The Washington Redskins knew they had drafted a versatile football performer when they selected Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall pick this spring.They envisioned the former Heisman Trophy winner as their franchise quarterback, making plays with both his powerful right arm and nimble feet in lifting the once-proud organization from the NFL scrapheap.But Griffin’s talents are clearly vast, as evidenced by the slew of numerous television commercials he did this summer or even the virtuoso singing performance he delivered during the annual rookie talent show in training camp.But RGIII showcased yet another, previously unknown skill on Wednesday night after taking to the field at FedEx Field prior to the Redskins’ preseason finale against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers.Washington’s starting quarterback sat out the game as a precaution to injury, but was happy to do his part prior to its start by warming up his team’s receivers.Once he was done, Griffin walked over to the 10-yard line where long-snapper Nick Sundberg, holder Sav Rocca and newly-acquired kicker Billy Cundiff were warming up.Griffin stepped in and attempted a 20-yard field goal, splitting the uprights like somebody who’d been doing it his entire life.He then grinned before raising his arms in triumph and jogging off the field to the cheers of the fans seated nearby.Cundiff, the recently acquired former Pro Bowler who became persona non-grata in Baltimore last season after missing a chip shot that could have helped send the Ravens to the Super Bowl, may want to start looking over his shoulder.Griffin is no stranger to setting goals and accomplishing them in stunning fashion. He was an excellent student in high school who served as his class president while graduating seventh academically. He needed just three years to graduate from Baylor with a political science degree and a 3.67 GPA, including two appearances on the Dean’s List.In addition to starring in football for the Bears, RGIII was also a standout track star who earned All-American honors in that sport as well after placing third in the 400-meter dash at the 2008 NCAA meet and participating in the Olympic Trials.Nothing, it seems, is beyond his reach.
NEW YORK (AP) — Anthony Davis’ agent let everyone know he wants out of New Orleans, and now it will cost his client $50,000.The NBA fined the Pelicans star because of his agent’s comments that Davis won’t sign an extension and wants to be traded.New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, left, gets fouled by Los Angeles Clippers’ Tyrone Wallace during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Pelicans won 121-117. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)The league office said in a written statement released Tuesday evening that Davis violated a collectively-bargained rule prohibiting players or their representatives from making public trade demands.The NBA said the fine is for statements that were made by Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, on Monday in an intentional effort to undermine the contractual relationship between Davis and the Pelicans.Davis is under contract with New Orleans through the end of the 2019-20 season.He was drafted by the Pelicans with the first overall pick in 2012 after winning an NCAA national championship with Kentucky and has been named an All-Star the previous five seasons.However, the Pelicans have made the playoffs in only two of his six full NBA seasons and won only won playoff series, sweeping Portland in the first round last season before falling in five games to champion Golden State in the second round.Davis has averaged 29.3 points and 13.3 rebounds per game this season, but has missed the past four games with a sprained left index finger while the Pelicans have fallen to 22-28 heading into Tuesday night’s game at Houston.Had Davis been committed to remaining in New Orleans, he would be eligible this summer for a five-year, roughly $240 million extension with the Pelicans that would have kicked in beginning with the 2020-21 season.In previous years, Davis had professed his affection for New Orleans. But Davis has also said that his NBA salary is secondary to winning — a clear sign to Pelicans management that they could not take re-signing him for granted if they failed to take concrete and successful steps to surround him with a cast of players who would make New Orleans a contender.When healthy, the Pelicans have looked formidable in short spurts, but injuries have exposed their lack of depth and cohesion as they’ve slipped near the bottom of the Western Conference through the first half of this season.The Pelicans have acknowledged Davis’ preference to be traded and appear inclined to honor it rather than lose him for nothing. But a statement from the franchise made it clear that the Pelicans’ brass are prepared to be patient while awaiting a deal done on their terms and timeline.The implication is that a trade may not come before the Feb. 7 deadline to make a deal this season, and more likely could come after the season, when 2019 draft slots are known and when the Boston Celtics are eligible to enter the fray.Boston, which has a stockpile of draft picks and promising young players as trade bait, is not eligible to trade for Davis under NBA rules until July 1, unless the Celtics also trade away Kyrie Irving. Irving is a factor because of what’s known as the Rose Rule, which says NBA teams cannot trade for more than one player who has signed an extension. Irving currently is playing under an extension signed with Cleveland that has an option year after this season, meaning it could be renegotiated in a way that also allows Boston to bid for Davis.
If you’re a fan of our podcasts, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave a rating/review. That helps spread the word to other listeners. And get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments. Tell us what you think, send us hot takes to discuss and tell us why we’re wrong. Welcome to this week’s episode of Hot Takedown, our podcast where the hot sports takes of the week meet the numbers that prove them right or tear them down. On this week’s show (July 21, 2015), we discuss how Zack Greinke is achieving his scoreless-inning streak, look into whether dominance in women’s basketball is not the same as in the men’s game and welcome SB Nation’s Zach Schonbrun to talk about the impact neuroscience may have on baseball scouting. Plus, our Significant Digit of the week: more people are going to women’s soccer games after the U.S. women won the World Cup.Stream the episode by clicking the play button, or subscribe using one of the podcast clients we’ve linked to above.Below are some links to what we discuss on this week’s show:Zack Greinke chases the records of Dodgers legends Orel Hershiser and Don Drysdale.Fangraphs’ three keys to Greinke’s streak.Is Elena Delle Donne having the best basketball season in history?Zach Schonbrun on mixing neuroscience and baseball.Significant Digit: 34 percent increase in attendance in National Women’s Soccer League games post-World Cup. Hot Takedown Video Excerpt: Brain Data And Baseball More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS
Johnny ManzielTexas A&M20137593286.7 392005USC95.878.717.1 402014Oregon91.369.921.4 432006BYU90.064.525.5 352010Stanford91.976.415.5 Johnny ManzielTexas A&M20121,41045%91.3 Denard RobinsonMichigan20121,2665382.7 Cam NewtonAuburn20101,4733790.0 202005Penn State74.083.49.4 Matt JonesArkansas20046223081.7 Tim TebowFlorida20078953486.5 Dak PrescottMississippi St.20138293486.5 422015Alabama70.892.922.1 162012Oregon88.381.76.6 RANKSEASONTEAMOFFENSEDEFENSEGAP 82014Alabama84.982.52.4 282009TCU70.282.612.4 Greg Ward Jr.Houston20151,0343381.1 Chase ClementRice20086933778.8 Collin KleinKansas St.20129203783.1 QUARTERBACKTEAMSEASONRUSH YARDSSHARE OF TEAM RUSHINGQBR Denard RobinsonMichigan20101,7025579.9 322015Ohio State67.080.613.6 262008Texas89.077.611.4 362008Oklahoma95.379.216.1 Terrance BroadwayLA-Lafayette20127693175.0 42010Boise State87.886.90.9 92008USC89.486.62.8 Watson’s excellence under a heavy all-around workload puts him in rare company. He is one of 14 quarterbacks over the past 11 seasons (shown in the table below) to post a season QBR of 75 or higher while also rushing for at least 30 percent of his team’s total yards on the ground. The only quarterbacks to post better QBR numbers while running as much: Manziel (twice), Pat White and Newton. And Watson is a sophomore, meaning that — like Manziel — he could end up on this list again. 122008Florida91.486.45.0 Cody FajardoNevada20121,1213278.2 Pat WhiteWest Virginia20071,3353583.3 132007Kansas188.8.131.52 342011Alabama80.494.514.1 62007West Virginia78.577.60.9 222011Oklahoma State184.108.40.206 22015Oklahoma83.383.00.3 Tyler MurphyBoston College20141,1843680.2 Dak PrescottMississippi St.20155413281.3 112011Boise State82.477.54.9 412009Texas67.489.121.7 Deshaun WatsonClemson20158873186.6 32006USC79.079.60.6 152009Florida80.186.05.9 52012Alabama90.391.20.9 172010Ohio State80.087.07.0 EFFICIENCY 242013Baylor87.977.810.1 272014TCU75.888.012.2 312009Alabama77.389.912.6 382012Texas A&M91.374.616.7 Balance of elite college football teams, 2005-15 182005Texas92.085.07.0 192010Alabama87.779.18.6 252005Ohio State73.383.710.4 212012FSU74.383.89.5 Oklahoma: The balanced Sooners are favoritesOklahoma is our model’s favorite to win the College Football Playoff, with a 41 percent chance at the national championship. If the Sooners do take home the trophy, it will likely be due to a stellar effort on both offense and defense. This isn’t exactly a novel conceit — every team needs both units to play well to succeed at the highest levels — but it’s particularly true for Oklahoma, one of the most balanced teams in recent college football history.Overall, Oklahoma is very good, rating well in all the fashionable advanced metrics. The Sooners sit at No. 1 in ESPN’s Football Power Index, which FiveThirtyEight’s college football model uses for game predictions. Oklahoma is also the top team according to Football Perspective’s Simple Rating System. And according to our Elo ratings, the Sooners are the fifth-best squad.That’s all remarkable, in the usual ways a championship-level team is remarkable; what’s less common, though, is Oklahoma’s balance. The Sooners are the only team in the country to rate in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. On offense, quarterback Baker Mayfield leads a sharp passing attack, with heavy utilization of All-American receiver Sterling Shepard. Buttressing that efficiency through the air is an impressive running back duo of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, who have combined for more than 2,000 yards this year. The Sooner defense, led by standout linebacker Eric Striker, can crimp offenses in several ways — it’s in the top 10 among all FBS teams in both sacks and interceptions.One way to look at team balance historically is to define it as the absolute gap between a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings. Going back to the 2005 season among teams in the top four in overall efficiency, these Sooners are the second-most-balanced team of the decade. Only the 2013 Alabama squad had a smaller gap between its offense and defense. 332011LSU76.690.213.6 302014Ohio State87.574.912.6 Source: ESPN, TRUMEDIA Is Deshaun Watson the new Johnny Manziel? 292007USC71.183.512.4 Source: ESPN 72006Ohio State83.382.11.2 When Oklahoma faces Clemson on New Year’s Eve, its defense will have to confront a passing and rushing attack orchestrated by a quarterback with myriad skills — ranging from a dangerous deep passing ability to sharp scrambling instincts. Deshaun Watson is the rare QB who excels at being a one-man offense. 372013Oregon87.771.316.4 Clemson: Deshaun Watson is a one-man offenseUndefeated, No. 1-ranked Clemson enters the College Football Playoff with two major advantages: a top-notch defense and a star quarterback. The Tigers’ offensive attack is led by Deshaun Watson, a Heisman finalist and electric dual-threat quarterback in the vein of Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton. And like Manziel and Newton, Watson has carried his team into the national spotlight seemingly by himself.According to ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating (QBR), Watson is the third-highest-rated quarterback in the nation. (By adjusting for opponent strength, QBR aims to be a comprehensive measure of QB performance.) The only QBs to rate higher than Watson are Brandon Allen, of five-loss Arkansas, and Baylor’s Seth Russell, who suffered a season-ending injury after seven excellent games. Watson’s raw stats are also impressive: He has accumulated more than 3,500 yards and 30 passing touchdowns through the air, along with another 887 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and 11 rushing touchdowns on the ground.Overall, Watson is responsible for 66 percent of Clemon’s total offensive yards (passing and rushing combined). Considering how efficiently he has played (shown by QBR) and how much of the offensive burden he has shouldered, Watson’s season is quite the outlier. 232006LSU85.075.19.9 102013FSU93.589.24.3 12013Alabama85.785.90.2 142015Clemson81.387.15.8 Pat WhiteWest Virginia20061,2193190.5 Clemson and Oklahoma square off on New Year’s Eve in a matchup that pits the nation’s only remaining undefeated team (the Tigers) against the favorite according to FiveThirtyEight’s college football model (the Sooners). Both teams have a strong defense, but on offense they’re a contrast. Clemson has a one-man scoring machine in dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson. Oklahoma, on the other hand, is evenly balanced between a nifty passing attack and two strong running backs. In fact, the Sooners are one of the more balanced teams in recent college football history. 442007Florida93.149.843.3 Of course, offense and defense aren’t all there is to football. And on special teams, the Sooners aren’t quite so intimidating or balanced. Frankly, they’re bad. Oklahoma is ranked No. 93 of 128 FBS teams.At least broadly, it looks like Oklahoma is on to something here. The correlation between overall efficiency and the gap between offense and defense among all teams is strong and negative,1Specifically, it’s -0.195. meaning the less balanced a team is, the worse it performs. This isn’t an effect of talent imbalance among worse schools, either: Among the top 25 teams in overall efficiency in each season since 2005, the more efficient teams have been slightly more balanced as well, though the relationship is weaker here.If Oklahoma wins out and reconfirms FiveThirtyEight’s soothsaying abilities, it will likely go down as one of the least one-dimensional teams that college football has seen in quite some time. Perhaps this style doesn’t produce the same thrilling, back-and-forth games the best imbalanced squads play, like that ridiculous 2007 Gators season (Tim Tebow’s first as a full-time starter), but its effectiveness isn’t in doubt.Read more: Alabama’s Dominant Run Attack vs. A Lucky Michigan State Team
It may be a distant memory now, in the wake of a 17-1 record and an NFC championship, but at midseason the Carolina Panthers were a litmus test for the depth of a football fan’s sabermetric beliefs. Sure, the Panthers were undefeated, and they looked like a solid team. But there was nothing about their underlying numbers that made them seem like a steamroller hellbent for the Bay Area come early February. If anything, their impressive record seemed liable to regress toward the mean as the season went on.Instead of backsliding toward their “fundamentals,” like many fast-starting teams have over the years, the Panthers did something remarkable: They actually improved their core metrics to match their record, and kept right on winning. Since midseason, Carolina truly has played like the best team in football, culminating in some of the most impressive early blowout wins in playoff history.How rare was Carolina’s victory over the fundamentals? Since 1978 (the advent of the 16-game schedule), a shade under half of all NFL teams have improved their schedule-adjusted1Using our Elo ratings to measure the difficulty of each opponent at the time of the game. Pythagorean winning percentage between the first and second halves of the schedule. Of those teams, a little more than half again saw the improvement move in the direction of the team’s midseason winning percentage. In other words, their actual record was better than their Pythagorean percentage at mid-year, and their Pythagorean percentage over the rest of the season improved toward their record. According to rest-of-season Pythagorean percentage, the 2015 Panthers finished as the 11th-best team of that group, which also includes the 1985 Bears, 1984 49ers and 2014 Seahawks — pretty heady company.But what makes the Panthers’ improvement even more special is the degree to which their actual and Pythagorean records differed halfway through the season. At midyear, they were 8-0 but had the point differential of a 5.3-win team — the second-biggest disagreement of any team in our sample.2The 2005 Packers were 1-8 with the point differential of a 4.3-win team midway through the season. When a team’s actual and Pythagorean records disagree that much, the Pythagorean number is right more often than not,3Specifically, among the upper quartile of “disagreements,” Pythagorean record is the better predictor of rest-of-season form 52 percent of the time after properly regressing first-half winning percentage and Pythagorean percentage to the mean for predictive purposes. though to be fair it’s close to a coin flip. But in Carolina’s case, their winning percentage was right on the money — only five other teams since 1978 saw their second-half Pythagorean improvement predicted more accurately by their first-half winning percentage. And all of those other cases featured teams floating around .500 with subpar point differentials — Carolina is the only team in modern history to post a stellar first-half record with solid fundamentals, then turn into a Pythagorean behemoth down the stretch.Without a doubt, it was offensive improvement that drove Carolina’s overall uptick in performance, and practically all of that change has come in the passing game. According to expected points, the Panthers’ special teams only marginally improved in the second half, and their defense, while great, stayed pretty much the same all season.Back in November, when I infamously described the unbeaten Panthers as the worst team ever to start 11-0, I also wrote that Cam Newton was having a “decent, but not great” season, and that “quarterback play probably isn’t the main driving force behind the Panthers’ success.” That may have been true at the time, but it surely isn’t the case now. Since midseason, Newton has been the second-most valuable QB in football according to combined passing and rushing value over average,4Trailing only Seattle’s Russell Wilson. and his rate statistics have undergone a particularly remarkable metamorphosis.At midseason, Newton’s numbers looked much the same as in years past: His rates of completions, interceptions and sacks were subpar, and his yards and touchdowns per attempt were only average. He had one of the league’s highest rates of off-target throws5Pass attempts judged by ESPN’s Stats and Information group to have fallen incomplete only because Newton missed his intended target, whether because of an overthrow or underthrow., with the only mitigating factor being that he also ranked among the game’s most frequent deep passers. (Deep passes are more valuable but harder to complete; Newton was inaccurate even if we adjust for this.) The majority of his value added was with his legs, as the game’s most prolific running QB. It was pretty much the same Cam we’ve seen the last few years.But to say Newton has improved his passing since then is like saying he only slightly enjoys dancing in everyone’s mug. Since Week 10, he suddenly ranks among the league’s most accurate passers, with a drastically reduced rate of off-target throws. He hasn’t cut back on the deep tosses, either — his air yards per attempt have dipped only marginally in the second half of the season. He’s slinging the ball for significantly more yards and touchdowns per attempt, and he’s hardly ever giving it away; his TD-INT ratio is 21-1 over his last 8 games.The changes to Newton’s game have come with a few tradeoffs: His sack rate is up and his rushing output slightly down since his midseason transformation began. But his value added per game has increased by a factor of nearly six over the season’s back stretch. That gives him the sixth-biggest second-half improvement of any Super Bowl starting QB since 1978. Few QBs in history have gone into a Super Bowl on a better roll than Newton is on right now.Now, quarterback play is unquestionably the main driving force behind the Panthers’ success. The only remaining question is whether Newton can keep up his newfound passing production against one of the toughest defenses he’s ever faced. Given the remarkable way he and the Panthers overcame the odds and molded their fundamentals into those of a championship squad, I wouldn’t bet against them finishing the job on Sunday.Check out our live coverage of Super Bowl 50. A Super Bowl statistics special from our sports podcast Hot Takedown. Listen above, or subscribe on iTunes.
1. Will the suspended players start in the Sugar Bowl or have their playing time limited in any way? It’s doubtful anyone will know the answer to this question until minutes before kickoff. There are arguments for and against the players even participating in the game. However, if Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey and Mike Adams even miss a few possessions, that could give the Razorbacks a lead they may never relinquish. If coach Jim Tressel decides to bench the suspended players for any amount of time, it would be beneficial for the Buckeyes to go on defense in the beginning of the game to try to set the tone against the high-scoring Arkansas offense. 2. Can Pryor put up Cam Newton-like numbers against the Arkansas defense? Back in mid-October, Auburn and Arkansas put on an offensive exhibition for the ages. The two schools combined for 108 points, 1,036 yards and 55 first downs. Auburn quarterback and Heisman winner Newton accounted for a total 329 total yards and four touchdowns. Ohio State would be in very good position to win the game if Pryor approached Newton’s staggering numbers. And although Pryor and Newton play the game differently, despite their similar size and stature, Tressel plans on paying close attention to the Auburn game in his preparation for Arkansas. “We’ll study that one for sure because we always love to steal ideas from anybody,” Tressel said. “And most especially when you think you have similar capabilities.” 3. How will Arkansas try to crack the nation’s No. 2-ranked defense? The obvious and most probable answer is that the Razorbacks will rely on the arm of quarterback Ryan Mallett, who has passed for more than 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns in consecutive seasons. The 6-foot-6 Michigan transfer also spreads the ball around — six of his teammates have 27 or more catches — but tends to favor D.J. Williams, who has 49 receptions this season. Williams, who won the John Mackey Award, which is given to the nation’s top tight end, presents a unique problem for the OSU defense: It hasn’t faced a tight end of Williams’ caliber all season long. A case could be made that the Razorbacks and their No. 3 passing offense haven’t seen a defense like the Buckeyes, who are not only atop the Big Ten in many defensive statistics but are also No. 5 nationally in third-down conversion percentage and No. 9 in red-zone defense, two critical defensive statistics. 4. Which team will win the special teams struggle? Deciphering the differences between the team’s two kickers is akin to distinguishing between identical twins. Devin Barclay and Arkansas’ Zach Hocker each have three misses on the year, and both have made all of their extra points. Thus, field position could come down to kick- and punt-return coverage. The OSU special teams, which hit rock bottom after allowing the opening kickoff to be taken for a touchdown at Wisconsin, has steadily improved over the last half of the season as the team has gotten players back from injury. Glancing over the statistics, each team appears to have an edge in the return game. OSU is No. 3 in the country in kick returns, as the tandem of Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry has averaged nearly 27 yards per return. Meanwhile, Arkansas averages a little more than 17 yards on punt returns, good for fourth in the country. 5. Is this the year OSU snaps its bowl game losing streak against the SEC? A lot has to go right for the Scarlet and Gray to snap its 0-9 bowl game record against the SEC. But the main area OSU needs to focus on is something it’s done well in all season: forcing turnovers on defense and limiting them on offense. OSU is plus-14 in turnover margin, good for third in the country. Arkansas is plus two. It’s a cliché football adage, but whoever wins the turnover battle will win the Sugar Bowl.
Four former Ohio State football players will be playing in Super Bowl XLVII Sunday, and they all happen to be playing for San Francisco. The 49ers, which are set to square off against the Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, will feature some familiar names from Buckeye Nation: former OSU offensive lineman Alex Boone, wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., linebacker Larry Grant and safety Donte Whitner. Alex Boone (2005-2008) Boone, who went undrafted in the 2009 NFL draft but got picked up for the 2010 season, has been with the 49ers his entire career. The Lakewood, Ohio, native started all four of his years in Columbus and played in the 2007 and 2008 BCS National Championships. As a 49er, he was a pro bowl alternate last season. Tedd Ginn Jr. (2004-06) Arguably, Ginn Jr. was one of the most exciting Buckeyes to watch in the Jim Tressel era. A Cleveland, Ohio, native, Ginn also returned kickoffs and punts for touchdowns. He even returned the opening kickoff in the 2007 BCS National Championship against Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators. Ginn was the ninth overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Miami Dolphins and was traded to the 49ers for a fifth round draft pick in 2010. Larry Grant (2006-07) Grant, who originally attended City College of San Francisco, transferred to OSU in 2006 before becoming a full-time starter in 2007. Grant, who like Boone appeared in back-to-back national championship games for OSU, was drafted in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the 49ers before being traded to the St. Louis Rams. In 2011, Grant re-signed with the 49ers and has been with them ever since. Donte Whitner (2003-05) Whitner, another Clevelander, has played every level of football on the same team as Ted Ginn Jr., including stints at Glenville High School and OSU. As a Buckeye, Whitner was first-team All-Big Ten in 2005 and was drafted eighth overall in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. After playing four seasons in Buffalo, he signed a three-year contract with 49ers. Whitner was named to the Pro Bowl last season.
Senior safety Christian Bryant (2) is helped by the OSU medical staff during a game against Wisconsin Sept. 28 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 31-24.Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorOne week after taking down a top-25 conference foe at Ohio Stadium, the Ohio State Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0) are set to face another ranked Big Ten opponent, this time on the road against No. 16 Northwestern (4-0).For a second consecutive weekend, the Buckeyes’ game will be televised in prime time on ABC’s Saturday Night Football, and ESPN’s College GameDay will be on site for the game in Evanston, Ill.OSU coach Urban Meyer tipped his hat to Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald when he spoke to the media after practice Wednesday. He said the Wildcat faithful has every reason to be excited for the matchup.“They should have hype, they’re undefeated and (have) got a very good team,” Meyer said. “It’s a big game for them, but I’ve got news: It’s a big game for us too.”OSU’s next test comes on the heels of losing starting senior safety Christian Bryant with a broken ankle in the team’s 31-24 victory against Wisconsin.Redshirt-senior safety C.J. Barnett said the pain of losing his teammate to injury was greater than the thrill of victory.“It was tough, honestly, I didn’t even enjoy the win. I mean, that’s the worst news, not being able to play with him,” Barnett said. “A lot of the guys from the team went to the hospital and visited him.”Meyer said redshirt-senior safety Corey “Pitt” Brown is expected to step up during Bryant’s absence.Barnett said there would be no setback in the play of the secondary because Brown is a “veteran that’s had game-time experience.”On the offensive side of the ball, junior quarterback Braxton Miller is expected to make his second straight start after missing almost three full games with a sprained left MCL.Meyer said his signal caller is “full-speed, ready to go.”Miller said he’s physically where he needs to be for Saturday, but that the previous game was hard on his body after not playing for several weeks.“After the game, I was really sore,” Miller said. “But, I just feel comfortable where I’m at.”Miller also said he hopes his time off the field didn’t cost him a shot at winning the Heisman Trophy. He said he believes he still has a chance to earn college football’s most prestigious award because, in his opinion, it’s all about how candidates play in the biggest games.Saturday’s prime-time showdown is a great stage for his team to get a big win for the injured Bryant, said junior linebacker Curtis Grant.“We love to stick together and go out on the road. I think that’s one of the best things about football, when you can go into someone else’s stadium and create havoc,” Grant said. “All we can do is go out and win this game for him.”OSU is scheduled to take on Northwestern at 8 p.m. Saturday at Ryan Field.
Then-sophomore defensive lineman Noah Spence (8) tackles Penn State then-freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg during a game at Ohio Stadium on Oct. 26. OSU won, 63-14.Credit: Lantern file photoThe Ohio State football program will likely head into its third game of the season with one of the team’s most dynamic defensive players back in the lineup.Junior defensive lineman Noah Spence is set to return to game action after missing the Buckeyes’ last three games because of a suspension handed out in January.Spence was originally suspended a full year by the NCAA for testing positive for ecstasy before his family appealed the suspension and it was reduced to three games. A second appeal was unsuccessful.Spence served his three-game suspension by sitting out the 2014 Orange Bowl and the first two games of the 2014 season against Navy and Virginia Tech.OSU coach Urban Meyer said he is excited for Spence to be back out on the field.“First of all, he is an exceptional player. I know myself and his family (are) anxious to see him play,” Meyer said during a Big Ten teleconference. “He has handled (his suspension) — he went down to the scout team and performed for the last two weeks. (He is) very selfless and we are anxious to get him going.”Neither Spence, nor the usual amount of OSU players, were made available for comment Monday following the Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia Tech. Just one player of the expected three spoke to the media after Meyer’s weekly press conference.Co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash said though he hadn’t coached Spence until the spring, he is eager to see what the junior can do.“Noah is a very talented player. Fits well in our scheme. Has a tremendous ability to get after the quarterback and I think it is going to help us a lot,” Ash said Monday.Because he was suspended, Spence spent most of his time during fall camp with the scout team. Ash said, however, Spence has still been involved with the first-team defense.“He has been in all of the defensive line meetings, so all through the course of training camp, he has worked a lot of scout team stuff going against our offense,” Ash said. “He has been out there practicing our stuff quite a bit.”Ash added that during the short time he coached Spence, he has seen the lineman take steps to become a better player throughout camp.“We saw a lot of strides in the spring from him. From the time we started to the time we ended spring practice, he really made a lot of improvement,” Ash said. “He has made improvement throughout training camp so far also and (we) are excited to see him get out there on game day.”Defensive line coach Larry Johnson said during OSU’s fall media day that he expects to play multiple linemen to keep players fresh.The addition of Spence into the lineup should help do that.“My goal is to have a group of nine to 10 guys we can shuffle in and out in no particular order,” Johnson said Aug. 10. “We have the talent to be able to do that. We just have to coach it up.”The Buckeyes are scheduled to take on the Kent State Golden Flashes on Saturday at noon at Ohio Stadium.
Ohio State freshman running back Demario McCall (30) runs in a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Rutgers on Sep. 30. Ohio State won 56-0. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorNot many people can slow Demario McCall down.The sophomore H-back has dazzling speed. He averaged six yards on 63 carries and 22.5 yards per catch on six receptions in his first two seasons at Ohio State.But last year, McCall dealt with an obstacle that not only slowed him down, but shut him down, ending his season nearly before it even began. A day after the 2017 spring game, he underwent groin surgery to repair a sports hernia. He never fully recovered and said it continued to bother him “on-and-off.”After serving as running back Mike Weber’s backup as a freshman, many people expected McCall to take a significant offensive role in 2017. H-back Curtis Samuel and wideouts Dontre Wilson and Noah Brown left for the NFL, opening extra touches for playmakers like McCall. His anticipated leap never happened, though.McCall’s health prevented him from taking a major role in Ohio State’s offense. Instead, the Buckeyes relied upon Weber and freshman J.K. Dobbins at running back and Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill at H-back. The team also relied on Campbell and Weber as primary kick returners, and Hill as the primary punt returner.McCall did not touch the ball for the first three weeks of the season, then he caught one pass against UNLV in the fourth week of the season. The next week against Rutgers, McCall racked up a team-high 103 yards on 11 carries, including a 48-yard touchdown, and a 35-yard touchdown catch. Even after his dominance of the Scarlet Knights, head coach Urban Meyer expressed skepticism about McCall’s health.“He’s got more in the tank than what I saw,” Meyer said after Ohio State’s game against Rutgers. “So, you know, in that one where he broke away, usually he’s out. We’re still fighting through that thing. He’s doing a good job trying to fight through it.”McCall had three carries the following game, but never played again the remainder of the season. The Buckeyes opted to use a medical redshirt on McCall instead of hoping he could finally overcome the groin injury, Meyer said.Ohio State redshirt freshman running back Demario McCall (30) waits to return a kick in the third quarter of the Ohio State- UNLV game on Sep. 23. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorThe health issues were exacerbated by the difficulties McCall was already experiencing as he attempted to transition to H-back from running back, the position he played in high school. McCall said the coaching staff caught him off guard a few weeks into the season when he was told he would move away from running back to become a full-time slot receiver. That shift required a mindset adjustment because, as McCall said, “Once a tailback, always a tailback.”“I still had to work on myself becoming a receiver and not a tailback because I had the mindset of ‘I’m a tailback, but I’m going to help the receivers.’ That’s one thing that I had to change,” McCall said after the Cotton Bowl. “Now that I know that I’m a receiver, I had to put more work into jugs, route-running, top ends, just things like that.”Whether McCall will be able to show off those improvements remains uncertain. The same players as last season — Hill and Campbell — will presumably remain ahead of him on the depth chart entering next season. And given his diminutive 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame and Meyer’s penchant to play receivers who have blocking skills, McCall must overcome inexperience, injury and stature to earn playing time.The Buckeyes struggled to find a consistent top option in the passing game last season. Not many players have a higher top-end speed than Campbell, but he struggled to catch the ball. Hill has great hands, but lacks explosion. On the outside, wideouts Terry McLaurin, Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor and Johnnie Dixon each had standout moments, but no one made consistent plays. McCall might be the missing playmaker if given the opportunity. But regardless of the amount of touches he receives, McCall has only one goal in 2018, and it does not involve carries, catches or returns. “Physically, I want to be 100 percent healthy,” McCall said. “Without being 100 percent healthy, you’re a step behind. And that’s one thing I don’t want to be is a step behind because I was a step behind or two this year. It’s not a good feeling.”The speedy McCall is not used to being a step behind. Against Rutgers on Sept. 30, the only players a step behind wore Scarlet Knight uniforms. He might not have a clear path to playing time, but McCall’s inarguable talent with a regained burst offers Ohio State an intriguing weapon in 2018 it could not unleash last season.