We have not done many (any) Q&A exchanges this season but I got together with my Ohio State counterpart on lodeplus.com, Sean Jackson, to talk about this weekend’s Big Ten match-up between the Buckeyes and Penn State.
Both schools have been clouded by controversy and scandal this year that has ultimately led to the dismissal of two of college football’s most recognizable coaches, Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel. There really is no comparing the circumstances at both programs but as far as football is concerned there is an important game to be played on Saturday in Columbus. Ohio State absolutely needs to win in order to remain in the conversation for the Big Ten Leaders Division, but Penn State can clinch the division and a spot in the Big Ten championship with a rare win in The Horseshoe and a Wisconsin loss.
Below are my questions for Jackson, followed by his responses. I also answered some questions regarding Penn State for him. Click here to see what I had to say.
Q. Far be it for me to bring up the coaching situation considering the past week or so in State College, but what exactly is Luke Fickell’s position with Ohio State moving forward? Is there a chance he remains the head coach or will Ohio State look to bring in a new coach as many suspect will happen after the season?
Sean Jackson, Ohio State Examiner: This year was going to be Luke’s audition, but they were still going to hold a nationwide search after the season. It’s clear that Luke has all the tools to be a great head coach but he’s not in his element yet and coaching a huge program like Ohio State isn’t the right fit for him at this time.
I expect a nationwide search would peak many big names and it’s likely one of them receives the job. I also expect a housing cleaning of the staff as well, which could include athletic director Gene Smith.
Q. It’s pretty tough to figure this Ohio State team out on a weekly basis. They have wins against Illinois and Wisconsin (both ranked in the top 20 at the time they played) but they have losses to Miami (24-6) and Purdue (26-23 in overtime) that leave some scratching their heads. We also saw two different Ohio State teams against Nebraska. Given the highs and lows this season, what can we expect out of the Buckeyes this weekend at home against Penn State?
Jackson: Honestly, it’s a roll of the dice. It’s hard to believe this is the same team that beat Wisconsin then came out and laid eggs against Indiana and Purdue. Inconsistency, along with lack of leadership has been a huge problem for this squad. You would think the team would come in fired up to send their seniors out with a win in their last home game but this is the same team that came out flat against Purdue when it controlled its destiny.
Q. Ohio State’s passing game ranks 118th in the nation and Penn State’s is not all that much better, ranked 87th. It would seem that this weekend is going to be a battle of running games. Silas Redd is a little banged up for Penn State and it looks like Dan “Boom” Herron has been beat up a little bit as well in his suspension-shortened season. Going in to this game, who has the edge on the ground or is there a chance we see some solid quarterback play?
Jackson: Penn State holds the edge in the ground game primarily because Ohio State’s defense has this nasty tendency to miss tackles. On weeks they are on, they can shut down anyone as evidenced by the Wisconsin game. In other weeks, they make teams like Purdue look like Oregon.
Moreover, there’s a chance for solid quarterback play. Whomever can establish the ground game early should find some passing lanes. If Penn State can establish the ground game, they shouldn’t have trouble making throws against Ohio State’s secondary. The back seven have had breakdowns and miscommunications all season.
The Buckeyes could generate some offense if they utilize the right players. Getting DeVier Posey back from suspension is huge because he will command attention. Even with “Boom” banged up he will receive his share of looks. The one player to watch out for is Carlos Hyde. He reminds me of Eddie George in that he has the size and power to run opponents over and the speed and agility to make huge plays.
Q. Ohio State announced they would reduce their scholarships over the next couple years as a product of the NCAA investigation that ultimately resulted in the removal of Jim Tressel and early departure of quarterback Terrelle Pryor. How much of an issue will that be for Ohio State in the Big Ten and is it likely the NCAA will back that decision and not tack on any other sanctions?
Jackson: Gene Smith is well connected with the NCAA so he may have made this move knowing what the NCAA was looking for from a punishment standpoint. I am one of few who don’t subscribe to the theory Ohio State will receive a post-season ban. Even if they do, it’s likely it wouldn’t happen until next season, which would be even worse considering how much talent they have coming back.
The scholarship losses are not a big deal. Typically, they go to walk-on players to award them for their hard work, so it would be unfortunate for those players but it shouldn’t affect Ohio State’s long-term goals.
Q. Share an outsider’s view and opinion of Penn State this season. What do you make of their offense and defense and what player or players stand out to you?
Jackson: Penn State has a stellar defense and a one-dimensional offense. Like the Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions seem to be aerodynamically challenged. Silas Redd has really taken off this season having had five consecutive 100-yard + games until last week where Penn State suffered their first conference loss to Nebraska.
In addition, many are still in the wait and see mode with Penn State. While they have had a great season to this point, the next two weeks should give us all a better idea of their potential.
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