The Buckeyes have questions to answer at critical positions
Just like every other college football program in America, the Ohio State Buckeyes are eager to turn the page from 2020 and get into 2021. The coronavirus impacted Ohio State dramatically in 2020, with the Big Ten initially canceling the fall season in August, then resuming an abbreviated season in late October — and then Ohio State suffering three cancellations of regular-season games in November, due to COVID-19 outbreaks. The biggest casualty of those cancellations was The Game, as Ohio State did not have an opportunity to play longtime rival Michigan for the first time since 1918.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, thinking about the 2020 season, stated, "Looking back on last season, there were a lot of great things we did in a tough spot." Even with all of the abrupt challenges, Ohio State was able to focus on the tasks at hand, winning their fourth straight Big Ten championship, while also securing a berth in the College Football Playoff. More importantly, Ohio State defeated Clemson 49-28 in the 2021 Sugar Bowl, settling the score from the previous season, when Ohio State lost a 29-23 heartbreaker that kept the Buckeyes from competing for the national championship in 2019. Alabama handled Ohio State 52-24 in the national championship for 2020, but the goals and hopes remain high for the Buckeyes to again contend for the national championship in 2021.
Ohio State is scheduled to begin its spring practices on March 19, with its spring game scheduled for April 17. Day and his coaching staff have another talented team eager to take the field, but there are questions remaining at several crucial position groups that will be scrutinized during the spring practice periods.
5 Storylines to Watch During the Buckeyes' Spring Practice
1. Fixing the Ohio State secondary
A different season, but the concerns remain the same for 2021 as they were in 2020. As written above, Alabama exploited Ohio State's secondary repeatedly in the national championship, putting Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs on the spot to remedy the situation. Sevyn Banks is the surest bet to start at one of the cornerback positions, but all other spots are considered wide open. Coombs and Ohio State secondary coach Matt Barnes will also need to determine if the Buckeyes will try to play the single-high safety scheme that Day prefers, or if the Buckeyes are better suited to play a more traditional two safety defense. Fixing an Ohio State secondary that ranked 122nd in the nation in pass defense in 2020 is priority one during spring practice for the Buckeyes.
2. Who is the starter at quarterback?
This position group will also be under the microscope by Ohio State fans, but the answers will probably not be known until the fall. Justin Fields is off to ply his trade in the NFL, leaving Day with a group of talented, yet inexperienced, quarterbacks for 2021. To give you an idea as to how inexperienced these quarterbacks are for the Buckeyes, the very first pass an Ohio State quarterback attempts in the season opener at Minnesota on Sept. 2 will be that respective signal-caller's first recorded collegiate pass attempt ever.
By most appearances, C.J. Stroud would be the likely starter when spring practices begin, but Jack Miller III and Kyle McCord will each be given opportunities to win the starting job this spring. Stroud and Miller both had minimal game reps in 2020, handing the ball off at the tail end of games that Ohio State eventually won; both had a touchdown while running the ball, not passing. McCord is a true freshman who enrolled in January. It seems likely that Day will not name a starter until as close to the season opener as possible. All three were heavily-recruited and highly touted as recruits, and Day will try to do whatever he can to keep them all motivated and involved in the competition for the coveted position.
3. The interior offensive line
Ohio State is losing standouts in center Josh Myers and right guard Wyatt Davis to the 2021 NFL Draft. While Harry Miller returns, Miller is likely to move from left guard to fill the vacancy at center, a position that Miller played for the Buckeyes at Michigan State in 2020. Miller was rated as a 5-star recruit at the center position, coming out of high school.
If Miller does secure the starting center job, the Buckeyes will need to determine starters at both guard positions. Matthew Jones, Paris Johnson Jr., and Dawand Jones seem likely to comprise those spots on the depth chart this spring. If Miller is withheld from spring competition, Matthew Jones could also emerge as an option for the center position. Luke Wypler may also be in the mix, as Wypler was a highly-touted center prospect coming out of high school. Developing a cohesive offensive line unit will be essential for an Ohio State offense that will be tasked with protecting an unproven quarterback in 2021.
4. The interior defensive line
Tommy Togiai declared for the 2021 NFL Draft, leaving a void at the nose tackle position along the Ohio State defensive line. Togiai was among the team's leaders at tackles for loss and sacks for the Buckeyes in 2020.
Haskell Garrett, fortunately, decided to return for another season, lessening the sting of Togiai's departure along the Ohio State interior defensive line. With Garrett penciled in as a starter at defensive tackle, other names at nose tackle include Jerron Cage, Antwuan Jackson, and Taron Vincent. While fixing the secondary is the most pressing issue for the Ohio State defense, it cannot come at the expense of a stout run defense that only gave up 97.6 yards per game on the ground.
5. The rushing attack
Trey Sermon emerged late in the 2020 season as a dynamic running back for the Buckeyes, exploding for big games versus Northwestern (331 yards) and Clemson (193 yards) when it was needed most. Sermon is off to the NFL, leaving returnees Master Teague III (pictured below), Steele Chambers, Miyan Williams, and Marcus Crowley to battle for the starting tailback position. Early enrollees TreVeyon Henderson and Evan Pryor will also vie for playing time. Teague is the likely favorite to be the starter at tailback as spring practices begin, but it is far from certain that Teague will lock down the job with such talented competition also on the roster.