The Buckeyes and Horned Frogs meet in Arlington on Saturday night
Ohio State travels to the Lone Star State to take on TCU in Arlington in one of the top non-conference matchups of the 2018 college football season. It’s a neutral site designation in AT&T Stadium, but TCU’s campus is less than 25 miles away from the stadium. However, this location isn’t unfamiliar to the Buckeyes. Ohio State beat USC in the Cotton Bowl last year and defeated Oregon in Arlington to claim the 2014 national championship.
Ohio State has certainly had an interesting offseason. The Buckeyes entered 2018 as one of the favorites to win the national championship and have looked impressive in a 2-0 start. However, the program has been under the direction of interim coach Ryan Day. Urban Meyer was suspended for the first three games of the season following an investigation into former assistant Zach Smith. Under Day’s direction, Ohio State hasn’t missed a beat. The Buckeyes defeated Oregon State 77-31 in the opener and dominated Rutgers 52-3 last Saturday. Ohio State’s defense gave up a couple of big plays versus the Beavers, but outside of that, this team has dominated through the first two weeks.
While it’s been a noisy offseason in Columbus, the opposite is true for TCU. It’s been a relatively quiet offseason for coach Gary Patterson, but this team did lose defensive tackle Ross Blacklock to injury before the first snap of 2018. The Horned Frogs demolished Southern 55-7 in the opener and defeated SMU 42-12 to retain the Iron Skillet last Friday.
These two teams have played in six previous matchups, with Ohio State holding a 4-1-1 series edge. However, the Buckeyes and Horned Frogs have not met since 1973.
Ohio State vs. TCU (Arlington, Texas)
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Ohio State -12.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Ohio State’s Defensive Line Against TCU Offensive Line
The line was TCU’s biggest concern on offense coming into the 2018 season. The Horned Frogs lost three full-time starters, with Lucas Niang and Cordel Iwuagwu returning to anchor the unit. So far, TCU’s rebuilt offensive line has passed its early tests. The Horned Frogs have not allow a sack through the first two games, and the line is clearing the way for rushers to average 5.6 yards a carry.
While the first two games were a good sign for coach Gary Patterson, this unit will tested in a big way on Saturday. Ohio State’s defensive line might be the best in college football outside of the front four in Clemson. End Nick Bosa headlines a pass rush that has eight sacks through two contests, while sophomore Chase Young seems primed for a breakout year on the opposite side. The interior is anchored by juniors Dre’Mont Jones and Robert Landers, and there’s no shortage of depth across the board at all four spots.
Despite giving up a couple of big plays to Oregon State in Week 1, Ohio State’s rush defense is still limiting opponents to 3.8 yards a carry. On paper, the Buckeyes should have a significant edge in the trenches. How will TCU’s revamped offensive line hold up in pass protection for new starting quarterback Shawn Robinson? And that’s not all Patterson has to worry about. When Robinson does throw, Ohio State’s secondary is among the best in college football. The duo of Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua lead the way for the Horned Frogs’ ground game, but running room could be limited.
TCU’s upset hopes have to start with steady play up front. Without a good performance by the front five, it’s tough to see the Horned Frogs keeping Bosa, Jones or Young away from Robinson and earning the victory.
2. TCU QB Shawn Robinson
TCU has to have a good performance out of its offensive line in order to win, but the catalyst for this attack is quarterback Shawn Robinson. The sophomore has three career starts under his belt and is off to a good start in 2018. Robinson leads the team with 112 rushing yards and three touchdowns and has connected on 33 of 53 throws for 336 yards and four scores. Most importantly for TCU, Robinson is completing 62.3 percent of his passes and has just one pick through 53 attempts.
Assuming Ohio State’s pass rush has success in winning matchups against the TCU offensive front, Robinson’s mobility will be a huge asset. If Robinson can make a few plays with his legs and keep plays alive, the Horned Frogs can get the ball to talented playmakers at receiver in KaVontae Turpin and Jalen Reagor. Additionally, Robinson’s ability to get yardage on designed runs or read plays will be critical to keep Ohio State’s defense off balance.
In order to win, TCU needs a huge performance out of Robinson on the ground and through the air.
3. TCU’s Defense Versus Ohio State’s Offense
The chess match between Gary Patterson and TCU’s defense against Ohio State co-offensive coordinators Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson will be an intriguing battle on Saturday night.
While the competition hasn’t been at the highest level yet, TCU is only giving up 9.5 points a game in 2018. Additionally, this unit is holding offenses to 3.4 yards a play and 3.2 yards a carry. On the flipside, Ohio State is averaging a whopping 64.5 points a contest and 8.1 yards a play. Obviously, those totals are likely to regress. However, there’s no question about the level of talent on this group.
Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins was regarded in preseason previews as a better passer than former starter J.T. Barrett. So far, that preseason declaration has been holding true. Haskins is completing 79.2 percent of his throws for 546 yards and nine touchdowns. The sophomore doesn’t necessarily have a clear No. 1 target at receiver. However, that’s not a concern at all, as the Buckeyes are loaded with depth here. Terry McLaurin, K.J. Hill, Johnnie Dixon, Austin Mack and Parris Campbell will each see their share of targets on Saturday.
The firepower on Ohio State’s offense isn’t just relegated to the aerial attack. On the ground, Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins form one of the top tandems in the nation, combining for 364 yards and four scores through the first two games. This duo also illustrates the difference in the trenches for these two teams. TCU relies on a 4-2-5 approach, with speed a major component of Patterson’s approach to this side of the ball. End Ben Banogu is one of the top linemen in the nation and can wreak havoc off the edge against a bigger offensive front for the Buckeyes.
Patterson is one of the best defensive minds in college football. How will he look to attack an Ohio State offense that’s loaded with talent at every level and is firing on all cylinders to start the year? Can TCU’s defense stop the run and get Haskins into long-yardage situations to create a couple of turnovers? Or will the Horned Frogs rely on their speed to create pressure on Haskins or simply overwhelm the Buckeyes at the line of scrimmage?
TCU’s formula for an upset starts with preventing big plays by Ohio State’s offense, find a way to create a couple of takeaways and get a big performance from the line and quarterback Shawn Robinson. Those aren’t unreasonable goals to expect, especially from a Gary Patterson-coached team. However, the Horned Frogs are going to have their hands full. In addition to a relentless pass rush, Ohio State’s defense is among the stingiest in the nation. When the Buckeyes have the ball, quarterback Dwayne Haskins has been on fire to start the 2018 season. And as if Haskins and Ohio State’s receivers weren’t enough to stop, the one-two punch of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber is one of the top running back tandems in the nation. The guess here is TCU’s defense gives the Buckeyes some trouble early. However, Ohio State puts it together on offense in the second half and finishes Day’s interim stint with a 3-0 record.