defense is hitting its stride in terms of what we’re trying to do. We’re getting better at attention to detail. I think offensively our execution is getting better. We seem to be getting more sound in terms of pace and the right reads that we want to make.”<br /> <br /> Thompson, a junior who moved into a starting role midseason, agreed.<br /> <br /> “I like where we are as a team right now,” he said. “I think we’re peaking at the right time. Offensively we have a certain swagger about us. Defensively, I think we’re really trying to play some of the best defensive basketball that we’ve played.<br /> <br /> “And individually you have guys that are getting into rhythms and really contributing to this team. So we’re looking to make a run.” http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-27/In_Fourth_Place_And_Desperate.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-27/In_Fourth_Place_And_Desperate.aspx a583adde-ceca-4c95-9159-ebe0b44722ce Thu, 27 Feb 2014 21:11:04 GMT Matta, Thompson Lift Ohio State For the entire first half of its all-important Big Ten matchup with Minnesota, Ohio State put on a clinic of how to deflate a sellout weekend crowd.<br /> <br /> And for the next 20 minutes, the No. 24 Buckeyes managed to turn the Schottenstein Center into a Saturday night funhouse.<br /> <br /> Tale of two halves, indeed.<br /> <br /> Ohio State trailed 28-18 to the Golden Gophers at the break when <strong>Thad Matta</strong> opened up on his team and offered a simple analysis.<br /> <br /> “In essence I said, ‘There’s nothing I can draw up on the board, there’s nothing I can talk about until we play better basketball,’ ” Matta told reporters after the contest, which the Buckeyes somehow went on to win 64-46.<br /> <br /> Minnesota (17-11, 6-9), which defeated OSU 63-53 on Jan. 16 in Minneapolis, matched their hosts first-half ineptitude with 18 second-half points. The Gophers had just four turnovers in the first half compared to nine in the second and were a miserable 7 of 24 from the field after intermission.<br /> <br /> Fifteen of OSU’s 17 points off of turnovers came in the second stanza, many of them coming in the form of crowd-pleasing finishes by junior wing Sam Thompson.<br /> <br /> “We highjack ourselves,” disconsolate first-year UM coach <strong>Richard Pitino</strong> said. “We do things that don’t allow us to win. We do things that are inexplicable and turn the ball over, and you can’t do that against a good team.”<br /> <br /> The stat that put the most acid in Matta’s stomach at halftime was seeing his team had managed to go 20 minutes without collecting a single steal. The Buckeyes (222-6, 9-6) had seven thefts after his tongue-lashing and the open court helped them to a 17-for-30 shooting display after halftime.<br /> <br /> “We knew in the first half we didn’t come out with the juice,” forward <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> said. “We know what’s at stake and we decided to play hard.”<br /> <br /> That, of course, came with some prodding.<br /> <br /> “He just flat-out told us to play better,” Thompson said of Matta’s address. “There were no X’s and O’s. He was fired up. He wasn’t too happy with us at halftime.”<br /> <br /> Thompson had the most noteworthy response. He took a pair of deep shots in the first half, made one of them, and went to the locker room with three points. When he walked off the floor after the 18-point win, he had logged a season-high 19 points going 7 for 12 from the floor including 2 of 5 from deep.<br /> <br /> “I think I’m getting into a pretty good rhythm right now,” said the athletic swingman, who made 4 of 5 jumpers in a win over Northwestern on Wednesday and had a vicious two-handed dunk waived off when the officials ruled an NU defender had fouled <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> on the floor before an off-the-backboard pass.<br /> <br /> “Sam is one of those guys in his three years here has worn a lot of different hats,” Matta said. “That’s what we always want guys to do, to continue to adds things. I hope he continues to score like that because that position opens up a lot of things for us.”<br /> <br /> Thompson not only helped the Buckeyes to click, he made sure the 18,809 on hand Saturday night got a more complete show by torturing Minnesota on the fast break.<br /> <br /> The Gophers actually scored first after halftime as point guard <strong>DeAndre Mathieu</strong> tallied to increase Minnesota’s lead to 30-18. But the groaning in the stands finally ceased when <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> skied to pull down a carom of a Thompson miss and laid the ball in to cut the score to 30-20.<br /> <br /> That actually set off a 17-0 run in nearly seven minutes of court time that was as impressive as any stretch the Buckeyes had put together all season.<br /> <br /> Mathieu misfired on a three and Ross grabbed the rebound to put OSU in business again. This time Smith – who finished with 13 points and six rebounds after posting a double-double vs. Northwestern – went hard to the hole and rolled in a scoop shot for a 30-22 score.<br /> <br /> Moments later, Craft raked the ball away from <strong>Joey King</strong> and the top of the key and headed to the other end untouched. King’s miss on the next possession and Smith’s rebound led to Thompson gliding to the basket and the crowd ready to explode.<br /> <br /> Thompson missed on the attempt, but he was just getting warmed up.<br /> <br /> Williams got loose inside for a dunk and on the next trip he grabbed an airball and outletted it to Thompson, who skied in for a one-handed flush.<br /> <br /> After another empty possession by the Gophers, Smith jacked up a quick three in search of the lead. He missed, but with a media timeout at the 15:24 mark The Schott was in full sway.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes did grab a 31-30 lead on a three-point play by Ross. On the next trip, they forced the Gophers to launch a long three with a second left on the shot clock and attacked again – Smith missing a fastbreak runner but Ross cleaning it up for a 33-30 edge.<br /> <br /> Pitino called a timeout but couldn’t stop the bleeding. The spree stretched to 17-0 when Craft came up with a steal along the Minnesota baseline and went all 94 feet to the basket untouched.<br /> <br /> Minnesota finally showed a pulse when <strong>Andre Hollins</strong>, who led the visitors with 13 points, nailed a three with 12:11 to play to cut the OSU lead to 38-35. But that only set up the feature act.<br /> <br /> Thompson countered with a three of his own to take the lead right back up to six (41-35) and Craft came up with a loose ball after Mathieu was out of control on a drive.<br /> <br /> The OSU senior shot the ball ahead to Thompson, who made a change-of-direction move in the lane and dropped home a high lefthanded scoop. Before the Gophers could recover, OSU had the ball again and <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> connected with Thompson on a lookaway alley-oop that the springy Thompson rocketed home with two hands.<br /> <br /> Timeout, Minnesota. Again.<br /> <br /> With the crowd fully engaged and enjoying a 45-35 lead, the Buckeyes had scored on 12 of their last 15 possessions after scoring on just eight possessions in the entire first half.<br /> <br /> When asked to assess the Jekyll-and-Hyde performance of his team, Matta found the positive.<br /> <br /> “I think they’ve got heart,” he said. “I like the fact that they came back and fought and clawed and put the run together.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes bumbled through the first half with a 6-for-22 shooting effort and eight turnovers. The miscues included center Amir Williams making a clean catch in the post, turning and falling forward to the ground for a traveling call.<br /> <br /> But after their halftime metamorphosis, the Buckeyes looked like a team worthy of a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament and a “danger” label for the postseason – which is exactly what they are trying to attain.<br /> <br /> Next up for OSU is a trip to Penn State on Thursday night (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2), and once again a slip-up won’t be acceptable.<br /> <br /> “Every game is like the biggest game of your life in this league,” Matta said.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-22/Matta_Thompson_Lift_Ohio_State.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-22/Matta_Thompson_Lift_Ohio_State.aspx 16a386b5-16cd-4f04-99fd-19c31a8964f9 Sun, 23 Feb 2014 02:44:51 GMT ... And An Entertaining Game Broke Out You have to give the Big Ten basketball this much: Unpredictability makes for an entertaining couple hours.<br /> <br /> Momentum is more fleeting than ever. League grinders can transform into high-scoring affairs – and vice versa.<br /> <br /> Teams that should be more motivated sometimes appear to be less so.<br /> <br /> And just when the conference race seems to be settling, Michigan and Michigan State lose at home. In fact, everybody is losing at home.<br /> <br /> Ohio State, for example, has dropped three league games at the Schottenstein Center this season – and new high (or is it low?) in the <strong>Thad Matta</strong> era.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes were coming off a look-away-bad 48-39 survival at Illinois and have been their own worst enemy in the late stretches of several contests. They’ve been known to putz around with less talented teams. And Northwestern arrived for Wednesday night’s matchup with its standard underwhelming record but also with the confidence that comes from dumping likes of Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota away from home this season.<br /> <br /> So when the ball was tipped before well-below-capacity crowd of 15,878 at The Schott, no one would have been surprised if the Buckeyes found themselves in a first-one-to-50 snooze-fest with the Wildcats – and maybe even flirting with some peril.<br /> <br /> After all, this is the same team that forgot to close down Penn State and lost a 71-70 overtime decision to the Nittany Lions at the end of January.<br /> <br /> Instead, Ohio State found its swagger as well as an offensive rhythm in a 76-60 blowout – hey, free French fries – of NU in perhaps the most entertaining home tilt of the campaign.<br /> <br /> Here are some highlights:<br /> <br /> <strong>March To March –</strong> The No. 24 Buckeyes (21-6, 8-6) have lost just once in February and actually seem to have some steam now. This, of course, is a Matta trademark.<br /> <br /> OSU’s 10-year coach improved his February record to 49-23 (.680), including 5-1 this season. Next up is a home date with Minnesota (17-10, 6-8) on Saturday night (6 p.m. Eastern, Big Ten Network) and a trip to Penn State on Feb. 27 (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN/ESPN2).<br /> <br /> The Golden Gophers were whacked at home Wednesday night by last-place Illinois and the Buckeyes owe them for a 63-53 setback in Minneapolis on Jan. 16. Revenge also would seem to be the theme when OSU goes to Happy Valley, especially considering the home loss to PSU was Matta’s only setback vs. the Lions.<br /> <br /> Matta, by the way, has an even more sterling record in March: 53-13 (.803). But it’s safe to say the Buckeyes need to keep taking down lower-level Big Ten teams now if they expect to have any kind of postseason run. A 16-point win over NU certainly aids the outlook.<br /> <br /> <strong>Points! –</strong> The 76 points tie for third-most for the Buckeyes in a conference game this season and were a welcome sight for the coaching staff considering all the recent shortcomings on offense.<br /> <br /> Ohio State fell behind 25-16 in the first half but managed to take four-point lead to the locker room thanks to aggressive play, excellent ball movement and a flurry of baskets in a 21-6 surge.<br /> <br /> It was more of the same in the second half as the Buckeyes outscored their guests 24-7 in the first 11 minutes of the second half.<br /> <br /> Matta agreed with the notion that the middle 20 minutes of the game was about as well as his team has played this season – and it wasn’t simply from converting turnovers.<br /> <br /> <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> was an efficient 5 of 8 from the field, 2 of 3 from deep and a 4 of 4 at the free-throw line while scoring a team-high 16 points (before being ejected late as a result of a skirmish). <br /> <br /> <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> also had his shooting stroke – 4 of 5 from the field including 3 of 4 from behind the arc en route to 11 points. Seniors <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> and <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> each had 14 points and Smith added a game-high 10 rebounds for a double-double.<br /> <br /> Also in the backcourt, reserve <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> added nine points in just six field-goal attempts.<br /> <br /> <strong>Freebies –</strong> The Buckeyes had a built-in advantage with quickness and clearly their offensive game plan was centered around driving the basketball. Matta set a goal of 25 free throws knowing the Wildcats would have difficulty in cutting off his quicker guards and wings.<br /> <br /> But the result was even better than expected. OSU made several jumpers out of drive-and-dish kickouts and also got to the foul line for 29 attempts. And here’s the best part: They made 23 of them.<br /> <br /> OSU came into the game with a team free-throw percentage of 69.3, second-worst in the conference, but topped that figure by 10 points on this night by making 79.3 percent.<br /> <br /> Craft was 6 of 7, Smith 5 of 6, and center <strong>Amir Williams</strong>, much-improved from the line, was 4 of 4 like Ross.<br /> <br /> <strong>Rise Of Craft –</strong> <strong>John Havlicek</strong> and <strong>Larry Siegfried</strong>. How’s that for a pair of names in Ohio State basketball lore? Well, Craft passed both of them on the school’s all-time scoring list during the win over the Wildcats.<br /> <br /> His 14-point outing brought his career total to 1,232 points, now better than Havlicek’s 1,223 and Siegfried’s 1,228. Craft now has former OSU guard and current radio broadcaster <strong>Ron Stokes</strong> (1,240) in his sights. After that rung is former Craft teammate <strong>Jared Sullinger</strong> (1,282), who currently sits in 30th place all-time.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, Craft grabbed four steals vs. NU to bring his career total to 317, which ranks second on the career Big Ten list. Former Illinois guard <strong>Bruce Douglas</strong> tops them all with 324, but Craft is on pace to crush that mark.<br /> <br /> The 6-2 Craft also is Ohio State’s career leader in assists with 653.<br /> <br /> <strong>Oh, Yeah, Defense –</strong> While Northwestern had the same number of makes and attempts from the field as the Buckeyes (23 of 50), Chris Collins’ club was just 5 of 21 from three-point range, which foiled any attempt at a second-half comeback.<br /> <br /> That’s in line with the seasonal trend as the Buckeyes came into the game ranked fourth nationally and tops in the Big Ten in three-point field goal percentage defense (27.3). OSU also ranked eighth nationally in scoring defense, allowing 58.5 points per game, and 12th in fewest fouls per game (16.1) entering the contest.<br /> <br /> NU managed only two second-chance points as the Buckeyes did a much better job on the boards than normal, winning that battle 34-23 and holding the ’Cats to just four offensive rebounds.<br /> <br /> And while NU swingman <strong>Drew Crawford</strong> put on a show with 22 points and canned four three-pointers, Matta actually was relatively pleased with the defense Thompson and Smith put on him when they weren’t running into picks.<br /> <br /> Crawford is that good. He’s capable of going off for 20-plus against anybody and has the strength and lift to get his shot off against solid defense.<br /> <br /> <strong>Tre Demps</strong> also made some tough shots and scored 14 points, but no other Wildcat players was in double figures. NU went down low to center <strong>Alex Olah</strong> early and Olah responded with eight first-half points, However, he was held scoreless in the second half while the Buckeyes pulled away.<br /> <br /> <strong>Back In Play –</strong> Matta now owns a 223-25 record as Ohio State head coach against unranked teams. That includes a home record of 148-3. Overall, the Buckeyes are a stellar 169-17 under Matta in home games including a mark of 71-14 against Big Ten opponents.<br /> <br /> Yes, the Buckeyes have looked mortal this season and allowed Iowa and Michigan to pull away from them on their home floor. But they can get their edge back by mowing down Minnesota, holding up well on the road, and giving league favorite Michigan State all it can handle in the season finale on March 9.<br /> <br /> Ohio State is supposed to beat Northwestern at home – the Wildcats haven’t won in Columbus in 37 years – but Wednesday night’s showing was much more than a simple punch of the time card.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-20/And_An_Entertaining_Game_Broke_Out.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-20/And_An_Entertaining_Game_Broke_Out.aspx 72981d5e-7eff-4b7a-afaa-51f685521a81 Thu, 20 Feb 2014 07:33:00 GMT Wildcats Come Adorned With Warning Label On one hand, <strong>Thad Matta</strong> has to like the fact that his Buckeyes, while still offensively challenged, get to follow up Saturday’s win at Illinois by hosting Northwestern, a second-division Big Ten team, tonight (7 p.m. Eastern, Big Ten Network).<br /> <br /> On the other hand, this is exactly the kind of game that needs to come with a warning label.<br /> <br /> Homecourt advantage is almost becoming an oxy moron this season in the Big Ten and Northwestern, which is led by first-year coach <strong>Chris Collins</strong> and outstanding senior <strong>Drew Crawford</strong>, has pulled off a few surprises in opposing gyms of late.<br /> <br /> Ask Indiana. And Wisconsin. And Minnesota.<br /> <br /> The Wildcats (12-14, 5-8) dumped all of those league foes on the road and if they do the same to Ohio State they will log their first win in Columbus since Jimmy Carter was a fledgling president (1977).<br /> <br /> But No. 24 Ohio State has a lot more at stake. The Buckeyes (20-6, 7-6) are 15th in the latest RPI rankings and can finish in the top four of the league and possibly receive a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a strong finish.<br /> <br /> OSU has revenge games with Minnesota and Penn State coming up and would have a reasonable chance to win at Indiana’s Assembly Hall – or wherever that game would be played – on March 2. That all leads to the regular-season finale and senior sendoff for <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> and <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> vs. Michigan State on March 9.<br /> <br /> But first the Buckeyes have to take care of NU, which could prove to be challenging – especially considering road teams have won 22 of the last 40 Big Ten games.<br /> <br /> “I don’t know exactly what it is,” Matta, who has endured three league losses at home this season, said of the trend. “It’s just kind of the nature of this league and the nature of college basketball right now. Every game is sort of a one-game-type season no matter where you’re playing.”<br /> <br /> The Wildcats don’t enter town with a lot of momentum. They’ve lost three straight including Sunday’s 54-48 setback vs. Minnesota on Sunday.<br /> <br /> Still, as they were for years under coach <strong>Bill Carmody</strong>, the ‘Cats are tough to domesticate. Collins also instructs his team to control tempo, which is why Northwestern is 346th nationally in scoring (60.7 points per game), but a very respectable 31st in scoring defense (63.3 ppg).<br /> <br /> Keeping teams close and then having the temerity to come up with winning plays allows the Wildcats upset opportunities.<br /> <br /> “They’ve got guys that can really make plays,” Matta said, “they execute their offense very well, they’ve got guys that can shoot it, and their post game is something they haven’t had in a long time but the big kid finishes well down there and commands the basketball.”<br /> <br /> The “big kid” is center <strong>Alex Olah</strong>, who is questionable to play vs. Ohio State. Olah rolled his right ankle a couple days ago and is listed as day-to-day with his recovery.<br /> <br /> Still, NU features three double-figure scorers who can play on the perimeter, the most dangerous being the 6-5 Crawford, a guard/forward who is comfortable on just about any spot on the floor and leads the team with 15.6 ppg.<br /> <br /> “He’s inside, he’s outside, he drives, he gets to the foul line,” Matta said. “Honestly, (he’s) a very, very, complete basketball player in terms of his offensive skill package.”<br /> <br /> Similarly, Ohio State’s wing scoring has been a key all season as forward <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> (14.4 ppg) and off-guard <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> (11.7 ppg) are the leading scorers. Also, the Buckeyes have some potential scoring punch off the bench in freshman forward <strong>Marc Loving</strong>, who broke out of a prolonged slump at Illinois with eight points.<br /> <br /> “It felt good to see a little it of reward from some hard work, and just moving on from here forward, hopefully, to be consistent,” Loving said.<br /> <br /> “Some of it was mental. A lot of the game is mental. So just seeing the ball go through basically gives you a mind-set that it works. The ball does go through.”<br /> <br /> Matta still believes Loving can fill an important role with March beckoning.<br /> <br /> “If it’s scoring, we’ll gladly welcome (it) with open arms; bring it on,” the coach said. “To have that in our back pocket is probably a good thing.”<br /> <br /> Guard <strong>Shannon Scott</strong>, another reserve, also has come on of late.<br /> <br /> “He’s playing basketball the way we need him to play, and that’s aggressive on both ends of the floor,” Matta said.<br /> <br /> Ohio State’s four-man bench of Scott, <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong>, Loving and <strong>Trey McDonald</strong> was on the floor together when the Buckeyes posted a 12-0 run that set up OSU’s 48-39 win at Illinois.<br /> <br /> “We felt comfortable,” Loving said.<br /> <br /> Added Matta, “Those guys have given us some very, very valuable minutes in some very important stretches of this season. They had a great rhythm, a great flow to what they were doing in terms of their execution on both ends of the floor.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes may need another jolt from their second-teamers since Northwestern has been a headache defensively. Indiana shot just 25 percent at home in its loss to NU while Wisconsin was no better at 26 percent.<br /> <br /> OSU is 69-14 all-time at home vs. Northwestern including a 13-0 mark at the Schottenstein Center.<br /> <br /> As a ranked team, Ohio State is 36-2 vs. the Wildcats.
<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-19/Wildcats_Come_Adorned_With_Warning_Label.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-19/Wildcats_Come_Adorned_With_Warning_Label.aspx cdc0baf2-038f-4d19-8fea-8ffe469f6c1f Wed, 19 Feb 2014 19:52:07 GMT Bringing The Fire Back <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> could have gone in a lot of directions when safeties coach <strong>Everett Withers</strong> approached him and informed the Ohio State head coach that he would be leaving the program.<br /> <br /> Often playfully teased by Meyer for being the only coach on the OSU staff without Ohio ties, Withers grabbed an opportunity to become the head coach at James Madison University, although he stayed around long enough to coach in the Orange Bowl.<br /> <br /> That game, a 40-35 loss to Clemson, shone even more light on the Buckeyes’ problematic back end of the defense and created even more furor over the coaching situation.<br /> <br /> Some called for defensive coordinator <strong>Luke Fickell</strong>’s head; others wanted Meyer to napalm the entire defensive staff and start over with young players.<br /> <br /> When Fickell’s close friend, <strong>Mike Vrabel</strong>, also left the defensive line post to return to the NFL as a coach, even more speculation followed.<br /> <br /> But Meyer halted much of the hand-wringing by landing longtime Penn State D-line coach <strong>Larry Johnson</strong> to replace Vrabel and hiring <strong>Chris Ash</strong> to serve as co-coordinator and head the OSU secondary.<br /> <br /> Meyer is yet to officially announce the new role for former cornerbacks coach <strong>Kerry Coombs</strong> but it is now rather apparent Coombs will aid Ash in some capacity during practices and also run OSU’s special teams.<br /> <br /> Like Johnson, Ash has a Big Ten background. The Iowa native gained a strong reputation as a D-coordinator and secondary coach at Wisconsin in recent years and followed <strong>Bret Bielema</strong> to Arkansas last year.<br /> <br /> At Wisconsin, Ash’s defenses ranked 15th nationally in total defense in 2011 and 2012. He was particularly adept at slowing down opposing passing games – a rare commodity nationally and an especially elusive one at OSU the past couple seasons.<br /> <br /> In 2012, Meyer’s first at OSU, the Buckeyes defeated Wisconsin in overtime but had a difficult time putting together drives against UW’s defense. In fact, they gained only 236 yards.<br /> <br /> “We’ve competed against a Chris Ash defense before, and I have respect for him as a coach,” Meyer said after hiring the 40-year-old Ash in late January. “I like the fact he has experience in the Big Ten Conference and that he is a great recruiter. He was highly recommended by everyone I spoke to.”<br /> <br /> Among those who approved the move was Bielema, a nemesis of Meyer despite having just one head-to-head battle.<br /> <br /> “Coach B has been nothing but great to me,” Ash said when speaking to reporters on National Signing Day. “Before I worked at Wisconsin with him I had a good relationship with him. During my time with him at Wisconsin and Arkansas he was outstanding to me. And when I approached him about the opportunity here, he was great.<br /> <br /> “Coach B wants great people in his program but he also understands that if you help people reach their professional goals then great people are going to come replace the people that left.”<br /> <br /> So Ash, who is the father of two children, didn’t hesitate to join ranks with Meyer and now has his sights set on very high goals.<br /> <br /> “In your career you want to have the opportunity to win a national championship, and I believe here at Ohio State we have that opportunity,” he said.<br /> <br /> When a reporter followed up by saying, “That simple?” Ash replied, “Yeah, that’s it.”<br /> <br /> Having already coached in the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 – Ash had two stints on the staff at Iowa State – the intense coach has a true understanding of just how difficult it is to rise to the top of college football. And Ash is adamant it can’t be accomplished with a leaky defense.<br /> <br /> “You have to be able to play great defense to win it all,” he insisted. “You don’t have to be the best defense in the country but you have to be pretty darn solid to be able to say you have what it takes to win 14 games. You can’t have an average to subpar defense and get that done.”<br /> <br /> Now the challenge is to return the OSU defense to prominence, which will be no small feat with the exit of leading tackler <strong>Ryan Shazier</strong>, former All-American cornerback <strong>Bradley Roby</strong> and a bevy of safeties including longtime starters <strong>Christian Bryant</strong> and <strong>C.J. Barnett</strong>.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes still boast plenty of young talent, especially up front, but Ash intends to help Fickell organize and assess the group then put the most capable playmakers on the field.<br /> <br /> “We’re going to align and we’re going to play with great technique and great effort and fundamentals,” Ash said. “We’ve got to get that done. But we also understand we’ve got to create issues for an offense. We’ve got to create problems and put pressure on the quarterback, and we have to make sure in our package we can do that. And then when you get to third down you’ve got to create confusion, and we’re going to do that.”<br /> <br /> Ohio State traditionally has been very successful in getting offenses off the field in the Fickell era but the past couple seasons haven’t followed suit. Opponents picked up 36 percent of their third-down conversions in 2013, hit loads of big plays, and racked up 268.0 passing yards per game.<br /> <br /> Ash, of course, was brought on board to change that, and he’s certainly committed to the task. Few coordinators spend as much time as he does studying film and looking into new ways to achieve success.<br /> <br /> “If you ask me what one of my strengths is, I’m a student of the game,” he said. “I study football year-round and I’m relentless in my pursuit to identify new ideas that can help me become better – as long as they fit what we try to do defensively. That’s very important.”<br /> <br /> However, Ash said he has no interest in being too cute and employing an unnecessary array of defenses when only a few will do.<br /> <br /> “All of that stuff sounds good, but you’re going to do what your personnel allows you to do,” said Ash, who reportedly will be paid an annual salary of $520,000. “If you have a great nickel (defense) and what the offense does requires you or allows you to play nickel, you put the best athletes on the football field.<br /> <br /> “Sometimes or some years you don’t have a nickel guy, so you play with three linebackers out there. You want to put the best 11 players on the football field. I don’t want to play nickel just to say you’re playing nickel when you’ve got a third linebacker who’s a really good player standing on the sideline. That doesn’t make much sense.”<br /> <br /> Therefore, Ash also will devote much of his time getting to know the OSU defenders and seeing what they can do. When asked if enough talent is already in place, he said, “It’s hard for me to say still because I’m still in that discovery mode here where I’m trying to identify exactly what we do have.<br /> <br /> “I do think we have tremendous players here and a lot of talent. Some of it is inexperienced talent but regardless it’s talent, and it’s going to be our job is to teach them. By the time we get through spring practice and training camp there will be no inexperience anymore.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-17/Bringing_The_Fire_Back.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-17/Bringing_The_Fire_Back.aspx 8ec3e15f-bca7-4f9b-a643-b878ec8a4f68 Tue, 18 Feb 2014 04:51:21 GMT Rapp Around: Glub, Glub, Glub I’ve seen just about every Ohio State men’s basketball game ever played at the Schottenstein Center and I can attest that it is indeed a rare sight to witness a visiting team completely take hold of the proceedings the way Michigan did while posting a 70-60 win Tuesday night.<br /> <br /> Sure, Ohio State was outclassed by North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge once upon a time, but the Buckeyes were young and transitioning in 2007. West Virginia came to town and wiped away OSU a year later, but that was right after <strong>David Lighty</strong> was lost for the season to injury and <strong>Noopy Crater</strong> was packing bags to go elsewhere.<br /> <br /> Sandwiched around those nightmares are two entire seasons – 2006-07 and 2010-11 – in which the Buckeyes didn’t lose a home game.<br /> <br /> OSU has lost some tough ones at The Schott over the years but you have to scour to remember when someone really took the place over – until this season, that is.<br /> <br /> Iowa fired the first warning shot on Jan. 12. The Hawkeyes posted an 84-74 over an OSU team that was ranked No. 3 at the time and pulled the feat on national television (CBS). That late collapse was so ego-crushing that the Buckeyes ventured out on the road and looked like lost lambs in a 63-53 setback at Minnesota and a 68-62 shocker at Nebraska.<br /> <br /> Those three outcomes tacked onto the overtime loss at Michigan State left OSU with four straight defeats and wondering if the NCAA Tournament was even in the cards. Then Thad Matta’s team showed typical resilience with three straight wins – a one-point survival at Wisconsin, payback at Iowa and an 18-point drubbing of Purdue last Saturday night.<br /> <br /> A follow-up win over the hated Michigan Wolverines in the only meeting between the rivals this season would have cemented OSU’s postseason status and sent a message that the Buckeyes are just getting warmed up.<br /> <br /> Sure enough, they played an inspirational brand of basketball in the first half by harassing UM at every turn and attacking the basket on offense.<br /> <br /> Still, Ohio State led just 30-26 at the break with two daunting statistics – a 1-for-10 showing from behind the arc and a 19-14 disadvantage on the boards.<br /> <br /> No. 15 Michigan then resumed its status of Big Ten championship contender in the second half. That wasn’t surprising, although UM’s 12-0 run that turned a 43-37 OSU lead into a 49-43 Michigan edge certainly was concerning for the sellout crowd of 18,809.<br /> <br /> What was more telling as to the current state of the Buckeyes was how they responded from there – or rather failed to respond.<br /> <br /> Center <strong>Amir Williams</strong> did manage to score inside to stop the bleeding and cut the deficit to four, 51-47, with plenty of time remaining – 7:52. However, <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> missed a pair of free throws moments later.<br /> <br /> After Ross somewhat atoned with a three-point play to brought the score to 51-50, the Buckeyes bumbled through the game’s next five minutes and trailed 64-52.The only OSU tally in that time frame was a dunk by forward <strong>Sam Thompson</strong>.<br /> <br /> The ineptitude was staggering. Williams missed a tip-in attempt. <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> shot an airball three. Ross missed a layup. The Buckeyes couldn’t come up with a loose ball, couldn’t grab a key rebound, and couldn’t keep point guard <strong>Derrick Walton Jr.</strong>, a 6-1 freshman, off the backboards.<br /> <br /> Walton finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Center <strong>Jordan Morgan</strong> grabbed six of UM’s 14 offensive rebounds. Michigan managed to come up with open shots out of scramble plays and hit 8 of 17 threes compared to OSU’s dreadful 3-of-20 display.<br /> <br /> “At the end of the day, they just wanted it more,” Ross said afterward.<br /> <br /> The Wolverines shot just 41.3 percent from the field and had just eight assists and still were able to make all the right plays at all the right times.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes, meanwhile, remain an unsolved puzzle.<br /> <br /> Ross, for example, led all scorers with 24 points but was 0 of 4 from long range and shriveled on key possessions, which has been a trend this season.<br /> <br /> <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> had 13 points and made all three of OSU’s triples but added just three rebounds and one assist. Craft had eight points and helped slow down UM wing <strong>Nik Stauskus</strong> but misfired badly on both three-point attempts. Thompson threw down a pair of dunks but added nothing else on offense.<br /> <br /> The bench also fell short. <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> was a flurry of activity and sparked OSU in the first half but took the court with the Buckeyes leading 41-35 in the second stanza and couldn’t slow down Michigan’s 12-0 spurt.<br /> <br /> The rest of the reserves – <strong>Marc Loving</strong>, <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong> and <strong>Trey McDonald</strong> – failed to score and each went 0 for 1 from the field.<br /> <br /> Usually, the Buckeyes are able to feed off the emotion in their own building and come up with plenty of momentum-turning plays. But it didn’t matter that the Schott can be a strong equalizer for the Buckeyes on this night – or that Matta owned a 17-4 mark against Michigan, or that OSU had a healthy 93-73 lead in the all-time series including a record of 53-26 in Columbus.<br /> <br /> The cream rose and the Buckeyes weren’t floating in it; they were sinking.<br /> <br /> Matta has endured just 23 nonconference losses in his time at OSU and only a handful of those came at The Schott. His Big Ten record is still a highly impressive 136-56 and very few league teams have managed to pull away from the Buckeyes on Ohio State soil – or hardwood, as the case may be.<br /> <br /> OSU owns staggering marks under Matta when leading at the half (223-26) and with five minutes left (252-11).<br /> <br /> But that trend line has ceased this season.<br /> <br /> Now the Buckeyes (19-6, 6-6) are still looking for win No. 20 and a path to respectability in the Big Ten. Michigan (18-6, 10-2), meanwhile, is in position to claim a league title a year after advancing all the way to the NCAA championship game.<br /> <br /> Ohio State, which also lost at home to Penn State this season, has to head to Illinois on Saturday (8 p.m. Eastern, Big Ten Network), has home games with Northwestern and Minnesota, faces two more road tests, and closes the regular season against Michigan State at home.<br /> <br /> “Every night is a war,” a spent Matta said. “What you see in this league now is a bad three-minute or four-minute stretch can cost you.<br /> <br /> “You’ve got to find way to make plays. We’ve lost six games this season, and we’ve led in the second half in five of them.”<br /> <br /> Making this loss even more painful is that OSU bolted to an 11-5 lead and then built the margin to 10 points twice (26-16 and 28-18) in the first half.<br /> <br /> However, Michigan began to take ownership of the boards, finishing with a 39-27 advantage there, and enjoyed an 18-4 edge in bench points.<br /> <br /> It was a sobering result with sobering statistics – and it left the Buckeyes and their disappointed fan base even more aware there may be no net cutting this season.<br /> <br /> “As much as this may hurt, we’ve got to move forward,” said Craft, a senior who is now facing a harsh reality.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-12/Rapp_Around_Glub_Glub_Glub.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-12/Rapp_Around_Glub_Glub_Glub.aspx 0fd308c1-2767-427e-b614-dcfa9f40c3fc Wed, 12 Feb 2014 16:48:38 GMT Buckeyes Continue February Surge After a January that Thad Matta and Ohio State basketball fans are trying to forget, the Buckeyes are getting their act together in February.<br /> <br /> The month began with a one-point win at Wisconsin, just the second victory over a Bo Ryan-led UW team at the Kohl Center by OSU. On Feb. 4, the Buckeyes put together their best performance against a high-quality team with a 76-69 win at Iowa.<br /> <br /> And on Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 18,809 packed into the Schottenstein Center, Ohio State pulled away from Purdue in a very steady 67-49 win.<br /> <br /> The three consecutive victories moved OSU to 47-22 all-time in February games under Matta and improved the Buckeyes to 19-5 overall, 6-5 in the Big Ten.<br /> <br /> Not only did OSU jump back over the .500 mark, but the league outlook suddenly looks much better. Next to visit is No. 10 Michigan on Tuesday night&nbsp; (9 p.m. Eastern, ESPN) and a win over the rival Wolverines could tighten the race.<br /> <br /> The other team out in front of the pack is Michigan State, which has been dealing with an assortment of injuries and will invade The Schott on March 9 in the regular-season finale.<br /> <br /> Purdue (14-10, 4-7), on the other hand has fallen out of the Big Ten race and any NCAA Tournament consideration. The Buckeyes won by nine point in West Lafayette on New Year’s Eve and doubled the margin in the return game.<br /> <br /> OSU led just 48-45 with nine minutes to go and fans may have been nervous for the stretch run considering the Buckeyes lost their last home appearance 71-70 in overtime to Penn State. However, a 19-4 closing run quelled any concern.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes held Matt Painter’s squad to a season-low output and also put together an efficient performance against one of the conference’s top defenses.<br /> <br /> “I like the way we’re playing right now,” Matta said. “We did not play what I would consider a perfect game. But we made some plays offensively and defensively that opened the game up for us.”<br /> <br /> “It was all stimulated with our defense,” added OSU guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., who canned four three-balls and finished with 16 points and five assists. “Our stops led to great offense. It picks us up as a team. It gives us great energy. Guys were high-fiving and it was an electric feeling in the building.<br /> <br /> “Our crowd is into it and that’s the type of basketball we like to play because that’s our best basketball.”<br /> <br /> LaQuinton Ross led Ohio State with 17 points and six rebounds. He, too, was encouraged afterward.<br /> <br /> “It’s a group effort,” Ross said. “When everyone is making shots, I think we’re almost unstoppable on offense. Winning cures all and everybody is feeling better.”<br /> <br /> Like Ross, Smith was 6 of 10 from the floor. His four triples came in just seven attempts.<br /> <br /> “It feels great because if I can show my team I can make three-pointers I know they are going to look for me,” Smith said. “It’s a great feeling knowing that the ball is coming to you. I don’t have to worry about anything but getting my feet set and shooting the ball.”<br /> <br /> The flow also returned for the Buckeyes with Sam Thompson remaining in the starting lineup and playing comfortably while Shannon Scott continued to thrive off the bench.<br /> <br /> Thompson woke up his team and the crowd after Purdue opened a 6-0 lead by throwing down an alley-oop dunk. He finished with eight points, all of them coming in the first half, while Scott came through with nine points and five assists off the bench.<br /> <br /> Center Amir Williams also had nine points and added five rebounds and three blocked shots. Point guard Aaron Craft, who has just four games remaining in his record-breaking career, added seven points, four assists and three steals.<br /> <br /> Kendall Stephens led Purdue with 12 points and fellow reserve Raphael Davis added 11. Center A.J. Hammons, who had 20 points and 14 rebounds in the first meeting with OSU, also had 11.<br /> <br /> It wasn’t enough production for the Boilermakers, who were just 10 of 30 shooting in the first half and lost for the fifth time in their last six games.<br /> <br /> “In the first half, it was our inability to make a layup,” Painter said. “We had the ball at the rim a handful of times and didn’t finish. In the second half, it was our (nine) turnovers as well as their ability to score in transition.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes led 31-25 at halftime and just 38-34 at the first mandatory timeout. A three-point play by Williams, a Smith trey and a runout by Scott off a perfect outlet feed from Smith opened the advantage to 46-36.<br /> <br /> Purdue responded with a 9-2 burst that didn’t end until Smith knocked down another three to make it 51-45 with 8:31 to play. Moments later, Williams drew a foul and made a pair of free throws and the Buckeyes then brought out the dagger.<br /> <br /> Hammons, who had trouble all night recognizing OSU’s help defense according to Painter, was stripped in the lane by Scott, who igniting a semi-break that led to yet another three by Smith.<br /> <br /> Ross added another exclamation point with a two-handed dunk from a fastbreak pass by Craft.<br /> <br /> Purdue, meanwhile, couldn’t counter OSU’s aggression in the game’s final telling minutes. After pulling to within three points of OSU, the Boilers were 2 of 7 from the floor with six costly turnovers.<br /> <br /> “We just imploded at that time,” Painter said. “We had it down to a one-possession game, but then we had a call go against us and we self-destructed. We turned the ball over and you can’t do that against a team like Ohio State.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes have regained their winning hand but they know they have to bring it again Tuesday even though Michigan was bombed 85-67 at Iowa over the weekend.<br /> <br /> “We have a great opponent coming in here,” Smith said. “We have to get ready. They are playing some really good basketball. We have to be prepared to play even better basketball if we’re going to get the win here.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-09/Buckeyes_Continue_February_Surge.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-09/Buckeyes_Continue_February_Surge.aspx ada7b5f2-a3a5-4c93-9671-766e6ea11659 Sun, 09 Feb 2014 15:54:00 GMT Inexact But Enticing After he received 23 signatures on national letters-of-intent on Wednesday, football coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> was asked if he had just roped in his best recruiting class at Ohio State<br /> <br /> “Oh yeah,” he said instantly.<br /> <br /> After a pause, Meyer added three more sentences.<br /> <br /> “I think so.”<br /> <br /> “We’ll see.”<br /> <br /> “Who knows?”<br /> <br /> And with that the 13th-year head coach summed up National Signing Day.<br /> <br /> Certainly, there is much to like about the class, which has landed in virtually every services top five and is considered just a notch behind Alabama at No. 2 or No. 3 nationally.<br /> <br /> The OSU coaches continued the pipeline to Cleveland Glenville with the signing offensive lineman <strong>Marcelys Jones</strong> and defensive backs <strong>Marshon Lattimore</strong> and <strong>Erick Smith</strong>, and also were able to pull other well-rated players out of topflight in-state programs such as Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (wide receiver <strong>Parris Campbell</strong> and linebacker <strong>Dante Booker</strong>), Cleveland St. Ignatius (linebacker <strong>Kyle Berger</strong>) and Cincinnati Moeller (linebacker <strong>Sam Hubbard</strong>).<br /> <br /> That was important in a relatively down year for Ohio senior talent. Ohio State also responded to that challenge by doing extremely well out of state and luring in New York City standout and blazing hybrid back <strong>Curtis Samuel</strong>, highly rated Georgia linebacker <strong>Raekwon McMillan</strong>, well-sought Florida wide receiver <strong>Johnnie Dixon</strong>, and Illinois offensive lineman <strong>Jamarco Jones</strong>, who visited Michigan State last weekend after committing to OSU, which put a scare into Bucknuts everywhere – and Meyer.<br /> <br /> “Jamarco Jones, that would have been a fake smile in here today if we didn’t get him,” Meyer admitted.<br /> <br /> On the flip side, Ohio State was able to change a couple minds and add to the class at the end. Local product <strong>Brady Taylor</strong> of Columbus Bishop Ready was committed to Virginia Tech but eventually was offered by OSU and accepted. And with Signing Day beckoning, the staff – or better put, new assistant <strong>Larry Johnson</strong> – was able to sway well-regarded defensive lineman <strong>Darius Slade</strong> of Montclair, N.J., prodding the youngster to switch allegiances from Michigan State to Ohio State.<br /> <br /> Slade is a three-star prospect but with lots of upside. He possesses the frame to fill out into Big Ten lineman size and has plenty of quickness to go with it. He racked up 40 sacks his last two seasons of high school.<br /> <br /> Johnson already had ties to Slade and convinced him to make a visit to Ohio State. Word spread Tuesday night that Slade had flipped to OSU and his signed NLI was sent to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Wednesday afternoon.<br /> <br /> As for addressing needs, Ohio State appeared to do that emphatically by bringing in four elite linebackers – including the nation’s top inside LB prospect in McMillan – and five top-100 offensive linemen, a group led by Jamarco Jones of Chicago and <strong>Demetrius Knox</strong> of Fort Worth, Texas.<br /> <br /> Meyer said two of the five new O-linemen need to make the depth chart this fall and insisted all of them will play “unless something happens.” He feels the same way about linebacker since all four of them come from high-level prep coaching and have college-ready bodies.<br /> <br /> While McMillan is the headliner and appears to be an immediate candidate to start in the middle of OSU’s defense, Booker, Berger and Hubbard are highly ranked as well and will receive consideration at OLB.<br /> <br /> Meyer and staff also were able to address the constant need for speed.<br /> <br /> Five of the 23 signees are wide receivers ranked among the nation’s top 30 in their position group who can catch and zip with the ball. Two of those players are early enrollees Samuel and Dixon, who are blazers.<br /> <br /> Dixon has run the 40 in a reported 4.37 seconds and is rated as high as the No. 5 receiver in the country. Samuel, the hybrid “H” back that both Meyer and running backs coach <strong>Stan Drayton</strong> labeled as “electric,” is regarded as the No. 5 “athlete” in the class according to one service. He averaged 15.8 yards per carry as a senior at Brooklyn (N.Y.) Erasmus James playing in the Public School Athletic League.<br /> <br /> <strong>Noah Brown</strong> of New Jersey also is considered highly athletic for his size (6-2, 225) while Campbell is a nationally accomplished track star with bests of 10.77 seconds in the 100 meters and 22.09 in the 200.<br /> <br /> OSU also added 2013 Indiana “Mr. Football” <strong>Terry McLaurin</strong> to the fold. He had 1,773 receiving yards his last two years at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and was rated as the seventh-fastest prospect in the 2014 class with a reported 40 time of 4.41.<br /> <br /> The class also reflects the need to improve the back of the defense, an issue that also was addressed with the hiring of new secondary coach <strong>Chris Ash</strong>, who gained his reputation under <strong>Bret Bielema</strong> at Wisconsin and last year at Arkansas.<br /> <br /> Smith and <strong>Malik Hooker</strong> of New Castle, Pa., project to move up quickly at safety while Lattimore and <strong>Damon Webb</strong> of Detroit have the goods at corner. Webb was a U.S. Army All-American.<br /> <br /> Meyer has loaded up at defensive line since he's arrived and he made sure to get more help there. OSU coaches had to venture out of state to land <strong>Jalyn Holmes</strong> of Norfolk, Va., and <strong>Dylan Thompson</strong> of Lombard, Ill., as well as Slade.<br /> <br /> OSU also got creative by going to Georgia to find quarterback <strong>Stephen Collier</strong> and to Kentucky for new placekicker <strong>Sean Nuernberger</strong>, who figures to slip right into the role at Ohio State with <strong>Drew Basil</strong> departed.<br /> <br /> Even though only nine Ohioans are in the class, Ohio State had a good batting average with top-ranked players in the state according to most services. One of the first to commit for 2014 was Lancaster, Ohio, product <strong>Kyle Trout</strong>, who ended up being a top-30 offensive tackle prospect when the major services came out with their final ratings.<br /> <br /> Hubbard was the first to fax in his NLI, doing so at 7:10 a.m. Meyer’s smile broadened as the other 22 followed.<br /> <br /> “I think we won today,” the coach told reporters. “I made it clear to our guys – very pleased with their efforts today. That was a good class. I think it’s a great class.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Pantoni Adds His Fingerprints</strong><br /> <br /> Like Meyer, Ohio State director of player personnel <strong>Mark Pantoni</strong> is most pleased with the combination of size and speed in the class and likes how it filled glaring needs in the roster.<br /> <br /> Like his boss and most others who follow recruiting, though, he also had to admit he is in the business of inexact science.<br /> <br /> “You never really know until four years from now,” Pantoni said. “My success rate is, ‘Do they make it to the NFL?’ or ‘Are they a program guy who is maybe not an NFL guy but he gets his degree and he’s a solid student?’ I don’t want to bring guys in here who are going to be a pain in the butt for the coaches, so you try to have a balance with the class where guys are great football players and great students as well.”<br /> <br /> Pantoni mostly is a master of social media and he volunteered his services to Meyer at Florida in 2009.<br /> <br /> “I never asked for a T-shirt, I never asked for anything and the coaches started to respect how hard I worked and I was there because I love what I do, and it paid off over time,” he said.<br /> <br /> Now 32, Pantoni stays connected to recruits and the youth culture through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, texting, etc.<br /> <br /> “Just being around our players keeps me young and dealing with recruits keeps me young,” he said. “I just have to keep up with the trends and hip-hop culture and what the fads are, and that helps keep me stay young.”<br /> <br /> Meyer is a firm believer in the importance of having someone like Pantoni connected to the program. And the work is never done. For example, Pantoni said he messaged McMillan every day for two years.<br /> <br /> He said like the full-time coaches he has to prioritize contact with recruits and added that he keeps tabs on most to “keep them warm.” Pantoni said social media is the best way to communicate because the recruits prefer it.<br /> <br /> He also uses it to monitor what other programs are doing and for confirmation as to what offers have gone out to prospects.<br /> <br /> “There’s a list of schools that you over time learn to respect their opinion and evaluation, so if they offer a kid it’s almost guaranteed we’re going to do it, too,” he said.<br /> <br /> <br /> <strong>2014 Ohio State Recruiting Class</strong><br /> LB Kyle Berger, 6-2, 225 Cleveland (Ohio) St. Ignatius<br /> LB Dante Booker, 6-3, 215, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary<br /> WR Noah Brown, 6-2, 225, Sparta (N.J.) Pope John XXIII<br /> WR Parris Campbell, 6-1, 184, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary<br /> QB Stephen Collier*, 6-3, 210, Leesburg (Ga.) Lee County<br /> WR Johnnie Dixon*, 5-11, 195, West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer<br /> DL Jalyn Holmes, 6-5, 240, Norfolk (Va.) Lake Taylor<br /> S&nbsp; Malik Hooker, 6-2, 190, New Castle (Pa.) HS<br /> LB Sam Hubbard, 6-6, 230, Cincinnati Moeller<br /> OL Jamarco Jones, 6-5, 315, Chicago De La Salle<br /> OL Marcelys Jones*, 6-5, 340, Cleveland Glenville<br /> OL Demetrius Knox, 6-4, 285, Fort Worth (Texas) All Saints Episcopal<br /> CB Marshon Lattimore, 6-0, 180, Cleveland Glenville<br /> WR Terry McLaurin, 6-0, 190, Indianapolis Cathedral<br /> LB Raekwon McMillan*, 6-2, 242, Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County<br /> K&nbsp; Sean Nuernberger*, 6-1, 235, Buckner (Ky.) Oldham County<br /> HY Curtis Samuel*, 5-11, 185, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Erasmus Hall<br /> DL Darius Slade, 6-5, 240, Montclair (N.J.) HS<br /> S&nbsp; Erick Smith, 6-1, 195, Cleveland Glenville<br /> OL Brady Taylor, 6-5, 290, Columbus Ready<br /> DL Dylan Thompson, 6-5, 270, Lombard (Ill.) Montini Catholic<br /> OL Kyle Trout*, 6-6, 300, Lancaster (Ohio) HS<br /> CB Damon Webb, 5-11, 180, Detroit Cass Tech<br /> <br /> * -- Enrolled in January 2014 http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-06/Inexact_But_Enticing.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-06/Inexact_But_Enticing.aspx 8d46fd04-73dd-4ec4-8b4d-c829c133bcd6 Thu, 06 Feb 2014 18:10:36 GMT Craft Returns OSU To .500 The sellout crowd of 15,400 packed into Carver-Hawkeye Arena booed every time <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> touched the ball Tuesday night, but the reaction was even throatier whenever Ohio State’s wily point guard made a key play.<br /> <br /> Eventually the noises grew to a loud groan.<br /> <br /> Just a few weeks ago, Iowa came into OSU’s Schottenstein Center and pulled off a very rare feat by pulling away from a <strong>Thad Matta</strong> team in Columbus, 84-74.<br /> <br /> In the rematch in Iowa City, the No. 17 Hawkeyes were the clear-cut favorite and the Buckeyes arrived to town unranked for the first time since January 2010 – which predates Craft and fellow senior guard <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong><br /> <br /> However, showing renewed confidence from a one-point win at Wisconsin on Saturday, the Buckeyes (18-5, 5-5) found the shooting touch and finally cracked the 50-percent barrier in a 76-69 win.<br /> <br /> Craft led the way on both ends of the floor with a game-high 17 points, three rebounds, six assists and six steals. He was 6 of 7 from the field and canned both of his three-point attempts – and an important three-point play in the second half.<br /> <br /> With the win, Ohio State moved to a tie for fourth place in the Big Ten standings and just one game behind Iowa (17-6, 6-4).<br /> <br /> The Hawkeyes were led by point guard <strong>Mike Gesell</strong>’s 16 points while reserve forward <strong>Gabriel Olaseni</strong> added 14 on the strength of a 5-for-5 shooting night (and 4 for 4 from the free-throw line). He also recorded six rebounds and two blocks.<br /> <br /> It was a similar output to that of Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes days earlier when the Ohio product was 6 of 7 from the field and led the Badgers with 17 points.<br /> <br /> The Hawkeyes owned a 38-25 rebounding advantage buoyed by 15 offensive boards, which allowed them to take 11 more shots than their visitors. However, Iowa was only 3 of 20 from behind the arc and 27 of 60 overall, moving OSU to 14-0 in games in which holding the opponent to 45.0 percent shooting or below.<br /> <br /> OSU has won three of four games to draw even in the conference and returns home to face Purdue on Saturday night (6 p.m. Eastern, Big Ten Network) and Michigan on Feb. 11.<br /> <br /> The matchup appeared to be a tough one for the Buckeyes, especially after Iowa provided difficult in Columbus with its length, zone defense and shot making from the likes of <strong>Roy Devyn Marble</strong>, <strong>Aaron White</strong> and a host of reserves.<br /> <br /> But at Carver-Hawkeye, OSU shot over the top of the Iowa defense with early threes by <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> and <strong>Sam Thompson</strong>, the latter starting his second straight game in place of guard <strong>Shannon Scott</strong>. The Buckeyes finished 7 of 16 from deep (43.8 percent) and 25 of 49 (51.0) overall.<br /> <br /> Ross added 13 points, Smith and center <strong>Amir Williams</strong> added a dozen apiece, Scott came through with 11 off the bench and Thompson was just out of double figures with nine points.<br /> <br /> Craft had 14 of his points in the first half, and his three-point play put Ohio State ahead 66-59 with 1:17 left.<br /> <br /> The booing seemed to stop after that.<br /> <br /> Soon after, there was jubilation in the OSU locker room.<br /> <br /> “It’s huge, and it’s not big because people were doubting us or people aren’t behind us anymore,” Craft said. “This is just big for us.<br /> <br /> “If there’s anything that we’ve learned from this year is that it doesn’t matter about anything that is said outside of our locker room.”<br /> <br /> Craft also was instrumental in holding Marble to a 4-for-11 shooting night. Marble, Iowa’s leading scorer, ripped OSU for 22 points in Columbus.<br /> <br /> White also struggled. He was 3 for 9 from the floor and had two rare misses from the foul line as well.<br /> <br /> “We played hard; we didn’t play well,” Iowa coach <strong>Fran McCaffrey</strong> said. “We never really got in sync.”<br /> <br /> The Hawkeyes looked intent on making a second-half run and had a few chances to turn the momentum but either missed open shots or succumbed to OSU answers.<br /> <br /> Iowa trailed just 58-54 when Craft found Williams with a lob for a two-handed dunk off an inbounds play. Matta had called a timeout to script the play.<br /> <br /> Moments later, Thompson hit his second three and OSU had a commanding 63-54 lead with 3:56 to go.<br /> <br /> OSU also had a 9-0 run earlier in the game to open a 26-17 advantage as everyone in scarlet contributed.<br /> <br /> “I think we’ve finally found our groove,” Williams said. “We’re playing together, and I think once we continue to play together as a team we’re one of the best teams in the Big Ten.”<br /> <br /> And the Buckeyes are especially good when Craft is on his game – and ignoring those in the stands trying in vain to rattle him.<br /> <br /> “It was intense,” he said of the treatment from the Iowa crowd. “They got after it a little bit. But you just try to do your best to knock it all out. And the best way to get back at them is to make them go home quiet like they did tonight.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-05/Craft_Returns_OSU_To_500.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-05/Craft_Returns_OSU_To_500.aspx 58cb80fa-903d-4515-87e7-ed638d4725f3 Wed, 05 Feb 2014 19:07:36 GMT Rapp Around: Hold On A Sec The longer one is involved in or even observes competitive sports, the more apparent it is what a fine line exists between victory and defeat, success and failure, adulation and shame.<br /> <br /> Often that is true throughout the course of a game, and sometimes that one such game can greatly determine a defining path for an entire season.<br /> <br /> Therefore, it may sound melodramatic at first to say that the season was on the line for the Ohio State men’s basketball team in the waning moments of its tense affair with Wisconsin on Saturday – after all, February had just begun and the Buckeyes had played uninspiring basketball for weeks – but given the circumstances the 59-58 now resembles a life preserver.<br /> <br /> Four weekends ago, the Buckeyes were 15-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country, but the new year was unkind and OSU absorbed losses in five of its next six games to dip in the polls and raise a bright red flag. The most recent slip-up was a 71-70 overtime loss at home to lowly Penn State, <strong>Thad Matta</strong>’s first to the Nittany Lions in his 10 years at the helm of the program.<br /> <br /> Suddenly the Buckeyes were 3-5 in the Big Ten and staring at a trip to Wisconsin, the most difficult place to survive in the conference, and Iowa, a rising team that presents a troubling matchup as was proved in the Hawkeyes’ 10-point win in Columbus.<br /> <br /> You could almost hear the sarcastic “N-I-T!” chant off in the distance.<br /> <br /> Most Buckeye fans proclaimed their team to be out of the NCAA picture and were convinced a ruinous season was in force.<br /> <br /> But the Buckeyes found themselves in a nip-and-tuck affair at the Kohl Center, a place where they were a head-scratching 1-9 against the Badgers with <strong>Bo Ryan</strong> patrolling the sidelines and staring down referees with his maniacal glare.<br /> <br /> It would be downright depressing to re-examine OSU’s failures in Madison except for the comfort in knowing that almost no one beats UW there. Ryan has an astonishing home win percentage of 87 percent – and that’s just against Big Ten teams.<br /> <br /> Part of the reason for that is the homecourt consideration the Badgers seem to get from the guys in the striped shirts. Sure enough, Ohio State struggled to open up a lead of any magnitude in the second half as tight call after tight call went the way of Wisconsin.<br /> <br /> The fifth foul called on <strong>Sam Thompson</strong>, for example, left the OSU junior forward muttering to himself in disbelief and gave the Buckeyes even more reason to believe their month of woe was about to continue.<br /> <br /> Matta must have thought there was a voodoo curse on him when the Buckeyes got a key stop up a point in the final minute, <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> alertly got the ball zipped ahead for a fastbreak and <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> not only blew the layup, he was whistled for a travel when teammate <strong>Amir Williams</strong> bumped into him on the rebound and knocked him off his feet.<br /> <br /> That set the stage for a final possession for the Badgers and a gulpy moment that just may have saved the 2013-14 season for Ohio State.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes played very solid defense, but they did that on the last possession of regulation at Michigan State that led to a <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> steal and a missed contested layup just before the horn.<br /> <br /> They did that down the stretch at Nebraska, only to watch <strong>Terran Petteway</strong> impersonate <strong>Dwyane Wade</strong>. They did that just last week against Penn State yet still couldn’t keep <strong>D.J. Newbill</strong> from draining a huge three to send the game to overtime and a 14-foot pullup with Craft draped on him that was reminiscent of the painful final defensive sequence in the 2011 Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky.<br /> <br /> It happens. And it happens a lot in basketball. Either you open up enough ground to avoid such moments or tempt the fates of the hoops gods, who haven’t been overly generous to OSU this year.<br /> <br /> So even when the Badgers were cut off in their attempts to work for an open shot with the game on the line and even when <strong>Sam Dekker</strong> was left to force a one-handed, off-balance three that had little chance of finding the net, Matta and company had to hold their breath and hope.<br /> <br /> Dekker’s shot nearly banked in, but caromed away – and just like that the fog lifted. Or perhaps it shifted.<br /> <br /> Suddenly Wisconsin is now the team that has lost five of its last 6 games after opening the campaign 16-0, the best start in program history. Suddenly Ryan had absorbed his first three-game home losing streak at UW and was left to explain the “collapse.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes, of course, are not out of the woods. They have a lot of work to do simply to avoid the first losing league mark under Matta let alone secure an invitation to the NCAA ball. But in my mind, their season was saved simply because they likely couldn’t have survived another shoulda-coulda-woulda loss, especially considering the barrel of hope the win now offers.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes (17-5, 4-5) are still likely to lose at Iowa and drop right back to two games below .500 in the conference. But if they play decently well and come home believing in themselves again there is reason to believe they can take down Purdue next weekend and maybe upset Michigan, a team that is overdue for a loss, after that.<br /> <br /> A quality win over an Iowa or Michigan or Michigan State at the end of the season along with the clutch one at Wisconsin would go a long way. And so would a 10-8 or even 9-9 record in the Big Ten, which appears to be the deepest and most balanced conference in the country.<br /> <br /> Even at 4-5 now the Buckeyes are just a half-game behind fourth place Northwestern – a program that has never played in the NCAA Tournament – in the standings and now hold the tiebreaker advantage over Wisconsin, also 4-5. The two teams do not meet again in the regular season. <br /> <br /> The other 4-5 team, Minnesota, comes to Columbus on Feb. 22, allowing the Buckeyes to even that series. The Buckeyes also have a road game at last-place Illinois and have to travel to Penn State and Indiana, teams that also are below OSU in the standings. None of them will be easy, of course – not this year in this league – but certainly look winnable now that the Buckeyes have logged a big win on someone else’s campus.<br /> <br /> It can all turn so quickly – in either direction. Ask Arizona. The Wildcats were undefeated and atop the polls but lost Saturday night at Cal and lost the services of forward <strong>Brandon Ashley</strong> with a foot injury. Momentum can be a most fleeting thing, especially in the game of roundball.<br /> <br /> Craft, for example, did not have a bucket in the game at UW until nailing a three from the top of the key with the Buckeyes trailing 54-50. He made another monster play with a hesitation dribble, drive, and score to provide a one-point lead.<br /> <br /> UW forward <strong>Nigel Hayes</strong>, a product of Toledo, was having the best college game of his life and canned his first six shots, but he missed his seventh and then started clanging free throws.<br /> <br /> Forward <strong>Frank Kaminsky</strong>, who was playing like an All-Big Ten first-teamer the first half of the season, was just 1 for 6. Dekker, a preseason all-conference forward, has just four points.<br /> <br /> Smith, who had picked up his game of late, was 1 for 7 including his embarrassing missed lay-in and pratfall with the game on the line.<br /> <br /> When the Buckeyes survived anyway, Matta had to embrace someone and he bear-hugged first-year video coordinator <strong>Jake Diebler</strong>. The feeling was just too strong to pass up.<br /> <br /> Major college basketball can make you feel like a king or turn you into a puddle of discontentment, and it can happen in the snap of two fingers.<br /> <br /> So we are left to let this madness play out into March – but go onward fairly assured that Saturday’s nail-biter at Kohl was significant.<br /> <br /> <strong>Also Noteworthy</strong><br /> <br /> * Matta finally tinkered with his lineup as many has suggested and started Thompson in place of Scott. However, the move was more about matchups and also illustrated how overblown the starting five arguments often can be.<br /> <br /> Scott still logged 29 minutes, second only to Craft’s 30, and was a key factor with nine points, four rebounds and three assists. Thompson was limited to 22 minutes and fouled out with two points, no rebounds and no assists.<br /> <br /> * While the Badgers don’t provide a lot of defensive pressure, Matta had to take it as a good sign that the Buckeyes committed just eight turnovers and no one had more than one. Thompson did not have a turnover; the other eight Buckeyes who played had one miscue apiece.<br /> <br /> * Freshman forward <strong>Marc Loving</strong> continues to struggle mightily. He did not score in 14 minutes and was 0 for 2 from the field. Loving had just one point against Penn State and was scoreless at Minnesota. However, in between he did have eight points at Nebraska.<br /> <br /> * <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> also dealt with foul trouble at Wisconsin but had an efficient game offensively. He scored 13 points in 21 minutes on the floor and was a perfect 6 for 6 at the foul line.<br /> <br /> * Hayes, a 6-7 product of Toledo Whitmer, led the Badgers with 17 points despite coming off the bench. Another Ohioan, point guard <strong>Traevon Jackson</strong>, was less effective, however. The son of former Ohio State standout <strong>Jim Jackson</strong>, Traevon had seven points but was just 2 of 9 from the field and had only one assist and two turnovers.<br /> <br /> &nbsp; http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-02/Rapp_Around_Hold_On_A_Sec.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-02-02/Rapp_Around_Hold_On_A_Sec.aspx 9f00d829-f111-4392-a70b-0841b18f7fba Sun, 02 Feb 2014 20:37:47 GMT Wheels Fall Off Against Lions <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> looked disgusted and, in fact, was, but fellow senior <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> best summed up Ohio State’s stunning home loss to Penn State on Wednesday night when his voice shook.<br /> <br /> Smith called the 71-70 overtime setback before a crowd of 15,453 the most painful of his OSU career and added that it was “embarrassing.”<br /> <br /> Then the 6-4 guard carried on, fighting back tears for a moment.<br /> <br /> “They had a cause; they wanted this game,” Smith said of the pesky Nittany Lions. “We’ve just got to get back to being a team, wanting to win. We were on a four-game losing slump, we beat Illinois, and everything was back to normal and we were happy. We acted like we didn’t lose four games in a row.<br /> <br /> “As a team, I don’t think we care enough. These losses don’t hurt enough. This is embarrassing. Every other team in our conference is laughing at us right now. Top-25 teams at home don’t lose these games, and we lost.”<br /> <br /> Penn State entered town with an even overall record and with just one win in Big Ten play, but it was the Lions (11-10, 2-6), losers of their previous 18 contests with Ohio State, that came up with the winning plays.<br /> <br /> The No. 24 Buckeyes, meanwhile, lost for the fifth time in six games after a 15-0 start and fell to 16-5, 3-5 in league play. OSU has never posted a losing conference record under <strong>Thad Matta</strong> but just getting back to .500 is even more daunting with games at Wisconsin (Saturday) and Iowa (Feb. 4) next on the agenda.<br /> <br /> “The worst thing we can do is to continue to hope things are going to get better, because we have to do something about it if we want things to get better,” Craft said.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes buzzed through the nonconference portion of the schedule unscathed, won by nine points at Purdue in the Big Ten opener on New Year’s Eve, and bombed Nebraska at home on Jan. 4. Since then the rest of January has included last week’s seven-point win over the Illini and five losses.<br /> <br /> Ohio State appeared to steady itself by out-executing Illinois in the final minutes on Jan. 23 but is reeling again with the first loss to Penn State under Matta, who is now 17-1 in the series.<br /> <br /> “I think we got punched in the mouth and we’re still wavering a little bit,” Craft said.<br /> <br /> Matta once again was left to try to find answers after his team blew an 11-point lead with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation. Reserve center <strong>Trey McDonald</strong> scored on a layup with 8:29 left to provide a 57-48 lead and another second-teamer, <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong>, grabbed a steal moments later, leading to <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> drawing a foul.<br /> <br /> Ross’ free throws with 7:58 left on the game clock seemingly put OSU in command at 59-48. The Buckeyes were stuck on 59 until Ross again made a pair from the line with 3:19 left and the count was 62-55, the same one the scoreboard showed at the end of the Illinois game.<br /> <br /> The only field goal the Buckeyes scored in regulation after the McDonald hoop was a difficult, change-of-direction, left-handed layup by Craft that broke a 62-all tie with 36 seconds to go.<br /> <br /> Ohio State was just 7 of 25 (28.0 percent) shooting in the second half and made just one bucket in the overtime with Ross on the bench for much of the extra session.<br /> <br /> “Seven field goals in 25 minutes,” Matta lamented. “You’ve got to score the ball.”<br /> <br /> However, defense – supposedly OSU’s calling card this season – also has been the culprit this month. The Nittany Lions canned 13 of 24 (54.2 percent) first-half shots, were 12 of 25 (48.0) in the second half and managed to get up nine shots to OSU’s two in overtime.<br /> <br /> <strong>D.J. Newbill</strong> connected on a pair of huge threes down the stretch of regulation and swished a 14-footer over Craft for the game winner en route to a 25-point night. Froward <strong>Brandon Taylor</strong> added 19 and 6-1 guard <strong>Tim Frazier</strong> finished with eight points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.<br /> <br /> Ross led OSU with 16 points, Smith added 15 and center <strong>Amir Williams</strong> contributed 12 points and six rebounds, but the Buckeyes managed to lose at home to a Big Ten bottom-feeder on a night when they had 20 more free-throw attempts and just eight turnovers in 45 minutes of play.<br /> <br /> “This is a bad loss for this program and for me and Aaron, (but) I’ll never give up on my team,” Smith said. “I know that when we get a cause and we get hungry for wins and we stick together and we become a team again, I’ll take us against anybody in the country. We’ve got to find what we’re missing.”<br /> <br /> Smith vowed to lead that charge and become a better leader. He said he’s fully aware he needs to play and direct others with even more purpose.<br /> <br /> “It hurts me even more because this is one less game in this jersey and this is the greatest time in my life,” he said.<br /> <br /> Smith was able to fire what would have been a game-winning three in the final seconds of regulation and <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> missed a short two-handed follow at the buzzer, sending the game to an extra session.<br /> <br /> However, Smith looked determined to make a difference in overtime. His 17-foot pullup provided a 68-67 edge for the Buckeyes and after <strong>Sam Thompson</strong>, who had just checked in for Ross, ripped down a key defensive rebound, Smith drew a foul while shooting a three with 2:07 left.<br /> <br /> The lefty made two of three free-throw attempts for a 70-67. Thompson stayed tight to Newbill on the next possession and made sure to fight over screens so as not to allow the talented PSU guard get off a game-tying three like his did with 11 seconds left in regulation.<br /> <br /> Newbill slashed down the lane and scored with 45 ticks to go, and, after a timeout, the Buckeyes didn’t even manage a shot on the other end.<br /> <br /> The ball was swung to Ross, who drove in from the wing, got caught up in traffic and threw a difficult pass to the knees of Williams, who lost it out of bounds.<br /> <br /> With 13 seconds remaining, Newbill received the inbounds pass worked to the elbow area against Craft, and pured a pullup over the Big Ten’s most decorated defender with 1.9 seconds remaining.<br /> <br /> “That was a big-time shot,” Matta said.<br /> <br /> “I knew that they were going to try to stop me from going right because they had been shading me left all game,” Newbill said, “so I just made a quick right-to-left crossover and pulled up with confidence – and fortunately it went down.”<br /> <br /> Newbill said he wasn’t sure who would be assigned to him since Thompson had some success in the overtime.<br /> <br /> OSU had one last faint hope until Craft lost control of the ball across the midcourt line and wasn’t able to get off a shot as the final horn sounded.<br /> <br /> “I probably should have passed it to Lenzelle in the corner,” he said, head down. “I looked at the clock and though I had time to take a dribble and didn’t pick it up clean.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes were in position to avoid the whole mess. Craft tried to put the punctuation mark on a 13-6 run in the middle of the second half with a lob to the springy Thompson. When the pass sailed too high off Thompson’s hand, Ross alertly grabbed the ball before it trickled out of bounds and found McDonald alone underneath and basket for a lay-in.<br /> <br /> OSU pushed the lead to 11 but let the visitors have new life. Newbill split a pair of free throws and made two several possessions later. Frazier drained a jumper. After Craft hit 1 of 2 free throws, reserve big man <strong>Jordan Dickerson</strong> dunked home an airball three by Taylor and OSU’s lead was just 60-55.<br /> <br /> Another Dickerson layup with 2:20 left trimmed the score to 62-59. After a wild shot attempt by Scott along the baseline, the Lions stretched the boundaries of the shot clock and Newbill bottomed a three to tie the game at 62 with 1:08 showing. Frazier set up the play with an accurate crosscourt bullet pass.<br /> <br /> It appeared Craft lost the ball out of bounds on the next possession but the referees reviewed the play and awarded the ball to Ohio State with 42 seconds left in regulation and 12 ticks on the shot clock.<br /> <br /> That’s when Craft came through with his twisting drive and finish, which was set up by a bold behind-the-back dribble.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes appeared to be in business when Frazier missed a pair of free throws with 28 seconds left and Smith was fouled on the defensive rebound. However, Smith made just 1 of 2 freebies, setting up the second clutch three by Newbill.<br /> <br /> Matta said he considered instructing his team to foul with a 65-62 lead and seconds to go, but opted not to do so.<br /> <br /> “We did exactly what we were supposed to do, one guy didn’t, and we messed it up,” said the 10-year OSU coach. “But at home I thought we could get the stop.”<br /> <br /> Taylor led all scorers in the first half with 11 points and helped get the visitors off to a sizzling start. They hit their first four shots and finished the stanza above 50 percent.<br /> <br /> In the second half, it was the supposedly sad-sack Lions who showed more resolve and composure despite five losses by three points or less this season.<br /> <br /> “These guys have a really clear understanding of what we’re doing now,” PSU coach <strong>Patrick Chambers</strong> said. “They’re executing with great confidence and I’m happy for them. They deserved to get one back, so to speak.”<br /> <br /> Matta, of course, had a different perspective.<br /> <br /> “My gosh, they made incredible plays throughout the course of the game, but it’s just one of those things where we’ve got to be a tougher physically and tougher mentally basketball team,” he said.<br /> <br /> “I don’t like the position we’re in but it’s the reality of it. We’ve got to fight our way out of this.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Game Notes</strong><br /> <br /> * Ohio State still leads the all-time series with Penn State, 29-13. The Buckeyes are 15-4 vs. PSU in Columbus including a 9-1 mark at the Schottenstein Center.<br /> <br /> * Ohio State has played 40 overtime games at home and is an even 20-20 when having to go to extra time as the host team.<br /> <br /> * The Buckeyes are 67-57 all-time in one-point games, 33-25 at home.<br /> <br /> * Matta lost to an unranked Big Ten opponent for just the second time, dipping to 53-2 in such games. The Buckeyes had won 80 straight games at home against unranked foes.<br /> <br /> * Craft had a game-high four steals to give him 299 for his career. Ex-Michigan standout <strong>Gary Grant</strong> had 300 career steals and ranks second in Big Ten history, meaning Craft needs just two thefts to pass him. Former Illinois guard <strong>Bruce Douglas</strong> is the conference’s all-time leader with 324.<br /> <br /> * The Ohio State coaches wore athletic shoes as part of Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Awareness Weekend. They also wore lapel pins and with a purple ribbon to honor former OSU assistant <strong>Dan Peters</strong>, currently the Director of Basketball Operations at the University of Akron.<br /> <br /> Peters, who was at OSU from 2004-09, is in a battle with pancreatic cancer. Purple symbolizes that challenge and the ribbons have the words “4 Pete’s Sake.”<br /> <br /> Matta said after the game that the gesture added perspective to a basketball loss. He also praised Peters’ toughness.<br /> <br /> “He’s a fighter,” Matta said. “If anybody can beat it, he can.”<br /> <br /> Peters’ son, Danny, played for Matta at Ohio State, beginning his tenure as a walk-on. <strong>Danny Peters</strong> currently is a member of the coaching staff at Arizona, the nation’s No. 1 team. http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-30/Wheels_Fall_Off_Against_Lions.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-30/Wheels_Fall_Off_Against_Lions.aspx 17c7c06a-eae1-443a-bab4-2f018747d1b8 Thu, 30 Jan 2014 16:14:51 GMT OSU Doubles Down On Smith The Ohio State University is still without an official president as <strong>Joseph Alutto</strong> continues to head the school in an interim role.<br /> <br /> Given the importance and scope athletics plays in the OSU’s collegiate prominence, it may be fair to say that <strong>Gene Smith</strong> is the most recognizable administrator at the school.<br /> <br /> And he’s certainly among the most well-compensated.<br /> <br /> Ohio State’s longtime athletic director had his contract extended through at least 2020 and has assumed the added title of vice president, the university announced Tuesday.<br /> <br /> The promotion is still pending approval by the Board of Trustees later this week.<br /> <br /> Smith also figures to attain a seven-figure salary soon.<br /> <br /> Under terms of the agreement, he continues to report directly to the university president. Smith’s base salary, effective July 1, 2013, is $940,484 per year, and he is eligible for standard, university-wide merit-based salary increases each year. His compensation is paid entirely through athletics department revenues, using no tuition or tax dollars.<br /> <br /> In addition to overseeing the university’s athletics programs, Smith now has joint oversight responsibility with the Office of Business and Finance for the Business Advancement Division of Ohio State. Business Advancement includes the Jerome Schottenstein Center, the Blackwell Inn, Drake Union, the Fawcett Center and the Office of Trademark and Licensing Services.<br /> <br /> Smith also has responsibility for the Nationwide Arena Management agreement to increase existing revenue streams and pursue new revenue opportunities through creative collaboration and innovation. In addition, he will partner with the Office of Business and Finance for responsibility of the university’s affinity agreements.<br /> <br /> “Gene Smith is one of this country’s most accomplished collegiate athletics directors, with an exemplary record of national leadership and service,” Alutto said in a statement. “Thanks to his dedication to student success, graduation success rates of Ohio State’s student-athletes have risen by 11 percentage points, to 89 percent.<br /> <br /> “His vision and commitment to excellence have made Ohio State’s Department of Athletics one of the strongest in the nation. Expanding his leadership reach to work more closely with other university functions can only strengthen us all.”<br /> <br /> Smith was named the university’s eighth athletic director on March 5, 2005, coming to the school from Arizona State. He also served as AD at Eastern Michigan, and Iowa State.<br /> <br /> At Ohio State, Smith oversees the largest athletic program in the country, with 36 varsity sports and more than 900 student-athletes.<br /> <br /> He has previous affiliations with the NCAA Management Council, the NCAA committee on Infractions, the Rose Bowl Management Committee, and the NCAA Football Rules Committee. Smith was named to the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Committee in 2006 and became the chair in 2010.<br /> <br /> Smith is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame where he was recruited to play football for the Fighting Irish. He is highly visible on football Saturdays at Ohio Stadium and makes sure to greet fans, recruits and donors before, during and after games.<br /> <br /> In Smith’s nine years that followed a successful and building run by <strong>Andy Geiger</strong>, Smith has presided over 10 team national championships, 60 individual national championships and eight National Players of the Year. Since 2005, Ohio State also has produced 662 All-Americans, 22 Olympians, 53 Big Ten Conference team championships, 149 Big Ten individual champions and 70 conference athletes of the year.<br /> <br /> “I am grateful for the opportunity to lead the athletics program at a university with a national reputation for excellence that encompasses a broad-range of areas,” said Smith. “Working with the coaches, athletics staff, faculty and staff across the university enables us to provide positive experiences for the young people we serve, while finding ways to help them become global citizens impacting the world.<br /> <br /> “Ohio State is an amazing institution and I am proud to be a Buckeye.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-29/OSU_Doubles_Down_On_Smith.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-29/OSU_Doubles_Down_On_Smith.aspx 416ff132-16cd-4a22-baa1-a927a4d12728 Wed, 29 Jan 2014 16:08:41 GMT KBD Offers Glimpse Into Future While the Ohio State men’s basketball team spent much of January scuttling and dipping in the national rankings, one main culprit has reared its ugly head: outside shooting.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes lost four straight Big Ten games and dropped from league contention as shot after shot bounded away, leaving fans to wonder if OSU simply wasn’t capable enough of hitting important jump shots against topflight competition.<br /> <br /> <strong>Deshaun Thomas</strong>, last year’s leading scorer in the Big Ten, was more of a volume shooter but he averaged nearly 20 points per game in 2012-13 and played with confidence he would hit the next attempt. After he departed and freshman <strong>Kameron Williams</strong> was slowed by illness and redshirted, more of an onus was placed on the likes <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> and <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong><br /> <br /> Those two finally shook out of the doldrums in Ohio State’s last contest, a 62-55 win over Illinois, but the Buckeyes (16-4, 3-4) still miss Thomas and still could use a talent like Williams.<br /> <br /> Sixth man <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> always has been more of an athletic finisher than dangerous outside shooter, and <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> and <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> are lead guards who would prefer not to fire over defenses.<br /> <br /> <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong> is perhaps the team’s best deep shooter but his game is not polished enough to justify extended minutes. Similarly, <strong>Marc Loving</strong> has shown promise but is only a freshman.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes have the rest of this season to figure out how to cover up their deficiency but help certainly is on the way. Guard <strong>D’Angelo Russell</strong> is an elite talent who will help with perimeter shooting and Williams presumably will be in the mix as well.<br /> <br /> And at forward, 6-7 <strong>Keita Bates-Diop</strong> continues to show that he has impressive range and touch for a young player his size. Last weekend, the Ohio State signee and his Normal (Ill.) University High School squad were one of the many nationally ranked teams on display at Flyin’ To The Hoop, a four-day prep basketball extravaganza staged in Kettering, Ohio.<br /> <br /> With the Buckeyes mired in a three-game skid that was about to reach four on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Bates-Diop put on a shooting exhibition inside Trent Arena and led all scorers with 31 points.<br /> <br /> Matched up with all-world sophomore <strong>VJ King</strong> of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Bates-Diop nailed four three-pointers in the opening period – all of them swishes and all from virtually the same spot on the floor.<br /> <br /> He added two more triples, four other baskets and a game-high 10 rebounds, although University was clipped 89-78 by SVSM, one of the most talented teams in Ohio.<br /> <br /> Even after defeat, Bates-Diop was roundly applauded by fans and hounded by autograph-seeking youngsters in the stands.<br /> <br /> “It was great to come back and see all the love that the kids and the adults gave me,” he told reporters afterward. “It was great because most of those people are going to see me play and I wanted to give them a taste of what they’re going to be seeing.<br /> <br /> “I usually shoot pretty well but I have been that hot for a while. Being back here with the adrenaline, I was ready. And then in warm-ups I was feeling it.”<br /> <br /> If Bates-Diop can continue to connect on shots, he figures to make an immediate impact at Ohio State. When he signed a letter-of-intent in November along with Russell, 6-4 forward <strong>Jae’Sean Tate</strong> of Pickerington (Ohio) Central and 6-10 power forward <strong>Dave Bell</strong> of Garfield Heights (Ohio) HS, Bates-Diop was considered one of the top forward prospects in the Midwest and he’s only improved that reputation.<br /> <br /> “Hopefully things will work out so that I can get on the floor and show people I can shoot,” he said.<br /> <br /> Bates-Diop, though, isn’t just a fire-at-will player. In fact, he is adept at posting up and playing in the high post. He’s also a willing passer and defender.<br /> <br /> When asked what he role he envisions for himself at Ohio State, he said, “something like what LaQuinton Ross is doing now, but I have to get in there and prove myself.”<br /> <br /> OSU coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong>, who long has extolled the virtues of a “stretch four” at the collegiate level, no doubt would like to see Bates-Diop and Loving on the floor together hurting defenses from the perimeter and making an impact on the other end as well.<br /> <br /> Bates-Diop likes the idea, too.<br /> <br /> “Marc is long, I’m long,” he said. “It’ll help us on defense and shooting over people, too.”<br /> <br /> Bates-Diop is able to move around and create for his AAU team but there isn’t a lot of pressure on him to rack up 20-plus points every time out given his commitment and the balance in place. At University, though, he’s the star of the show.<br /> <br /> “I carry more of an offensive load during the school year,” he said. “On AAU, I have a lot more talent around me because we have like seven or eight Division I players. So we share the ball a lot. But here I have to carry more of an offensive load.”<br /> <br /> Bates-Diop said he began looking at Ohio State after he saw fellow Illinois natives Smith and Thompson prospering under Matta. When he visited campus and got to hang around the coaches and players, he came even more impressed because of the family atmosphere in place.<br /> <br /> The Bloomington, Ill., product chose Ohio State over a plethora of other Big Ten schools along with Stanford, Marquette, Kansas State and DePaul.<br /> <br /> Perhaps the only roadblock to immediate court time with the Buckeyes is strength. Bates-Diop is listed 190 pounds and knows he needs to add some bulk to hold up in one of the most physical leagues in college.<br /> <br /> “I’m a little thin right now,” he admitted. “If I go to the Big Ten now I’ll get beat up. I definitely have to put on a lot of weight and muscle.”<br /> <br /> Still, Bates-Diop believes he can help the Buckeyes soon and also has a lot of confidence in fellow signees Russell, Tate and Bell.<br /> <br /> “We definitely have a special group,” he said. “We want to come in a do special things quick. We don’t want to come in and be slow. We want to come in and work and put in the time to be great.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Other Jan. 18 Flyin’ To The Hoop Games</strong><br /> <br /> * Bell had 11 points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes against <strong>Emmanuel Mudiay</strong> and company in the following game. Bell’s Garfield Heights squad lost 72-53 to Dallas Prime Prep Academy, which also features forward <strong>Terrance Ferguson</strong>, like King one of the top sophomores in the country.<br /> <br /> Mudiay led Prime Prep with 20 points and seven rebounds while Ferguson added 16 points, three boards, two assists and two steals. One of the elite seniors in the country, the 6-5 Mudiay is committed to SMU.<br /> <br /> * Local team Dayton Thurgood Marshall stunned Wichita (Kan.) Sunrise Christian Academy in the nightcap Sunday, 58-48. Point guard <strong>Lourawls Nairn Jr.</strong>, a Michigan State commitment, had 12 points for Sunrise but committed four turnovers and four fouls and was just 4 of 13 from the floor.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-26/KBD_Offers_Glimpse_Into_Future.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-26/KBD_Offers_Glimpse_Into_Future.aspx 353fadf9-6be2-4176-941e-da9093c73e0e Sun, 26 Jan 2014 21:12:43 GMT Pulling Out Of The Abyss The past couple weeks have been nightmarish for <strong>Thad Matta</strong> and his cold-shooting Ohio State basketball team – and in the first half of Thursday night’s game with Illinois the shivers continued.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes still were stuck in neutral offensively, hit just 7 of 24 (29.2 percent) first-half shots and trailed 25-24 at the break before 16,774 groaning onlookers at the Schottenstein Center.<br /> <br /> However, the funk finally ended in a second-half fury that featured timely stops, suddenly effective shooting, and, in a most welcome sight, composure-filled plays down the stretch.<br /> <br /> The result was a must-have 62-55 win over the Illini, who, like OSU, entered the contest on a four-game Big Ten losing streak.<br /> <br /> “We tried to do our best to put the losing streak behind us,” point guard <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> said. “This game wasn’t about that. We wanted to come out and find a way to be better than Illinois. We were a tougher basketball team down the stretch than we have been. That’s what matters.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes, who slipped to No. 17 in The Associated Press poll at the beginning of the week and were stunned at Nebraska on Monday, moved to 16-4 overall, 3-4 in Big Ten play. They also improved to 13-1 at home as several players had productive evenings.<br /> <br /> “It was a lot of togetherness tonight,” said forward <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong>, who led the way with 18 points. “You see our guys jumping up and down, you see our bench jumping up and down. We were able to get our crowd into it and it felt good to be playing back at home, having that support from the crowd.”<br /> <br /> Added Matta, “That crowd was as energetic as can be and really helped us.”<br /> <br /> The juice in the building and the urgency of trying to avoid the program’s first five-game losing streak since the forgettable 1997-98 season that capped OSU’s residence in St. John Arena, also seemed flow through <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> The recently maligned senior entered play with just four made three-pointers in six Big Ten games but matched that total against the Illini (13-7, 2-5).<br /> <br /> Just 4 of 25 from deep in the previous league games, Smith was 4 of 5 behind the arc and totaled 16 points, five rebounds and three steals.<br /> <br /> If anyone in scarlet and gray needed to break out of a funk, it was Smith.<br /> <br /> “It feels good,” he said afterward. “I got a chance to see guys smile, and I can tell you prior to this game there were no smiles, there was no laughter. Guys were kind of in their shell, and I feel everybody is out now.”<br /> <br /> With Ross and Smith doing damage on the wing, Craft appeared to settle down and ease back into his role as a facilitator on offense – along with being a pest as usual on the other end. Craft came through with 11 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and also led the defensive effort to completely shut down UI leading scorer <strong>Ravonte Rice</strong>.<br /> <br /> When going over matchups during pregame, Matta told his senior point guard, “I need my Aaron Craft tonight.”<br /> <br /> Check.<br /> <br /> The 6-4 Rice, meanwhile, entered town averaging 17.4 points per game but left the floor 0 of 8 shooting with no points and three turnovers. Point guard <strong>Tracy Abrams</strong> had nine points but was just 2 of 8 and committed four turnovers.<br /> <br /> Illinois head coach <strong>John Groce</strong>, a former Ohio State assistant under Matta, said if he was told prior to the game his backcourt would be a combined 2 for 16 with seven turnovers, “I wouldn’t like my chances – but we were right there.”<br /> <br /> That was due in large part to wing <strong>Joseph Bertrand</strong> logging 19 points, power forward <strong>Jon Ekey</strong> canning three triples and adding 11 points, and center <strong>Nnanna Egwu</strong> contributing 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.<br /> <br /> In the end, though, the Illini lost grip of the ball when it mattered – and that was attributable to fierce OSU defense that led to important baskets. Craft and <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> often were the prime disruptors.<br /> <br /> “I kept talking about it for two days – take care of the ball, take care of the ball,” Groce said. “Easier said than done – I’m not picking on our guys – especially when those two guards are running around out there.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes trailed 34-33 when a very timely 7-0 spurt gave them the lead for good. It was fueled by defense.<br /> <br /> In fact, Craft started it with a steal in the middle of the floor and fastbreak lay-in. Sensing trouble, Groce burned a timeout with 14:13 to play. However, moments later Craft came up with a loose ball and connected with a streaking Smith, who fluidly scored on a soaring left-handed layup.<br /> <br /> After another defensive stop, OSU stretched the lead to 40-34 when Craft handed off to <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> and watched the springy junior rise up on the arc and bury a three.<br /> <br /> Groce called another timeout but the Illini could not respond as the OSU defense forced an over-and-back call. The Schott was rocking at the under-12 timeout (11:40) and the Buckeyes finally went into the stretch run with some confidence.<br /> <br /> “I loved our energy on defense,” Matta said. “I thought we played extremely hard. I thought we got back to rotating and seeing things the way we needed to see them.”<br /> <br /> Also helping the Buckeyes return some of their mojo was junior center <strong>Amir Williams</strong>, who offset Egwu in the paint with seven points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Even his four fouls point to his aggression on the court, which often has flit away during his career.<br /> <br /> “Amir had the look tonight,” Matta said. “He was active, he was energetic, he was tracking the ball, blocking shots. I thought he did a really, really good job.”<br /> <br /> With so many positives flowing, a reporter asked Matta if the ship had been righted – a question that made the 10-year OSU coach laugh immediately.<br /> <br /> “Yeah,” he said with a sarcastic snicker. “All is fine.”<br /> <br /> Clearly, there is still work to be done and a daunting schedule ahead. The Buckeyes get the weekend off and next host last-place Penn State on Jan. 29 (7 p.m. Eastern, Big Ten Network), which appears to be a golden opportunity for them to even their Big Ten record. However, that will be followed by games at Wisconsin and Iowa.<br /> <br /> Later on, OSU will tangle with rivals Michigan and Indiana, and the regular-season finale with Michigan State looms. The Buckeyes also still have to go to Illinois, and that trip won’t be easy if they play anything like they did for the first 20 minutes of this contest.<br /> <br /> “Offensively, in the first have I’m just like, ‘My gosh, here we go again,’ and then when Amir missed the dunk, I’m like, ‘Maybe this isn’t supposed to be,’ but to the kids’ credit they had a different look in their eye down the stretch,” Matta said.<br /> <br /> After taking the 40-34 lead, the Buckeyes still had some work remaining. Scott misfired on a pullup, Ekey nailed a three and freshman <strong>Marc Loving</strong> was whistled for an offensive foul.<br /> <br /> With 10:00 remaining, Matta returned starters Ross, Smith and Williams to the floor and gave Craft a brief rest.<br /> <br /> Ross drew a foul with 9:32 left and split a pair of free throws. A Bertrand three sliced the lead to just one, 41-40, but Craft hit one of his biggest shots of the season when he dropped home a three off a perfect skip pass from Scott.<br /> <br /> After Illinois tied the score at 46, it was Smith’s turn to come up big as he hit a triple.<br /> <br /> Ross missed on two chances to double the lead by missing a pair of three-point attempts. However, after a Smith three also rimmed out, Smith stole the outlet pass and found Scott for a left-handed lay-in and a 51-46 lead.<br /> <br /> Abrams scored off an inbounds pass in UI’s next trip but Williams made 1 of 2 free throws for a 52-48 lead.<br /> <br /> Abrams scored while knocking into Williams, drew a foul call, but missed the free throw. That led to the biggest consecutive baskets of the night.<br /> <br /> Ross, who earlier connected on a turnaround, got loose on the baseline, hopped into the paint and scored while fouled. His free throw upped OSU’s edge to 55-50.<br /> <br /> “They did a lot of switches, so sometimes I had a 1- or 2-guard on me and I was able to take advantage,” Ross explained.<br /> <br /> After Scott drew a charging call on Rice, Craft was able to find Smith with the shot clock dwindling down and the lefty buried a three right in front of the OSU bench for a 58-50 lead and jubilant scene.<br /> <br /> OSU led 58-53 when Craft grabbed a defensive rebound with 29.4 seconds left and made both ends of a 1-and-1 for a 60-53 advantage.<br /> <br /> Ohio State improved to 42-40 all-time in Columbus when hosting Illinois. The Buckeyes ran their streak of home wins over unranked opponents to 80.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-24/Pulling_Out_Of_The_Abyss.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-24/Pulling_Out_Of_The_Abyss.aspx 38f1662f-416d-493b-962e-770d21ba198f Fri, 24 Jan 2014 13:14:00 GMT It Just Keeps Getting Worse The troubled Ohio State basketball team has matched the nadir of the <strong>Thad Matta</strong> era after a fourth straight setback – a 68-62 decision at Nebraska on Monday night.<br /> <br /> If the Buckeyes’ fortunes don’t change Thursday night (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN) vs. Illinois at the Schottenstein Center, the program will experience the worst skid since a 17-game losing streak in 1997-98 – <strong>Jim O’Brien</strong>’s first season as coach and the last at St. John Arena.<br /> <br /> No one expect that kind of implosion. Then again, it’s now hard to believe the Buckeyes were ranked No. 3 in the nation just over a week ago and hard to imagine when answers will arrive.<br /> <br /> At Nebraska, OSU dug a 34-20 hole in the first half and, after fighting back to take the lead, again faltered down the stretch. Misfires, turnovers and even clanged free throws proved costly.<br /> <br /> No. 17 Ohio State fell to 15-4 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten after a fourth straight loss. The only other time a Matta-coached OSU team lost four in a row was Feb. 17-March 1, 2008 – a dip that kept the Buckeyes out of the NCAA Tournament.<br /> <br /> That team, however, won its final two regular-season games against ranked teams, Purdue and Michigan State, and went on to win the NIT. It also finished 10-8 in the conference.<br /> <br /> Matta’s first OSU team suffered four straight defeats in January 2005, one of them being a wild double-overtime loss at LSU. The Buckeyes were in danger of losing a fourth straight conference game at the end of the regular-season but upset No. 1 Illinois 65-64 and finished with 20 wins and an 8-8 league mark.<br /> <br /> In fact, Ohio State has never had a losing Big Ten record under Matta.<br /> <br /> That streak suddenly appears to be in question after the current Buckeyes bolted to a 15-0 start. They couldn’t pull themselves up off the mat against a Cornhuskers squad (9-8, 1-4) that had lost five in a row and was throttled by 31 points in Columbus earlier this month.<br /> <br /> Matta opted to pull center <strong>Amir Williams</strong> from the floor in the second half and the tactic worked for much of the stanza as the Buckeyes opened it with a 15-2 burst to take a 38-36 lead. However, once again OSU couldn’t find a winning formula.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes finished 21 of 53 from the floor (39.6 percent) including 6 of 21 from three-point range (28.6 percent). Top options <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> and <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> had 11 and 10 points, respectively, but each was just 4 of 12 from the field.<br /> <br /> Senior point guard <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> did what he could with team highs in points (12), rebounds (seven) and assists (three) but also had four turnovers, two in the crucial final five minutes. After committing zero turnovers in OSU’s two Big Ten wins, Craft has totaled 19 in the four-game losing streak.<br /> <br /> <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> fouled out with just four points and was 0 of 3 from long range. Ross was 0 of 2 and passed up several potential shots from the perimeter.<br /> <br /> The more the Buckeyes struggled and appeared unconfident, the hungrier the homestanding Cornhuskers appeared to be to get their first conference victory at Pinnacle Bank Arena and first over OSU on the hardwood since joining the Big Ten.<br /> <br /> <strong>Terran Petteway</strong> and <strong>Shavon Shields</strong> tied for game-high honors with 18 points apiece and also helped Nebraska win the battle on the boards, 33-27. The ’Huskers set the tone in the first half with multiple forays to the basket and a 26-6 advantage for points in the paint by halftime.<br /> <br /> Even though the Buckeyes rallied from 34-20 and 34-25 at the break, they never spooked Nebraska, which came up with several clutch plays on each end of the floor.<br /> <br /> Asked after the game what has changed for his team the last two weeks, Matta said, “How much time do we have? I think this, you have to respect this league and know that it’s hard. We had a shot at the rim four games ago (at Michigan State) at the horn to win. We had a nine-point lead in the next game (against Iowa) in the second half and get beat.<br /> <br /> “You come back and take the lead tonight. We need consistency. When something doesn’t go well, the thing I don’t see is the ability to come back and have mental toughness to make the next play. We are clinging on the mistakes. You have to play forward.”<br /> <br /> Posting a W for the first time since beating The Citadel on Dec. 21, Nebraska connected on 20 of 26 free-throw attempts.<br /> <br /> Guard <strong>Deverell Biggs</strong> led a 21-point bench effort with 11 points and hit 4 of 5 shots.<br /> <br /> Nebraska was fueled early by OSU mistakes, scoring 14 of its 34 first-half points off of Buckeye turnovers. With the crowd involved and the Buckeyes looking like wounded animals, NU kept coming with offensive heat.<br /> <br /> “They did a good job of putting their heads down and driving the basketball,” Matta said. “They finished well. They made a couple stepbacks and some floaters. It was that kind of night. We got the ball to the rim and they didn’t go in for us.”<br /> <br /> Even with a 5-for-13 start to the shooting night, Smith and <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> had splashed threes, and Scott and freshman <strong>Marc Loving</strong> connected on 17-foot jumpers. The Buckeyes took a 19-18 lead when <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong>, OSU’s leading scorer in the blowout of Nebraska in Columbus, drained a wide-open three.<br /> <br /> However, OSU proceeded to go 6-½ minutes without a field goal and was outscored 16-2 in that stretch. The drought included seven straight misses from the floor and four turnovers.<br /> <br /> Nebraska took a 21-19 lead on a three by Shields thanks to a goaltending call and Della Valle split a pair of free throws moments later.<br /> <br /> Nebraska scored the game’s next 13 points to open up a 34-20 and cause Matta to call a timeout with 2:17 in the half. Della Valle had a pair of miscues and missed an open three in the messy sequence while Craft was out of control as well.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes showed some resiliency by scoring the final five points of the half, tying the score at 36 minutes into the second half and even taking a brief two-point lead.<br /> <br /> But it was the Cornhuskers’ night. Petteway nailed a straight-on three to provide a 41-38 NU lead and a floater that made it 51-47. The lead was just 51-49 when freshman <strong>Tai Webster</strong> made a pair of pressure free throws with 1:59 to play.<br /> <br /> After Craft was whistled for charging into Shields and Scott inexplicable jumped onto a trapped Petteway in the backcourt, Petteway calmly added two more free throws that upped the advantage to 55-49.<br /> <br /> Craft did the same for OSU the next time down, but Petteway answered again, this time by making a contested banker while driving down the right side of the lane.<br /> <br /> When Thompson missed a three and Loving couldn’t tip it in, the Buckeyes’ fate was sealed. NU opened the lead to 10 (64-54) and threes by Loving and Smith in the final minute were too late.<br /> <br /> Nebraska was just 2 of 13 from deep but still finished at 50 percent (23 of 46) from the field. Matta was left to try to match it by going small in the second half and keeping the 6-11 Williams and 6-9 <strong>Trey McDonald</strong> on the bench.<br /> <br /> “I wanted some offense,” he said. “To be honest with you, we got clipped on some ball screens in the first half that can’t happen. That put a lot of pressure on our bigs. We have to do a better job of pushing up into the ball and defend the ball screen situation better to open up the game.”<br /> <br /> In the four-game losing streak, Ohio State has hit just 40.4 percent of its shots from the floor (88 of 218) and 30.3 percent of its threes (23 of 76). OSU also averaged 16 turnovers a game.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-21/It_Just_Keeps_Getting_Worse.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-21/It_Just_Keeps_Getting_Worse.aspx c344f8b5-aaa1-4587-82a7-97267b3d74c5 Tue, 21 Jan 2014 18:44:14 GMT Buckeyes Drop Third Straight Good things are supposed to come in threes but right now the Ohio State basketball team doesn’t like the number so much.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes lost for the third straight time on Thursday night by falling apart again down the stretch and dropping a 63-53 decision at Minnesota. The last time a <strong>Thad Matta</strong> team suffered three straight setbacks was February 2009.<br /> <br /> Several Buckeyes struggled on the raised floor of venerable Williams Arena, including the player wearing jersey No. 3, <strong>Shannon Scott</strong>, who misfired on all three of his shot attempts, scored just one point and committed four turnovers.<br /> <br /> In fact, he and point guard <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> combined for eight points, five assists and nine turnovers in the contest as No. 11 Ohio State (15-3, 2-3) totaled 11 assists to 13 miscues. Craft had 14 assists and no turnovers in OSU’s 2-0 league start, earning him Big Ten Player of the Week honors. In the subsequent three games he has compiled 15 turnovers.<br /> <br /> However, overall OSU improved in taking care of the ball after logging a combined 38 turnovers in the previous two games – an overtime loss at Michigan State and a rare home defeat vs. Iowa. The bigger problem was shooting, sometimes from point-blank range.<br /> <br /> <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> was a respectable 8 of 17 and led all scorers with 22 points and <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> was effective off the bench with a dozen points and a 4-for-7 showing from the floor. The remaining six Buckeyes who saw the court, however, managed a total of six field goals as OSU finished just 18 of 51 (35.3 percent) on shot attempts.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, the Golden Gophers (14-4, 3-2) were 24 of 47 from the floor (51.1 percent) to become the first OSU opponent this season to crack the 50-percent mark. They also outhustled and outwitted their guests and managed to overcome a sloppy start while pulling away.<br /> <br /> Center <strong>Elliott Eliason</strong> led Minnesota with 12 points and 13 rebounds and completely outmanned OSU counterpart <strong>Amir Williams</strong>, who recorded just three points and five rebounds in 22 forgettable minutes.<br /> <br /> As a team, the Gophers gained a 38-20 advantage on points in the paint and outrebounded OSU 39-24.<br /> <br /> Eliason had help inside from backup <strong>Maurice Walker</strong>, who converted consecutive spin moves to draw fouls both times. He had five points and two rebounds in just six minutes of time. Power forward <strong>Oto Osenieks</strong> added eight points and did the dirty work around the basket.<br /> <br /> UM guard <strong>DeAndre Mathieu</strong> performed well in the backcourt with 13 points, five assists and three steals. Brothers <strong>Andre Hollins</strong> and <strong>Austin Hollins</strong> also helped put away the Buckeyes with key hoops in the final three minutes.<br /> <br /> Minnesota beat Ohio State for the first time in seven meetings, a feat last accomplished in Minneapolis in 2010. The upset of the ranked Buckeyes will go down as the first signature win for the Gophers under first-year head coach <strong>Richard Pitino</strong>.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes have had plenty eye-opening wins in the 10-year Matta era but appear to be sliding backwards. After dropping eight spots in The Associated Press poll from No. 3 to No. 11, they couldn’t find anything close to a winning formula in Minnesota’s famed “Barn.” They fell to 25-4 following losses over the last five seasons.<br /> <br /> The three-game skid of 2009 came at Wisconsin, at Northwestern and against Illinois. That team finished fifth in the Big Ten and took a first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament.<br /> <br /> And the Buckeyes have to try to turn it around away from home again. They are at Nebraska on Monday night (7 p.m. Eastern, Big Ten Network).<br /> <br /> The Gophers don’t have an easy road, either. After playing at Michigan State and hosting OSU, they head to Iowa over the weekend and then host No. 3 Wisconsin next Wednesday.<br /> <br /> Ohio State trailed 37-35 at halftime again Iowa, built a second-half lead and crumpled in the game’s final minutes. At Minnesota, OSU fought back to tie the game at 29 at halftime and had several second-half leads before faltering again.<br /> <br /> Ross actually hit consecutive threes that provided a 38-36 edge, but no one else came to the fore. OSU’s guards disappeared, Williams was never involved and reserve forward <strong>Marc Loving</strong> was shut out in his second Big Ten road contest.<br /> <br /> <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> led OSU with six rebounds but was just 3 of 9 from the field and missed a dunk in the first half. Williams missed a layup against moderate resistance and Ross missed a putback of a Loving miss right in front of the rim. http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-17/Buckeyes_Drop_Third_Straight.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-17/Buckeyes_Drop_Third_Straight.aspx cfd6c31c-ff48-4dc8-9705-593df526bc11 Fri, 17 Jan 2014 15:37:38 GMT Meyer Reloads Defensive Staff Those who blame Ohio State’s defensive woes entirely on <strong>Luke Fickell</strong> probably will be disappointed to hear it’s likely the former Buckeye and longtime assistant again will be a point man on the that side of the ball.<br /> <br /> But there is new blood in line to join <strong>Urban Meyer</strong>’s coaching staff in the form of <strong>Larry Johnson</strong> and <strong>Chris Ash</strong>, who happen to be two of the most well-respected defensive coaches in the Midwest if not the country.<br /> <br /> Each earned strong reputations at rival Big Ten schools – Johnson for 18 years at Penn State and Ash in a smaller sample size at Wisconsin – and bring instant credibility.<br /> <br /> Meyer and OSU officials have not yet confirmed the moves but multiple reports, most notably SI.com, claim the moves are all but done.<br /> <br /> Johnson, who decided not to stay on at PSU after two separate meetings with new Nittany Lions coach <strong>James Franklin</strong>, is set to replace <strong>Mike Vrabel</strong> as OSU’s defensive line coach.<br /> <br /> Vrabel served two years in that role and one as linebackers coach in 2011 when Fickell was in charge of the program but the former NFL standout is headed back to the professional ranks. Last week, Vrabel confirmed he had accepted the linebackers coach position with the Houston Texans under <strong>Bill O’Brien</strong>, who, ironically, left Penn State to return to the NFL.<br /> <br /> Johnson joined the staff of the late <strong>Joe Paterno</strong> at Penn State in 1996 and served as defensive line coach for the last 15 years. His son, Larry Jr., was standout running back for the Lions and went on to a productive career in the NFL. Another son, Tony, was a wide receiver at Penn State.<br /> <br /> Among the defenive linemen Johnson groomed at Penn State are former All-Americans <strong>Jared Odrick</strong>, <strong>Tamba Hali</strong> and <strong>Courtney Brown</strong>, the latter the No. 1 pick of the Cleveland Browns atop the 2000 NFL draft.<br /> <br /> Along with being hailed as an outstanding position coach and mentor of talent, Johnson also is widely considered a premier recruiter with deep East Coast connections. He was a high school head coach in the Washington, D.C., area for many years and was instrumental in the recruitment of current Buckeyes <strong>Noah Spence</strong> and <strong>Tommy Schutt</strong>.<br /> <br /> Those two defensive linemen originally committed to Penn State before flipping to Ohio State while the PSU program was rocked by the <strong>Jerry Sandusky</strong> scandal.<br /> <br /> Johnson also is credited with landing 2014 prospect <strong>Thomas Holley</strong>, a nationally elite prep defensive lineman from New York City.<br /> <br /> Johnson admitted it was tough to leave behind his tenure at Penn State and will always carry great memories of his time there.<br /> <br /> “I want to say that I am very appreciative of all that went into my time at Penn State, all the players I’ve coached and all of the associations that I have,'' Johnson told PennLive on Monday evening.<br /> <br /> “But I’ve thought a lot about this, I’ve prayed about it, and this is what I want to do. I wish Coach Franklin and Penn State the best but it’s time for me. It’s a very difficult time but I want to thank the fans, the players, and Penn State. I mean that.”<br /> <br /> Ash appears to be an ideal replacement for <strong>Everett Withers</strong>, who served for two years as safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator at OSU. Meyer had hired Withers away from North Carolina, where, like Fickell, he served as an interim head coach. Withers is now the head coach at James Madison University.<br /> <br /> Ash was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin and followed <strong>Bret Bielema</strong> to take the same role at Arkansas. He also is considered a topflight coach of defensive backs.<br /> <br /> SI.com reported that Ash has accepted an offer to serve as co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach with the Buckeyes. If that is correct it can be presumed that Fickell will remain defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at OSU.<br /> <br /> The future role of <strong>Kerry Coombs</strong>, who served the past two years as OSU’s cornerback coach, is still unclear. A high-energy former Cincinnati high school coach and University of Cincinnati assistant, Coombs could stay put, be named special teams coach, or land a different position within the program.<br /> <br /> Ash was part of a defensive staff that led the Badgers to three consecutive Rose Bowls. <br /> <br /> In 2010, Ash oversaw marked improvement in the Badger pass defense as Wisconsin allowed just 193.9 passing yards per game. Three of his starters received All-Big Ten honors after the season and Ash was promoted to defensive coordinator in time for the 2011 season.<br /> <br /> That fall, the Badgers were stout again, ranking 13th in the country in scoring defense (19.0 points per game), 15th in total defense, and forth in passing defense. In 2012, UW was 23rd nationally in pass defense.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes are in a much different state at the moment. They finished 110th in passing yards allowed (268.0 ypg) this past season, allowed a combined 682 yards in the air in losses to Michigan State and Clemson, and need a virtual restart in the defensive backfield with corner <strong>Bradley Roby</strong> and safeties <strong>Christian Bryant</strong> and <strong>C.J. Barnett</strong> set to depart.<br /> <br /> Ash cut his teeth as a major college assistant at Iowa State and also coached DBs at San Diego State.<br /> <br /> In 2009, his final season at Iowa State, the Cyclones ranked ninth in the NCAA with 32 takeaways.<br /> &nbsp; http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-14/Meyer_Reloads_Defensive_Staff.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-14/Meyer_Reloads_Defensive_Staff.aspx 9f1fdcdc-9fa1-41d6-bc5b-2d421f1ae9f8 Wed, 15 Jan 2014 05:51:54 GMT Hawkeyes Ruin OSU Homecoming Before heading to the Schottenstein Center on Sunday afternoon, Iowa’s previous road game was Jan. 5 at No. 4 Wisconsin.<br /> <br /> A double-digit lead was slipping away when head coach <strong>Fran McCaffrey</strong> went into a tirade, was ejected, and the homestanding Badgers eventually pulled out a 75-71 victory.<br /> <br /> McCaffey was suspended for Iowa’s next contest and on his best behavior against Ohio State. It turns out he had little reason to be agitated.<br /> <br /> The No. 20 Hawkeyes recorded perhaps their best victory of the McCaffrey era with an 84-74 win at No. 3 OSU, shredding one of the country’s top defenses and perplexing the Buckeyes with their length while playing mostly zone defense.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes (15-2, 2-2 in the Big Ten) shot decently (44.6 percent) but committed 17 turnovers and suffered breakdowns on key possessions. They led with five minutes to play but found themselves down 13 points before enduring the 10-point loss, just the sixth at The Schott since 2009.<br /> <br /> “We didn’t have offensively the connection that we needed,” OSU head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> lamented. “I don’t know what that was.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes, who were coming off an overtime loss at Michigan State on Tuesday, committed 38 turnovers in the two losses.<br /> <br /> “It’s on us,” said point guard <strong>Aaron Craft</strong>, who had a game-high six miscues. “We knew they were going to press, we knew they were going to do what they did and we just weren’t ready to take care of the ball. It comes to the point where you’ve got to make good decisions and do what you need to do to protect the ball, and we’re not doing that. It’s the first thing we have to be corrected.”<br /> <br /> Forward <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> led OSU with 22 points but had just two in the game’s final 14 minutes and was credited with five turnovers. He said the Buckeyes were prepared to face zone and figured Big Ten teams would employ it.<br /> <br /> “We just have to make shots,” he said. “Sometimes we forget what we do in practice and we have to bring that to the game.”<br /> <br /> The defense was just as culpable, though. The Buckeyes entered the game with a stellar 182-14 record in games under Matta in which they scored 70 or more points. That trend was thwarted as the Hawkeyes (14-3, 3-1) produced the most points in Columbus since a 102-91 loss in 1989.<br /> <br /> Iowa was a healthy 29 of 61 from the field (47.5 percent) and hurt OSU with a trio of lengthy wings – <strong>Roy Devyn Marble</strong> (22 points), <strong>Aaron White</strong> (19) and reserve <strong>Jarrod Uthoff</strong> (10) – making aggressive forays to the basket and connecting on pullups, flips and even hook shots.<br /> <br /> Power forward <strong>Melsahn Basabe</strong> added 11 points and helped Iowa batter the Buckeyes on the boards, 40-31, with a game-high 10 caroms.<br /> <br /> McCaffrey said his team’s output had a lot to do with the respect he and his players had for the Buckeyes after watching them storm back to beat Notre Dame on a neutral court and rally from 17 down to nearly win in East Lansing.<br /> <br /> “They’re one of the most resilient teams I’ve seen on film in a long time,” said the fourth-year Iowa coach.<br /> <br /> McCaffrey kept his cool and so did his players down the stretch. In fact, the roles reversed when the Buckeyes opened up a nine-point lead at 53-44 after a three by reserve guard <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong>. It was the Hawkeyes who charged back and made the hustle plays.<br /> <br /> An 11-2 run by the visitors tied the score at 55 and made the crowd of 18,809 squirm in their seats. Marble started it with a pair of free throws followed by triples by <strong>Mike Gesell</strong>, White and Uthoff.<br /> <br /> “We didn’t finish” Matta said of the fateful sequence. “We had some chances around the rim and they had the stretch where they hit the three straight threes and we were slow reacting.”<br /> <br /> However, OSU freshman <strong>Marc Loving</strong> responded with a baseline drive and dunk while fouled, and his free throw put the Buckeyes back in front, 58-55.<br /> <br /> After Gesell forced an errant shot over Craft and <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> ripped the rebound, <strong>Amir Williams</strong> scored while fouled down low. OSU led 60-55 but a collapse followed.<br /> <br /> <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> missed a three that could have maintained positive momentum and instead Basabe scored on the other end. Seldom-used Iowa guard <strong>Josh Oglesby</strong> tied the game at 60 with a three and again at 62 with a layup.<br /> <br /> Basabe was whistled for his fourth foul and Williams made both free throws for a 64-62 OSU lead but OSU lost the lead on a nifty baseline drive and left-handed finish by Uthoff with 4:55 remaining and the Buckeyes followed with several empty possessions including five turnovers in their last 11 times with the ball.<br /> <br /> One of them was particularly costly. After a Williams dunk cut the Iowa lead to 70-68, Basabe tipped in a Marble pullup miss and the Buckeyes were in dire need of a hoop, trailing 72-68. Instead, <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> threw a wild bounce pass through the legs of Craft in front of the OSU bench.<br /> <br /> White then daggered his homestate school – the 6-9 forward is a native of Strongsville, Ohio – by spinning and scoring over Smith after a scramble after a tipped ball and with the shot clock ticking to 6.<br /> <br /> OSU still trailed by six when Scott clanged a three and Basabe grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made both attempts and moments later OSU’s last chance flitted away, fittingly, with a turnover by Craft.<br /> <br /> “I think the biggest thing is getting our guys to understand that you can’t let one mistake compound into another mistake,” Matta said. “We’ve got to do a better job with a veteran team.”<br /> <br /> The Hawkeyes were impressive throughout the first half, especially offensively, as they built a 37-35 lead and took it to the locker room.<br /> <br /> Marble, who entered with a team-best scoring average of 16.0 points per game, had a dozen at intermission. He hit 6 of 9 shots almost all of them in the paint.<br /> <br /> In fact, the Hawkeyes tallied 30 of their 37 points in the half in the paint and were just 1 of 7 from behind the three-point arc.<br /> <br /> Still, the 17-of-36 showing from the field equated to 47.2 percent against an Ohio State team that hadn’t allowed an opponent to shoot better than 46.0 percent from the field all season and entered allowing 37.5 overall. Also, the 37 points were the most OSU has allowed in the first half in 2013-14.<br /> <br /> The shots seemed to rain in for Iowa. Gesell, listed 6-1 but possibly not quite 6-feet, made a pair of pretty left-handed finishes at the basket. White softly tossed in a pair hook shots – one with each hand – and burned OSU with layups on two inbounds plays from near the basket.<br /> <br /> Craft opened the second half by burying a corner three but it was clear the Buckeyes were in for a dogfight.<br /> <br /> After Ross’ 22, Williams had 11 points and Smith added 10. OSU was 6 for 14 from deep at one point but just 1 of 7 down the stretch vs. Iowa’s zone.<br /> <br /> “It’s not going to get easier,” Craft said, remembering OSU has upcoming games at Minnesota on Thursday (9 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2) and at Nebraska on Jan. 20. “I think we go through stretches where we want things to be easy. We don’t want them to make a run when we’re up nine, we just want them to die, and they’re not going to do that.<br /> <br /> “Obviously they’re a great team and they’ve played against great competition all year, and that’s not what they do. It’s a 40-minute game and we can’t have lapses like we did.”<br /> <br /> Matta reminded OSU lost at Michigan in overtime and came home and lost to Indiana last year and still won a Big Ten title.<br /> <br /> “We’re so far from the end of the finish line,” he said. “To panic or anything like that, I’ve never done that, I won’t do that.<br /> <br /> “This team has shown that it can play some great basketball – we played some great basketball today – but it’s that togetherness on both ends of the floor. We did some things today that were very uncharacteristic.”<br /> <br /> “There’s a lot of basketball to be played and the worst thing we can do is feel sorry for ourselves,” Craft said. “We can’t keep this going. We have to find a way to pick ourselves up because no one’s going to do it for us.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-12/Hawkeyes_Ruin_OSU_Homecoming.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-12/Hawkeyes_Ruin_OSU_Homecoming.aspx 60eef4da-8871-4e03-81ac-88ab2a4cebc1 Sun, 12 Jan 2014 23:10:26 GMT First Loss Still Earns OSU Lots Grit, hustle and determination.<br /> <br /> Even in defeat, the Buckeyes of 2013-14 are now defined by those three qualities – and that makes them mighty dangerous going forward.<br /> <br /> In fact, it was the favored and homestanding Spartans of Michigan State who were apologetic after their 72-68 overtime win over No. 3 Ohio State on Tuesday night at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich., after MSU blew a 17-point lead with seven minutes remaining in regulation.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, Ohio State was the team that raised eyebrows and drew praise for clawing out of a deep chasm with a 20-3 run down the closing stretch of the second half.<br /> <br /> Even though the Buckeyes (15-1, 2-1) fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, they only raised their postseason stock and again showed they are a hard fire to stamp out.<br /> <br /> Clearly, Michigan State (14-1, 3-0) also showed some mettle, came up with clutch plays and is in good position atop the Big Ten standings. However, head coach <strong>Tom Izzo</strong> appeared nearly physically sick after the hardfought win, especially knowing OSU senior point guard <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> nearly grinched the victory.<br /> <br /> “I’m tired of giving him credit,” Izzo said of Craft afterward. “But he’s a warrior. He wants it.”<br /> <br /> That certainly can’t be questioned given Craft’s reputation for fierce oncourt play and what he did to bring the Buckeyes back up off the mat.<br /> <br /> Izzo feared such a charge was coming and ripped into his team during a timeout after an 11-2 OSU run cut the Michigan State lead to 57-49 with less than three minutes to play. The future Hall of Fame coach even shook wing <strong>Denzel Valentine</strong> in the huddle and went nose to nose with forward <strong>Branden Dawson</strong>, who didn’t pull down a rebound in the second half, to make his point.<br /> <br /> “I talked to (Valentine) about all the fancy stuff and one of these days, he’ll figure it out,” Izzo said. “Good player. I love him to death. But he’s going to learn tough lessons and it would’ve been a tough lesson if we would’ve lost the game because we didn’t do some of the things we’re supposed to do.”<br /> <br /> For example, the Spartans are known for their brawn on the boards but were outrebounded by Ohio State, 42-28.<br /> <br /> But it was the utter domination by the Buckeyes in the final minutes of the second half that really left mouths agape.<br /> <br /> After the fiery timeout address by Izzo, the Buckeyes just kept putting their foot on the gas and immediately cut the lead to 57-51 when Craft tossed a perfect alley-oop to reserve <strong>Sam Thompson</strong>, who ended up leading OSU in scoring with 18 points.<br /> <br /> Thompson’s throw-down quieted the crowd and the Spartans used up all 35 seconds on the shot clock on the next possession, which ended with Valentine throwing up an off-balance three-point attempt.<br /> <br /> Craft needled his way through the defense and scored on a nifty reverse while drawing a foul from Valentine, his fifth. Craft added the free throw and suddenly with 2:02 left in regulation the Buckeyes trailed just 57-54.<br /> <br /> Another solid defensive possession by the Buckeyes went unrewarded as <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> flew out of bounds to save a deflected pass but officials ruled that he had full possession and reset the shot clock with 1:34 remaining. Still, the Spartans were unable to score and bodies found the floor on the other end on the ensuing possession. After a missed three by Craft, MSU’s <strong>Gary Harris</strong> dived after a loose ball and then Craft, who corralled it just in time to call a timeout.<br /> <br /> On the inbounds play that followed Craft again worked his magic by firing the ball off the derriere of MSU’s <strong>Adreian Payne</strong>, his old AAU teammate, and jumping into the court to catch the carom and tally on a layup to cut the score to 57-56.<br /> <br /> Payne responded by drawing a foul in the lane on <strong>Amir Williams</strong> on the other end and making one of two free throws with 42.3 seconds left in regulation. The Buckeyes trailed 58-56 and came up with another answer.<br /> <br /> This time Craft drove hard into the lane, spun and flipped up a short banker. His attempt came strongly over the rim but the 6-11 Williams, a Detroit native, was there to catch and flush the miss, tying the score.<br /> <br /> That led to what nearly would have been the ultimate capper on an epic comeback.<br /> <br /> With the Spartans trying to work for a final shot, Scott deflected a pass and took off with a steal with 4 seconds showing. He went hard to the rim and his shot attempt was slightly deflected by <strong>Keith Appling</strong> then swatted away by Payne just outside the cylinder.<br /> <br /> The springy Thompson was in position to throw down a game-winning follow just before the buzzer if Payne had not zipped back to challenge the play.<br /> <br /> In overtime, OSU coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> continued to sit his two leading scorers, junior forward <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> and senior guard <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> in favor of Thompson and freshman forward <strong>Marc Loving</strong>.<br /> <br /> It paid dividends in the first minute of the extra session as Thompson was fouled shooting a three and hit two of three free throws.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes, after trailing virtually the entire game, had a 60-58 lead.<br /> <br /> After Payne again split a pair of free throws, the Spartans connected on huge bombs from the outside.<br /> <br /> <strong>Kenny Kaminski</strong> hit the first one by splashing his third triple of the night to give MSU a 62-60 lead. After Loving drew a foul and hit one of two free throws, Payne canned a three for a 65-61 advantage for the home team.<br /> <br /> Loving tried to counter but missed from long range. He grabbed a steal off the outlet pass but crashed into Payne for a charge.<br /> <br /> Harris hit a free throw moments later but Craft split two defenders for a layup and OSU railed just 66-63 with 1:39 left in OT. And, sure enough, the Buckeyes caught up again when Thompson nailed a three with 1:07 on the clock, knotting the score at 66.<br /> <br /> Appling responded with a top-of-the-key three by pulling up over Scott with six seconds left on the shot clock.<br /> <br /> Loving countered with a pair of free throws with 16.3 seconds left to trim the score to 69-68, but Appling made a pair of free throws, Loving missed a forced three and Appling added one more charity toss for the final point of the game.<br /> <br /> Izzo showed only moderate relief walking off the court.<br /> <br /> “I should be happier than I am,” he said, “but I’m a big-picture guy and you shouldn’t have those kinds of letdowns.”<br /> <br /> The Spartans took a 28-21 lead to the locker room at halftime and several Buckeyes seemed to be missing in action to that point. Ross had three points on one made wide-open shot, Williams opened the scoring off a dunk from drop-down pass by Craft and didn’t score the rest of the stanza, and Craft and Scott were scoreless.<br /> <br /> MSU stretched the advantage to double digits moments into the second half when Harris connected on a three, and after OSU trimmed the lead to 35-30 on a three-point play by Williams, the Spartans put together a muscle-flexing 20-8 run.<br /> <br /> Payne, who didn’t start because of a foot injury, was key to it by throwing down a pair of follow dunks and frustrating Ross on the other end of the floor. The 6-10 Dayton product managed to play 32 minutes and record 18 points.<br /> <br /> Appling led the Spartans with 20 points, six rebounds and seven assists and played 43 of the game’s 45 minutes despite dealing with painful cramps in his calves.<br /> <br /> Harris added 13 points as the MSU backcourt was without veteran <strong>Travis Trice</strong> because of an illness.<br /> <br /> Matta lauded his team for coming back from a 55-38 deficit but lamented OSU’s season-high 21 turnovers.<br /> <br /> “Give Michigan State credit,” Matta said. “They did a great job defending us. I’m proud we came back, but we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be in this caliber of a game. You can’t come on the road and have 21 turnovers.<br /> <br /> “And shockingly, we had shots to win the game.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-08/First_Loss_Still_Earns_OSU_Lots.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-08/First_Loss_Still_Earns_OSU_Lots.aspx 7aa51254-9b18-4007-afaf-f46518c93651 Wed, 08 Jan 2014 18:22:07 GMT Reality Has Orange Tint The three distraught faces in the postgame interview room painted a pretty vivid picture.<br /> <br /> <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong> was looking out at deadline-challenged reporters in the bowels of Sun Life Stadium with his cheek pressed against his open hand.<br /> <br /> <strong>Ryan Shazier</strong>’s gaze was drifting off to the side as if he wished he could be anywhere else in the world.<br /> <br /> And <strong>Urban Meyer</strong>, Ohio State’s suddenly mortal coach, was crestfallen. Twenty-four straight wins under the headset for the Buckeyes followed by two agonizing losses – the 34-24 setback against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship that denied the Buckeyes a chance to play for a national championship and now this.<br /> <br /> Clemson 40, Ohio State 35 – the program’s first loss in 281 games in which the Buckeyes managed to score at least 35 points.<br /> <br /> Let me repeated that: OSU is now 279-1-1 all-time when it scores 35 or more points. Five touchdowns, three extra points and a safety was not good enough in the Orange Bowl.<br /> <br /> And a loss, which dropped Ohio State to 12-2 this season, isn’t going to sit well with anyone associated with the Scarlet and Gray.<br /> <br /> The hurt tends to linger when there is no next game, at least not anytime soon.<br /> <br /> Hyde is one of the Buckeyes’ well-weathered seniors, and the only time the running back managed to smile while at the interview table was when he realized how much his sendoff season mirrored his final one at Naples (Fla.) High School – the yards, the touchdowns, the bitter disappointment at the end all about the same.<br /> <br /> But soon Hyde will be working out for NFL scouts, talking with an agent about his professional prospects and waiting for his name to be called at the draft in April.<br /> <br /> Shazier likely will join him. Also a Florida product, OSU’s top linebacker and leading tackler didn’t plan to exit with a bowl loss in his home state, but he, too, will rebound quickly. If he opts to leave – and all signs point that way despite his insistence that he’s leaning on staying – Shazier also will become a quick NFL commodity.<br /> <br /> Meyer, on the other hand, is sure to be back and fully intent on returning OSU to prominence. But the anguish of a second straight loss coming in a game in which the Buckeyes owned a fourth-quarter lead will fester. <br /> <br /> In fact, you could see the disgust coarsing through Meyer’s very being as he talked about his team’s shortcomings, particularly a defense that needs to shore up in several areas and find an identity.<br /> <br /> Does <strong>Luke Fickell</strong> get to keep his fingerprints on the defense? That seems questionable now, perhaps even doubtful.<br /> <br /> Will the philosophy change? Possibly, but first Meyer and his staff need to make sure they are bringing in the requisite topflight athletes and grooming them the right way.<br /> <br /> We know <strong>Everett Withers</strong>, the listed co-coordinator of the defense as well as safeties coach, is on his way out. Withers immediately will slide into a head coaching role at James Madison after wowing the hierarchy there in the interview process.<br /> <br /> There are rumors that <strong>Kerry Coombs</strong>, OSU’s super-charged cornerbacks coach, could be used in another capacity. Coombs probably would thrive as a special teams coach and unofficial recruiting coordinator.<br /> <br /> But do you demote Fickell in that case? Do you bring in a defensive coordinator who can double as a secondary coach? Would Fickell maybe see the writing on the wall and chase a head coaching job himself?<br /> <br /> There are lots of questions out there.<br /> <br /> What tends to get lost in all the offseason speculation is a fair assessment of the talent at hand. The Buckeyes were dealing with lots of personnel issues in Miami.<br /> <br /> Almost as soon as it was discovered that top cornerback <strong>Bradley Roby</strong> was not recovering well from bone bruise suffered vs. the Spartans, Meyer was announcing as the team got off the plane in Florida that defensive end <strong>Noah Spence</strong> didn’t make the trip.<br /> <br /> Spence later was suspended for the Orange Bowl and the first two games next season – vs. Navy in Baltimore, Md., and the home-opener with Virginian Tech, by the way – for taking a Big Ten-banned dietary supplement.<br /> <br /> Michigan State lost the services of middle linebacker <strong>Max Bullough</strong> under similar circumstances but overcame the setback of team’s most dependable defender and knocked off Stanford in the Rose Bowl.<br /> <br /> Converted linebacker <strong>Jamal Marcus</strong> and <strong>Adolphus Washington</strong> played admirably in Spence’s place against Clemson – and freshman <strong>Joey Bosa</strong> was a warrior on the other side, even after hurting his leg – but the loss of Roby proved costly as <strong>Armani Reeves</strong> once again struggled at corner.<br /> <br /> Also, shifting redshirt freshman <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong> to safety to allow true freshman <strong>Vonn Bell</strong> to play nickel added to the growing pains, although Bell improved as the game went along, logged seven tackles and made an impressive interception.<br /> <br /> In the end, though, All-American wide receiver <strong>Sammy Watkins</strong> tortured the OSU secondary with Orange Bowl high-water marks of 16 catches for 227 yards. He caught two <strong>Tajh Boyd</strong> aerials for touchdowns and allowed his receiver mates to work against single coverage.<br /> <br /> Speaking of Boyd, he not only completed 31 of 40 passes for 378 yards and five TDs, he also rushed for 127 yards, an Orange Bowl record for a quarterback.<br /> <br /> There is no shame in losing to a hungry Tigers team with Boyd and Watkins on top of their game, but there still is reason for frustration.<br /> <br /> Boyd opened the scoring by darting right up the gut of the OSU defense for a 48-yard score, his career long. It was a painful reminder that middle linebacker <strong>Curtis Grant</strong>, slowed by injury and often not on the field when OSU was in nickel, was a ghost this season. Against Clemson, the junior made one assisted tackle.<br /> <br /> How porous was OSU? Clemson racked up 576 yards of offense, scored 40 points and converted 7 of 13 third-down plays despite a whopping 15 penalties, the majority of which came on the offensive end.<br /> <br /> Once again, the Buckeyes looked powerless to stop a polished passing game and made very few eye-opening tackles.<br /> <br /> However, the Buckeyes did show a little pluck on that side of the ball. Bosa recorded a sack while dragging around a leg. Linebacker <strong>Josh Perry</strong> played one of his best games as a Buckeye while logging a team-high 10 tackles. Marcus had a bust-out performance and added six stops. Bell’s timely interception slowed Clemson’s early momentum and <strong>C.J. Barnett</strong> picked Boyd with 1:18 to play to provide one last chance.<br /> <br /> But as was the case against MSU, the offense faltered down the stretch. In fact, <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>, who admitted afterward his shoulder was aching with pain, threw a pick on the very next play and OSU had to walk away in defeat.<br /> <br /> Many analysts have compared the two-game slide at the end of the season to a similar crash in 1995. That Ohio State team was rolling toward a potential national championship until a 31-23 loss at Michigan. Failing to even slow down <strong>Tim Biakabutuka</strong> and an undefeated season crumbling at the hands of a team from That State Up North was so demoralizing that the Buckeyes also lost to <strong>Peyton Manning</strong> and Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl.<br /> <br /> This year it was that other northern team that ruined the Big Ten party and Clemson that rained on the bowl parade in Florida.<br /> <br /> In reality, though, the 2013 OSU season reminds me more of 1997. Even though the Buckeyes already had a loss before heading to Michigan they came up a few plays short against a very high quality league opponent and were a little overwhelmed by a current ACC team, Florida State, in the Sugar Bowl.<br /> <br /> That was a very talented Buckeye team with individual star power and lots of promising youngsters. But it simply wasn’t good enough to be a true national championship contender.<br /> <br /> Ditto for this year’s squad. And before you fly off the handle and tell me the Buckeyes were this close to playing in the BCS title game, ask yourself this: Did you really want to see this defense try to contain <strong>Jameis Winston</strong> with the entire country watching intently?<br /> <br /> Didn’t think so. http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-04/Reality_Has_Orange_Tint.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-04/Reality_Has_Orange_Tint.aspx 8f5f64f2-61e1-40b1-8b04-1f975b53838b Sat, 04 Jan 2014 22:26:29 GMT QB Duel Portends Orange Shootout With the Orange Bowl drawing ever closer, the anticipation for a top-12 matchup of Ohio State and Clemson has centered on the quarterbacks.<br /> <br /> OSU junior <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> is billed as a running quarterback who can throw a little and Clemson senior <strong>Tajh Boyd</strong> as a thrower who can run when necessary.<br /> <br /> There is truth in the statement.<br /> <br /> However, Boyd is actually an outstanding athlete who simply hasn’t needed to take off much this season. His protection has been solid, his accuracy eye-popping, and it’s never a bad idea to wait another tick and look downfield for All-American receiver <strong>Sammy Watkins</strong>.<br /> <br /> Boyd has completed 67.6 percent of his throws and amassed 3,473 yards and 29 touchdowns through the air while being picked nine times. He’s the trigger man for a Tigers team that enters Miami, Fla., with a 10-2 record and an average of 40.2 points per game.<br /> <br /> Miller, meanwhile, is more powerfully built and explosive when escaping trouble or darting from the pocket. He went over 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight season, found the end zone himself 10 times, and averages 6.8 yards per carry.<br /> <br /> He’s led OSU to a 12-1 record this season – 24-1 in two years under head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> and offensive coordinator <strong>Tom Herman</strong> – and is the main reason why the unit has evolved this season.<br /> <br /> While backup <strong>Kenny Guiton</strong> also was outstanding in his place early in the season, Miller has shaken off injury and become the catalyst for an offense that is averaging 46.3 ppg, which ranks fourth among FBS teams.<br /> <br /> However, labeling Miller purely as an athlete who happens to play quarterback is no longer accurate and doesn’t do justice to the improvement he has made as a thrower. Clemson coach <strong>Dabo Swinney</strong> pointed out as much earlier this week and his players are starting to get the message.<br /> <br /> In fact, Clemson safety <strong>Robert Smith</strong> said the defense is concerned with everything Miller can do.<br /> <br /> “Anytime you play a dual threat quarterback, there’s always that element of running with pulling up and throwing the ball,” Smith said. “I think a lot of people underestimate Braxton Miller’s passing ability. I actually think that Braxton Miller, the more I watch film, is a great passer.<br /> <br /> “A lot of people don’t see it as much because he can run really well. I think another element that makes you respect him even more is because he is a great passer. He has a great arm and strong arm.”<br /> <br /> Miller is yet to have a 300-yard passing day as a Buckeye but he certainly has become more formidable as a passer this season. He’s completing 63.2 percent of his throws for 1,860 yards, 22 TDs and just five interceptions.<br /> <br /> However, it’s time to crank it back up. Miller was just 6 for 15 throwing for 133 yards in the 42-41 win over Michigan on Nov. 30 and only 8 for 21 for 101 yards in the 34-24 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 7.<br /> <br /> Part of the problem has been a nagging ankle injury that has slowed receiver <strong>Philly Brown</strong>, who leads OSU with 55 catches for 655 yards and 10 scores. Brown claims he’s almost completely recovered and will be able to make sharp cuts against the Tigers’ secondary.<br /> <br /> <strong>Devin Smith</strong> has been more dynamic, averaging 15.6 yards per catch to Brown’s 11.9. Veterans Evan Spencer and Chris Fields provide even more targets for the Buckeyes, who have hinted they will let fly with their passing game in the Orange Bowl.<br /> <br /> “They play with an edge and they have speed,” Robert Smith said. “We face a lot of receivers with speed, but they probably have about three or four with real good speed and I think that’s something you always have to be aware of.”<br /> <br /> Herman will try to make use of that outside speed and counterbalance it with an equally heavy dose of running back <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong>, who has 1,408 rushing yards in 10 games this season.<br /> <br /> “They have a great tandem,” Clemson linebacker <strong>Stephone Anthony</strong> said. “They have the speed and the power. We need to play assignment football. You need to be focused and aware of what is going on.”<br /> <br /> And Miller taking off with the football no doubt will be part of the attack.<br /> <br /> “He’s probably the fastest quarterback I’ve ever seen,” Tigers defensive tackle <strong>Grady Jarrett</strong> said. “The way he breaks away from guys, you need to get him before he gets going. He’s a really good athlete. He makes a lot of good passes. When you’re playing college football, these are the types of athletes you want to play against.”<br /> <br /> The Tigers, of course, have a pretty good reference point having already faced Heisman Trophy winner <strong>Jameis Winston</strong> of Florida State as well Georgia’s <strong>Aaron Murray</strong> and South Carolina’s <strong>Connor Shaw</strong>, two of the top dropback passers in the college game.<br /> <br /> “Against top quarterbacks, you can’t make mistakes; you have to capitalize on opportunities that you get,” Jarrett said. “When you’re going against the best players in the nation, there’s not a lot of room for error.<br /> <br /> “I feel like going up against the quarterbacks we have already faced, it has prepared us. But I feel like we are going up against whole different animal in Braxton Miller because he just brings so much to the table. We have a great challenge but I feel like we’ll be ready.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Boyd Also A Headache</strong><br /> <br /> Boyd is slightly more accomplished and weathered than Miller, and his matchup with Ohio State brings to mind his time as a topflight recruit and him nearly becoming a Buckeye.<br /> <br /> “My recruiting process was pretty wild kind of deal,” recalled Boyd, who strongly considered saying yes to fomer OSU coach <strong>Jim Tressel</strong> before opting for Clemson. “If I would have committed at the Army All-American game during my recruiting process, I would have been a Buckeye right now.<br /> <br /> “But getting the chance to go down there and meet <strong>Roderick McDowell</strong> and meet <strong>Malliciah Goodman</strong>, those guys like that, really kind of helped change the course of it. Definitely feel like this is the best spot for me. I couldn’t have picked a better school.<br /> <br /> “It is kind of surreal to end your final game as a Clemson Tiger against Ohio State. It’s going to be fun.”<br /> <br /> Boyd is looking to feast on an Ohio State defense that has allowed more than 1,000 yards passing the last three games including a 300-plus, career day for MSU’s <strong>Connor Cook</strong>.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes plan to make a few changes at the back end with <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong> stepping in for <strong>Corey “Pitt” Brown</strong> at one of the safety spots and freshman <strong>Vonn Bell</strong> taking over at nickel for Powell.<br /> <br /> Also, middle linebacker <strong>Curtis Grant</strong> is expected to be available despite a lower-back injury.<br /> <br /> However, it appears top cover corner <strong>Bradley Roby</strong> is out because of a bone bruise in his knee joint and defensive end <strong>Noah Spence</strong>, the team leader in sacks, has been suspended because of an undisclosed Big Ten rule – although the Columbus Dispatch reported Spence took an unapproved dietary supplement.<br /> <br /> Those losses could spell trouble for a pass defense that already was limping into Miami.<br /> <br /> Even when challenged, Boyd has shown he can make all the throws and light up the scoreboard.<br /> <br /> Said OSU linebacker <strong>Josh Perry</strong>, “He can throw the ball well and he can run well. That’s hard to defend. When you have a quarterback that can run, that adds an extra guy. He’s going to put the ball in the right spot, so, you’ve got to be really, really, good at what you do. You have to be able to recognize plays and be in the right spots.”<br /> <br /> Even with weeks to prepare for Boyd and the Clemson offense, defensive coordinator <strong>Luke Fickell</strong> admits the Buckeyes will have their hands full.<br /> <br /> “I guess you have a lot more time to evaluate him and to watch him and to try to think of the things that you can do to give yourself a better chance,” Fickell said, “but the reality is you got to do what you do, and you’ve got to continue to get better at those kinds of things. We know he’’ got all the ability to make … I mean, we recruited him too. We know exactly who he is and what he is and watched him.”<br /> <br /> Even more daunting is trying to figure out ways to keep Boyd from finding Watkins, who racked up 85 catches for 1,237 receiving yards and 10 TDs in the regular season.<br /> <br /> NFL Hall of Famer and former Buckeye <strong>Cris Carter</strong>, who has been around the team this week to offer his support, believes Watkins will be the top wideout in the draft and is nearly unstoppable.<br /> <br /> When asked if he’s seen a better college receiver, OSU senior safety <strong>C.J. Barnett</strong> said, “I don’t think so. I think he’s one of the fastest guys in college football. Great athlete. Play-making ability is out of the roof. We’ll have our hands full containing him, but I think our coaching staff will do a good job putting us in position to make plays.”<br /> <br /> And there are going to be other receiving threats in orange – rangy receivers who can turn a game on a dime.<br /> <br /> “I don’t know that we’ve seen a crew like that throughout the entire season,” Fickell said. “Probably offensively, we see a bunch of that similar stuff to what they do maybe from our offense is probably the closest thing that we see.”<br /> <br /> It all points to a shootout with each team struggling to get defensive stops. But for the Buckeyes overcoming the loss of key personnel just enough will be the key.<br /> <br /> “That’s tough, but that’s why you’ve got these other guys,” Fickell said. “It’s a part of the game that you don’t always account for, but it’s a reality.<br /> <br /> “In the NFL, you can go and get <strong>Jon Kitna</strong> at 41 years old off of waivers and get him out of teaching junior high or high school math and pull him onto your team. For us, we can’t. We’ve got to develop that freshman kid like Vonn Bell that’s got to go in there and play. We’ve got to put more weight on a guy like C.J. Barnett and <strong>Ryan Shazier</strong> and <strong>Jamal Marcus</strong> and say, if the guy can’t go, we’ve got to step up.<br /> <br /> “It’s a part of the game. We’ve got to deal with it. We can’t dwell on it. We can’t whine and complain about it. Next man up.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-03/QB_Duel_Portends_Orange_Shootout.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/14-01-03/QB_Duel_Portends_Orange_Shootout.aspx fa2d0078-227c-4a61-949b-bbef277e5bdb Fri, 03 Jan 2014 08:19:20 GMT Back In The BCS Spotlight Fifteen years ago, Ohio State fans were lamenting being left at the doorstep of the national championship game in the first year of the BCS – which was called the Bowl Coalition and then the Bowl Alliance in the six years prior to its inception.<br /> <br /> <strong>John Cooper</strong>’s Buckeyes were the preseason No. 1 team in 1998 and threatened to go wire-to-wire atop the polls until a fateful November Saturday resulted in the loss of a 24-9 lead over Michigan State and a painful 28-24 defeat.<br /> <br /> The national illustration painting that picture was an Associated Press photo that showed the late <strong>Orlas King</strong>, then known as the Neutron Man, sobbing with his arms around his equally crestfallen sons.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes won at Iowa the following week and rolled Michigan two weeks later but still needed all kinds of help to make it to the top two of the standings. Almost everything fell in place – almost. The exception was Tennessee getting a gift from the football gods when Arkansas quarterback <strong>Clint Stoerner</strong> infamously fumbled in the final minutes trying to run out the clock with a 24-22 lead at UT.<br /> <br /> The “Stoernover” allowed the Vols to reach the SEC title game and then the national championship in Tempe, Ariz., where they defeated a QB-less Florida State team for the ’98 title.<br /> <br /> However, the Buckeyes defeated Texas A&amp;M in the Cotton Bowl and finished No. 2 in the national polls. They also began what has been a pretty enviable run in the BCS, which is now in its 16th year.<br /> <br /> In fact, Ohio State’s date with Clemson in the Jan. 3 Orange Bowl will mark the program’s 10th BCS bowl appearance, the most of any school since the formula came to fruition in 1998. OSU holds a 6-3 record in those contests, although two of the losses came in BCS title contests.<br /> <br /> Oklahoma is the only program on the heels of Ohio State as the Sooners will face Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to make their ninth BCS bowl appearance. However, Oklahoma owns just a 3-5 record in such games and at one point lost five straight during the Bob Stoops era.<br /> <br /> The following is a quick look back at Ohio State’s nine previous BCS bowl appearances (gameday rankings in parentheses):<br /> <br /> <strong>* 1999 Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1, 1999 at New Orleans): Ohio State (3) 24, Texas A&amp;M 14 –</strong> Putting the loss to Sparty aside, the Buckeyes didn’t play lights-out but still outclassed the Aggies, leading to speculation that they actually might have been the best in the country.<br /> <br /> Quarterback <strong>Joe Germaine</strong> capped a record-breaking senior season by completing 21 of 38 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, tailback <strong>Joe Montgomery</strong> rushed for 96 yards and a score.<br /> <br /> Special teams also got involved as <strong>Derek Ross</strong> blocked a punt that <strong>Kevin Griffin</strong> recovered and returned for a touchdown. OSU finished the campaign 11-1.<br /> <br /> <strong>* 2003 Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 3, 2003, at Tempe, Ariz.): Ohio State (2) 31, Miami (Fla.) (1) 24, double overtime –</strong> Despite a charm-filled 13-0 regular season and possessing a loaded roster including freshman running back <strong>Maurice Clarett</strong>, Ohio State entered the game a double-digit underdog.<br /> <br /> The Hurricanes had NFL talent all over the place – do the names <strong>Andre Johnson</strong>, <strong>Kellen Winslow Jr.</strong>, <strong>Willis McGahee</strong>, <strong>Sean Taylor</strong>, <strong>Jonathan Vilma</strong> and <strong>Vince Wilfork</strong> ring a bell? – and were the defending national champs. They also were riding a 34-game winning streak.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes didn’t overwhelm Miami statistically but made the winning plays, including several clutch runs from QB <strong>Craig Krenzel</strong>, who was named Fiesta Bowl MVP.<br /> <br /> Krenzel threw for 122 yards and rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns. Clarett also had two TDs on the ground including the game winner. Defensive backs <strong>Michael Doss</strong> and <strong>Dustin Fox</strong> had key interceptions.<br /> <br /> OSU’s 14-0 season, which came in coach <strong>Jim Tressel</strong>’s second year at the helm, was the first in Division I-A history.<br /> <br /> <strong>* 2004 Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 2, 2004, at Tempe, Ariz.): Ohio State (7) 35, Kansas State (8) 28 –</strong> A year after OSU’s glorious win in the desert, the Buckeyes returned and rekindled some of the magic in a fairly wild bowl win over <strong>Bill Snyder</strong>’s Wildcats.<br /> <br /> OSU actually led 35-14 but had to hang on after a furious K-State rally. Krenzel finished his career 24-3 as a starter and made full use of his top weapons as he threw for 189 yards and four touchdowns – two each to wideouts <strong>Michael Jenkins</strong> and <strong>Santonio Holmes</strong>.<br /> <br /> While finishing an 11-2 season, the Buckeyes got busy on punt block again as <strong>Harlan Jacobs</strong> smothered a K-State kick attempt and <strong>John Hollins</strong> recovered it for a touchdown.<br /> <br /> <strong>* 2006 Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 2, 2006, at Tempe, Ariz.): Ohio State (4) 34, Notre Dame (6) 20 –</strong> This was a fun one. Returning to Tempe for the third time in four years, the Buckeyes produced a multitude of big plays and overwhelmed the Irish with 617 yards total offense.<br /> <br /> Quarterback <strong>Troy Smith</strong> hinted at his Heisman year to come with 342 yards passing including picture perfect aerials that led to an 80-yard TD by Holmes and a 56-yarder to <strong>Ted Ginn Jr.</strong> The defense made plays, too, especially All-American linebacker <strong>A.J. Hawk</strong>. He led the way with 12 tackles, 3.5 for loss, and added two sacks and a forced fumble in his final game in scarlet and gray.<br /> <br /> Notre Dame famously won both games against OSU in the mid-1930s and the Buckeyes paid off the debt with convincing wins over <strong>Lou Holtz</strong>’s squads in 1995 and ’96. This served as the rubber game and allowed Ohio State to take a 3-2 all-time lead in the series matching the two college football superpowers.<br /> <br /> <strong>* 2007 BCS National Championship Game (Jan. 8, 2007, at Glendale, Ariz.): Florida (2) 41, Ohio State (1) 14 –</strong> Here’s where it started to go bad for the Buckeyes, especially in the Tressel era. After a 4-0 start in BCS bowls and a 3-0 mark under Tressel, the return to the Grand Canyon State felt like a fall into a deep chasm.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes, perhaps too comfortable with the surroundings and the supposed karma attached to trying to win another national championship in the Phoenix area, never found their footing in this one.<br /> <br /> The start couldn’t have been better as Ginn raced 98 yards with the opening kickoff, propelling OSU to an immediate 7-0 lead and sending the Buckeye fans at University of Phoenix Stadium into a frenzy. However, in the excitement, fellow wide receiver <strong>Roy Hall</strong> jumped on Ginn and collapsed the speedster’s leg, effectively knocking him out of the contest.<br /> <br /> Smith was a dreadful 4 of 14 passing without one of his top targets and behind an offensive line that simply couldn’t block the Gators’ speed rushers.<br /> <br /> Florida held Ohio State to just 82 yards total offense – the lowest output in any of the 67 BCS bowls played to date. Smith managed just 35 yards passing, threw an interception and was sacked five times.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, future Heisman winner <strong>Tim Tebow</strong>, just a freshman at the time, rushed for a touchdown and threw one for Florida, coached by <strong>Urban Meyer</strong>.<br /> <br /> <strong>* 2008 BCS National Championship Game (Jan. 7, 2008, at New Orleans): LSU (2) 38, Ohio State (1) 24 –</strong> Again, a thrilling start to the game wasn’t enough for the Buckeyes, who were dumped in the title game for the second straight year.<br /> <br /> OSU, in fact, opened a two-score lead at 10-0 after running back <strong>Beanie Wells</strong>’ electrifying 65-yard touchdown run. Wells ran away from LSU’s vaunted defensive backfield, for a moment putting to bed the myth about SEC speed.<br /> <br /> However, the Buckeyes soon after became their own worst enemy with a plethora of mistakes, which included seven penalties and three turnovers. The Tigers defense also began to tee off on QB <strong>Todd Boeckman</strong> and sacked him five times.<br /> <br /> Boeckman did manage to throw TD tosses to the <strong>Brian</strong>s – <strong>Hartline</strong> and <strong>Robiske</strong> – but fell to 11-2. Former Michigan assistant Les Miles stood holding the crystal football as LSU fans celebrated raucously in the Superdome.<br /> <br /> <strong>* 2009 Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 5, 2009, at Glendale, Ariz.): Texas (3) 24, Ohio State (10) 21 –</strong> The Buckeyes appeared to have the winning formula with a trick play working for a score and <strong>Boom Herron</strong> churning out yards against a sturdy UT defense.<br /> <br /> A late touchdown had the Buckeyes in front, but veteran Texas rifleman <strong>Colt McCoy</strong> found the sliver he needed. The cool QB was able to find <strong>Quan Cosby</strong>, who beat safety <strong>Anderson Russell</strong> for the game-winning 26-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds left. McCoy ended up 41 of 58 passing for 414 yards and two touchdowns.<br /> <br /> Boeckman lost his starting job to freshman sensation <strong>Terrelle Pryor</strong> but the two were able to team up for a memorable touchdown in the game. Pryor split out to receiver and caught a perfectly thrown Boeckman lob in the end zone for a 5-yard TD.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes, though, had to settle for a 10-3 season and their second straight loss in Glendale.<br /> <br /> <strong>* 2010 Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, 2010, at Pasadena, Calif.): Ohio State (8) 26, Oregon (7) 17 –</strong> Playing in their first Rose Bowl since the epic last-second win over Arizona State on Jan. 1, 1997, the Buckeyes were up to the moment this time as well.<br /> <br /> In fact, they put together a blueprint as to how to slow down Oregon’s high-octane offense by controlling the clock, running the football and smacking the Ducks when on defense.<br /> <br /> Pryor continued to reach up to his endless potential with a career-turning performance – 266 yards passing, TD tosses to <strong>Brandon Saine</strong> and <strong>DeVier Posey</strong>, and another 72 yards rushing. He was named Rose Bowl MVP, joining the likes of <strong>Rex Kern</strong>, <strong>Archie Griffin</strong> and Germaine, the chin-bandaged hero in the triumph over ASU.<br /> <br /> The defense was just as spectacular in taking down one of the nation’s top offenses and holding the Ducks to just 260 yards. LB <strong>Ross Homan</strong>, as he often proved to be, was Johnny on the spot again with a key interception.<br /> <br /> OSU’s three-game BCS losing streak was over, and the Buckeyes also snapped the Big Ten’s six-game Rose Bowl losing skid. OSU won the Rose Bowl for the seventh time in program history.<br /> <strong><br /> * 2011 Sugar Bowl (Jan. 4, 2011, at New Orleans): Ohio State (6) 31, Arkansas (8) 26 –</strong> It’s hard to know how to feel about this game, even now. It turned out to be a goodbye present for Tressel and Pryor as the program was rocked with scandal in the offseason, causing OSU’s highly successful coach to resign under pressure.<br /> <br /> Of course, Tressel brought on some of the unrest himself by addressing the allegations of six players, including four offensive starters, receiving money and tattoos for OSU equipment and forgetting to mention that he knew about the whole thing through a series of emails with a local attorney/former OSU player.<br /> <br /> He also was criticized for bringing and playing the players in question but it appears now that wasn’t even his call to make. Bowl organizers and even Big Ten commissioner <strong>Jim Delany</strong> got involved and made the case for the Buckeyes to be at full strength for a matchup with an SEC power.<br /> <br /> Seeing that the NCAA violations cited in December paired with an investigation were sure to leave him ineligible, Pryor also bolted the program and declared early for entry into the NFL.<br /> <br /> Even so, the Sugar Bowl game itself was palpitating.<br /> <br /> Herron and Pryor, each among those pinpointed by the NCAA, gained tough yardage on the ground and the passing game re-emerged as Pryor threw for 221 yards and connected with Posey and <strong>Dane Sanzenbacher</strong> for touchdowns. Herron also ran for a score.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes were in danger of another last-second defeat like in the bowl game with Texas after the Razorbacks blocked a punt deep in OSU territory. But defensive end <strong>Solomon Thomas</strong>, the least known of OSU’s “Tat Pack,” ended the threat when he dropped into coverage and intercepted a pass from Arkansas’ <strong>Ryan Mallett</strong> with 58 seconds left.<br /> <br /> OSU celebrated under the confetti, finishing 12-1. However, the violations uncovered from a lengthy NCAA investigation led to several sanctions including OSU having to vacate the entire 2010 season.<br /> <br /> Ironically, athletic director <strong>Gene Smith</strong> was seen embracing Thomas after the game. http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-31/Back_In_The_BCS_Spotlight.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-31/Back_In_The_BCS_Spotlight.aspx 72b9152c-f41f-4c7b-ac54-19264ab3d7eb Tue, 31 Dec 2013 17:07:04 GMT Buckeyes Clamp Lousiana-Monroe <br /> <br /> Thad Matta knows the challenges will deepen quickly now that his undefeated Ohio State basketball team is done with its nonconference warmup.<br /> <br /> But perhaps the rest of the Big Ten should be more worried, especially after some of the defensive displays the Buckeyes have put together in their 13-0 start.<br /> <br /> That included Friday night’s 71-31 destruction of Louisiana-Monroe, which didn’t have a clue as to how to string together quality possessions in the first half and had even less luck in the second.<br /> <br /> The headlines show that Lenzelle Smith Jr. led the way with 17 points, LaQuinton Ross added 15, and reserve Amedeo Della Valle tallied 14 in the 40-point win, but it was the defense – stifling defense – that really came to the fore.<br /> <br /> The Christmas-week crowd of 18,534 saw the No. 3 Buckeyes, fresh off their come-from-behind win over Notre Dame in New York City, score the game’s first 12 points as ULM piled up missed shots and turnovers.<br /> <br /> The Warhawks (3-5) lost for the fourth straight time and had no answers. They shot just 23.3 percent in the first half and averaged just a point a minute in the stanza, trailing 41-20 at the break. They ended the game with just 10 field goals in 54 attempts for a startling 18.5 percent.<br /> <br /> The team’s leading scorer was forward Jayon James, who had eight points. ULM was just 3 of 18 (16.7 percent) from behind the arc as the Buckeyes bothered shot after shot.<br /> <br /> Ohio State went into the game fifth in the nation in scoring defense (55.9 points per game) and 13th in field-goal percentage defense (37.9).<br /> <br /> The Warhawks didn’t score until Tylor Ongwae hit a baseline drive at the 15:34 mark.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, Ross – who added 10 rebounds to his 15 points for his second straight double-double – got rolling early, scoring eight of OSU’s first 12 points.<br /> <br /> ULM coach Keith Richard benched his starters to start the second half and never reinserted them. The result was just three made baskets by the visitors after halftime.<br /> <br /> “The only way to make things happen is by playing hard,” Richard said of his tactic in a statement. “I’m about tired of it. It’s been going on at certain times during different games. Those guys just aren’t going to play. We’re not in a good place right now obviously after the last two ballgames, mentally or physically.”<br /> <br /> OSU took advantage of Richard’s disgust by scoring the first 15 points of the second half. The scoring drought didn’t end until Chinedu Amajoyi hit two free throws at the 10:40 mark.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes, who face Purdue in their Big Ten opener on Dec. 31, won their first 13 games in a season for the fifth time in school history, joining teams of 1960-61, ’61-62, ’90-91 and 2010-11.<br /> <br /> After not facing a ranked opponent up until now, the Buckeyes will be tested by the likes of No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 5 Michigan State, No. 22 Iowa and the rest of the conference's bullies.<br /> <br /> “We tell our guys, “You’ve got 18 battles coming up (and) the war is decided in March,’ ” Matta said. “Just from the standpoint of the challenges that lie ahead, that’s what guys sign up for when they come to play at Ohio State. There’s going to be some tremendous battles every night we take the floor.”<br /> <br /> And the Buckeyes sound ready for the step up.<br /> <br /> “The better competition, the more exciting the games are for us,” Ross said. “Sometimes during the nonconference as you play some of these teams that are not as good as you are, you actually play down to (their level). That’s not good for teams. That’s not what you’re supposed to do.<br /> <br /> “Definitely when we come out in Big Ten play, it’s going to be teams that are just as good as us and we’re going to have to play better.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-28/Buckeyes_Clamp_Lousiana-Monroe.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-28/Buckeyes_Clamp_Lousiana-Monroe.aspx c9b74aec-eb29-424b-b584-ab0495a28c12 Sat, 28 Dec 2013 20:22:10 GMT Buckeyes Leave ND Stunned Thievery. Pure thievery.<br /> <br /> That, in a nutshell, is what third-ranked Ohio State accomplished to claim victory No. 12 of the season – and the Buckeyes did it in one of the most famed venues in basketball.<br /> <br /> Trailing Notre Dame by eight points with less than a minute to play, OSU mounted a furious rally to post a stunning 64-61 win over the Fighting Irish on Saturday night in the BlackRock Gotham Classic at Madison Square Garden.<br /> <br /> Senior guards <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> and <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong>, the latter virtually absent the previous 39 minutes of action, were the primary culprits. They made clutch plays on both ends of the floor to erase a 58-50 deficit and keep the Buckeyes undefeated (12-0).<br /> <br /> When asked to summarize the Buckeyes’ ferocious comeback, the head Craft told reporters, “I don’t really know what happened. It was a big blur.<br /> <br /> “We never stopped. We never gave up. Guys were running around getting tips and guys made big free throws.”<br /> <br /> Smith was at the top of that list. After being held scoreless until the eight-point hole, the 6-4 off-guard scored seven of his nine points in the final 33 seconds -- including going 5 for 5 at the free-throw line.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes held every noteworthy statistically advantage in the first half, led 33-26 at the break, and seemed to be in a comfort zone offensively while making half (13 of 26) of their shot attempts.<br /> <br /> However, the Irish got rolling in the second half and continued to make well-defended jumpers, several of them with the shot clock winding down to precious seconds. That included a three by <strong>Jerian Grant</strong> at the shot-clock buzzer that provided a 58-50 lead with 1:54 to play.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, the Buckeyes went 9:10 without a field goal and allowed Notre Dame (8-4) to garner what appeared to be a huge win and eye-opening upset.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes missed out on a couple opportunities to chip the lead after the trey by Grant but eventually worked a play to <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong>, who made a free-throw line jumper with 50 seconds remaining.<br /> <br /> It was the defense’s turn after that as OSU cranked up its fullcourt press, grabbed a pair of steals, and tallied on a Smith layup and <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> free throws in the next 10 seconds to trim the lead to 58-56.<br /> <br /> OSU head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> then called for his team to foul freshman <strong>Demetrius Jackson</strong> in hopes the talented newbie wouldn’t be able to make pressure free throws. Jackson did, however, and Notre Dame led 60-56 with 39.6 seconds to go.<br /> <br /> That’s when everything turned again.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes got the ball in the corner to Smith, the team’s best percentage shooter from deep, and the veteran head-faked a defender out of the way and drew a foul while launching a three. He made all three free throws to bring Ohio State within 60-59 with 32 seconds left.<br /> <br /> Moments later, <strong>Steve Vasturia</strong>, who was in the game because point guard <strong>Eric Atkins</strong> had fouled out, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 31 seconds left. It was his first free throw attempt of the season.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes took the lead, 61-60, when Craft was able to pass through a double team – and manage not to charge into a defender – and find Smith for a twisting layup with 16 seconds to go.<br /> <br /> On the other end, Grant tried to make a play of his own but committed a turnover when Craft reached in and ripped the ball loose, causing it to g out of bounds off the ND guard.<br /> <br /> “I’m a senior and I have to find a way to not turn the ball over when we didn’t have our point guard in there,” Grant lamented afterward.<br /> <br /> Again, it was Smith at the line and again he came through, calmly canning both attempts for a 63-60 lead with 9.8 seconds left.<br /> <br /> Craft fouled Grant before he could fire a three and Grant made only 1 of 2 at the charity stripe.<br /> <br /> Craft could have iced the improbable win with two free throws with 3.3 seconds and the Buckeyes up 63-61, but he missed the second attempt, leading to one more palpitating moment.<br /> <br /> Jackson was able to launch a three near his bench and had a pretty good look at it, but the potential game-tying shot bounded long at the buzzer.<br /> <br /> “I’m still trying to figure out what happened,” Matta said. “My mind was fixated on if we wanted to foul with the time situation or do we play it out defensively and all of a sudden it was closer and closer and closer and we get the lead. It happened quick. It was a great win.”<br /> <br /> Notre Dame coach <strong>Mike Brey</strong>, meanwhile, was left to wonder about his team’s ball-handling vs. OSU’s press.<br /> <br /> “They really turned the heat up on us and flustered us,” Brey said. “We had a hard time doing anything right. We didn’t have Atkins but the other guys should have handled it better.”<br /> <br /> Ross had 16 points and 11 rebounds for Ohio State while <strong>Amir Williams</strong> had 13 points. Scott and Craft each added 10 and Smith nearly put all five starters in double figures with nine points.<br /> <br /> OSU’s normally productive bench came up with just six points – all by swingman <strong>Sam Thompson</strong>.<br /> <br /> Grant led ND with 18 points for Notre Dame. Center <strong>Garrick Sherman</strong>, an Ohio native and Michigan State transfer, had 14 points while guard <strong>Pat Connaughton</strong> added 13, two on a vicious dunk down the lane midway through the second half.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes shot just 34.5 percent (10 of 29) in the second half and couldn’t buy a three-pointers after halftime, missing all nine attempts.<br /> <br /> However, they cut into leads of 52-44 and 58-50 the old-fashioned way – steady offense leading to two-point field goals and free throws as well as highly active defense.<br /> <br /> Scott had six of OSU’s 12 assists and was one of six Buckeyes to play at least 21 minutes. Freshman <strong>Marc Loving</strong> received just four minutes of playing time and put up just one shot while <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong>, who spelled Smith for a key stretch of the second half, didn’t score in seven minutes.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes won their only neutral-site game of the regular season. They are 10-0 at home and won at Marquette on Nov. 16. Next up is a home date with Louisiana-Monroe on Friday followed by the Big Ten opener at Purdue on New Year’s Eve.<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-22/Buckeyes_Leave_ND_Stunned.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-22/Buckeyes_Leave_ND_Stunned.aspx 3fc51367-3a97-4b11-9039-2d59f0189655 Sun, 22 Dec 2013 20:50:34 GMT Withers Accepts JMU Post <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> used to tease through the media that co-defensive coordinator <strong>Everett Withers</strong> was the only coach on his staff not originally from Ohio and claimed Withers’ “wished he was.”<br /> <br /> Well, on Friday night, it was announced Withers is headed back to the South – he’s the new head coach at James Madison University.<br /> <br /> Athletic director <strong>Jeff Bourse</strong> made if official, proclaiming in a statement that he had just hired Withers to head up the FCS program, which is based in Harrisonburg, Va.<br /> <br /> “Everett is a proven winner and has shown his ability to lead,” Bourse said. “The entire committee was incredibly impressed when we met with him.”<br /> <br /> Withers already is back in Columbus and will remain a member of the OSU defensive brain trust through the Orange Bowl matchup with Clemson on Jan. 3.<br /> <br /> The 50-year-old Withers is familiar with what used to be the Division II level of college football as he was a standout defensive back at Appalachian State in the 1980s. When he served as interim head coach at North Carolina in 2011 – the same year co-coordinator <strong>Luke Fickell</strong> had to take over at Ohio State – Withers posted a 7-6 record including UNC’s season-opening 42-10 win was against James Madison.<br /> <br /> A native of Charlotte, N.C., Withers has a vast coaching background. He started out as a coordinator at Austin Peay from 1988-89 and went on to assistant coaching stints at Tulane (1991), Southern Miss (1992-93), Louisville (1995-97), Texas (1998-2000), Minnesota (2007) and North Carolina (2008-10).<br /> <br /> In between, Withers also coached in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints (1994) and Tennessee Titans (2001-2006).<br /> <br /> When Meyer hired him two years ago to coach the Ohio State safeties and be a prominent member of the defensive staff, Withers had a well-earned reputation as an architect of aggressive, takeaway-oriented defenses.<br /> <br /> From 2002 to 2004, the Titans amassed 57 interceptions, the best three-year total in franchise history. In his first year at UNC, his defense totaled 20 interceptions, one shy of the school record. The next year the Tar Heels ranked sixth in total defense in the nation, totaled 19 interceptions and set an ACC record with 508 interception return yards. Withers’ defense matched that interception total the following year, bringing the three-year total to 58.<br /> <br /> Ohio State’s secondary struggled at times the past two years – although much of the fan ire seemed to be directed at Fickell – but Withers still leaves as part of OSU’s school-record 24-game winning streak.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes (12-1) head into the Orange Bowl in seventh place in the BCS standings but coming off a 34-24 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game.<br /> <br /> “I’m happy for Coach Withers, and his family,” Meyer said. “Everett is extremely well-respected in the coaching profession and I’ve enjoyed having him on our staff. He is a great family man, cares about his players and is an excellent recruiter. I expect that he will be a fine head coach.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-21/Withers_Accepts_JMU_Post.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-21/Withers_Accepts_JMU_Post.aspx 4a869046-e40f-454e-9c1a-5ae4cd0f0e2f Sat, 21 Dec 2013 18:18:33 GMT Buckeyes Improve To 11-0 Wednesday night in a home game with Delaware, No. 3 Ohio State expected the run to come, the fans at the Schottenstein Center pleaded for it, and the Blue Hens feared it.<br /> <br /> And then it happened.<br /> <br /> Struggling to open up a lead of around 10 points for much of the second half, the Buckeyes put together a 15-0 burst and finally penned the Hens in an eventual 76-64 victory.<br /> <br /> OSU improved to 11-0 in the process – every win by double digits. <strong>Thad Matta</strong>’s crew continued to get offensive production from forward <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong>, who led the way with 19 points, and a balanced effort.<br /> <br /> <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> continued his steady play with 14 points, fellow senior <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> had 12, center <strong>Amir Williams</strong> contributed 11 points and 12 rebounds, and reserve guard <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong> was active on both ends of the floor and came up with 10 points.<br /> <br /> Even though the final box score was impressive – OSU also held a 46-30 advantage on the boards and gathers eight steals and seven blocks – the Buckeyes couldn’t get chugging for much of the game and made just 24 of 59 shots (40.7 percent).<br /> <br /> “Sometimes you have games where it’s not clicking the way you want it to,” Matta said. “The difference between good teams and great teams is great teams can figure it out. We did momentarily at the end of the first half, but we couldn’t sustain it.”<br /> <br /> OSU entered the game having made at least 52 percent of its field-goal attempts in its least five games. That flow was absent this time. However, the run was timely. Riding a 12-0 surge, the Buckeyes took a 37-26 lead to the locker room at halftime. They stretched the lead to 14, 40-26, when Ross hit a three moments into the new period.<br /> <br /> Still, Delaware (5-6) was hard to shake and even cut the lead under 10 points several times thereafter.<br /> <br /> “Our guys stood toe-to-toe for the most part with who I’m going to call the best team in the country,” Delaware coach <strong>Monte Ross</strong> said. “I’m just going to say that and I’m going to keep saying that because we played them. I hope they win every game the rest of the way.”<br /> <br /> The Hens still trailed just 50-40 when Ross scored in a the paint after an offensive rebound and, moments later, Della Valle hit a trey from the left corner.<br /> <br /> After a defensive stop, Della Valle added another three from the right wing to up the score to 60-44 with 10:28 remaining.<br /> <br /> Delaware cut it to 63-54 on <strong>Davon Usher</strong>’s layup with right around six minutes remaining but OSU responded with five straight points including another post-up basket by Ross to provide a 68-54 lead.<br /> <br /> Delaware still wasn’t slain with less than two minutes remaining, trailing 68-60, but Smith came through with a jumper and two free throws.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes got 20 points from their bench – half of them from Della Valle while <strong>Marc Loving</strong>, <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> and <strong>Trey McDonald</strong> all had positive moments.<br /> <br /> “Those guys played great and came in with great energy when some of our starters didn’t,” Craft said. “Sometimes that’s what it takes.”<br /> <br /> While not as deep, the Blue Hens were a worthy adversary and showed they could hold their own in the backcourt. Playing in their second of three games in six days, all in the BlackRock Gotham Classic, the Hens were led by <strong>Devon Saddler</strong>’s 17 points. <strong>Jarvis Threatt</strong> added 14.<br /> <br /> Both teams next head to New York City and will play in the final round of the Classic at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. The Blue Hens will meet Bryant in the first game followed by Ohio State-Notre Dame (7:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2).<br /> <br /> The Blue Hens fell to 0-8 against Big Ten teams, 0-17 vs. top-10 teams and 0-29 against ranked opponents. The only time they played a higher-ranked team was No. 2 Duke last season.<br /> <br /> “I told our guys coming in, we couldn't blink,” Coach Ross said. “It was a terrific environment for college basketball that Ohio State, overstating the obvious, is used to playing in. But our guys didn’t shrink from the moment or the atmosphere.”<br /> <br /> Still, Matta’s preconference success, especially at home, continued. Plus, the Buckeyes are 11-0 for the third time in his 10 years as OSU coach.<br /> <br /> The 2005-06 team won its first 11 games, lost its 12th, and went on to win an outright Big Ten championship. Two years ago, the Buckeyes started 24-0, won the regular-season and Big Ten tournament crowns, and headed to the NCAA Tournament as the nation’s No. 1 team.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-19/Buckeyes_Improve_To_11-0.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-19/Buckeyes_Improve_To_11-0.aspx a41ee1dc-fcd6-4a85-917f-49b6c947c18c Thu, 19 Dec 2013 15:56:25 GMT McMillan Provides Jolt At LB Still smarting from the Buckeyes’ loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, some Ohio State fans would like to see head coach Urban Meyer show defensive coordinator Luke Fickell the door.<br /> <br /> But Fickell isn’t likely to go anywhere if he keeps helping to lure in topflight talent and has much more to work with next season – and the future at linebacker, the position Fickell coaches, is very bright.<br /> <br /> The OSU coaching staff already has very solid verbals from three in-state mega-talents who project at linebacker in Dante Booker of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Kyle Berger of Cleveland St. Ignatius and Sam Hubbard of Cincinnati Moeller. Booker recently was named Ohio’s “Mr. Football” by The Associated Press.<br /> <br /> On Monday, that group was upstaged when Raekwon McMillan, the top-rated inside linebacker in the country, publicly announced that he intends to become a Buckeye.<br /> <br /> A five-star talent at Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County, McMillan chose Ohio State at a ceremony at his high school, picking the Buckeyes over Alabama and Orange Bowl foe Clemson as well as Auburn and Georgia.<br /> <br /> “There was just something special about Ohio State, just on all of the visits and all of the talks with Coach Meyer,” McMillan said before family, friends and reporters. “I built a special bond with Ohio State.<br /> <br /> “The people, the tradition, the excellence, it speaks for itself, man. Every time I visited the campus it was great. The atmosphere is the best I’ve ever seen in my life.”<br /> <br /> The 6-2, 242-pound McMillan becomes commitment No. 18 for Ohio State’s 2014 class, which was ranked seventh nationally according to Rivals.com entering the week. That number likely will trend upward.<br /> <br /> Rivals deems McMillan to be the 19th-best prospect in the nation regardless of position and the top prospect in the recruiting-rich state of Georgia.<br /> <br /> Many analysts had predicted McMillan would choose Ohio State but the suspense built as he became more hushed about his leanings. It probably didn’t hurt that Meyer made the last in-home visit with the youngster on Sunday night.<br /> <br /> McMillan will participate in the Under Armour All-American game in early January before starting classes at Ohio State on Jan. 6. It’s conceivable that he could used that early enrollment and a full spring session to prove he’s worthy of being on the field right away.<br /> <br /> Ohio State is expected to lose All-American linebacker Ryan Shazier to the NFL draft, although the junior recently said he is split down the middle on his impending decision. Even if Shazier leaves early as expected, OSU still would return a pair of starters in MLB Curtis Grant and SLB Josh Perry as well as several promising young ’backers including Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson, well-rated signees of a year ago.<br /> <br /> Some who have followed McMillan’s career believe he is good enough to supplant the injury-prone Grant in the middle of the OSU defense or at least beat out backup Camren Williams, who struggled in limited duty. As the program rebuilds the defense, presumably with Fickell still in place, getting forceful athletes such as McMillan should help turn the tide.<br /> <br /> (To watch highlights of McMillan’s prep career and also see his Monday press conference, click <a href="http://www.610wtvn.com/pages/wtvnsportsblog.html?article=11913290">HERE</a>.)<br /> <br /> Meyer is hoping to keep the good news rolling when West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer wide receiver Johnny Dixon announces his school of choice on Tuesday. Dixon, who led Dwyer to a state championship on Friday night, is expected to decide between Ohio State, Alabama and Miami (Fla.).<br /> <br /> But for now, the current class consists of 18 prep players – linebackers McMillan, Berger, Booker, Hubbard and the following: &nbsp;<br /> <br /> WR Noah Brown of Sparta (N.J.) Pope John XXIII, RB/WR Parris Campbell of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, QB Stephen Collier of Leesburg (Ga.) Lee, DE Jalyn Holmes of Norfolk (Va.) Lake Taylor, S Malik Hooker of New Castle (Pa.) HS, OL Jamarco Jones of Chicago DeLaSalle, OL Marcelys Jones of Cleveland Glenville, OL Demetrius Knox of Fort Worth (Texas) All Saints Episcopal, WR Terry McLaurin of Indianapolis Cathedral, PK Sean Nuernberger of Oldham County (Ky.) HS, WR Curtis Samuel of Brooklyn (N.Y.) Erasmus Hall, DL Dylan Thompson of Lombard (Ill.) Montini Catholic, OT Kyle Trout of Lancaster (Ohio) HS, and CB Damon Webb of Detroit Cass Tech.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-17/McMillan_Provides_Jolt_At_LB.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-17/McMillan_Provides_Jolt_At_LB.aspx f5ebb501-cb6a-4718-a7f1-a6e7fe212d1a Tue, 17 Dec 2013 16:42:01 GMT OSU Continues Nonleague Romp <strong>Thad Matta</strong> knows his Ohio State men’s basketball team has a long way to go, which is why he doesn’t have much reaction to the Buckeyes’ top-five ranking other than to raise his eyebrows.<br /> <br /> OSU entered the week No. 3 in The Associated Press poll and No. 2 in the USA Today coaches poll and presumably will stay on those lofty perches after improving to 10-0 with a 79-62 win over North Dakota State on Saturday night.<br /> <br /> The Bison (7-4) opened the season with losses in two of their first three games but have been the surprise of the BlackRock Gotham Classic. After slipping past Bryant on Dec. 7 they posted an upset victory at Notre Dame, 73-69, on Wednesday night.<br /> <br /> ND State has a true post presence in 6-8, 250-pound senior <strong>Marshall Bjorkland</strong>, who entered shooting an astonishing 71.1 percent from the field this season and just torched the Fighting Irish for 26 points. Of course, few college basketball followers know that – or are aware the Buckeyes were favored by just 12 points despite their elite status.<br /> <br /> Matta probably would have taken a victory by fewer than a dozen points, especially if it included some continued growth by his sometimes hard-to-figure outfit. But he got a 17-point win in which Bjorkland was held to just 12 points and four rebounds.<br /> <br /> Point guard <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> continues to be erratic with his outside shooting, the bench production often wavers, <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> is still trying to shake off a horrid slump with which he opened the season assists have been hard to come by even though the Buckeyes play unselfishly and no longer have to feed and clear the floor for <strong>Deshaun Thomas</strong>.<br /> <br /> However, just like few did more than shrug when the Buckeyes prevailed over the weekend, OSU’s 86-48 win over Bryant on Wednesday was a step in the right direction despite earning much reaction and drawing a tepid crowd of 12,723.<br /> <br /> This is when the building blocks are put in place – and the Buckeyes show they have more than their share when they approach their capabilities on both ends of the court.<br /> <br /> Against Bryant, for example, Ross followed up a 23-point outburst against Central Connecticut State with just nine, but looked settled and more comfortable. He was 4 of 10 from the field, contributed to OSU’s block and steal party with two in each category, and was jovial on the bench when the endliners were on the floor. A few nights later he matched senior guard <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> with a team-high 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, center <strong>Amir Williams</strong> continued his breakthrough season with 12 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots against Bryant. Even though the 6-11 junior made more news for a slip of the tongue in a postgame interview with ex-Buckeyes and BTN broadcaster Jim Jackson, it’s clear Williams is becoming a force – and may actually be ready for his matchup with Bjorkland.<br /> <br /> Also, Smith burned Bryant with a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds. The 6-4 lefty now leads OSU in scoring with 12.9 points per game and has solid shooting percentages across the board – 52.9 from the floor, 47.5 from three-point range and 74.2 at the free-throw line.<br /> <br /> “I think he’s playing at a very, very high level of being a complete basketball player,” Matta said afterward.<br /> <br /> “His defense always goes unnoticed. He has ability to shoot, he’s rebounding. His assist-to-turnover ratio is positive, which it wasn’t last year. He’s had a really, really good demeanor about him in terms of being a senior and it’s my last crack at it.”<br /> <br /> When asked if the media sometimes overlooks all that Smith brings to the table, Matta added, “I’d ask you guys not to give him credit. Something I’ve picked up on last year – he has to have a chip on his shoulder.”<br /> <br /> With freshman <strong>Kam Williams</strong> slated to redshirt, the bench was thinned a bit but still has hinted at being an asset when Big Ten play begins. Forward <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> is a candidate for top sixth man and freshman <strong>Marc Loving</strong> adds both length and outside shooting to the floor. Each had a dozen points off the bench in the win over North Dakota State.<br /> <br /> <strong>Trey McDonald</strong> is now a serviceable replacement along the front line and <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong> provides Matta with a fourth guard to mix in with Craft, Smith and <strong>Shannon Scott</strong>. Against Bryant, Della Valle earned 22 minutes and produced seven points and five rebounds.<br /> <br /> But without a doubt this team will be based on defense. After all, the Buckeyes currently rank 128th in the country in scoring (75.9 ppg) and 163rd in assists (13.1 per game) but can defend with the best of them.<br /> <br /> “They play national championship-caliber defense,” said Bryant coach <strong>Tim O’Shea</strong>, who previously coached for eight years at nearby Ohio University. “They’ve got the length, they’ve got the shot blocking, they’ve got the quickness. They’ve got that great point guard who’s not only a great offensive player, he’s a phenomenal defender.”<br /> <br /> O’Shea, of course, was referring to Craft, considered by many to be the biggest pest in college basketball.<br /> <br /> “There’s no other way around it, he’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the country,” Bryant guard <strong>Dyami Starks</strong> said.<br /> <br /> Starks had 16 points vs. OSU but was just 5 of 15 from the field and committed six turnovers compared to no assists.<br /> <br /> “I felt like the only time when I had him at a good advantage was in the open court when I could get a full head of steam against him, or a ball reversal where I could make a quick move,” he said of his battles with Craft. “But in halfcourt when they’re set with their length and quickness, it’s tough.”<br /> <br /> Bryant managed to connect on only 16 of 58 shot attempts (27.6 percent) and racked up 19 miscues. The Buckeyes took full advantage with a 22-1 showing in points off turnovers.<br /> <br /> “We were able to convert, not as much as we’d like to, but we’re getting 10, 15 steals and we’re getting enough points up on the board off of turnovers from other teams,” Smith said.<br /> <br /> How well Ohio State will fare in Big Ten play, of course, remains to be seen, but it certainly appears the Buckeyes are well on their way to an undefeated nonconference showing if they simply continue to harass foes and make improvements on offense.<br /> <br /> “We’re a good team in our league and we’ll contend for our championship; they’re going to contend for the national championship,” O’Shea insisted. Athletically, they’re an extraordinary bunch.<br /> <br /> “This is the best of the best. There are few teams in the country who will contend for the national championship legitimately and clearly Ohio State is one of them. I don’t know who the others are but you can count them on hand, basically.<br /> <br /> “Our kid, (<strong>Alex</strong>) <strong>Francis</strong>, when we we’re in the Northeast Conference, he’s a beast. He’s just a terror around the basket scoring inside. But tonight, no shot against all that athleticism.” http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-14/OSU_Continues_Nonleague_Romp.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-14/OSU_Continues_Nonleague_Romp.aspx fae49d48-c967-4aa0-a583-9d05bc8b86e2 Sat, 14 Dec 2013 19:14:10 GMT Rapp Around: Up To The Challenge An interconference “Challenge” doesn’t often feature two teams that will soon be league combatants, but that was precisely the case on Wednesday night when No. 5 Ohio State hosted Maryland.<br /> <br /> The day before, OSU head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> was asked if he planned to properly welcome the Terrapins to the Big Ten.<br /> <br /> “That’s easier said than done,” the coach said. “I’ve seen them on tape.<br /> <br /> “They’re a very talented basketball team in terms of they have a lot of guys that can do different things. They’ll move guys around, they shoot the ball well, they execute at a very, very high level offensively. They use a lot of actions that put their players in great position to be successful. And they rebound the ball well. Then you look at their numbers and see they have a great defensive team as well.”<br /> <br /> Maryland entered the fray as recent champions of the Paradise Jam, owning a healthy rebounding advantage and shooting 40.0 percent from three-point range.<br /> <br /> The Terps’ arrival also brought the annual debate as to what really differentiates the two leagues as they clash in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.<br /> <br /> In the end, Ohio State made a pretty strong case for itself and its allegedly more plodding conference by waxing Maryland 76-60 before a crowd of 16,206 at the Schottenstein Center.<br /> <br /> Four players scored in double figures for the Buckeyes (7-0), led by <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong>’ 20, while Maryland (5-3) got a team-best 19 points from <strong>Dez Wells</strong>.<br /> <br /> OSU, which improved to 6-6 all-time in the Challenge, is built on defense. And despite shooting woes early in the season, especially for Ross, they have shown they can clamp down with the best of them.<br /> <br /> On Wednesday, the Buckeyes were their usual pesky selves, holding Maryland to 39.1 percent from the floor even with the Terps grabbing 19 offensive boards and managing to put up 16 more shots than their hosts.<br /> <br /> Maryland usually lets it fly on offense with lanky forwards <strong>Jake Layman</strong> and <strong>Evan Smotrycz</strong> often causing matchup problems with their ability to catch and shoot from long range, Certainly, that has been a factor in previous Challenge contests, most notably at Duke last year when the Buckeyes couldn’t cool down <strong>Ryan Kelly</strong>.<br /> <br /> But on this night Maryland failed to get clean looks even off of penetration. The kickout passes that usually lead to fluid shooting netted just 2 of 18 made three-pointers for Maryland.<br /> <br /> But that’s going to occur a lot this season for those who visit The Schott. Defensive intensity is an Ohio State staple no matter the opponent or the conference from which it hails.<br /> <br /> However, a lot of other myths were dispelled.<br /> <br /> Matta admitted that much of what he heard about the Big Ten was proved true when he began coaching at Ohio State 10 years ago. Referees tended to let a lot of bumps and clutches go. Some teams were content to try to win games scoring 60 points – or fewer. Crowds approved hard-nose play.<br /> <br /> Matta said many power forwards 10 years ago were “big brusiers” who tended to rip down rebounds and punish people on screens. OSU had a hand in changing that by implementing “stretch fours” such as <strong>Matt Sylvester</strong>, <strong>Ivan Harris</strong>, <strong>Othello Hunter</strong> and <strong>Matt Terwilliger</strong>. None of them were lights-out shooters but all of them were encouraged to shoot from deep enough to broaden out defenses.<br /> <br /> Now many Big Ten teams have similar players and philosophies.<br /> <br /> And as far as the idea that ACC big men don’t mix it up, Matta is not buying it, not when he recalls that <strong>Tyler Hansbrough</strong> drew more fouls and free-throw attempts than anyone in the history of the NCAA.<br /> <br /> Of the so-called different styles of play, Matta said, “I think it’s more of a perception, to be honest with you.”<br /> <br /> Still, ask Joe Fan to compare the two conferences and he’ll probably tell you the ACC is more finesse-oriented and likes to play free-flowing basketball while Big Ten teams are more likely to dump the ball inside and knock into people.<br /> <br /> Maryland did struggle with Ohio State’s will but it was actually the Terrapins that tended to play more with their hands and smack the arms of shooters. The Terps committed 23 fouls compared to 15 by Ohio State, which befuddled its guest with the ability to help and recover.<br /> <br /> Also, if there were bonus points for beauty and grace on the court, they would have gone to the Buckeyes simply because of the high-flying act of <strong>Sam “Slam” Thompson</strong>. The 6-7 junior soared above the rim repeatedly and threw down four alley-oop dunks, each one more spectacular and crowd-pleasing as the one before it.<br /> <br /> Maryland coach <strong>Mark Turgeon</strong> bemoaned his team’s lack of awareness on the lobs to Thompson but eventually admitted, “It’s a tough play to stop.”<br /> <br /> That’s an understatement when watching Thompson out-jump opponents by at least a foot and throw authoritative dunks on the (long) way down.<br /> <br /> If the Big Ten is to be considered just as aesthetic as the ACC, it will be because of freakish athletes like Thompson playing in it, not because of games being called differently.<br /> <br /> When asked what the effect of the new hand-check rule might be, OSU guard Shannon Scott shrugged.<br /> <br /> “I don’t see the Big Ten becoming more like the ACC,” he said. “The whole hand-check rule, I think it just puts more of a disadvantage on the players who can’t play defense. We have to move our feet more often and you can’t have a hand check now. People aren’t getting bailed out as much as they were when they come up and play defense.”<br /> <br /> Added Craft, “We have guys that love to defend and can defend very well. We’re putting guys out there that can guard all night long and we feel comfortable about putting up our guys and matching up with other teams. We’re not&nbsp; afraid to get out and pressure because we know we have great team defense and we’re in the right position.”<br /> <br /> A product of Georgia, Scott still sees some slight differences in the leagues but his overall opinion has changed.<br /> <br /> “Growing up down south, I never thought the Big Ten could beat the ACC but I really don’t see that as a challenge for us anymore,” he said. “Just knowing that you’re part of a conference that wins a lot of great games here (is a source of pride), and I hope we get to the national championship the way Michigan did last year.”<br /> <br /> In the end, Ohio State proved it was clearly the better team and that it’s brand of basketball, whatever it is, can be effective against ACC teams. The Buckeyes bombed Duke in the Challenge two years ago and pretty much railroaded Maryland, building a lead as large as 25 points (70-45).<br /> <br /> And we all know several ACC teams such as Duke and North Carolina, which knocked off No. 1 Michigan State later Wednesday night, are considered power teams in a power conference.<br /> <br /> It’s time for the Big Ten to have the same reputation.<br /> <br /> “The ACC is always going to be the ACC, and the Big Ten over the past few years has done a great job with great coaches, great recruiting classes and great players,” Craft said. “To be able to see two great teams go at it, it doesn’t matter what league they’re from. It’s just great to watch great basketball. But obviously we try to give the nod to the Big Ten whenever we can.”<br /> <br /> The reality is Maryland and Ohio State aren’t all that different and are not confined by their conferences.<br /> <br /> Thompson said the Terrapins rebound like Michigan State and threaten defenses much like Michigan does with four skilled players on the court who can be triple threats within the offense. It’s a safe bet the Terps will knock off several quality teams this season, and they’ll do it with multitalented players.<br /> <br /> They took down Northern Iowa in a high-scoring game in the U.S. Virgin Islands then beat Providence 56-52 in the championship the very next day.<br /> <br /> Ohio State, of course, is capable of pulling the same kind of feat, even in the NCAA Tournament.<br /> <br /> <div style="text-align: left;"> “They’re very similar to who we are in their style and how they play and the things they do,” OSU assistant coach <strong>Dave Dickerson</strong> said of Maryland, where he played and later coached under <strong>Gary Williams</strong>.<br /> </div> <br /> The ACC/Big Ten Challenge ended up being a split. The ACC won 4 of 6 games Tuesday night and the Big Ten did the same on Wednesday. No one “style” won out. Mostly it was a showcase of good teams losing to or slipping past other good teams.<br /> <br /> On Tuesday, Matta admitted he wasn’t too caught up in the bragging rights or even the final tally.<br /> <br /> “We don’t have time, and I don’t think any of the other teams in the Big Ten or the ACC, has time to sit down and say, ‘Geez, I wonder who’s going to win this game or this game’ or ‘this team has to beat this team,’ so I think when it’s all said and done it’s probably more for the fans,” he said.<br /> <br /> “But it’s a high-level basketball game and form my perspective we have to take care of our part and play our best basketball.”<br /> <br /> Mission accomplished. http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-05/Rapp_Around_Up_To_The_Challenge.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-05/Rapp_Around_Up_To_The_Challenge.aspx 818997e1-c36b-47bf-a18f-79abfc378e53 Thu, 05 Dec 2013 14:04:06 GMT Fickell Continues To Face Scrutiny <strong>Luke Fickell</strong> has been on the Ohio State coaching staff since the national championship season of 2002, and after several ups and a few downs since then he has chance to help the Buckeyes claim another crystal football this January.<br /> <br /> However, it has not been a dreamy year for the 40-year-old OSU defensive coordinator.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0) are undefeated for the second straight year and headed to the Big Teb Championship Game with Michigan State on Dec. 7 (8:17 p.m. Eastern, FOX), but Fickell’s defense – or recent lack thereof – has been a point of contention for followers of the program.<br /> <br /> Fickell, of course, knows this. After all, he’s a central Ohio native, played at OSU in the 1990s when criticism of <strong>John Cooper</strong> was rampant, and also served as the head coach of the program in 2011 after <strong>Jim Tressel</strong> unceremoniously resigned amid NCAA allegations.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes went just 6-7 that season with Fickell at the helm, but new head coach Urban Meyer made sure to keep the former nose guard on staff and return him to defensive coordinator duties. OSU has won a program-record 24 straight games with Fickell in that role for Meyer but the defense has been puzzling in some of those victories.<br /> <br /> The ultimate example came Saturday as the Buckeyes barely survived a scare from archrival Michigan, hanging on for an exhausting 42-41 win.<br /> <br /> OSU gave up 603 yards of total offense and 31 first downs before escaping yet again.<br /> <br /> While meeting with the Columbus media on Monday, Fickell put on his best face even while admitting his own disappointment and shortcomings. He also reminded his critics that he’s still in the winner’s circle.<br /> <br /> “What do you mean what went wrong?” he said to the very first question he fielded. “Did we win? Did we win? Did we win? Because I’ve been up there quite a few times in my 18-year career here and have not come away with a win."<br /> <br /> He then continued, “We know there are things we have to correct. Momentum and things happen and we didn’t play great on the defensive side of the ball. But every single week we have objectives, and the last objective last week was to win.”<br /> <br /> The 40-year-old Fickell remains well-respected by his players and as dedicated as ever to the task of playing winning football. He also, however, admitted his stubbornness, like when he continued to dial up aggressive approaches even after Wolverines offensive coordinator <strong>Al Borges</strong> – who entered the game even more embattled – found success with screens, misdirections and even throwbacks.<br /> <br /> Fickell refused to alter the game plan just because Michigan was able to hit some big plays, but as a result the game never really settled down. For example, on UM’s third offensive play from scrimmage, <strong>Devin Gardner</strong> found <strong>Jeremy Gallon</strong> on a short pass on first down and Gallon was able to race 84 yards to the OSU 2.<br /> <br /> Fickell said he regretted blitzing on the play, which led to a rushing touchdown by Gardner and a quick 7-0 lead for the Wolverines (7-5, 3-5).<br /> <br /> Fickell said if he didn’t attack on that play, “that game is a different game. But we can’t change who we are. We can’t just step back and ask our kids to change their demeanor and not be aggressive and not get after the quarterback.”<br /> <br /> OSU registered just three sacks in the game and Gardner was a stellar 32 of 45 for 451 yards and four TDs passing.<br /> <br /> For long stretches of the contest, it seemed Gardner could do no wrong. But after UM scored with 32 seconds left to cut the OSU lead to 42-41, Michigan coach <strong>Brady Hoke</strong> called timeout and opted to go for the win with a two-point conversion attempt.<br /> <br /> That’s when nickel back <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong> saved the Buckeyes – and allowed Fickell to save face – by intercepting Gardner’s short pass attempt in the end zone.<br /> <br /> “We made a play when we had to make a play,” Fickell said.<br /> <br /> Fickell said that moment and the game itself continued a trend for his relatively young defense.<br /> <br /> “The things that we rep we do a lot better job of,” he said. “We’re still a little bit in the youth of what we have. Things that are new and different sometimes will strike us and catch us by surprise. I think that’s what has happened.”<br /> <br /> Statistically, the Buckeyes aren’t as bad defensively as many critics would suggest.<br /> <br /> OSU ranks 30th in the country in total defense, allowing 355.8 yards per game. An even 100.0 yards of that total has come on the ground, ranking the Buckeyes fifth nationally. Not a single opponent has put together a 100-yard rushing day against Ohio State this season.<br /> <br /> The concern stems almost entirely from OSU’s pass defense, which is 98th nationally.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes went into the season without a returning starter up front and with a lack of depth at linebacker, a problem that still hasn’t been solved. The secondary was supposed to be a strength base on experience but corner <strong>Bradley Roby</strong> was suspended for a game and struggled upon his return, <strong>C.J. Barnett</strong> opened the campaign with an ankle injury, and fellow safety <strong>Christian Bryant</strong> was lost midseason with a broken ankle.<br /> <br /> Also, <strong>Curtis Grant</strong>, who finally looked ready to man the middle linebacker spot, has not held up. The talented junior has been slowed by a sore ankle and tender lower back. He did not play vs. UM.<br /> <br /> Backup <strong>Camren Williams</strong> lasted only 15 snaps in his stead at MLB and struggled to make any plays.<br /> <br /> Still, that has not offset the scrutiny.<br /> <br /> When Fickell was asked if he was growing weary of all the criticism sent his way, he said, “No. You have a standard that’s been set around here, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a tough way to live your life to never be satisfied, but that’s kind of the way that I was brought up. When <strong>Jim Heacock</strong> and I were here together it was very similar. You’re never satisfied with what you’ve got.”<br /> <br /> Fickell still enjoys being immersed in the program and finding solutions, even if they are simpler than many assume.<br /> <br /> “What it comes down to is ultimately you’ve got to outplay the other team’s defense,” he said. “If they allow two points then you’ve got to allow none. We’ve got to get better at what we do and focus on what we’re going to do.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Sparty Up Next</strong><br /> <br /> Outperforming the opposing defense is going to be a monumental task this week. Michigan State leads the nation in rushing defense (64.8 yards allowed per game), passing efficiency defense (91.79) and, not surprisingly, total defense (237.7 yapg).<br /> <br /> On the other side, MSU has made steady improvement on offense with <strong>Connor Cook</strong> under center and <strong>Jeremy Langford</strong> spearheading the running game. Cook has thrown for 2,119 yards with 17 touchdowns and just four interceptions while Langford has amassed 1,210 rushing yards and 16 TDs.<br /> <br /> The Spartans often run out of the I-formation and also show pro sets with two running backs.<br /> <br /> When asked if the Buckeyes might have more success against a more conventional attack, Fickell said, “What’s conventional nowadays? Each and every week it’s something different. But I guess you could say it’s conventional compared to the last 10 years here. They do some two-back stuff. But those things pose problems as well.”<br /> <br /> Fickell said Cook has proven to be a good fit for coach <strong>Mark Dantonio</strong>’s offense.<br /> <br /> “He’s a young guy but he commands the offense,” he said. “I don’t know that he makes a ton of checks, but he’s one of those guys that plays within the system and that allows them to be successful. They don’t put him in situations they don’t think he can handle.”<br /> <br /> Fickell admitted there is familiarity with MSU’s approach but that won’t make it any easier to stop it.<br /> <br /> “They know what their strengths are and they do it well,” Fickell said.<br /> <br /> “They’re going to have wrinkles. It’s similar in some ways but it’s not the same. I know Coach (<strong>Jim</strong>) <strong>Bollman</strong>’s up there and they still do some of the similar things but I guess you say it’s what they’ve done last year, too. Michigan State has been this probably for the last six or seven years.”<br /> <br /> Dantonio has been known to mix in some trick plays, especially in big games, and Fickell said he will have to have the defense prepared. However, he added he doesn’t want his players so wary of such tactics that they start to lose their edge.<br /> <br /> “You get back on your heels and become a bit more passive,” he said. “You can’t sit there and wait and say, ‘OK, when is the trick play coming?’ You’ve just got to have your guys attuned to it and we’ve got to be able to react and respond when it happens.”<br /> <br /> The coaches will be interested to see how the Buckeyes respond and hold up in a physical battle one week after facing off against Michigan – a program first since The Game was moved to the end of the regular-season schedule back in 1935.<br /> <br /> When asked what it feels like to have a quick turnaround after facing Michigan, Fickell said, “I don’t know. This is the first time for me ever being in a championship game, so it’s unique. But with it being the next week, your routine really didn’t change one bit.”<br /> <br /> As for the players, he added, “I don’t think these guys know the difference.<br /> <br /> “When I played I probably wish we would have because there were quite a few very negative feelings after that game, and I went into that game undefeated three of my four years and didn’t come away with success. And if it were a 42-41 win I would have been really happy to have one of those back.”<br /> <br /> MSU defensive coordinator <strong>Pat Narduzzi</strong> announced this week the Spartans will do live tackling in practice in preparation for the Big Ten championship.<br /> <br /> Fickell vowed the Buckeyes also will work on their tackling form.<br /> <br /> “I promise you we’ll be after them and try to hit and tackle,” he said. “We didn’t tackle well, but every week of the season we’ve had our own self-contained, almost-live tackling drill.<br /> <br /> “We don’t usually bring scout team guys all the way to the ground. But I promise you there will be individual live tackling drills to be done.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-02/Fickell_Continues_To_Face_Scrutiny.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-02/Fickell_Continues_To_Face_Scrutiny.aspx c0b670a6-20a5-4172-9e2d-d1038cccd381 Tue, 03 Dec 2013 05:11:44 GMT Rapp Around: Instant Classic? How do you sum up a one-point win for Ohio State at Michigan in a contest with 83 points?<br /> <br /> How do you assess the college football landscape after Auburn dropped its rival, No. 1 Alabama, on a one-in-a-million play.<br /> <br /> How do you now predict how an obviously spent group of Buckeyes players and coaches will fare next week in a slugfest with Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game?<br /> <br /> With everything that just occurred on the final day of November, it’s nearly impossible to summarize and analyze, especially if your mind is still a little tingly from watching the 3½ hours of drama at the Big House.<br /> <br /> Still, I’m going to take a stab at it. Let’s just visit some pertinent topics one at a time, shall we?<br /> <br /> <strong>Instant Classic –</strong> After his Buckeyes thwarted a two-point conversion attempt with 32 seconds to play and hung on for a very trying 42-41 victory, <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> labeled the game – I’m sorry, The Game – as an “instant classic.”<br /> <br /> On the surface, it would be hard to argue. The point total was the second-highest in an OSU-Michigan game and the drama was abundant, especially when remembering all that was at stake for the No. 3 Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0 in the Big Ten).<br /> <br /> A date with the Spartans next week already was secured as OSU had sewn up its end of the Big Ten title game bargain as champions of the Leaders Division, but a loss would have ruined an undefeated season, a shot to extend the program’s best-ever winning streak to 24 games and daydreams of playing for the BCS crown.<br /> <br /> Michigan (7-5, 3-5) limped into the contest unranked and had lost its previous home game against Nebraska, the first setback at Michigan Stadium in the three-year reign of head coach <strong>Brady Hoke</strong>. In fact, the Wolverines came within an eyelash – or a dropped interception at Northwestern as it were – of losing their final five games, a run of ineptitude that began with a 29-6 embarrassment at Michigan State on Nov. 2.<br /> <br /> But they also came within a two-point conversion of knocking off their archrival and one of the nation’s elite teams. The Wolverines also looked like an offensive juggernaut for much of the day.<br /> <br /> UM racked up 31 first downs and 603 yards of total offense. Quarterback <strong>Devin Gardner</strong> was extremely effective with a rushing touchdown and accounting for 451 passing yards and four more TDs through the air. He was 32 of 45 passing and was at his best on money downs, often picking up third-and-longs.<br /> <br /> Wide receiver <strong>Jeremy Gallon</strong>, who set the Big Ten receiving record against Indiana with 369 yards, had another monster day with nine catches for 175 yards and a score. Running back <strong>De’Veon Smith</strong> ripped off the first run of more than 20 yards against the Buckeyes this season with a 38-yarder while freshman <strong>Derrick Green</strong> also helped augment the running of senior <strong>Fitzgerald Toussaint</strong>.<br /> <br /> OSU countered with a huge rushing day by <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong> and 526 yards in just 61 plays, an average of 8.6 per pop.<br /> <br /> With the Wolverines at the top of their game, the Buckeyes had to draw on every ounce of effort to leave town with a win, and it showed. Some players looked like they could barely walk let alone jump around in glee when it finally ended.<br /> <br /> “It was an incredible game and just playing in the Ohio State-Michigan game is incredible,” OSU left guard <strong>Andrew Norwell</strong> said. “It’s all about toughness and the toughest team wins. It was just a great team win today.”<br /> <br /> Meyer said he couldn’t crack a smile until it was over.<br /> <br /> “Whatever is inside of you it feels like it just shoots out of you,” he said. “I just have great respect for this rivalry and it’s just instantaneous. I thought about back in ’86 and ’87, when Coach (<strong>Earle</strong>) <strong>Bruce</strong> was here and coached his final game. I had flashbacks of the great games that I’ve witnessed.”<br /> <br /> “I knew it was going to be tough,” Hyde said. “These games are always tough. It’s the biggest rivalry in college football. Of course, it’s going to be tough.”<br /> <br /> However, I have to admit not getting quite as sentimental. The afternoon was littered with mistakes and even a loss of composure by the Buckeyes. Early in the second quarter after UM took a 21-14 lead, several Michigan players converged on kick returner <strong>Dontre Wilson</strong> and eventually ripped off his helmet in what turned out to be an on-field melee.<br /> <br /> Wilson, OSU starting guard <strong>Marcus Hall</strong> and Michigan linebacker <strong>Royce Jenkins-Stone</strong> all were ejected and the Buckeyes had a hard time getting the game settled down after that.<br /> <br /> “I’m disappointed with that,” Meyer said of the scrap. “I don’t know where that came from. We had a little chat about that and it’s unacceptable.”<br /> <br /> Hyde also was disappointed at the way The Game devolved.<br /> <br /> “There was a lot of talking but that ain’t our game,” he said. “That’s not us. Coach got on us about that. We shouldn’t be doing that. We haven’t been doing that all year. We had to refocus and go back to doing what we do best.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes eventually got control of themselves but continued to show shaky execution on each side of the ball. Quarterback <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> had several poor throws and finished just 6 of 15 through the air, although he did manage to hit <strong>Devin Smith</strong> from 53 yards out and tight end <strong>Jeff Heuerman</strong> from 22 yards away for a pair of TD tosses.<br /> <br /> Meyer admitted he lost confidence in the passing game and asked offensive coordinator <strong>Tom Herman</strong> to tone it down when it was clear the Buckeyes were in a dogfight.<br /> <br /> Also, OSU struggled to get defensive stops or even be in solid position to make tackles for much of the day. Angles were poor and the tackling form was shoddy at times.<br /> <br /> That left Meyer and Herman charged with coming up with a batch of positive plays on offense.<br /> <br /> “It reached a point we had to match score for score,” Meyer said. “On the final drive when we were down on the 1-yard line, I thought about grabbing a knee right there to eat some clock but just against that defense and their personnel, you had to go score. Me and Tom Herman, we had that chat, and I almost did it. But he’s right, if you jerk around and you don’t score, that’s a problem. So I thought we could reach out there and stop them.”<br /> <br /> But the Buckeyes didn’t. After going up 42-35 on a 1-yard plunge by Hyde with 2:20 to go, OSU still couldn’t finish the deal.<br /> <br /> Michigan managed an 11-play, 84-yard drive in just 1:48 and scored with 32 ticks left when Gardner found tight end <strong>Devin Funchess</strong>, who was targeted all afternoon.<br /> <br /> A high-scoring game is one thing – the 2006 classic between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan ended up 42-39 – but this one didn’t have the same feel.<br /> <br /> Meyer said the score would’ve been more like 10-9 if it occurred during the Ten Year War between <strong>Bo Schembechler</strong> and <strong>Woody Hayes</strong>, but added, “I think Coach Schembechler and Coach Hayes, and that was the generation (in which) I grew up, would’ve looked out and seen two teams playing as hard as they possibly can, which this rivalry is all about.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Where’s The D? –</strong> Still, the concern in Meyer’s voice was evident when discussing Ohio State’s defensive effort.<br /> <br /> “We were blown out on defense,” he said. “We’re playing guy too many plays. I wanted to call a timeout and give them a breath so they could strain to make a play.”<br /> <br /> Middle linebacker <strong>Curtis Grant</strong>, who has been dealing with a sore ankle and tender lower back, couldn’t hold up and left the game. <strong>Camren Williams</strong> struggled in his place. Also, the secondary played well off of receivers and still allowed too many yards after the catch.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, Gardner was sacked just three times and made several plays outside the pocket.<br /> <br /> “We didn’t get the pressure we normally have and Gardner is an excellent thrower,” Meyer said. “He had struggled the last few games but he looked like he did against Indiana. So we’ve got to fix some things and get ready to go.”<br /> <br /> Embattled UM offensive coordinator <strong>Al Borges</strong> came up with a stellar game plan as the Wolverines were able to gash OSU on several screens, misdirection plays and throwbacks.<br /> <br /> “Obviously we didn’t do a very good job defending it,” Meyer said.<br /> <br /> Added nickel back <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong>, “In the first half they came out with a bunch of tricks and gadget plays and we were all going out there trying to do too much. Everybody was trying to do other people’s jobs.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Christian Bryant</strong>, who didn’t dress because of an injured ankle, linebacker <strong>Ryan Shazier</strong>, and defensive line coach <strong>Mike Vrabel</strong> all addressed the D at halftime trying to summon better effort from the group. But the Buckeyes ran out of gas on that side of the ball trying to defend 82 plays.<br /> <br /> “Last week we played 92 plays, this week we played far too many plays,” Meyer said. “We’ve got to get a little rotation going because I think that’s hurting us a little bit.”<br /> <br /> Defensive coordinator <strong>Luke Fickell</strong> is now absorbing scads of criticism, and while it’s difficult to completely defend the results the approach is somewhat understandable.<br /> <br /> Gardner has been a turnover machine much of the season and UM’s offensive line had been sieve-like. Fickell decided to have pass defenders peeled back assuming pressure would be applied and takeaways opportunities would arise.<br /> <br /> It didn’t happen as Michigan played over its head and the Buckeyes couldn’t get a handle defensively.<br /> <br /> <strong>Going For 2 –</strong> The fateful two-point conversion attempt, of course, will be debated for years but among those not knocking Hoke for the decision is his counterpart.<br /> <br /> “I would’ve done the same thing,” Meyer said. “You go win the game right there. No question. Both offenses were in unstoppable mode.”<br /> <br /> As I drove out of town with my radio colleagues I could hear the disgust on the local airwaves from UM fans, although some did laud Hoke for having the nerve to try it.<br /> <br /> I’d be in that camp. In a rivalry where wins earn you contract extensions and losses immediately put you on the hot seat, Hoke deserves a lot of credit for taking the risk. Plus, the Buckeyes would have been very tough to slow down in overtime.<br /> <br /> “We would have scored,” Hyde said. “I have no doubt that we would have scored. We were having success all day on offense. I know we would have made something happen.”<br /> <br /> Going for the win probably was the right call. The problem was the play was flawed. Gardner tried a quick-strike pass just across the goal line and Powell snuffed it out by reading pass and picking it off.<br /> <br /> Powell was all smiles afterward, still tickled that cornerbacks coach <strong>Kerry Coombs</strong> gave him just the right advice in the huddle during a timeout.<br /> <br /> “Coach Coombs was like, ‘Tyvis, they’re going to motion it to triple stack and No. 3 is going to run the angle route,’ ” Powell said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, we watched that on film, so that makes a lot of sense.’ Me and <strong>Josh</strong> (<strong>Perry</strong>) made a swap call. Josh ended up going on the blitz, he got the pressure on (Gardner), he threw the ball, I ran like I listened to Coach Coombs and – boom – there it was.<br /> <br /> “I was thinking to myself, ‘Coach Coombs is a genius.’ It was shocking that he really threw it. But I guess that’s their bread-and-butter play on two-point conversions and all week that’s what we practiced against in practice.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Hyde Rides Behind O-Line –</strong> No matter how sketchy matters get for the Buckeyes they always seem to be able to rely on their offensive line and the running of Hyde and Miller behind it.<br /> <br /> Miller was impressive 153 yards and three TDs on the ground, but Hyde was the plowhorse, especially in the second half. He took 27 handoffs and totaled 226 yards, the most ever for an OSU back against Michigan.<br /> <br /> Before he took OSU to the winner’s circle, though, Hyde committed a rare fumble with the Buckeyes ahead just 35-28 early in the fourth period. Michigan responded with a 13-play drive and game-tying touchdown.<br /> <br /> “I was real disappointed with the fumble,” Meyer said. “He’d pull it through a tackle, pull it through a tackle, and I felt like he was getting loose with the ball. But we blocked, and I thought Tom Herman and <strong>Ed Warinner</strong> did a really good job, because we made a lot of adjustments.”<br /> <br /> Hyde did, too, making sure he didn’t loose grip of the pigskin again while churning for extra yardage.<br /> <br /> “My mindset once I got back out there was ‘Coach is going to put the ball in your hands, you’ve got to make up for that fumble,’ so that’s exactly what I did,” he said.<br /> <br /> As for the record, Hyde deflected any praise.<br /> <br /> “I have to give credit to my offensive line because they did a great job today, great job, and they helped me make history,” he said. “Those guys are going into history with me.”<br /> <br /> With 1,290 yards on the season, Hyde is now in position to claim the Big Ten rushing title – not bad for a guy who missed the first three weeks of the season.<br /> <br /> “I know at Boston College my friend, <strong>Steve Addazio</strong> has a great back as well, but it we had a draft I’ve got mine,” Meyer said.<br /> <br /> Meyer has said the same about his offensive line. After losing Hall, redshirt freshman <strong>Pat Elflein</strong> held up in the pressure cooker and allowed the Buckeyes to keep winning the war up front.<br /> <br /> “It feels awesome,” Elflein said. “<strong>Corey</strong> (<strong>Linsley</strong>) kind of took me in from day one when I was a freshman coming in here and he’s kind of always on my back, giving me tips and trying to direct me on things. It feels pretty good knowing that he’s happy with how I played.<br /> <br /> “When my number was called I was just locked in and 100 percent focused. After the game I kind of looked up and tried to soak in what just happened. It was a good feeling.”<br /> <br /> Norwell agreed.<br /> <br /> “We knew we had to score and we take pride in that, the O-line,” said the senior. “When it comes down to that we know we have to put our team on our backs. We love that.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Enough In The Tank For Sparty? –</strong> Next up for the line, Hyde and Miller is Michigan State’s nationally elite defense.<br /> <br /> “The only (MSU) game I saw was against Nebraska,” Hyde said. “I saw their running back had some success, and I was watching him. I watch the running backs.”<br /> <br /> While Hyde doesn’t seem too concerned, Michigan State’s physical and stingy defense will pose a major impediment to a possible appearance in the national championship game.<br /> <br /> The Spartans (11-1, 8-0) closed out the regular season with a 14-3 shutdown of Minnesota and improved their average of points allowed per game to 11.8, which ranks fourth in the nation.<br /> <br /> Ohio State and Michigan State will face off at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday (8:17 p.m. Eastern, FOX) in a game that will decide a lot.<br /> <br /> It’s the first time the Big Ten has had a pair of 8-0 teams since OSU and Iowa pulled the feat in 2002. The only other time the conference had two teams make it through the season with unscathed conference marks was 1943.<br /> <br /> The Spartans and Buckeyes will meet for the first time since the 2012 Big Ten opener, when OSU edged Michigan State, 17-16, in East Lansing. The winning score was a 63-yard Miller pass to Smith in what was Meyer’s first Big Ten contest.<br /> <br /> Ohio State is now in uncharted waters. Since The Game was moved to the end of the regular season in 1935 the Buckeyes have never had to play in the following week. This time they do, and against a headbanger of a team.<br /> <br /> That is going to be a tough order given how drained the Buckeyes appeared moments after edging their archrivals.<br /> <br /> “I’m exhausted right now,” Norwell said. “I love it, though – going out there and competing every play. The competition is great and that’s what I live for.”<br /> <br /> Meyer will appeal to the competitive nature of his players and also believes they are equipped to handle the situation.<br /> <br /> “They get it,” said the coach. “That’s a very smart team in there.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-01/Rapp_Around_Instant_Classic.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-12-01/Rapp_Around_Instant_Classic.aspx 6d40271a-4954-4afe-8861-4f8245d2a24b Mon, 02 Dec 2013 05:57:07 GMT The Game Still Won In Trenches The renewal of one of the greatest rivalries in the history of sports always brings with it plenty of clichéd analysis and pregame theories as to what will make the difference.<br /> <br /> But perhaps the most time-tested and simplistic way to predict success for either Ohio State or Michigan when the two combatants meet yet again Saturday (noon Eastern, ABC) is to suggest that the trenches are the key.<br /> <br /> It is there why why each team has to believe it will be a banner day at Michigan Stadium.<br /> <br /> The No. 3 Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0) are a two-touchdown favorite on the strength of a 23-game win streak – a program record – and an offense that has been close to unstoppable. OSU already has set school season-high marks with 73 touchdowns and 536 points, and the Buckeyes currently rank third nationally in scoring offense (48.7 points per game) and seventh in total offense (530.9 yards per game).<br /> <br /> That, of course, is a credit to the coaching, execution and talent level on that side of the ball but it also speaks loudly about the dominance of OSU’s offensive line. The Buckeyes are blessed with four seniors in the starting five – left tackle <strong>Jack Mewhort</strong>, left guard <strong>Andrew Norwell</strong>, center <strong>Corey Linsley</strong> and right guard <strong>Marcus Hall</strong> – and also have a rising star in sophomore right tackle <strong>Taylor Decker</strong>.<br /> <br /> With Decker a worthy replacement for last year’s RT, <strong>Reid Fragel</strong>, Ohio State hasn’t lost a game in two years with the line performing so well.<br /> <br /> Considering Michigan (7-4, 3-4) has struggled with consistency and has had to reshuffle its offensive line, and well aware that a date with brutish Michigan State in the Dec. 7 Big Ten Championship Game lingers, it’s arguable that the Buckeyes actually are staring at a trap game – unheard of when discussing Ohio State-Michigan.<br /> <br /> However, Linsley refuted that idea.<br /> <br /> “Surprisingly it’s not difficult at all,” he said. “We have a mindset on our team to just focus on this week as we’ve done every week. Our motto this week is ‘All lasers pointed at one dot.’ That dot represents the focus we have on beating these guys. It truly is that. It’s kind of easy with finals (exams) built in. I don’t have to worry about anything else, any other distraction, I just have to do what I have to do, do my job, and everything will work out.”<br /> <br /> Plus, Linsley said he learned a valuable lesson last year in preparing for the Maize and Blue – a wakeup call that came early in OSU’s hardfought 26-21 win in Columbus.<br /> <br /> “Last year I didn’t really see a whole lot on film that I was overly excited about,” he admitted, “and I kind of got into the game thinking with the mindset that I had to play hard but this wasn’t going to be overly difficult. But they came off the ball the first couple of plays and I was like ‘This is what everybody was talking about. This is what they mean when they say this week is different.’<br /> <br /> “They played to the highest level that I had ever seen them play on film. It was a grind, it was a battle, and I’m sure it’s going to be the exact same way this year. I would expect nothing less.”<br /> <br /> It also needs to be noted that the Wolverines, despite all of the headaches they have suffered this season, have been consistently stingy against the run. UM is allowing 116.4 yards rushing per game, which ranks a very respectable 14th in the country.<br /> <br /> Ohio State still holds the statistical advantage comparatively. In fact, the Buckeyes have not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season, give up 95.3 yards per game on the ground and rank sixth nationally in that department.<br /> <br /> However, considering the intensity of the rivalry and that the Wolverines will be playing in front of their home fans, it’s safe to say the Buckeyes will still have a lot on their hands when trying to protect <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> or block for <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong> and company.<br /> <br /> “I’d say strap up and be ready because it’s a really cool environment, a ton of people,” Mewhort said. “It’s your classic stadium. When you think of college football and a big game, the Horseshoe, Penn State and up there are those classic stadiums you think of when you think of a big-time college football.”<br /> <br /> But again, the Buckeyes have the experience to offset some of that raw emotion and chaos. When Linsley was asked what makes the offensive line special, he didn’t hesitate with an answer.<br /> <br /> “I think it’s the communication that nobody hears,” he said. “I remember in the game on Saturday (vs. Indiana) Norwell had told me at one point that my ID was in the opposite play, the counter play, and I had to kind of change it.<br /> <br /> “That’s an example of how we’re all intertwined up front and how we can sit there and nobody’s freaking out. Everybody is calm, relaxed, they know I’ll get the call. So there’s a level of comfort with each other that is definitely special.”<br /> <br /> That will be important as Michigan is sure to throw everything at the OSU offensive line to try to blow up blocking schemes and cause confusion.<br /> <br /> “They play hard, as always,” Linsley said of the Michigan defense, which allows 25.1 ppg. “It’s a typical film that you watch. They’re playing hard. I don’t know about the stats or anything, I don’t honestly care about that, but they have a good core of guys up front, they’ve got a good front seven. I know a couple of their guys are highly rated and quick-twitch guys, so we’re going to need to play our best this week.<br /> <br /> The line matchup looks a little more one-sided when the Buckeyes are on defense. The Silver Bullets have been getting more pressure on quarterbacks in recent weeks and their 36 sacks rank third in the nation. That fact added to OSU’s typically excellent showing against the run is bad news for the Wolverines, who have been sieve-like up front.<br /> <br /> Michigan has allowed a whopping 107 negative plays this season, nearly 11 per contest. That’s an absurd figure for a program that usually boasts one of the most powerful offensive lines in the country and for a team that has <strong>Taylor Lewan</strong>, a preseason Outland Trophy favorite, anchoring the line from left tackle.<br /> <br /> When asked to assess why UM’s O-line has had so much difficulty, Mewhort said, “We don’t have time to focus on other team’s struggles or successes. We have to handle our business in our O-line room. They have some great players up there. If they are struggling, I don’t know what’s going on.<br /> <br /> “That’s not a huge deal to us because we have to improve and we have things we have to fix. When you start worrying about other people’s problems, that’s when things go wrong.”<br /> <br /> OSU defensive tackle <strong>Michael Bennett</strong> echoes those sentiments.<br /> <br /> “Watching film, they have a good group of O-linemen,” said Bennett, a junior. “I don’t know what motivates them day by day. I know they will be motivated against us. I know we have to come ready to play, too.”<br /> <br /> Michigan is going to have to deal with a defensive line that appears to be peaking as well as linebacker <strong>Ryan Shazier</strong>, the reigning Big Ten defensive player of the week after racking up a career-high 20 tackles including five for loss in the 42-14 win over the Hoosiers.<br /> <br /> Bennett is aware the Wolverines have employed five different starting combinations with their offensive front.<br /> <br /> “I don’t think it is too challenging since they are switching up their O-line,” he said. “You look at each position and each guy who have gone in. If anything, we know more about their team because they have switched it up. It doesn’t change their game plan when they put a new O-lineman in.<br /> <br /> “Our coaches will break it down for us. They have always been a pro-style team. They are throwing some quick passes. I don’t how that will affect our game plan. But I know our coaches will have us ready for it.”<br /> <br /> Part of that preparation will include concern for the legs of quarterback <strong>Devin Gardner</strong>, who doesn’t need superior blocking to create plays.<br /> <br /> “You just have to get to him,” Bennett said. “He seems like he gets flustered, but he has a lot of talent. When you let him sit in the pocket, he can make some plays. He can scramble and he can run, too. You just have to bring pressure to him and let him know you’re there.”<br /> <br /> In some matchups with Michigan, Ohio State has punctuated winning performances with huge hits on the quarterbacks. Some of them have come from defensive linemen such as <strong>Vernon Gholston</strong> and <strong>Cameron Heyward</strong>. Last year, the iconic came from linebacker <strong>Zach Boren</strong> when he smacked down and stood over Gardner.<br /> <br /> “That was a huge play,” Bennett said. “Zach came in and hit the crap out of him. That photo is really cool. Everybody just wants to have that feeling when you play that team up north of getting a big hit on their quarterback and just feeling you dominated them.” http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-27/The_Game_Still_Won_In_Trenches.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-27/The_Game_Still_Won_In_Trenches.aspx da094fcc-a3d3-4cfa-ad61-2d67c4bf9627 Wed, 27 Nov 2013 22:09:16 GMT Family Atmosphere Fuels OSU “It was very emotional, just playing the last game with the O-line, all the seniors I came here with. It was very emotional, man.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> doesn’t express himself thusly very often – after all, Ohio State’s quarterback is a cool cucumber – but even he got caught up in Senior Day as the No. 4 Buckeyes honored their outgoing players then laid waste to visiting Indiana, 42-14.<br /> <br /> In a program as loaded with winning tradition and individual traditions as one can imagine, Ohio State takes its Senior Day festivities seriously. And that was especially so on Saturday even though the Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0) were heavily favored against the second-division Hoosiers (4-7, 2-5).<br /> <br /> The 19 players who were announced to the crowd just prior to the game have been through more than most – Tattoogate, NCAA sanctions, and the ouster of head coach <strong>Jim Tressel</strong> early in their careers; a year under interim coach <strong>Luke Fickell</strong> that ended with seven losses, the most at OSU in more than a century; a 12-0 2012 season that ended abruptly with no postseason; and the current undefeated run that set the stage for an all-time mark for consecutive wins in the program (23).<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes rode the emotion of the moment – and exposed a hapless IU defense that ranks among the nation’s worst in several categories – in building a 42-0 lead.<br /> <br /> It was as it was supposed to be yet it was a special day that won’t soon be forgotten, if ever.<br /> <br /> While Miller was the best offensive player on the field (a game-high 144 rushing yards, 160 passing yards, and a hand in four touchdowns), fellow junior <strong>Ryan Shazier</strong> was the clear standout on the other side.<br /> <br /> But even after the fierce outside linebacker racked up 20 tackles including five for loss and grudgingly admitted he may have played his best game in scarlet and gray, Shazier said his thoughts were with the upperclassmen.<br /> <br /> “I left everything on the field today because I was playing for the seniors,” he said. “I was doing my job. I was trying to make sure they got off with a perfect game, a memorable game.”<br /> <br /> If Miller and Shazier were thinking they, too, were playing in their home sendoff – after all, they could follow suit and join <strong>Bradley Roby</strong> in leaving a year of eligibility on the table to chase NFL dreams – they didn’t show it at all.<br /> <br /> Head coach Urban Meyer confirmed earlier in the week that Roby, a redshirt junior, would be leaving after this season and even allowed the standout cornerback to join the festivities since he is a senior in academic standing.<br /> <br /> “He’s cleared,” Meyer said after practice Wednesday. “We talked, and he’s going to go, going to move on. But that’s all you ask. You don’t ask for five years nowadays.<br /> <br /> “It’s no secret. I think it’s great for him and good for Ohio State.”<br /> <br /> After the game, Meyer didn’t address the Roby decision and likely didn’t want to do so. Instead, he took time to address the magnitude of seniors leaving on a warm note and the importance of having a family atmosphere in the program.<br /> <br /> He said he was struck by it as an Ohio State graduate assistant under <strong>Earle Bruce</strong> in 1986.<br /> <br /> “I would see <strong>Jim Lachey</strong> and <strong>Archie Griffin</strong> and all these great players come back and be part of this program, and I would notice that the ones that were part of something special were always back,” Meyer said. “They kept coming back. They kept wanting to be around.<br /> <br /> “And as you grow a little older and become more experienced, the greatest thing that happened today is every one of those players in that locker room is going to come back now and be part of this, because there’s going to be a special place for them around that facility and what they’ve done, longest winning streak in Ohio State history.<br /> <br /> “That’s a big part of what kind of drives me is to see the players come back and say, ‘Look what we did.’ Because I saw it. That’s the first time I really experienced that was in Columbus, Ohio, in 1986, saw the former players coming back, the ’68 national champions and these other Big Ten championship teams. They come back and celebrate with their families.<br /> <br /> “I think it’s one of the greatest things that can happen to a college football player.”<br /> <br /> Backup quarterback and fan favorite <strong>Kenny Guiton</strong>, who heard his name chanted in the stadium yet again, already has assured he’ll stick around. Guiton plans to pursue a graduate degree at Ohio State and stay involved in the program.<br /> <br /> Many others, of course, will take their shot at professional football. Still, there is plenty of work to do. The Buckeyes close out the regular season in Ann Arbor against archrival Michigan (7-4, 3-4) on Nov. 30 and next will tussle with No. 11 Michigan State (10-1, 7-0) in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 7 in Indianapolis.<br /> <br /> The Spartans clinched an outright Legends Division title with a 30-6 victory at Northwestern earlier in the afternoon. The Buckeyes then nailed down the Leaders Division berth.<br /> <br /> There wasn’t much suspense as to how the game with Indiana would play out, especially when the Buckeyes seized a quick 14-0 lead midway through the first period.<br /> <br /> Still, there was the matter of honoring the seniors, who made their way from the south edge of the field to a waiting Meyer, coaches and teammates then pivoted out to the hash marks to find their families for an onfield embrace.<br /> <br /> The class included a couple players who had to cut short their careers prior to this season because of chronic injuries – defensive backs <strong>Adam Griffin</strong> and <strong>Jamie Wood</strong>. Griffin was greeted by his mother, Bonita, and his famous father, Archie.<br /> <br /> “I just told him congratulations,” Archie Griffin told SportsRappUp.com on his way back to his Ohio Stadium seat.<br /> <br /> The two-time Heisman Trophy winner added Adam, who prepped at nearby Columbus DeSales, is very close to attaining his undergraduate degree.<br /> <br /> A couple other seniors honored are key specialists – placekicker <strong>Drew Basil</strong> and long snapper <strong>George Makridis</strong> – while walk-on lineman <strong>Ivon Blackman</strong>, a transfer from Robert Morris, didn’t play much but became an OSU Scholar Athlete.<br /> <br /> The names became more and more familiar to approving Buckeye fans – veteran DBs <strong>Corey “Pitt” Brown</strong>, Roby, <strong>C.J. Barnett</strong> and <strong>Christian Bryant</strong>; wide receiver <strong>Chris Fields</strong>, leading rusher <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong> and <strong>Jordan Hall</strong>, who held down the backfield fort while Hyde was suspended early in the season; Guiton; respected captain and leading receiver <strong>Philly Brown</strong>; and OSU’s four senior starters along the offensive line: <strong>Andrew Norwell</strong>, <strong>Marcus Hall</strong>, <strong>Corey Linsley</strong>, and <strong>Jack Mewhort</strong>.<br /> <br /> Guiton was all smiles when he approached his parents and other loved ones who came from Houston for the momentous occasion.<br /> <br /> “That’s all I was thinking,” he said. “They don’t get to see me play all the time, so for them to make it up to my Senior Day and be able to see me play, man, that was a great feeling. They had my son in their hands. I was happy to see all of that and I just wanted to give them a good show.”<br /> <br /> In a scene reminiscent of last year when <strong>John Simon</strong> painfully limped out to his folks prior to the Michigan game, his knee too swollen to play, Bryant, who recently underwent ankle surgery, slowly proceeded to Meyer and then his teary-eyed family.<br /> <br /> That added to an already emotional scene as Mewhort, OSU’s rock-steady left tackle who Meyer labeled the most indispensable member of the offense, was announced last, just after Bryant. <br /> <br /> “I don’t think I deserved it,” Mewhort said humbly. “I think all those guys who ran out before me have done a lot of great things in their careers here. It’s an honor. I didn’t read too much into it but I really appreciate Coach Meyer putting me last. I know it was really cool for my parents.<br /> <br /> “But I think the guy in front of me deserves a lot of recognition, too – Christian Bryant – because he’s done so much for this program. For him not to be able to run out there with us on Senior Day and be in a boot, that was just the worst seeing that. I think people need to focus more on that guy than me being the last guy.”<br /> <br /> After Mewhort passed the Bryants, he saw his mom, Gail, and father, Don, waiting for him. Lip quivering, Don was too emotional to speak. Offensive line coach <strong>Ed Warinner</strong> then came over and gave the Mewhorts a knowing hug, also without words.<br /> <br /> “My Mom and Dad were both a wreck,” Jack said. “It was kind of weird because you’ve got a game to play and I’ve got my crying parents right there. It was a little awkward but we got through it.<br /> <br /> “My dad is a big guy and he doesn’t get emotional often, so when I see him like that it kind of gets to me a little bit. I expected my mom to be in tears. I know they’re proud of me and I’m just trying to make them proud.<br /> <br /> “Hopefully they were tears of happiness. Hopefully there wasn’t any underlying thing that they’re mad at me about.”<br /> <br /> Even with so much emotion flowing, the Buckeyes didn’t let any of it deter from their mission. They stuck to the seasonlong script by scoring efficiently on their first drive and building a first-quarter lead.<br /> <br /> Even though the Hoosiers eventually found the end zone and managed to amass more than 400 yards of total offense, Ohio State was in control throughout.<br /> <br /> After handshakes at midfield, the Buckeyes headed over to the south stands to stand shoulder to shoulder and sing the school alma mater, “Carmen, Ohio.”<br /> <br /> “Last one; last time,” Barnett repeated to the seniors around him.<br /> <br /> In the interview room, he the less-experienced Buckeyes understood the theme of the day.<br /> <br /> “I’ll remember all the seniors,” freshman <strong>Dontre Wilson</strong> said. “This was a great group of seniors. I wasn’t around them a lot but just in the short time I’ve been with them (I could see) they’re really good dudes, and I hope the best for all of them in their future.”<br /> <br /> Added junior defensive lineman <strong>Michael Bennett</strong>, “We win for each other. The BCS will work itself out. You can’t really control it so we just go out there and try to win for each other, and for Buckeye Nation.” http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-24/Family_Atmosphere_Fuels_OSU.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-24/Family_Atmosphere_Fuels_OSU.aspx 88d7b642-a40d-4e64-a586-d7e820cbf2f6 Mon, 25 Nov 2013 05:58:33 GMT Rapp Around: No Flow For O No. 8 Ohio State returned home after blowing up Marquette’s national-best home win streak, continued its winning ways with a 63-52 victory over American on Wednesday night and is now 4-0 on the season.<br /> <br /> That’s the flowery version of the current state of OSU basketball.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes made just 20 of 56 shots (35.7 percent) on the night including 7 of 27 (25.9 percent) in the first half and also were a dismal 3 of 16 (18.8 percent) from three-point range.<br /> <br /> It was a dreadful shooting performance that prevented OSU from truly electrifying the Schottenstein Center or pulling away from the pesky Eagles (1-2).<br /> <br /> That’s the simple version of what was unsightly.<br /> <br /> Now let’s delve a little deeper.<br /> <br /> What exactly is going on with the Buckeyes? Why is offensive flow a foreign concept for them right now? And why in the world can’t they shoot the basketball with any measure of consistency?<br /> <br /> Well, here are some theories and observations as well as some extra analysis to consider:<br /> <br /> <strong>Clank You Very Much –</strong> The Buckeyes are helping their foes gain early confidence and setting themselves up for struggle with poor shooting early in games.<br /> <br /> <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> and <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> are content to set up others in the opening minutes, <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> has high energy but has not gotten untracked offensively early in games, <strong>Amir Williams</strong> doesn’t exactly demand the ball in the post at the outset and <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> is being tightly checked and looks flustered.<br /> <br /> Add it all up and you get very rough shooting starts. Poor shooting tends to beget poor shooting.<br /> <br /> “I’ve always said shooting is contagious,” head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong> said afterward.<br /> <br /> And when this team struggles, Matta encourages it to stay aggressive by pushing the ball when possible and driving into the lane to force the hand of the officials.<br /> <br /> It worked to some degree in the first half when the Buckeyes couldn’t muster anything resembling a run yet still led 28-23 at the break thanks to a 12-for-14 showing at the free-throw line compliments of nine first-half fouls by the Eagles.<br /> <br /> Like many other accomplished coaches, Matta is concerned about the way games will be called this year and knows players who can draw contact are going to the free-throw line. Unless a defender is already established, completely set and outside the restricted area, he’s getting sacked with a blocking call.<br /> <br /> Which leads to another point …<br /> <br /> <strong>It’s All About The D –</strong> Matta has preached defense since the day he arrived to Columbus, and his predication on that has paid off immensely.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes typically are among the best teams in the country in playing high-quality, position, hand-in-your-face defense and doing it without all of the bumping and clutching that leads to foul trouble.<br /> <br /> Against American, for example, they committed just 10 fouls and the Eagles ended up with just seven free throws. American did a very good job to make the extra pass, hit shots at the end of the shot clock and execute on set plays and out of timeouts. The visitors’ 21-of-46 showing (45.7 percent) was admirable.<br /> <br /> But the Eagles were never going to win in The Schott turning the ball over 27 times, taking just six free throws and making only four triples.<br /> <br /> Matta was displeased about a lot of facets of the game and definitely read his team the riot act in a couple timeout huddles. But he knows there is no need to panic or to overhaul the plan as long as the Buckeyes are controlling foes defensively.<br /> <br /> Defense is the calling card – and it’s what makes Ohio State elite.<br /> <br /> Defense comes more easily for OSU’s starting guards – Craft, Scott and Smith – and the trio puts a lot of effort into it. It’s the same for sixth man <strong>Sam Thompson</strong>, who is OSU’s fourth-best guard.<br /> <br /> Craft is simply the best on-ball defender in college basketball and Scott is an absolute pest as well. Smith has long arms that he has to wind up to shoot his jumper but are ideal for bothering opposing players on the wing. Thompson is a freakish athlete who is still learning how to become a complete basketball player.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, Williams is lengthy and gets off his feet easily, which has always made him a threat to block shots. He is working at his offensive game as evidenced by his career-high 16 points vs. American. In fact, he had a couple tip-ins but also scored off of moves in the post including one gorgeous play where he was able to isolate himself in the lane and turn right into an in-rhythm left-handed hook shot.<br /> <br /> Still, Williams is mostly on the floor over the slightly more offensively skilled <strong>Trey McDonald</strong> because of his length and ability to wipe away defensive mistakes.<br /> <br /> Which leads to another point …<br /> <br /> <strong>Q Is For Question Mark? –</strong> Remember when <strong>Deshaun Thomas</strong> labeled himself as the X-factor of the team? Well, Ross has assumed that role.<br /> <br /> Many expected Ross to ramp up his production and take on much of the offensive burden after Thomas and his Big Ten-leading 19.8 points per game made an early departure from the program in the spring.<br /> <br /> At 6-8 and having displayed the ability to both shoot from deep and drive through the lane and finish in big-time fashion during the postseason, Ross was the most likely candidate to become a 15-point scorer this season.<br /> <br /> That may have been a high expectation given that he averaged 8.3 ppg last season but also that he’s not finding points very easy to come by so far as a junior.<br /> <br /> Even after putting up 14 points in the opener with Morgan State, coach <strong>Todd Bozeman</strong> said he was surprised Ross wasn’t featured more in the OSU offense. Ross was 5 for 14 from the field in that game and 3 for 10 with 10 points in the follow-up with Ohio University.<br /> <br /> Saturday at Marquette, he put up a donut as in no points. Ross never had anything close to a stroke at the Bradley Center – he was 0 of 6 from the field, 0 of 3 from three-point range.<br /> <br /> When Ross splashed a three in the first half of the American game, fans let out a chant of “Q!” However, he ended the stanza just 1 of 5 from the field and missed his only two attempts in the second half. He finished with just four points, but also noteworthy was that he played only 19 minutes.<br /> <br /> If Ross, who has had a couple nagging injuries so far this season, continues to come up empty with his shooting, Matta is going to be even more inclined to get freshman <strong>Marc Loving</strong> on the floor, especially in preconference games. Loving is 6-7 but has long arms and is a more natural rebounder than Ross.<br /> <br /> If OSU can set up Ross and get him cooking, one wonders at what that could do for the offense. Craft and Scott can create plays but are much better shooters when they are left alone on the arc. Smith also does much better when he can play off of a shifting defense.<br /> <br /> Matta, as usual, has put an emphasis on ball unselfishness but Ross and someone else – Smith? <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong>? – also need to be perimeter threats to make it all click. And the passes need to be better.<br /> <br /> Which leads to another point …<br /> <br /> <strong>Hit Me In The Chest –</strong> The Buckeyes look like they are just zipping the ball around without a lot of purpose to their passes. Against American, they had 10 assists compared to 14 turnovers. In their previous home game against Ohio U. they had nine assists and nine turnovers.<br /> <br /> Matta wants at least a 2-to-1 ration on assists-to-turnovers, especially with essentially two point guards on the floor for much of the game. Those numbers, of course, will go up as the shooting improves but it isn’t as simple as waiting for jumpers to start falling through the net.<br /> <br /> Many of OSU’s halfcourt passes were simply off the mark. Craft threw one over the American bench in the first half. Smith almost did the same but was fortunate Ross caught his cross-court bullet on a cut. Several passes out to open players on the wing were at head level or higher and not where players could catch and go right into a shot with comfort.<br /> <br /> Matta said the ball movement still isn’t sharp and he will address it in practice.<br /> <br /> “If you notice, great shooting teams are great passing teams, too,” he said.<br /> <br /> No, there isn’t a <strong>Jon Diebler</strong> on this team. And the Buckeyes may struggle to shoot consistently well all season. But there are areas in which the Buckeyes can significantly improve and salvage their offense.<br /> <br /> If they do, the top-10 ranking will be justified. If they don’t, expect a lot more games like the one with American on Wednesday. http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-21/Rapp_Around_No_Flow_For_O.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-21/Rapp_Around_No_Flow_For_O.aspx 88f63acf-623b-4004-9ce1-a814dfa56313 Thu, 21 Nov 2013 16:09:03 GMT Roby Ready For Stetch Run At the outset of the week and with Ohio State’s senior sendoff approaching, head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> was asked about the inevitability of a few juniors following the seniors out the door.<br /> <br /> It was a fair a question, especially considering quarterback <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>, linebacker <strong>Ryan Shazier</strong> and cornerback <strong>Bradley Roby</strong> are at least going to be very tempted to listen to NFL agents and scouts – if they aren’t already.<br /> <br /> “That’s real,” Meyer admitted. “At some point, it’s after the season, between the bowl game and end of the season.&nbsp;I’ve sat in a lot of those meetings.&nbsp;We’ll probably have a couple this year. But not yet.”<br /> <br /> Meyer, of course, is more attuned to the current quest of the Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0), who have slipped to No. 4 in The Associated Press rankings despite dumping Illinois Saturday, 60-35, and tying the school mark with their 22nd straight victory.<br /> <br /> One of the continual concerns going forward has been the play of the secondary, although it has improved in recent weeks.<br /> <br /> A redshirt junior who was touted as a preseason All-American, Roby was suspended for the opener and didn’t start in Week 2 because of an off-field incident over the summer. Senior safety <strong>C.J. Barnett</strong> also missed the Buffalo game on Aug. 31 because of an ankle injury and had to ease his way back to full strength.<br /> <br /> Then Barnett’s role changed when his senior cohort, longtime starting safety <strong>Christian Bryant</strong>, was hurt in the final moments of the Big Ten opener with Wisconsin and was lost for the rest of the season. Barnett shifted from free to strong safety and senior <strong>Corey “Pitt” Brown</strong> was added into the mix, and struggled at first.<br /> <br /> Redshirt freshman <strong>Tyvis Powell</strong> has played admirably at nickel but is getting worn out since so many teams have employed multiple receivers. Plus, Powell is a mainstay on special teams. He played more than 100 snaps at Illinois.<br /> <br /> Ironically, the steady Eddie of the group has been <strong>Doran Grant</strong>, who was a new face as a starting corner at the beginning of the season, replacing the departed <strong>Travis Howard</strong>.<br /> <br /> Still, there is hope that the group can jell for the stretch run and much of that optimism centers on the improved play of Roby, who admitted being foggy at times earlier this season.<br /> <br /> “I just really had to focus and just get back to how I approached the game last year,” said Roby, who drew praise from Meyer after the 63-14 destruction of Penn State. “The first half of this season I was just really worried about too many other things than what my job was and I forgot doing my job is what got me here in the first place.<br /> <br /> “So I just got back and got back to the basics and the small things, because the small things will get you far.”<br /> <br /> When asked what was sidetracking him, Roby offered, “Just trying to make too many plays, trying to live up to something. At corner you’ve got to wait for the plays to come to you. You can’t go to the plays, because when you try to do that too much that’s when you get beat on double moves, that’s when you get beat with a deep pass when you’re in Cover 3, things like that.<br /> <br /> “You’ve got to just wait until it comes to you. You’ve got to do what you’re supposed to do on every play and eventually it will come to you. And if you’re a good player, you’ll make the plays.”<br /> <br /> Roby did just that at Illinois and helped set an early tone when he picked off a <strong>Nathan Scheelhaase</strong> pass a raced 63 yards for a touchdown, juking Scheelhaase near the numbers to punctuate the play.<br /> <br /> It actually was Roby’s second score of the year as earlier he blocked a Northwestern punt and smothered it in the end zone. Last season, Roby scored three times as he found the end zone on a blocked kick, interception and fumble recovery/return.<br /> <br /> Despite missing the first game and struggling in parts of others, Roby still ranks fourth on the team in tackles with 45 and leads the Buckeyes with three interceptions and nine passes broken up.<br /> <br /> So what has been the problem?<br /> <br /> Well, Roby has been guilty of trying too hard to make a game-turning play at times. Also, Ohio State has had to try to slow down some of the better passing attacks in the country, most notably that of California, a team OSU defeated 52-34 in mid-September.<br /> <br /> Against Wisconsin, the OSU coaches had the safeties crept up so much to sell out against perhaps the nation’s best running attack that Roby and Grant were virtually left alone to cover wideouts. Roby was victimized by one of the most savvy receivers in the country that day as <strong>Jared Abbrederis</strong> amassed 10 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown.<br /> <br /> Meyer and defensive coordinator <strong>Luke Fickell</strong> shouldered much of the blame for that outcome but the players and coaches went to work to try to fix the problems in the defensive backfield. The answers didn’t come immediately with Bryant out of the equation.<br /> <br /> “I think as we started off without him, it was kind of tough,” Roby said. “I think you saw that in the Northwestern game. We struggled a little bit as a secondary, just different people in different positions and we were not used to it. <br /> <br /> “It comes with time and effort in practice to get it down pat and I think C.J. has done a great job of filling into Christian’s role and also being a leader and helping Corey out, and Corey is just fitting his position and making plays. I think it’s had to come with time.”<br /> <br /> Patience also has been a virtue for Roby as he assesses his own situation.<br /> <br /> As a redshirt sophomore and third-year player last season, he had the option of throwing his name into the NFL draft ring. He came close to doing so, but decided to take one more shot at winning a prestigious bowl game and possibly a national title, opportunities the Buckeyes weren’t afforded last year because of a postseason ban and NCAA sanctions.<br /> <br /> Roby had an admirable spring but put himself in a bad situation when he was arrested in a Bloomington, Ind., bar and charged with assault on a bouncer. The charge eventually was dropped, but Meyer still admonished Roby’s behavior publicly and docked the star cornerback a game.<br /> <br /> When Roby failed to play at an elite level earlier in the year, Meyer theorized his best cover man was dealing with “buyer’s remorse.” Roby basically admitted that was the case.<br /> <br /> But now he is facing perhaps his final home game as the Buckeyes get set to host Indiana (4-6, 2-4) on Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m. Eastern, ABC/ESPN2). As fate would have it, Roby will be trying to shut down another sizzling passing attack and face the team that hails from the very college town where his trouble began.<br /> <br /> It will be a chance for Roby to remind everyone of his talents and to prove that his head is indeed on straight.<br /> <br /> His lesson in humility learned, Roby just wants to finish strongly.<br /> <br /> “You can’t overlook an opponent, because at the end of the day we have more to lose than they do,” he said. “You can’t overlook anybody. You see that every week, some team comes out of nowhere and beats a team that they shouldn’t beat. They’re all scholarship players and if you don’t play to your potential you can get beat any day.”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-20/Roby_Ready_For_Stetch_Run.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-20/Roby_Ready_For_Stetch_Run.aspx df632c51-b6ed-41e1-b907-d63c7d390ec9 Wed, 20 Nov 2013 19:14:57 GMT Illibuck Secured, But At A Cost So this is the reality with which we are now faced:<br /> <br /> In a 25-point win over Illinois on Saturday, third-ranked Ohio State scored 60 points, rolled up nearly 600 yards of offense and amassed well over 400 yard rushing, had a running back put up the third-best individual effort in program history, set a new team record for average yards per carry (10.5), broke the school seasonal scoring record, and tied the mark for most consecutive wins in program history and … basically no one is happy.<br /> <br /> Head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> was grumbly when he walked off the Memorial Field turf at halftime and his Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0) held a 35-14 lead, and his mood wasn’t any better afterward.<br /> <br /> <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong>, who torched the hapless Illini (3-7, 0-6) for a career-high 246 yards and a couple 50-plus-yard breakaway scoring runs in the fourth quarter, said afterward, “We’ll enjoy this win,” but the insincerity in his voice was evident.<br /> <br /> No one involved in the 60-35 victory, not even Hyde – who scored five times and tied the highest rushing total <strong>Archie Griffin</strong> ever put up in his illustrious career with 246 yards – was about to do a dance in the locker room or skip to the bus.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes were sloppy and disjointed for stretches of the game and held only a 12-point lead at 47-35 midway through the fourth quarter before Hyde got out the hammer. That it took OSU’s top back and quarterback <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> to still be running the ball at that late juncture is enough indication of the difficulty.<br /> <br /> A 33-point favorite, the Buckeyes were facing an Illinois team that hadn’t won its last 19 Big Ten games and was allowing 300 yards per game in league play this season. The Illini are one of the worst teams in the country in first downs allowed and third-down conversion percentage allowed yet OSU punter <strong>Cameron Johnston</strong> was called upon six times, tying a season high.<br /> <br /> At halftime, OSU led by three touchdowns but one of the scores was compliments of a pick-6 by cornerback <strong>Bradley Roby</strong> and Miller was just 10 of 20 passing for 90 yards at the break. Illinois had as many first downs as OSU – 12 – at intermission and actually held a 16:25 to 13:35 advantage in time of possession.<br /> <br /> The passing game regressed after the break as Miller was just 3 of 9. Tight ends were not targeted and <strong>Philly Brown</strong> was the only Buckeye with more than two receptions – he had seven for 49 yards but just 1 for 5 in the second half.<br /> <br /> Miller supported Hyde with a stellar rushing day of his own – 184 yards – but offensive coordinator <strong>Tom Herman</strong> wasn’t able to tap into backup tailback <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong>, a freshman who should have gained valuable experience, or running back <strong>Rod Smith</strong>.<br /> <br /> Freshman <strong>Dontre Wilson</strong> was visibly irked on the sideline after he took one handoff for 7 yards and was summoned off the field for the next play. He didn’t see the backfield after that.<br /> <br /> It was almost too easy for the offense early on as Miller kept the ball on a read-option play and zipped 70 yards through a spread-out UI defense for a touchdown on the game’s third play.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes also got an 18-yard swing pass from Miller to Hyde for a score and built the lead up to 28-0, the fourth TD coming on an 11-yard pass from Miller to Brown, but that’s when the game got sketchy from an OSU point of view.<br /> <br /> Ohio State entered the day knowing middle linebacker <strong>Curtis Grant</strong> would be held out because of an ankle injury. Also, strongside ’backer <strong>Josh Perry</strong>, who recovered from minor surgery on his hand early in the week, slipped on icy pavement back in Columbus and was too banged up to make the trip. And not that it mattered much, Hyde was held out of the first series for missing a class.<br /> <br /> As the game unfolded, OSU’s line situation was troubled. Senior left tackle and team leader <strong>Jack Mewhort</strong> hyperextended his knee in practice on Thursday and missed much of the Illinois game, though he did see the field in a time of need. Meanwhile, freshman defensive lineman <strong>Joey Bosa</strong> suffered a neck stinger after proving to be a menace early in the game and did not return.<br /> <br /> The injuries and apparent let-up by the Buckeyes led to some strange plays, including a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown by Illinois’ <strong>V’Angelo Bentley</strong>, a product of Cleveland Glenville. Johnston, who came into the game having just two of his kicks returned for any yardage, boomed a 63-yard punt over everyone and the Buckeyes did not stay in the their lanes in trying to run down Bentley.<br /> <br /> “Our special teams are a little bit of a mess right now,” Meyer said. “Some of the guys playing right now, quite frankly, haven’t played at all. As a result, we just have to coach better. I can’t wait to get back to work tomorrow.”<br /> <br /> The second half produced a bizarre sequence that led to Illinois head coach <strong>Tim Beckman</strong> shouting down offensive coordinator <strong>Bill Cubit</strong> and other coaches having to separate the two. Beckman’s rage was brought on when Cubit called for a dropback pass play on third-and-long with backup quarterback <strong>Reilly O’Toole</strong> on the field and the Illini facing third-and-long.<br /> <br /> O’Toole was smacked and fumbled, causing a safety and allowing OSU to turn a 35-21 lead into 44-21 in a matter of minutes.<br /> <br /> The turning point was set up when <strong>Tommy Schutt</strong> spun down Illinois quarterback <strong>Nathan Scheelhaase</strong> near the goal line and caused the QB’s helmet to fly off. By rule, Scheelhaase had to leave the field. Illinois was called for a false start to make it third-and-14 yet Cubit still stayed with the same formation and same play, which called for his inexperience QB to set up in the end zone looking for a receiver.<br /> <br /> Still, Scheelhaase returned and rallied the home team with his legs, arms, poise and patience.<br /> <br /> A four-year starter, Scheelhaase threw for 288 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions and ran for an additional 46 yards and a score.<br /> <br /> “I’m a big fan of No. 2,” Meyer said. “I told him after the game that I think he’s a great player. I thought he was hard to defend today. We were playing a quarterback that created plays.”<br /> <br /> It took the two late TD jaunts of 51 and 55 yards from Hyde to give OSU some much-needed breathing room, but not necessarily peace of mind.<br /> <br /> “In my head, I was just thinking, ‘Man, we could’ve done this the whole game,’ ” Hyde said. “That last run, I had energy and I feel like we could have that momentum the whole game. I try to provide juice for the offense. Being a leader, I want to get everyone going.”<br /> <br /> Hyde’s 246 yards rushing tied Griffin for third-most in a game for a Buckeye. <strong>Eddie George</strong> has the all-time mark with 313 yards on the ground vs. Illinois in 1995, which helped George win the Heisman Trophy that fall.<br /> <br /> <strong>Keith Byars</strong> had 274 yards and five TDs in 1984 against, you guessed it, Illinois.<br /> <br /> OSU needed the ground attack on a day when Miller struggled with the windy conditions and couldn’t match the numbers from Scheelhaase.<br /> <br /> Miller came in completing 72.5 percent of his passes on the season but was just 13 of 29 (44.8 percent for 150 yards at Illinois. At least that was better than his 1-for-4 passing day at Illinois two years ago during a 17-7 win.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes didn’t come home to a parade and they certainly don’t want one yet. However, they can set a new program mark with win No. 23 in a row – all of them under Meyer – by just taking care of an Indiana team that lost 51-3 at Wisconsin on Saturday.<br /> <br /> The Hoosiers (4-6, 2-4) will enter Ohio Stadium on Nov. 23 when the Buckeyes will send off their senior class. http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-17/Illibuck_Secured_But_At_A_Cost.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-17/Illibuck_Secured_But_At_A_Cost.aspx 3d028ebf-e77f-45d6-913f-78e188488915 Sun, 17 Nov 2013 21:07:04 GMT Matta Likes 2014 Recruiting Haul When <strong>Thad Matta</strong> signed just one prep player to a letter-of-intent (guard <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong>) a couple years ago and followed up with two more (forward <strong>Marc Loving</strong> and guard <strong>Kameron Williams</strong>) last year, some followers of Ohio State basketball wondered if the coach was losing his recruiting touch.<br /> <br /> But Matta, now embarked on his 10th season at the school, knew he had the makings of an outstanding 2014 class and had immediate strong feelings for all four members.<br /> <br /> After that quartet signed and Ohio State had gathered all the necessary paperwork, Matta was able to talk about his latest haul – and extol the virtues of each player.<br /> <br /> In order of how highly coveted they were nationally, the new class consists of 6-5 guard <strong>D’Angelo Russell</strong> of Montverde (Fla.) Academy, 6-7 combo forward <strong>Keita Bates-Diop</strong> of Normal (Ill.) Community, 6-4 forward <strong>Jae’Sean Tate</strong> of Pickerington (Ohio) Central, and 6-9 power forward/center <strong>David Bell</strong> of Garfield Heights (Ohio) HS.<br /> <br /> Virtually every service rated the class in the top five nationally, most at second or third overall.<br /> <br /> Russell is native of Louisville, Ky., and most analysts assumed he’d pick his hometown and defending national champion Cardinals if not Indiana. Instead, he decided to become a Buckeye, which is very good news for OSU fans considering his all-around ability.<br /> <br /> Bates-Diop, like Russell, is a top-50 prospect who is coming off an outstanding summer and easily could have ended up at a nearby school like Illinois or Michigan. He has an advanced game and can face the basket despite having the length of a post player.<br /> <br /> The son of former Buckeye forward <strong>Jermaine Tate</strong>, Jae’Sean is a board-eater and fierce competitor who helped Central win the 2012 state title. Many rated him as the top player in Ohio last season.<br /> <br /> Bell is considered a relatively raw prospect but has a 7-5 wingspan and is developing as an effective inside player with offensive tough and defensive presence.<br /> <br /> Add it up and Ohio State has a lot of weapons in tow – even after senior guards <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> and <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> depart.<br /> <br /> “I’m just very, very excited about this class.” Matta told reporters Thursday evening.<br /> <br /> The following are Matta’s comments about each Ohio State signee:<br /> <br /> <strong>On Russell –</strong> “You’re getting another great guard at Ohio State. In terms of what position is he, is he a point guard, is he a two guard, I don’t know exactly, I think we can run him at both. But he’s got ability to make big time-plays with the basketball in his hands, be it three-point shots, driving, getting fouled. He makes guys around him better.<br /> <br /> “He’s a guy who’s won a national championship as a high school player. Montverde is one of the top high school programs in the country. He’s been coached.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On Diop –</strong> “You’re getting a long, 6-7½, 6-8 athlete that can really, really shoot the basketball. I think from the standpoint of playing multiple positions, he scores, he passes, he rebounds, he can defend, he can handle the basketball.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On Tate –</strong> “Everybody’s asked me, ‘What position is Jae’Sean?’ And I always answer, ‘I don’t know, but I know he’s going to be on the floor.’<br /> <br /> “He’s a warrior. The things that we’ve talked about with him in terms of since the day he’s committed to us is we wanted him to get better. He shoots the ball from deep a lot better, he’s got a great first step. He can guard, I think, all five positions on the floor, He’s won a state championship.<br /> <br /> “Jermaine was a great player as well. You’re getting a great player and you’re getting a guy who is a Buckeye.”<br /> <br /> <strong>On Bell –</strong> “I think David Bell from Cleveland, first saw him he hasn’t been playing basketball like a lot of kids for a long time, (but) he’s 6-9, he’s long, he’s athletic. He’s one of those kids that wants to be at Ohio State. I think we’ll bring his skill along. But he runs the floor, he blocks shots, he rebounds out of his area.”<br /> <br /> Ohio State had designs on adding a fifth player to the signing class in 6-10 <strong>Payton Dastrap</strong> of Mesa (Ariz.) Mountain View, but days after verbally committing to Matta the young post player changed his mind and signed with BYU.<br /> <br /> Matta, therefore, was not able to comment on Dastrap, who will go on a two-year Mormon mission right out of high school and join the Cougars’ program in 2016.<br /> <br /> Still, Matta knew he had the makings of yet another elite class and especially likes the foursome’s versatility and how it will fit into the equation.<br /> <br /> “I felt like we were in great position, and probably the biggest thing for me always is those guys are committed and you go to watch them in the summer and you leave the gym happy – and I was when I left the gym in terms of as a coach,” Matta said. “You guys probably sit and watch, ‘Oh, he did a 360, he’s going to be a great player.’ I probably see some things that are a little bit different in terms of knowing what we need when they get here and couldn’t be happier with that.”<br /> <br /> Russell, for example, has the size, shooting ability and oncourt savvy to be a standout for the Buckeyes, Matta said.<br /> <br /> “The first time I ever saw him play, he had six threes in the first half,” said the coach. “The second half he didn’t take one and probably had 10 assists. He’s got something about him. He takes and makes big shots. He wants the ball in his hands at crucial points in the game. He is very, very complete.<br /> <br /> “And one thing about him is he’s very athletic. Defensively, he reads things well and really uses his size and his length.”<br /> <br /> He added similar praise for Bates-Diop.<br /> <br /> “He’s high on his jump shot,” Matta said. “He’s very, very athletic. I love that about him.”<br /> <br /> Off to 2-0 start this season and ranked 10th in The Associated Press poll, Ohio State currently has 10 scholarship players on its roster. That number will swell to 12 next season, when the Buckeyes will be able to showcase more length, depth and athleticism.<br /> <br /> “We wanted to get Aaron and Lenzelle replaced and we feel unequivocally we did that with guys that can do a lot of different things,” Matta said.<br /> <br /> “It’s always a numbers game in terms of what we’re trying to do. I think that the biggest thing with this particular class, we got what we wanted in terms of the positioning and guys that can play those multiple positions for us.” http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-14/Matta_Likes_2014_Recruiting_Haul.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-14/Matta_Likes_2014_Recruiting_Haul.aspx f4587856-0689-41d8-b305-8235be7614d3 Fri, 15 Nov 2013 05:18:13 GMT Backcourt Battle Deluxe Ohio State’s hosting of Ohio University on Tuesday night wasn’t just another nonconference game and can’t be summed up as simply little brother trying to beat big brother. There were too many storylines for that tidy description.<br /> <br /> And the fact that the No. 10 Buckeyes were able to endure a foul-fest and hang on against the motivated Bobcats to post a 79-69 victory almost seems like a sidelight because of all the subplots.<br /> <br /> For starters, OSU head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong>, who played collegiately at Southern Illinois and Butler, has a mid-major background and has deep respect for the work that is done at that level. One of his first coaching gigs was as an assistant at Miami (Ohio) under <strong>Herb Sendek</strong>.<br /> <br /> In fact, Matta once shared an office in Oxford for about a month with <strong>Jim Christian</strong>, the current Ohio U. head coach. Christian came on board after <strong>Sean Miller</strong> left Miami.<br /> <br /> Matta’s most trusted assistant for years, <strong>John Groce</strong>, left Ohio State a few years ago to become the head coach at Ohio – with Matta’s blessing, of course. Ironically, the man Matta tabbed to replace Groce was <strong>Jeff Boals</strong>, a former Bobcat player who came from Akron, another Mid-American Conference school.<br /> <br /> Matta knows the dangers of playing MAC schools but still has welcomed the idea. His Ohio State teams have faced the likes of Miami, Kent State, Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan over the years. Two years ago, the Buckeyes actually held a scrimmage with the Bobcats.<br /> <br /> Ohio State went on to the Final Four that following March while OU was a darling of the NCAA Tournament by reaching the Sweet 16 under Groce and nearly knocking off North Carolina.<br /> <br /> The Bobcats lost standout guards <strong>D.J. Cooper</strong> and <strong>Walter Offutt</strong> after last season but still entered the Schottenstein Center Tuesday night with a veteran, battle-tested group.<br /> <br /> “They’ve got a very senior-, junior-dominant (roster), a lot of redshirts in the program, guys who have been here for a long time and won a lot of basketball games,” Matta said on the eve of the game.<br /> <br /> Ohio downed Northern Iowa by 11 points in its season opener, giving the OSU coaches even more reason for concern. However, Boals said he didn’t notice any extra tension.<br /> <br /> “Every game is a big game against Ohio State, and a lot of times the team you scout isn’t the team you play, especially the year we went 34-3 (in 2010-11),” he said. “We got everyone’s A-plus game.<br /> <br /> “Playing on the other side, coaching on the other side, it’s a huge game. When I came here I was an Ohio kid and like everyone who didn’t come here I wasn’t good enough to play at Ohio State. I think our guys understand that.<br /> <br /> “I don’t think it’s a no-win situation. Our guys are pretty determined. And when you have two seniors and five juniors like we have, you should never overlook anyone, especially an in-state opponent.”<br /> <br /> Three Ohio U. starters hail from central Ohio and were prep standouts – junior point guard <strong>Stevie Taylor</strong> (Gahanna Lincoln), senior shooting guard <strong>Nick Kellogg</strong> (Columbus DeSales) and redshirt senior forward <strong>Jon Smith</strong> (Grove City). Ohio State recruited Taylor and Kellogg, at least until securing <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> and <strong>Shannon Scott</strong>.<br /> <br /> And so the stage was set for a fairly riveting early-season encounter. Ohio State’s strength, its tenacious backcourt, would be tested by talented Ohio U. guards intent to play well at home and against the state school that rejected their services.<br /> <br /> And as an added bonus it turns out the backcourt battle about to be waged was one that had already happened several times before behind closed doors as Taylor and Kellogg spent some of their summer playing in open gyms at The Schott.<br /> <br /> “Obviously the better games you can play are in open gyms with us, so they came back a couple times this summer and we got to play a little bit,” said Craft, who also faced Taylor and Kellogg on the AAU circuit while in high school.<br /> <br /> When asked if they were good guys, Craft added, “Absolutely. Obviously Nick’s dad is a big Ohio State guy and we’ve talked to him a lot. He comes from a great family and so does Stevie. They’re great kids and competitive and they want to win just as much as we do.”<br /> <br /> Craft, of course, was referring to former OSU All-American and current CBS broadcaster <strong>Clark Kellogg</strong>, who also happens to be on The Ohio State University board of trustees.<br /> <br /> Clark and his wife, Rosy, sat in their season-ticket bought seats at The Schott only dressed in hunter green and rooting for the away team.<br /> <br /> They didn’t have much to cheer about early on as the Bobcats looked flustered in the opening minutes and spotted Ohio State at 9-0 lead. The diminutive Taylor finally got the lid off the basket by connecting on a deep jumper and moments later Nick Kellogg hit a three.<br /> <br /> Still, the Buckeyes built the lead to 17 and led 40-28 at the half with what appears to be the 2013-14 formula – strong perimeter defense, a group effort on the boards and balanced scoring.<br /> <br /> Taylor had problems handling Craft in the early going and was pulled from the game. Kellogg tried so hard to go after a loose ball at one point that Craft was able to zip by him and fire an outlet pass to Scott for an easy lay-in.<br /> <br /> But as the game progressed it was apparent the Bobcats would not given in and that Taylor and Kellogg were prepared to carry the load offensively. Faced with a 24-7 deficit, OU showed some pluck as Taylor splashed a three over Craft in front of OSU bench and, moments later, Kellogg stole an errant inbounds pass and made a nifty breakaway finish.<br /> <br /> Early in the second half, Kellogg was at it again when his second crazy left-handed hanger in the lane of the night cut the OSU lead to 44-32.<br /> <br /> A Kellogg trey right out of the under-8 timeout off an inbounds pass kept the Bobcats breathing at 59-47. With 6:43 left and OSU in the midst of a deep scoring drought, Taylor nailed a top-of-the-key three to cut the score to 61-50 and ignite a 13-4 run.<br /> <br /> Kellogg contributed a drive and nifty reverse lay-up in the spree while Taylor added a three-point play that required him to score while being knocked by the much larger <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> while speeding to the hoop on a breakaway.<br /> <br /> Suddenly, OSU fans who were eyeing an early exit were stuck in their seats watching the Buckeyes cling to a 65-60 lead with four minutes to go. Where the answers were going to come from remained a mystery.<br /> <br /> “You’ve got to make plays, make shots,” OSU senior <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> said after the game. “Unfortunately we weren’t hitting wide-open shots and the game just got ugly.”<br /> <br /> Smith, though, came through with a dagger just when the Buckeyes needed it. His three – and only made basket in five attempts – provided enough breathing room, a 74-64 lead with 1:55 to play.<br /> <br /> Kellogg, of course, answered with a three of his own as he ended up tying Taylor for game-high honors with 21 points.<br /> <br /> Still, the Buckeyes prevailed on a night when they shot just 40.9 percent from the field and accumulated just nine assists.<br /> <br /> Their best friend was the free-throw line.<br /> <br /> Benefiting from officials zinging the Bobcats with 34 personal fouls – four OU players ended up fouling out – the Buckeyes were awarded 51 foul shots and made 38 (74.5 percent).<br /> <br /> Ohio State was called for 21 fouls but did a better job of adjusting to the tight officiating.<br /> <br /> “I think it was good for us,” Craft, who scored 14 of his team-high 18 points at the charity stripe, said afterward. “As good of a basketball team as we think we are there are still some times and some situations where we need to get better. There were distractions going on and we really needed to focus.”<br /> <br /> Christian didn’t complain about the foul calls and instead immediately pointed to the positives of his team showing fight against a top-10 team.<br /> <br /> “This is why we played this game,” said the coach. “It’s the same reason why we played Northern Iowa and it’s the same reason why we have Valparaiso next. We wanted three really, really good teams and see, ‘OK, what do we have to correct, what do we have to get better at?’ We learned some things about ourselves, no question about it.”<br /> <br /> One thing he learned was that Kellogg and Taylor, who set a new career high in scoring, were up to the challenge of facing one of the fiercest backcourts in the country.<br /> <br /> Craft learned it as well.<br /> <br /> “Those guys are great players,” he said. “We saw that this summer when they came in and played with us. They made some shots early then they started playing with a lot of confidence. And they put them in position to be successful.”<br /> <br /> Added a hoarse Matta, “They did a great job with Taylor and Kellogg of just kind of isoing and driving us, and they made some really, really tough shots.”<br /> <br /> Taylor said it was a night to remember.<br /> <br /> “I had a great time playing at home,” he said. “I know all those players. I play with them in the summer. I look at it as another game to play against some good friends and being able to compete. Craft is a really good player and I thought we both played a good game today. His team won but at the end of the day it was a good experience coming home and playing in front of the home fans.”<br /> <br /> Added Kellogg, “Growing up in Columbus and Pops being who he is, I guess this, in a sense, is home. But at the end of the day I prefer Athens.”<br /> <br /> Nick’s father understood the sentiment.<br /> <br /> When asked right after the game if it was an unusual night for him, Clark told SportsRappUp, “Very much so but excited for Nick and for the OU Bobcats and the Columbus kids. Having a chance to play in this kind of environment is really useful for going forward.<br /> <br /> “I’m really proud of Nick – I’ve always been proud of him because he handles himself the right way and was really happy to see him play relaxed and confident and aggressive, and that’s all you ask for – go after it and let the chips fall where they will.”<br /> <br /> Clark, of course, is very familiar with the Buckeyes but when asked if he offered his son any tactical advice, he said, “No, not at all. They do tons of film study as well. We always talk prior to the game about the scouting report but that was it.”<br /> <br /> He then added, “Really it’s about trying to get better and playing in this kind of environment. It’s different when you play a road game against a top-15 team in their building. So it’s all good from where I sit.”<br /> <br /> Clark donned a “Green Fever” T-shirt and clearly was supporting the Bobcats.<br /> <br /> Asked if he sensed his dad might have trouble doing so, Nick said flatly, “There was no trouble. I’m his son. He’s going to root for me.”<br /> <br /> “It was all more for Nick,” Clark said. “Obviously I’m scarlet and gray through and through but this is a night I was going ‘Green Fever’ and wouldn’t have minded seeing the Bobcats win.<br /> <br /> “I know how good Ohio State is and what this place means to me, but for one night it wouldn’t have been too bad seeing the Bobcats come out on top. It didn’t happen, but it was fun being a part of it.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-13/Backcourt_Battle_Deluxe.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-13/Backcourt_Battle_Deluxe.aspx 8bd328ae-4909-4c86-b1cb-fc6cef6aeb74 Wed, 13 Nov 2013 18:49:27 GMT Needing Help, But Confident While Ohio State football fans fret about the postseason outlook and continue to be tantalized with their team climbing to the No. 3 hole of the BCS standings, the Buckeyes have that confident glow.<br /> <br /> Head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> admitted during his weekly press luncheon Monday that he has been voting his team No. 2 in the USA Today coaches poll and that he is now even more convinced the Buckeyes are deserving of the status.<br /> <br /> Also, wide receiver <strong>Evan Spencer</strong>, not known for braggadocio, even managed to speculate that the Buckeyes would “wipe the field” with either of the two teams perched above OSU in the rankings and BCS formula – Alabama or Florida State.<br /> <br /> Now that’s self-assurance.<br /> <br /> Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 in the Big Ten) is rested after an open week and ready for the stretch run.<br /> <br /> Meyer said linebacker <strong>Josh Perry</strong> had surgery on a dislocated finger, but practiced Monday and is now full-go. Middle LB <strong>Curtis Grant</strong> was held out of practice because of soreness in his ankle and lower back but is expected to be back at practice later in the week and will play at Illinois. And right tackle <strong>Taylor Decker</strong> is recovering well from a sprained MCL in his left knee, an injury he suffered in the second half of the 56-0 whitewashing of Purdue on Nov. 2.<br /> <br /> “He’s good,” Meyer said of Decker. “He practiced today. He should be able to go full contact.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes will chase history and try to tie the school mark for consecutive wins (22) when they take on Illinois (3-6, 0-5) in Champaign on Saturday (noon Eastern, ESPN). That shouldn’t be a problem considering the Illini, losers of 19 straight Big Ten contests, are allowing right around 240 yards a game both on the ground and in the air per game, hence the 33-point line from oddsmakers.<br /> <br /> Following that, the Buckeyes will play at home for the first time in four weeks on Nov. 23 vs. Indiana (4-5, 2-3), another team with major defensive deficiencies. That, of course, will lead to the regular-season finale on Nov. 30 at Michigan (6-3, 2-3), a team that could be in a downward spiral and one that figures to have its hands full at Northwestern this weekend.<br /> <br /> The best case scenario is to continue to lay waste to those three opponents – although doing so in the Big House is never a given – and for the nation to care about the Big Ten title game, which likely will pit OSU against the winner of the Legends Division showdown between Nebraska and Michigan State on Saturday.<br /> <br /> Ohio State leads the conference in a plethora of categories including scoring (48.2 points per game), total offense (530.9 yards per game), rushing offense (301.1 ypg), pass efficiency (171.2), first downs (27.1 per game), third-down conversions (54.2 percent), turnover margin (+9) and even kickoff returns (25.0). They also have a top-10 defense nationally in terms of yards allowed despite all the early concerns about that side of the ball.<br /> <br /> But the Buckeyes dominating Big Ten foes may not be enough to convince pundits they are national championship material, which is why Meyer also admitted Monday he has made his team aware that it has to go full-throttle from here on out.<br /> <br /> Meyer passed out a few one-game-at-a-time and control-what-we-can-control clichés earlier in the campaign, but now is outright politicking for his team.<br /> <br /> “It’s awful, but I work for our players,” Meyer said last week. “I’ve been there before a couple times where some things had to happen right. For us to waste energy on that, it’s not fair to the players we coach.<br /> <br /> “But at the end of the day, I’m working for the families of our coaching staff and the families of our players. That’s who we work for.”<br /> <br /> The coaches and the players said they spent much of the weekend doing what fans did, which is watch the key games and try to assess the college football landscape. After doing so they are even more assured that they belong in the discussion and have a case to be slotted in the top two of the BCS standings.<br /> <br /> Stanford helped that cause by upsetting Oregon on Thursday, although the No. 4 Cardinal (8-1) is now breathing down Ohio State’s neck, as is No. 5 Baylor (8-0), which waxed Oklahoma the same night.<br /> <br /> “We have to do everything in our power to not let anybody from behind jump us, and we’re absolutely interested in it because it’s no longer a case of us just playing our best,” center <strong>Corey Linsley</strong> said. “We also have to have somebody else not play their best. And if we beat Penn State 13-10 (instead of 63-14), we’re not in this conversation. Baylor jumps us or Stanford jumps us, or whatever.<br /> <br /> “We’re not facing the No. 5 team in the nation (at Illinois) or from then on out. Call it unsportsmanlike, call it running up the score, we’re trying to accomplish something that nobody else in our conference is trying to accomplish at this point.”<br /> <br /> The only Big Ten team that could help the OSU resume at this point appears to be Michigan State (8-1), which leads the nation in defense according to several statistical categories. The Spartans are No. 14 in The Associated Press poll and No. 16 in the BCS standings.<br /> <br /> Nebraska likely would jump back into the top 25 with a win over MSU in Lincoln this weekend.<br /> <br /> Most of the scoreboard watching, though, will involve following teams with very small numbers next to their school name.<br /> <br /> No. 1 Alabama (9-0) just swamped LSU but has a road tester at Mississippi State on Saturday while No. 2 Florida State (9-0) hosts Syracuse. Those two teams finish the regular-season on the road – ’Bama at Auburn and Florida State at Florida.<br /> <br /> Stanford still has to play USC, Cal and Notre Dame. Baylor still has four Big 12 foes on the agenda – Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas.<br /> <br /> “There are some very good teams in the country ... and I believe we are a good team,” Meyer said Monday. “We’re a better functioning team (than last year’s 12-0 squad) and we are getting a little better on defense.”<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes might not win any more favor by beating Illinois but they still have to make sure they are ready to roll in a game that will kick off right around 11 a.m. local time and likely feature windy and cold conditions.<br /> <br /> Meyer continually called the Buckeyes an “invested” team on Monday and was pleased with the effort he saw from practice that morning while school was closed for Veterans Day.<br /> <br /> He said he is confident his team will take the Illinois test seriously and if there is a letdown, “it will be a bomb going off.<br /> <br /> (For a complete look at the latest BCS standings, click <a href="http://www.footballfoundation.org/Portals/7/nff/file_file/2013 Week 4_Short Form.pdf">HERE</a>.) http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-12/Needing_Help_But_Confident.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-12/Needing_Help_But_Confident.aspx 3e0648ce-28ef-49ff-90ae-dcf7c33670d5 Tue, 12 Nov 2013 15:49:06 GMT Rapp Around: For Openers The Ohio State men’s basketball team dumping Morgan State in its season opener Saturday afternoon, of course, was not a surprise.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes entered the campaign ranked No. 11 in the country, crushed Walsh 93-63 in an exhibition game six days prior, and have been nearly unbeatable in nonconference action at home under <strong>Thad Matta</strong>, who is entering his 10th season at the helm of the program.<br /> <br /> Plus, Ohio State figures to control a lot of games against inferior opponents with a deep and versatile backcourt that features lots of a ball handling and tenacious defense.<br /> <br /> However, some suspicions were confirmed and some pleasant surprises emerged during OSU’s 89-50 victory over the Bears.<br /> <br /> They follow:<br /> <br /> <strong>Wait, Shannon Scott can shoot now?</strong> The son of former North Carolina and NBA standout <strong>Charlie Scott</strong>, Shannon was a noteworthy get for Matta when he committed to the program out of Georgia a few years. He quickly won the favor of fans for his hustle, blazing speed and ability to create plays on the move.<br /> <br /> Scott, in fact, was a game-changer at times last year, perhaps most notworthy against Kansas. He’s mixed well with <strong>Aaron Craft</strong>, providing another lead guard option and someone who can threaten defenses off the dribble and with his passing.<br /> <br /> The downside has been Scott’s shooting, particularly his attempts from long range. He was a dismal 1 of 18 from three-point range as a freshman and even though he improved to a respectable 33.3 percent (11 of 33) last season, teams weren’t too concerned with leaving him alone at the arc.<br /> <br /> Until now, perhaps.<br /> <br /> In his first career start, Scott was sensational with 16 points, four rebounds and seven assists, but what really earned him praise was a 4-for7 showing from long range.<br /> <br /> Scott had never made more than two treys in a college and had only made more than one once until Saturday. In fact, at the 17:57 mark of the first half – 2:03 into the game and season – Scott was 3 for 3 on three-point attempts as OSU (1-0) built a quick 11-2 lead over the Bears (0-1).<br /> <br /> Now that’s an opening statement.<br /> <br /> If Scott can continue to shoot with any success from long range, Ohio State’s offense will open up a significant amount, especially with Craft also enduring his share of outside struggles from time to time.<br /> <br /> <strong>There’s help on the bench.</strong> It’s difficult to know right away what Matta’s rotation will look like, but there’s a good chance it could be pretty deep.<br /> <br /> <strong>Trey McDonald</strong> is the only other big man who can spell <strong>Amir Williams</strong> in the pivot and the junior finally looks ready to be a regular contributor. That’s important considering Williams historically has found foul trouble and also tends to lose his focus on the court.<br /> <br /> The 6-9 McDonald was very solid in his season debut with six points, five rebounds and an assist in 18 minutes. He’ll have to take better care of the ball – he recorded four turnovers, although a couple were not entirely his fault – and make a majority of his free throws to maintain lengthy time on the court, but, again, he’s the only real option if Williams needs to sit.<br /> <br /> The forward spots are in even better shape with veteran <strong>Sam Thompson</strong>, a starter all of last season, now coming off the bench, as well as freshman <strong>Marc Loving</strong>. Both are in the 6-7 range but have different skill sets.<br /> <br /> Thompson, of course, is a leaper and quality defender who can play anywhere on the wing. And like Scott, he’s a much-improved outside shooter. He was 2 of 3 from deep to go along with a pair of spectacular alley-oop dunks in a 14-point outing that also included three rebounds and a pair of blocks.<br /> <br /> Loving needs to gain strength but is still an effective combo forward with length and fluidity. A product of Toledo, Loving earned 16 minutes in his collegiate debut and came through with 10 points and five rebounds.<br /> <br /> With Thompson and Loving being so productive, the Buckeyes had five players in double figures for the first game just as they did in the tuneup with Walsh. <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> had a team-high 18 points and added nine rebounds while <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong> had a double-double with 14 and 11.<br /> <br /> <strong>It’s now clear the Buckeyes have to rebound by committee – and have taken that approach to heart.</strong> Williams added seven rebounds and Craft pulled down six, meaning Ohio State’s starting five accounted for 37 rebounds – more than Morgan State’s team total. With all the caroms counted, OSU owned a 55-34 advantage on the glass.<br /> <br /> Naturally, it will be more challenge for the Buckeyes to do as well in this category against the likes of Marquette, Maryland and Notre Dame and when Big Ten play sets in. Still, it’s an encouraging beginning to the effort.<br /> <br /> Loving and Ross make up for their lack of bulk with long arms and good timing going after the ball. Each had four offensive rebounds vs. Morgan State.<br /> <br /> <strong>Speaking of Ross, he’s going to have to show lots of tenacity this season.</strong> The 6-8 junior had a strange game as he was just 1 of 7 from the floor in the first half including one particularly frustrating sequence under the basket where he couldn’t convert or draw a foul call on three straight shot attempts.<br /> <br /> Ross had just four points at halftime but to his credit he never looked overly discouraged. Plus, he ripped nine rebounds in the half.<br /> <br /> In the second stanza, Ross finally found a groove and was a much-better 4 of 7 from the floor with all of his attempts inside the arc.<br /> <br /> That stick-to-it mentality will be important for the Buckeyes going forward when they need key buckets from Ross. Morgan State coach <strong>Todd Bozeman</strong> said he expected Ross to be featured in the offense the way <strong>Deshaun Thomas</strong> was last year and was surprised to see a more balanced approach.<br /> <br /> That Ross can log a double-double playing within the flow of the offense and in a game when he struggled from the floor is a very good omen for the Buckeyes.<br /> <br /> <strong>Any offensive consistency is huge because this Ohio State team can really defend.</strong> We suspected as much going into the season, but it’s still impressive to watch.<br /> <br /> Two Morgan State players were 1 of 8 from the field, another was 1 for 7. Leading scorer <strong>Justin Black</strong>, one of the MEAC’s most dangerous players, had 13 points but never got untracked. He was 6 of 19 from the floor and committed six turnovers.<br /> <br /> The Bears managed just six fastbreak points and were a mess in the half court. They were 9 of 31 (29.0 percent) from the floor in the first half and 11 of 34 (32.4 percent) in the second.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes actually garnered just three steals but blocked five shots and altered many others. With the hand-check rule now in effect it will be vital for them to hold teams down without being overly aggressive.<br /> <br /> First test passed.<br /> <br /> <strong>This should be fun.</strong> Yes, it was a season opener, but the attendance of 16,777 for a matinee against a no-name team was encouraging. So was the energy in the building.<br /> <br /> Could it be that Ohio State basketball has finally reached a point where those in attendance will now act like they are genuinely excited to be at The Schott on a consistent basis?<br /> <br /> With more students now down behind the benches and more true fans on hand, it appears the vast majority of those in attendance are out to have a good time – even on a Saturday when they could be Christmas shopping instead.<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-10/Rapp_Around_For_Openers.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-10/Rapp_Around_For_Openers.aspx 1e9a352d-a759-46ef-9497-c77e8d9539df Sun, 10 Nov 2013 19:32:46 GMT A Willing, Likely Top Option Ohio State basketball is back, and, as has been the usual case under head coach <strong>Thad Matta</strong>, the Buckeyes enter the season with an impressive amount of promise.<br /> <br /> Even with the loss of Big Ten leading scorer <strong>Deshaun Thomas</strong>, Ohio State is ranked No. 11 in the country heading into Saturday’s season opener vs. Morgan State (noon Eastern, BTN.com).<br /> <br /> “We’ve got real high expectations,” guard <strong>Shannon Scott</strong> said Friday, adding that a Big Ten title and even a national championship are in the Buckeyes’ sights.<br /> <br /> While voters are throwing the contention tag at the Buckeyes out of respect for the program – Matta, who is entering his 10th season as OSU coach, has won at least 20 games every season at the helm – some pundits still discount their chances to become a real cutting-down-the-nets threat.<br /> <br /> The reason is simple: Ohio State has no proven stars.<br /> <br /> <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> is one of the nation’s top on-ball defenders and floor leaders but has only been about a 10-point scorer as a collegiate starter. He can create plays and finish drives but is much more attuned <br /> <br /> <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> has been in the Big Ten and postseason wars and has had moments of comfort in the spotlight – like when he burned Syracuse’s zone in a Final Four-clinching win in Boston in 2012 – but has been inconsistent with his production. <strong>Sam Thompson</strong>’s progression has been similar on the wing.<br /> <br /> Scott came to the fore in last year’s preconference battle with Kansas and can alter games with his speed and defense, but doesn’t have a reliable jumper. <strong>Amir Williams</strong> can alter shots and be a presence with his size but is still unpolished in the post.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes don’t appear to have a take-over player, and they’re OK with that. In fact, Scott and Thompson said Friday they prefer it.<br /> <br /> Because of that, Craft has been looking to set up everyone he can.<br /> <br /> “What I’ve seen Aaron doing more of this year throughout the practices that we’ve had, he’s more connected with guys throughout the possession, throughout the game,” Matta said. “He and <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong>, right now, have a unique bond on the floor, which is great.”<br /> <br /> That’s especially key because if a Buckeye does emerge and show he can score 15 or more points a game, it’s most likely Ross, a fluid 6-8 junior forward with lots of natural offensive ability.<br /> <br /> Ross averaged 8.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 16.9 minutes per game in 2012-13 as a key reserve for an Ohio State team that won 29 games last year and came up a win short of a repeat trip to the Final Four. Those numbers theoretically could double this season as he plays the four spot that Thomas occupied last season.<br /> <br /> Plus, Ross enters the campaign with major momentum from the end of last season as he was a standout in OSU’s run to the Big Ten Tournament title and the Elite Eight of the NCAA tourney. His forays to the basket and three-point bombs in pressure-packed wins against the likes of Wisconsin, Iowa State and Arizona were eye-popping.<br /> <br /> In fact, in the narrow Sweet Sixteen victory over Iowa State, Craft used the threat of Ross on the wing to fire in the game-winning shot. Against Arizona, it was Ross’ turn as he nailed a clutch, game-winning three in overtime.<br /> <br /> When asked who is most likely to take a must-have shot this season, Matta said, “Aaron and Q are the two who made the last two shots from Iowa State to Arizona, so they would be at the forefront. But so much factors in there of hot hand and do we need a two, do we need a three. But those two are pretty good at it.”<br /> <br /> Matta didn’t want to commit to proclaiming anyone as his top option. It’s not his style anyway, even when he had All-Americans such as <strong>Greg Oden</strong>, <strong>Jared Sullinger</strong> and <strong>Evan Turner</strong>. He’ll let Ross develop into a prominent role while continuing to preach trust and sharing of the basketball.<br /> <br /> But eventually, when March rolls around again or before, the Buckeyes will need a reliable scorer, and Ross figures to be the man on that stature.<br /> <br /> He has carried the confidence gained late last season forward and figures to be much more involved.<br /> <br /> “I think the biggest transition was what I did this offseason, which is work on my conditioning,” he said. “Not being used to playing those minutes, it’s going to be a lot, especially playing a whole season of big minutes and then playing in the Big Ten, which we all know is a physical conference. My conditioning is one thing that can give me an edge.<br /> <br /> “I really don’t listen to (preseason hype), but I definitely think I can fill that void everybody says we might from last year with Deshaun.”<br /> <br /> In fact, Ross isn’t afraid to compare his skill set to that of Thomas, a 6-7 lefty who is now playing professionally.<br /> <br /> “I think my outside game is a little bit better than Deshaun’s,” he said. “I can put the ball on the floor a little bit better than Deshaun and get to the basket and create my own shot. DT also created his own shot but just in a different way, more like a post up.”<br /> <br /> With his length, sweet stroke and creativity getting to the lane, Ross has a high ceiling, one that that has intrigued NBA scouts already. Draft projections now show him as a potential first-round pick.<br /> <br /> “I’ve got friends and family that send me some of that stuff, but I don’t pay attention to it right now because for all we know I could have a bad year and all that could be gone away,” said Ross, a native of Mississippi. “So I’m going to try to have a good year. But it’s definitely good to know I’m in some of these people’s heads right now.”<br /> <br /> Ross said he gave some thought to going pro after last season when his stock had risen because of his late-season showing.<br /> <br /> “I definitely teased with it a little bit after the season because I looked at that draft last year and thought, ‘OK, I can definitely see myself going in that draft,’ but then I sat down with my circle of people and I thought it was best that I come back this year,” he admitted. “Hopefully what I do is improve that number even more.”<br /> <br /> Ross, who looks up to <strong>Kobe Bryant</strong> but has tried to pattern his game after <strong>Kevin Durant</strong> and <strong>Carmelo Anthony</strong>, believes he has much more to show. Still, he’s thankful for his breakout season.<br /> <br /> “I definitely think at the end of the season I proved myself when I was given the opportunity,” he said. “I went out there and produced when I was getting those minutes out there and did what I had to do. People remember what I did in high school and in my first two years of college they really didn’t get to see it until last year at the end of the year.”<br /> <br /> Ross is a deadly shooter with his feet set but also can drive on foes who fire out aggressively at him. When on the move, Ross also can beat defenders with large strides and spins to the basket.<br /> <br /> “That is a big part of my game and that comes from hours in the gym, especially this offseason,” he said. “Even when I was young and first started playing basketball I was just working on ball handling and shooting knowing I was going to be a tall guy.”<br /> <br /> Still, Ross knows he will have to play within himself and the OSU system this season. And it also won’t hurt that the Buckeyes have willing passers who are adept at finding the open man.<br /> <br /> “Everybody’s job is a lot easier when you’ve got a guy like Craft who can create, and also a guy like Shannon Scott, who can create off the dribble,” he said. “It’ going to be a lot of fun when we have everything clicking.”<br /> <br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-09/A_Willing_Likely_Top_Option.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-09/A_Willing_Likely_Top_Option.aspx 4421cb59-4664-4012-9f10-9db35af11c92 Sat, 09 Nov 2013 15:12:52 GMT Determined Hyde Hitting Stride The clocks have been turned back to Standard time, leaves are blowing in the autumn chill, and the college football season is hitting its November stretch run.<br /> <br /> There are no tricks now. To win a conference championship, teams will have to close with a flourish. Winning a national championship will require elite performances – and good fortune.<br /> <br /> All that talk in the spring and summer about conditioning, execution and football aptitude is coming to fruition.<br /> <br /> So how does Ohio State (9-0), seemingly locked in the No. 4 hole of the national polls and BCS standings, separate itself?<br /> <br /> Well, at the top of the heap once again is Alabama, which is blessed with the nation’s stingiest defense (the Tide allows just 9.8 points per game), a powerful running game led by <strong>T.J. Yeldon</strong>, and a pressure-tested, championship quarterback in <strong>A.J. McCarron</strong>.<br /> <br /> No. 2 Florida State (8-0) has come to the fore after laying waste to ACC foes Clemson and Miami (Fla.) behind an ultra-aggressive defense and the dynamic QB talents of freshman sensation <strong>Jameis Winston</strong>.<br /> <br /> No. 3 Oregon (8-0) has put up absurd offensive numbers with its fast-paced spread approach – more than 5,000 yards of total offense in eight games – and has the leading Heisman Trophy contender in QB <strong>Marcus Mariota</strong>. Also, tailback <strong>Byron Marshall</strong> is heading a potent rushing attack and has 12 touchdowns on the ground.<br /> <br /> And then there’s the dark horse, Baylor (7-0) – No. 6 in the BCS standings and No. 5 in both The Associated Press and USA Today coaches poll. The Bears lead the nation in points per game (63.9) and passing yards (417.3) while somehow managing to allow just 15.9 ppg.<br /> <br /> Those five teams and Ohio State are the only unbeatens left with a chance to claim the national championship – sorry, Fresno State (8-0) and Northern Illinois (9-0).<br /> <br /> Even with so many challengers sporting beefy resumes to this point, the Buckeyes may have an ace in the hole in the form of running back <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong>.<br /> <br /> Granted, Hyde’s rushing total of 701 yards doesn’t even place him among the top 40 rushers in FBS this season and trails Yeldon’s 729, Marshall’s 879 and others on top teams. Many likely won’t even place Hyde on their All-Big Ten first-team ballot as Nebraska’s <strong>Ameer Abdullah</strong> and Wisconsin’s <strong>Melvin Gordon</strong> already have amassed more than 1,000 yards and are among the nation’s top-10 rushers.<br /> <br /> But it is now undeniable that Hyde is on a roll and impacting an already potent offense.<br /> <br /> “In my opinion he’s the best running back in the country and nobody wants to tackle that guy in space,” OSU senior wideout and co-captain <strong>Philly Brown</strong> said recently. “He’s a big, 240-pound running back that’s probably the fourth- or fifth-fastest person on the team. Nobody wants to tackle something like that.”<br /> <br /> After serving a three-game suspension to open the season, Hyde ended up with just five carries in preconference action, playing very sparingly in the 76-0 destruction of Florida A&amp;M on Sept. 21. However, in Big Ten play the powerful senior has reached new heights every week.<br /> <br /> In the 31-24 win over Wisconsin, Hyde proved he could carry the load with the game on the line and finished with 85 hard-earned yards on 17 carries. The following week, he racked up a career-high 168 yards and three TDs in the 40-30 win at Northwestern.<br /> <br /> After an open week, he helped OSU pull away from Iowa, 34-24 with 149 yards and a pair of scores against one of the best defensive fronts in the conference.<br /> <br /> Hyde had very similar results against Penn State – 147 yards and two TDs – but did so with eight fewer carries and averaged 9.2 per rush. His effort included a 39-yard romp to the end zone where he outraced the entire Nittany Lion defense.<br /> <br /> And in Saturday’s 56-0 shutout win at Purdue, Hyde’s efficiency was on display again as he managed to put 111 yards on the board in just eight carries. That jumped his average per carry this season from an already healthy 6.7 to an eye-popping 7.3.<br /> <br /> “It starts with the offensive line,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “All respect to Carlos, but I could have run through a few of those holes. But Carlos has run hard.<br /> <br /> “And we’re seeing cleaner coverages now for <strong>Braxton</strong> (<strong>Miller</strong>) to throw into, because if you can’t run the ball then you see all these complicated coverages for a quarterback.”<br /> <br /> With Hyde in synch with the offensive line and taking pressure off of Miller, the Buckeyes rank eighth in the nation in rushing (301.1 yards per game) and fifth in scoring (48.2 points per game).<br /> <br /> However, the outlook is even more encouraging. As November continues and yards become tougher to attain because of injuries, known tendencies and more at stake, the Buckeyes know they can lean on Hyde, who is fresh-legged and on top of his game.<br /> <br /> When asked why he value’s Hyde’s ability so much, Brown said, “Just the way he runs the ball. He’s a real physical runner. At the same time he brings the speed aspect to the game. He’s an every-down back. You can feed him. He can throw us over his shoulder and carry us to a victory.”<br /> <br /> Even <strong>Jordan Hall</strong>, who has lost carries since Hyde’s return, believes in No. 34.<br /> <br /> “It’s great to see him do what he’s doing,” Hall said. “We’re all close and we all want to see each other do well.”<br /> <br /> Hyde knows all about finishing strong. His production and the team’s faith in him greatly increased last season, setting up what appeared to be an All-Big Ten campaign as a senior. He was nearly kicked off the team in the summer, though, when he became a person of interest in a police investigation that opened after a local woman claimed Hyde struck her in a bar.<br /> <br /> Hyde ended up not facing charges, but Meyer still suspended his best running back for a trio of games.<br /> <br /> After he merged as the hero at Northwestern – he added four catches out of the backfield to his career rushing performance – Hyde wept during postgame interviews, overcome with emotion when he realized he had made it back to being a key component of the team.<br /> <br /> Hyde was not shy about admitting he had a goal of becoming the first running back to gain 1,000 yards in a season under Meyer – a mark that dogged him all offseason after he finished with 970 yards (and no bowl game) last year.<br /> <br /> When he missed the first three games and Hall ably took his place, pundits dismissed the idea that Hyde could reach quadruple figures this season. However, it appears the Buckeyes will play five more games and Hyde could average just 60 yards a contest the rest of the way, barring an injury, and attain the number.<br /> <br /> Considering Indiana and Illinois are still on the schedule, he could get to a grand pretty quickly.<br /> <br /> More important, though, is OSU’s quest to log a second straight undefeated season. Hyde intends to churn out as much yardage as he can to aid that cause just as he finished his senior year of high school in Naples, Fla., with 1,653 yards rushing.<br /> <br /> “In my senior year I just came out on another level,” Hyde said last week. “I kind of feel it's all happening again.”<br /> <br /> Plus, Hyde’s effort has been infectious. His now-famous bounce-back/surge-ahead 19-yard TD run vs. Iowa ended with Brown coming out of nowhere to put a wipeout block on a defender at the goal line.<br /> <br /> Hyde’s ability to hit the right hole on time also has allowed the offensive line to find a groove with him.<br /> <br /> “Having Carlos Hyde back there really makes a difference,” offensive guard <strong>Andrew Norwell</strong> said. “We’re just mauling people.”<br /> <br /> But maybe most noteworthy – and scary to the opposition – is the hunger with which Hyde is playing right now. He’s not only trying to win and show NFL scouts what he can do, he’s also trying to make up for lost time and erase any doubts about him.<br /> <br /> “Mentally, it was an unbelievable advantage for him,” running backs coach <strong>Stan Drayton</strong> said. “Having to play a service role to this football team on the scout team made him hungry, made him extremely hungry. It also made him not take for granted the opportunities that he has in front of him.”<br /> <br /> Meyer also sees an extremely focused back.<br /> <br /> “Every Thursday is called player-development day and we go through every player on the team,” the&nbsp; head coach said. “Our strength coach and academic people and our training staff rate them for me. (Carlos) has been very high on each one’s list, which usually means a fairly mature guy. I like where he’s at.” http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-06/Determined_Hyde_Hitting_Stride.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-06/Determined_Hyde_Hitting_Stride.aspx fa8b3d47-223b-4c38-a6f7-999eecea407d Wed, 06 Nov 2013 22:56:36 GMT Choppy Buckeyes Still Slice Walsh <strong>Thad Matta</strong> said before the start of his 10th season as head coach of the Ohio State men’s basketball team that he wasn’t sure who was going to be the Buckeyes’ definitive leading scorer.<br /> <br /> With <strong>Deshaun Thomas</strong> and his Big Ten-leading 19.8 points per game, departed No. 11 OSU will enter the campaign without a proven 12-plus-points-a-game scorer.<br /> <br /> However, in the team’ Sunday evening exhibition matchup with Walsh University, the Buckeyes threw a bunch of candidates onto the table.<br /> <br /> Senior guard <strong>Lenzelle Smith Jr.</strong> and forward <strong>LaQuinton Ross</strong>, the most likely Buckeye to emerge in Thomas’ absence, led the way with 15 points in the 93-63 win over Walsh, but they received lots of help. Point guard <strong>Aaron Craft</strong> added 14 and wings <strong>Amedeo Della Valle</strong> and <strong>Sam Thompson</strong> led the bench attack with 13 and 12 points, respectively.<br /> <br /> Just behind were <strong>Shannon Scott</strong>, who earned the start in the backcourt next to Craft, with nine points, and center <strong>Amir Williams</strong>, who shook off a sleepy start to each half and managed to log eight points and game highs with 10 rebounds and five blocks.<br /> <br /> Guard <strong>Jesse Hardin</strong> led Walsh with 18 points and <strong>Davonte Beard</strong> added 13 but the Cavaliers never really threatened to stay in the ball game as the teams met in exhibition action for the sixth straight year and eighth time overall.<br /> <br /> Ohio State downed the Cavaliers 83-71 in last year’s preseason matchup.<br /> <br /> Matta was happy to see his team shoot 50 percent from the field (30 of 60) and show restraint from the three-point arc (4 of 9) as well as commit just 14 fouls compared to Walsh’s 31 – which led to the Buckeyes posting a 29-of-42 showing at the free-throw line. Still, he considered the first uniformed outing to be choppy at best.<br /> <br /> “Offensively our transition was pretty good but we didn’t finish real well,” he said. “We missed maybe three or four layups there and we didn’t have the flow we were looking for offensively.”<br /> <br /> Matta said the Buckeyes didn’t burn Walsh’s switching on defense enough and he also lamented the turnovers – 18 on the night. Guards Craft, Scott, Smith and Della Valle committed three miscues apiece as did Williams.<br /> <br /> Walsh managed to shoot 40 percent from the floor in each half and several baskets came off of dribble drives to the paint.<br /> <br /> “Our ability to guard the basketball down the stretch was horrendous,” Matta said, “and that prompted that last timeout and us saying, ‘Can we guard?’ We’ve got to keep guys in front of us and challenge tough twos.”<br /> <br /> When asked if he liked the production from his starting lineup of Craft, Scott, Smith, Ross and Williams, Matta again was blunt.<br /> <br /> “I did the first half, not the second half,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of pieces and I think one of the big keys is it maybe being predicated on matchups.”<br /> <br /> It also will be assessed by effort. Williams looked foggy at the outset and quickly was pulled from the floor and replaced by <strong>Trey McDonald</strong>. However, while seated he remembered assistant coach <strong>Dave Dickerson</strong> telling him, “Don’t let your first or second shot determine how you play the rest of the game.”<br /> <br /> Williams returned and became a presence inside.<br /> <br /> Meanhwhile, Thompson started all 37 games last season but came off the bench in the exhibition with Walsh – further proof that Matta is likely to be flexible with his rotations this season.<br /> <br /> “We change starting lineups just about every week in practice,” Williams said.<br /> <br /> Matta said the decision to start Scott instead of Thompson was based on matchups and as a reward for Scott’s “phenomenal” showings in practice.<br /> <br /> Still, the coaches plan to employ as many parts as they can.<br /> <br /> Matta was intent to get his entire roster involved early on as all nine available scholarship players saw at least nine minutes of court time in the first half.<br /> <br /> The offensive production was spread around as well: Smith had nine points in the first half, which produced a 49-26 lead, Ross and Della Valle had eight apiece while Craft, Thompson and Williams chipped in six each.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes hit 14 of 27 (51.9 percent) first-half shot attempts and also were a robust 19 of 24 (79.2 percent) on the free-throw line, but their eight assists were offset by nine turnovers.<br /> <br /> In the second half, the sloppiness continued. The Buckeyes looked content to trade baskets and didn’t seem to find any oomph until Williams blocked a hook shot by 7-1 Walsh center <strong>Hrvoje Vucic</strong> and Thompson threw down a crowd-pleasing one-handed jam off a lob feed from Craft moments later.<br /> <br /> OSU won the second half just 44-37. However, the comfortable lead allowed freshman <strong>Marc Loving</strong> to gobble up 22 minutes in his debut before Ohio State fans.<br /> <br /> A 6-7 forward, Loving was just 1 of 6 from the floor – his only basket came on a lay-in after a nifty fastbreak feed from Della Valle – but the box score still illustrated his activity: five points, nine rebounds and two blocks.<br /> <br /> “I just wanted to contribute any way I could,” Loving said. “Today it was rebounding and playing defense, because we worked on that all day in practice.<br /> <br /> “I’m pretty comfortable. Going into the game there were some butterflies. This is a pretty big stage coming from Toledo high school basketball. But they wore off pretty quick and I’m ready to get the season going.”<br /> <br /> Added Matta, “He didn’t shoot the ball real well, and I think that will come. Maybe it was freshman jitters or whatever, but I was very pleased with how he pursued the ball off the glass today.”<br /> <br /> Lacking depth along the front line and in need of some shooting prowess with Thomas departed, the Buckeyes could use an impact freshman season from Loving, who was named Ohio’s “Mr. Basketball” after his senior season at Toledo St. John’s.<br /> <br /> “I see there’s a window of opportunity,” Loving said. “Whatever I can scrape up and get any type of minutes, it’s putting energy out there on the floor.”<br /> <br /> Ohio State’s other freshman, 6-2 guard <strong>Kam Williams</strong>, did not play vs. Walsh. He’s weeks behind because of a bout of mononucleosis and is not yet cleared to play – although Matta said that good news could come any day.<br /> <br /> Williams is a product of Baltimore, Md., and will deepen the OSU backcourt and provide even more tenacity when he returns to form.<br /> <br /> With Williams slowed, the 6-5 Della Valle is coming off an eye-opening offseason and appears to have a chance to beef up his role after averaging just 7.2 minutes and 2.5 points per game last season as OSU’s lone freshman.<br /> <br /> Della Valle hit 3 of 4 attempts from deep and all four of his free throws while playing in the flow of the offense.<br /> <br /> “I think we’re very focused on running the right play and taking the right shot,” he said. “You don’t want to take a forced three.”<br /> <br /> Even though the Buckeyes looked far from polished, the overmatched Cavaliers couldn’t keep up.<br /> <br /> Located in North Canton, Ohio, Walsh is an NCAA Division II team that was 18-8 last season. The Cavaliers have a typical balanced roster with Vucic inside and perimeter talents such as Hardin and Beard, a prep star from Akron. They open their season Saturday vs. Houghton College.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes will begin their 2013-14 campaign by hosting Morgan State on Saturday (noon Eastern, BTN.com).<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-04/Choppy_Buckeyes_Still_Slice_Walsh.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-04/Choppy_Buckeyes_Still_Slice_Walsh.aspx 60fda5eb-10b3-41f9-bd22-6dbb2acce800 Mon, 04 Nov 2013 15:56:53 GMT Blackout Gets Whitewashed If there were doubts that No. 4 Ohio State could follow up its domination of Penn State last week or that Purdue really is the doormat of the Big Ten or that the Buckeyes would be properly motivated to put away their hosts on Saturday, those notions were dispelled rather quickly.<br /> <br /> The inept Boilermakers had no upset formula this time as they fell into a 28-0 hole in the first quarter and were forced to slog through a 56-0 defeat at the hands of an undefeated Ohio State team that is beginning to chug.<br /> <br /> The Boilers (1-7, 0-4 in the Big Ten), winners of four of the last six meetings with OSU in West Lafayette, played with train tracks striping their black helmets but they were the ones starting down a steaming locomotive.<br /> <br /> Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) racked up 30 first downs and 640 yards of total offense in the demolition, which could have been more like 98-0 if the Buckeyes had gone full force.<br /> <br /> OSU quarterback <strong>Braxton Milller</strong> had another sensational outing, completing 19 of 23 passes for 233 yards and four touchdowns. All of that damage came in the first half as he ceded the signal-calling duties to <strong>Kenny Guiton</strong> and then third-stringer <strong>Cardale Jones</strong>.<br /> <br /> Miller did throw an interception that thwarted one drive – his first turnover since a somewhat shaky outing at Northwestern four weeks ago. Since then he has completed 59 of 74 passes, which equates to 79.7 percent, and has tossed nine TDs compared to the lone pick.<br /> <br /> A matinee crowd of 51,423 showed up at Ross-Ade Stadium, but a sizeable portion was clad in scarlet and enjoyed watching the Buckeyes post the most points vs. Purdue in the setting.<br /> <br /> Considering the Buckeyes had lost in their past two visits – 26-23 in overtime in 2011 and 26-18 in mistake-riddled performance in 2009 – and four of their last six, the whitewashing was eye-opening, even for a top-five team that arrived favored by 31 points.<br /> <br /> “You take a look at two years ago here, you lost,” second-year head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> said. “Last year, you could’ve lost against the same team. This year, we played at a much higher level. I know the history. We actually had a great discussion about it.”<br /> <br /> Meyer praised team co-captain <strong>Jack Mewhort</strong> for addressing the recent history in the series, which includes a narrow 29-22 overtime win over the Boilermakers last season. Meyer also pointed out that strength assistant <strong>Mickey Marotti</strong> also got involved the morning of the game by offering a pointed speech of his own.<br /> <br /> “I was extremely concerned,” Meyer said. “We came in for the pregame and our strength coach rattled the cage a little bit. It was not necessarily a sleepy look, but I just didn’t like what I saw in the pregame. So we brought him in here to make sure they woke up.”<br /> <br /> Before the Boilers and their fans could prepare for the carnage, Ohio State had a takeaway and a touchdown. On the second play from scrimmage, OSU cornerback <strong>Doran Grant</strong> stepped in front of a pass by freshman quarterback <strong>Danny Etling</strong>, snared it, and raced 33 yards for the score.<br /> <br /> Moments later, Purdue punter <strong>Cody Webster</strong>, who entered among the national leaders with a 43.9-yard average, shanked a 15-yard boot, giving the Buckeyes possession at the Purdue 49. It took OSU just two plays to take advantage of the ideal field position.<br /> <br /> Miller hit <strong>Philly Brown</strong> for a 9-yard gain on first down and fooled the PU defense with another aerial seconds later when he connected with a wide-open <strong>Jeff Heuerman</strong>, who darted up the left sidelines and scored his first touchdown as a Buckeye. The 40-yard play and <strong>Drew Basil</strong> extra point upped the lead to 14-0 just 3:32 into the game.<br /> <br /> OSU would double the lead before the end of the period.<br /> <br /> Overcoming a <strong>Ricardo Allen</strong> interception of a Miller pass, the Buckeyes again moved swiftly the next time they got their hands on the pigskin. In fact, they moved 62 yards in six plays to their third score.<br /> <br /> Miller again dialed up Heuerman, OSU’s tight end, for a 34-yard pass play. He then hit running back <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong> for a 7-yard gain before finding backup tight end <strong>Nick Vannett</strong> for an 8-yard touchdown.<br /> <br /> Purdue head coach <strong>Darrell Hazell</strong>, a well-respected assistant at Ohio State under <strong>Jim Tressel</strong>, couldn’t find a tourniquet for his young team as the Boilers fumbled moments later and the loose pig was recovered by OSU defensive end <strong>Noah Spence</strong> at the PU 21.<br /> <br /> Again, OSU went to the air and found immediate results, this time Miller finding wideout <strong>Evan Spencer</strong> for a 19-yard hook-up. On first-and-goal, Miller rolled left and avoided a loss by flipping a shovel pass to Brown in the end zone for the 2-yard score.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes led 28-0 with 2:10 left in the first quarter an effectively ended any possible suspense, especially considering Purdue hadn’t scored more than 10 points in a Big Ten game this season.<br /> <br /> While the Boilermakers and Hazell have a long, dark path to traverse just to return to respectability, the Buckeyes are on a major roll. Their 21-game win streak that spans Meyer’s two years at the helm of the program is the nation’s longest active winning streak.<br /> <br /> The Buckeyes amassed more than 600 yards of offense for the fourth time this season and again involved lots of contributors.<br /> <br /> Hyde had his fourth straight 100-yard rushing day, garnering 111 on just eight carries. The senior tailback improved his seasonal average from 6.7 to 7.3 yards per carry.<br /> <br /> Heuerman had a career-best 116 yards receiving on five catches. His output marked the first time an Ohio State tight end reached 100 yards receiving since <strong>Rickey Dudley</strong> recorded 106 receiving yards against Tennessee in the 1996 Citrus Bowl.<br /> <br /> Backup running back <strong>Ezekiel Elliott</strong> and wideout <strong>Chris Fields</strong> joined Heuerman, Vannett and Brown in catching TDs. Guiton also ran for two touchdowns and threw for another.<br /> <br /> Asked if he has the best two quarterbacks in the Big Ten, Meyer smiled and said, “I got the two I like. I have a lot of respect for the other quarterbacks in the league, but I got the two that I like.”<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, the Ohio State defense also continued to get well. The Buckeyes not only posted their second shutout of the season, they also held Purdue to a paltry 116 total yards and 10 first downs.<br /> <br /> Linebacker <strong>Ryan Shazier</strong> was instrumental again with seven tackles, three for loss and a pair of sacks. Spence, <strong>Steve Miller</strong> and <strong>Michael Bennett</strong> each had one sack while <strong>Adolphus Washington</strong> and <strong>Chase Farris</strong> were each credited with half a sack.<br /> <br /> Etling finished 13 of 29 passing for 89 yards with an interception and a fumble.<br /> <br /> “Anytime you go out and play a good football team, you can’t go out and spot them the way we did,” Hazell said. “You can’t throw interceptions for touchdowns. In the third series, we put it on the ground. You just can’t do that against good opponents.” http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-03/Blackout_Gets_Whitewashed.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-11-03/Blackout_Gets_Whitewashed.aspx 1c8f1e56-2007-4211-ab56-8dda97c5ae16 Sun, 03 Nov 2013 06:12:03 GMT Buckeyes Finally Make Their Case Oregon pulled away from UCLA to win big Saturday night. Alabama manhandled another SEC also-ran. Florida State continued to roll.<br /> <br /> And for once Ohio State fans weren’t too worried about it.<br /> <br /> Yes, the Buckeyes entered the weekend in the No. 4 spot in both The Associated Press poll and the BCS rankings, and, yes, they stayed right there after disposing of Penn State and moving to 8-0 on the season, 4-0 in the Big Ten.<br /> <br /> But the score was just as decisive as the trouncing on the Ohio Stadium turf as the Buckeyes posted a 63-14 destruction of the visiting Nittany Lions – the kind of prime-time romp against a credible foe on national television OSU fans have been craving for weeks.<br /> <br /> Penn State (4-3, 1-2) was coming off a very encouraging 43-40, four-overtime win over Michigan and also entered Columbus with extra rest as OSU’s third straight Big Ten opponent enjoying the fruits of an open week.<br /> <br /> <strong>Christian Hackenberg</strong>, PSU’s freshman sensation at quarterback, was leading the conference in passing yards per game, which was reason enough to grab the attention of Ohio State head coach <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> and staff.<br /> <br /> Also, after a long drought as a Big Ten visitor, the Lions actually came to town with two wins in their last three contests at the Horseshoe, escaping with tight victories in 2008 and 2011.<br /> <br /> Those facts added to OSU’s not-so-smooth moments in tight league wins over Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa pointed to a belief that the Buckeyes were on upset alert.<br /> <br /> Instead, they shot out to a devastating 28-0 lead, frustrated and harassed Hackenberg, and even added some moments of splendor on special teams for their most complete performance of the season.<br /> <br /> “I like where we are right now,” Meyer proclaimed.<br /> <br /> Meyer is aware the Buckeyes not only have the nation’s longest winning streak at 20 in a row but also will be favored in subsequent games at Purdue (Nov. 2), at Illinois (Nov. 16) and vs. Indiana (Nov. 23) before an all-important road trip to Michigan (Nov. 30).<br /> <br /> He’s also, no doubt, aware of the Big Ten’s waning reputation, OSU’s current lock on the No. 4 hole and the hand-ringing all around him as people assess the national championship picture.<br /> <br /> But for now, in the last week of October, Meyer looked content with the current state of OSU football. After all, there was a lot of satisfaction packed into the win.<br /> <br /> Consider the following:<br /> <br /> <strong>The Buckeyes amassed 686 yards of total offense.</strong> They had a 42-7 halftime lead and already had 414 yards at that point. The 408 yards rushing marked the first time the Buckeyes eclipsed the 400-yard mark since totaling 456 in a win at Northwestern on Nov. 4, 1989.<br /> <br /> <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong> did his damage in the first half this time with 130 of his 147 yards rushing before the break.<br /> <br /> His 2-yard burst into the end zone opened the scoring and capped a seven-play, 75-yard drive to open the game. His 39-yard explosion answered PSU’s only first half score and provided the Buckeyes with a 35-7 lead.<br /> <br /> The OSU quarterbacks added another 201 yards on the ground and got a couple rushing touchdowns from <strong>Kenny Guiton</strong>.<br /> <br /> <strong>Braxton Miller</strong>, though, set the table with brilliant first-half play. He finished 18 of 24 for 252 yards passing and three scores and added 68 yards and two TDs on the ground. It was the first time in his OSU career that Miller was able to find the end zone multiple times via the air and ground.<br /> <br /> <strong>Penn State’s 49-point loss to Ohio State is its second-largest loss in school history.</strong> PSU’s only worse loss was 106-0 vs. Lehigh in 1889.<br /> <br /> Perhaps just as noteworthy, the final score was a complete flip of the beatdown the Buckeyes received in Happy Valley in 1994. A prominent member of that team, All-American lineman <strong>Orlando Pace</strong>, was honored on the field at the end of the first quarter for his recent appointment to the College Football Hall of Fame. Former OSU coach <strong>John Cooper</strong>, who endured the ’94 loss – the worst of his Hall of Fame career – watched from the press box.<br /> <br /> <strong>The Buckeyes completely dominated in the trenches.</strong> That was encouraging considering members of the OSU defensive line and position coach <strong>Mike Vrabel</strong> admitted the Buckeyes were pushed around the previous week against Iowa.<br /> <br /> This time, they got to Hackenberg repeatedly and registered four sacks. With the line in good form, the oft-maligned Ohio State defense recorded six tackles-for-loss, four pass breakups, a QB hurry, and three takeaways.<br /> <br /> On offense, the Buckeyes averaged a whopping 8.9 yards per play and were in control from start to finish. That, of course, is in large due to more stellar play up front.<br /> <br /> “I’m seeing an offensive line that is one of the best in the country, and I’m not afraid to say that,” Meyer said. “I’d take my offensive line anywhere.”<br /> <br /> <strong>The Pennsylvania Buckeyes made their presence felt against their home-state school.</strong> Chief among them was sophomore defensive end <strong>Noah Spence</strong> of Harrisburg, Pa., who seemed unblockable at times. Spence had four tackles, three for loss including a pair of sacks, and also forced a fumble.<br /> <br /> “Noah Spence sticks out as a guy that was all over the place,” Meyer said.<br /> <br /> OSU’s other Pennsylvania natives – running back <strong>Jordan Hall</strong>, defensive back <strong>Corey Brown</strong> and wide receiver <strong>Philly Brown</strong> – also had big days.<br /> <br /> Hall had eight carries for 81 yards in relief of Hyde and ripped off a 41-yeard run. Philly Brown also aided the offensive onslaught with four catches for 67 yards including a 25-yard dagger TD reception in the final minute of the first half.<br /> <br /> Corey “Pitt” Brown started at safety in place of the injured <strong>Christian Bryant</strong> and recorded his first career interception, victimizing Hackenberg in the end zone. Brown also logged five tackles.<br /> <br /> <strong>Maybe most important, the Buckeyes did not commit a turnover for the second week in a row.</strong> Based on the above information and recent events, it’s hard to believe the winning will cease if OSU continues to take care of the ball.<br /> <br /> Since having fumbling issues at Northwestern, Miller is playing the best football of his career and has not committed a turnover.<br /> <br /> Speaking of winning, <strong>Ohio State is now eyeing the longest win streak in school history.</strong> With No. 20 in a row, the current Buckeyes have the second-longest win string, trailing only the 1967-69 run of 22 straight.<br /> <br /> OSU won its last three games of 1967 to, as legend has it, save the jobs of head coach <strong>Woody Hayes</strong> and staff, went 10-0 in the national championship season of 1968, and won the first nine games the following year before losing at Michigan in the 1969 season finale. http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-10-28/Buckeyes_Finally_Make_Their_Case.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-10-28/Buckeyes_Finally_Make_Their_Case.aspx 471f8936-099f-4a64-ac74-7c360a8014bd Mon, 28 Oct 2013 14:10:42 GMT Rapp Around: ET Comes Home Before we delve into the world of our old friend <strong>Evan Turner</strong>, let’s get this out in the open: The Philadelphia 76ers are going to be lousy this season.<br /> <br /> Turner knows it, basketball pundits know it, and the organization knows it – hence the phrase, “Together We Build” at the top of the team’s official website. If you’re a contending team in the Eastern Conference, your catchphrase is “Look Out, LeBron” or something of that ilk, not “Together We Build.”<br /> <br /> But that’s the reality. It’s going to be a long road back to the playoffs for the Sixers. <br /> <br /> Veteran NBA coach and basketball super-analyst <strong>Doug Collins</strong>, who arrived with a sharp plan in place, is out and has been replaced with new coach <strong>Brett Brown</strong>. If you don’t know who Brown is, don’t feel bad. He’s a 52-year-old former San Antonio Spurs assistant and his name doesn’t ring a bell even with many of the most hardcore NBA fans.<br /> <br /> Collins helped return Philly to the NBA playoffs and tried to reshape the team with Turner a focal point and former Lakers center <strong>Andrew Bynum</strong> in the pivot. However, Bynum never played last season due to injuries, the Sixers went 34-48 and Collins resigned under pressure.<br /> <br /> They already had dealt away All-Star forward <strong>Andre Iguodala</strong> (essentially for Bynum) and then peddled rising guard <strong>Jrue Holiday</strong> in a deal to be able to draft Nerlens Noel out of Kentucky. Problem is, like Bynum last year, Noel is likely to sit out the entire season until he can get his left knee fully healed.<br /> <br /> So when the 76ers squared off against the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center, the NBA preseason contest was billed as a homecoming for Turner but didn’t quite work out that way. The crowd of 11,276 clearly was pro-Cavs and they howled with delight when Cleveland pulled away for a 104-93 win.<br /> <br /> Yes, the reaction to Turner being back on the very court where he came into All-American prominence was very positive but not overly when compared to the cheers for Cleveland point guard <strong>Kyrie Irving</strong>. Plus, Turner, once dubbed “The Villain” by former OSU teammate <strong>Mark Titus</strong>, was clad in road blue and sat with his team on the west bench where Ohio State visitors occupy themselves.<br /> <br /> And what became apparent through the course of a sloppy exhibition game was that his team is dreadful.<br /> <br /> It didn’t help that he had a forgettable game of his own, hitting just 4 of 13 shots, turning the ball over five times and posting a plus/minus of -18 in his 30 minutes and change on familiar hardwood.<br /> <br /> Turner certainly still managed some productivity – 14 points, six rebounds and a 6-for-6 showing at the free-throw line – but his body language displayed he was almost embarrassed by the lack of help around him and the effort.<br /> <br /> Of course, Turner did his best to shake it off afterward. It was only a preseason game, after all. Still, his endearing honesty returned during a three-minute postgame session with reporters, many of whom, like this one, have fond memories of him as an Ohio State fresh face then college superstar.<br /> <br /> “It’s beautiful,” Turner said of being back at The Schott. “I’m always glad to come back. It’s really beautiful. I’m just happy to be back in front of great fans, great people.”<br /> <br /> A reporter then asked Turner if he holds the place dear.<br /> <br /> “Absolutely,” he said. “Great memories. I met some great people here, some of my best friends. I had some great times. I own a house in Ohio, so that tells you how I feel about it.<br /> <br /> Turner also tried to shed some of his apparent frustration with the state of the Sixers.<br /> <br /> “Even though we didn’t win there was a lot of energy and the guys played tough,” he said, digging for a positive. “Preseason is a time to get it together. Everything is gearing toward the regular season.”<br /> <br /> If Turner’s subpar performance had anything to do with some homecoming jitters, he didn’t express it.<br /> <br /> “It’s no pressure,” said the 6-7 swingman. “Shots went in, shots went out. That’s it. I’m not worried about that.<br /> <br /> “I’m being confident that I can get to the basket and get my shot off whenever I want. It’s all good. I made some shots earlier and I’ve been shooting pretty well all preseason. I’ll take this one bad game. It’s nothing worth talking about.”<br /> <br /> What bothers Turner more, of course, is losing – and the likelihood that it will continue. <br /> <br /> As a freshman, the Chicago native helped Ohio State win the 2008 NIT postseason title. As a sophomore, he led the Buckeyes in points, rebounds, assists and steals – and led them back to the NCAA Tournament.<br /> <br /> In his junior season of 2009-10, Turner was a marvel. He averaged 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists as Ohio State stormed to the regular-season and Big Ten Tournament championships. The latter was in jeopardy in a quarterfinal matchup with rival Michigan until he fired in a game-winning 37-footer at the buzzer. Legendary stuff.<br /> <br /> Despite suffering a midseason fracture in his lower back and missing a month of the season, Turner earned virtually every noteworthy award that recognizes the national player of the year.<br /> <br /> Turner was the second player selected in the 2010 NBA draft behind Kentucky point guard <strong>John Wall</strong> and instantly he was an important building block for the 76ers.<br /> <br /> Online promotion of Philadelphia’s season opener against Miami next week shows a picture of him next to one of <strong>LeBron James</strong>, a clear indication that Turner also is considered a franchise player. Looking at a depleted and second-rate roster, Turner easily is Philly’s best player and will have to shoulder quite a burden.<br /> <br /> When asked how much he’ll be counted on this season, Turner – who put up career-high averages of 13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game last season – said, “I think a decent amount, and as a leader. Being on a young team I’m one of the older guys. I’m old. You guys know I’m old.”<br /> <br /> To hear Turner talk about the months ahead and to see him enjoy being around familiar faces and warm environs, it was if you could tell he’d rather be a kid again and not a guy in an $800 suit trying to carry a franchise.<br /> <br /> In fact, he more or less said as much.<br /> <br /> “I’m jealous of everything Ohio State has got: the student union, the library – even though I didn’t go in there the whole time – the rec center,” he said. “Man, I wish I could come back and be a regular student. If I was 19 right now I’d come back and go to school.”<br /> <br /> Someone then asked Turner about the fact that James has a locker stall at The Schott with his name adorned.<br /> <br /> “I told me dad about that,” he said. “I broke my back for this stuff. His own locker?”<br /> <br /> When the laughter died down, Turner added, “But it’s all good. LeBron’s done a great job doing things for us and he’s helped us a lot.”<br /> <br /> The truth is Turner still feels at home in Columbus, a place where he can be Evan more easily than an NBA standout. His father, <strong>James Turner</strong>, has been a downtown business owner for years. His mother, <strong>Iris James</strong>, often stays in Evan’s suburban Columbus home.<br /> <br /> Before the preseason game with Cleveland, Evan had 35 friends over for an early dinner that Iris prepared.<br /> <br /> “She likes doing that type of stuff,” he said. “If not, I was going to Genji’s. It’s rough. It was hard to decide on that one. Genji’s is down the street. But I said, ‘You know what, Mom, I’ll take a home-cooked meal.’ ”<br /> http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-10-22/Rapp_Around_ET_Comes_Home.aspx Jeff Rapp http://sportsrappup.com/Sections/Stories/13-10-22/Rapp_Around_ET_Comes_Home.aspx 8e34c1a0-e20c-4efa-8a84-041346598f65 Tue, 22 Oct 2013 18:29:00 GMT Ode To An Offensive Line <strong>Urban Meyer</strong> is like the teacher you had growing up who actually admitted to having a few “pet” students.<br /> <br /> If he sees someone is giving full effort, positively affecting the team and managing to come up with desired results on the field, Meyer is apt to pronounce the three-word soliloquy of “Love that guy.”<br /> <br /> Saturday evening after his No. 4 Buckeyes survived Big Ten trench warfare against visiting Iowa and improved to 7-0 over all (3-0 in the league) with a 34-24 victory, Meyer tried to wrap his metaphorical arms around five players, saying the offensive linemen were his “favorite players on the team right now.”<br /> <br /> It now appears time to share the good feelings.<br /> <br /> Running back <strong>Carlos Hyde</strong> and quarterback <strong>Braxton Miller</strong> stole the headlines and received the vast majority of the kudos afterward as they were instrumental in the success.<br /> <br /> Hyde rambled for 149 yards and two touchdowns against one of the stingiest run defenses in the country while Miller put together an all-around gem with a 22-of-27 passing day for 222 yards and two TDs and added another 102 well-earned yards on the ground.<br /> <br /> Other skill players also were involved, namely hybrid back <strong>Dontre Wilson</strong>, tight end <strong>Jeff Heuerman</strong>, and wideouts <strong>Philly Brown</strong>, <strong>Devin Smith</strong> and <strong>Evan Spencer</strong>.<br /> <br /> But it was all due to what could only be conceived as a standout performance by Ohio State’s veteran offensive line.<br /> <br /> Left to right – <strong>Jack Mewhort</strong>, <strong>Andrew Norwell</strong>, <strong>Corey Linsley</strong>, <strong>Marcus Hall</strong> and <strong>Taylor Decker</strong> – all did their jobs and held up to a daunting Iowa front seven. As a result, the Buckeyes racked up 30 first downs and 495 yards of total offense using the quintet up front.<br /> <br /> Even the stern <strong>Ed Warinner</strong>, OSU’s second-year line coach and co-coordinator of the offense, couldn’t hide his smile afterward.<br /> <br /> “Last week they all graded out pretty good, but I only put the top of the crop in the champions club,” he said. “Probably four of the five were what we wanted last week, and we’ll see how this one plays out.<br /> <br /> “Hopefully it’ll look good (on film), because from the field it looked pretty good.”<br /> <br /> Sure enough, Meyer announced on Monday, that the four seniors all graded out to a champion level vs. Iowa and Decker was recognized with honorable mention. Norwell, OSU’s brutish left guard, was singled out as the offensive player of the game.<br /> <br /> Warinner has had almost nothing but good things to say about all five starters and Monday labeled Hall as the most improved member of the group.<br /> <br /> Hall said he’s more concerned with team results, especially on days when the Buckeyes do what they did against the Hawkeyes, which is knock their way to 273 rushing yards against an elite defense.<br /> <br /> “We try to pride ourselves on being able to run the ball,” said Hall, the starting right guard. “Not taking anything away from the pass but when we go to the run game we don’t want anybody to stop us.”<br /> <br /> Added Mewhort, “I’m not even sure who’s running the ball sometimes out there. I just know that if we do our jobs and get those guys on the edges, we seal the edge of the line, we’ll have big plays with our great athletes out there. That’s what we love about it.”<br /> <br /> Not only did the linemen do their job and even excel for much of the afternoon, the mistakes were at a minimum. In fact, none of the five were flagged for a penalty in a physical contest with Iowa.<br /> <br /> With the group performing at such a high level, Warinner and coordinator <strong>Tom Herman</strong> were able to mix up the p