Dwight Howard has met with the Houston Rockets in the first formal meeting in Los Angeles on Sunday night, but Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak made two unexpected pleas to the all-star player leading up to his second engagement with the Rockets.The first meeting came on Saturday, where Kupchak and Howard discussed the future in Los Angeles and why he belongs in the star-studded town.Kupchak made another visit on Sunday night, when he gave Howard a brief well-wishing just minutes before the Laker headed out for dinner with the Rockets’ representation.According to sources, the Rockets also plan to get general manager Daryl Morey, coach Kevin McHale, owner Les Alexander, Hakeem Olajuwon and James Harden to help in the process of recruiting Dwight Howard.
FiveThirtyEight Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (April 18, 2017), we’re joined by FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver for a discussion of why he thinks the save ruined relief pitching — and the new statistic he designed to improve it. Next, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon, lead science writer Christie Aschwanden drops by to talk about whether we’re getting closer to seeing a marathon finished in less than two hours. Plus, a significant digit on fouls in the NBA playoffs.Here are links to what we discussed:Check out Nate’s piece on the goose egg, the metric he developed to revolutionize relief pitching.MLB.com columnist Joe Posnanski looks at how saves evolved from stat to game-changer.Can science help runners break the marathon’s two-hour barrier? FiveThirtyEight chats with experts about the possibilities.Kathrine Switzer, 70, the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon, ran it again this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her achievement.Significant Digit: 15, the number of free throws the Memphis Grizzlies shot in Monday night’s playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs, who shot 32. Although Grizzlies coach David Fizdale blamed the refs in a postgame press conference, FiveThirtyEight’s Kyle Wagner points out that his anger may not be entirely justified. More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code
So this is basically an ’80s-style team of burners, in the mold of the Whitey Herzog St. Louis Cardinals,3Who, incidentally, faced the Royals in the 1985 World Series (and lost). dropped down into the modern major leagues. And Kansas City’s speedsters are off to a blazing start already, easily leading baseball in Speed Score through the first weekend of the season with an eye-popping 8.5 mark. (The MLB average is about 4.4 in recent seasons, with the leader topping out around 5.4 most years.)The Royals’ next step, though, is turning all that speed into more tangible results. Perhaps most surprising in Kansas City’s portfolio of badness last year is that the team was somehow MLB’s fifth-worst at base running (according to BsR) despite the steals-leading presence of Merrifield atop the lineup for most of the year. The Royals’ speed was above average — if not quite as impressive as this season — but they didn’t use it well, particularly between bases in advancement scenarios. According to FanGraphs, K.C. lost 12 runs (more than an entire win) relative to the average team in base-running situations that didn’t involve steals. One of the ways K.C. can improve this year is to deploy its running game in a smarter way, using it to take advantage when opponents inevitably offer up chances to take extra bases.That’s an area in which Kansas City might take a cue from its 2014-15 teams, which were legendary for their opportunism on the base paths. Take the famous ninth-inning play that extended Game 5 of the 2015 World Series: Eric Hosmer’s heads-up sprint from third base to home on a weak groundout, a daring piece of aggressive base running that forced an errant throw by Mets first baseman Lucas Duda and tied the ballgame. The Royals would eventually score five 12th-inning runs off New York’s beleaguered bullpen to secure the championship.Hosmer (career Speed Score: 4.0) wasn’t even fast, so imagine how much more damage Hamilton, Mondesi, Merrifield and friends could do if they pick their base-running spots correctly. Along the same lines, Kansas City is also hoping this speedy roster can emulate the 2015 Royals’ defense, which according to FanGraphs was the best in baseball in terms of runs saved relative to average.Larger issues, such as the team’s dismal .305 on-base percentage last season, might place hard limits on how much value Kansas City can get out of its speed this year. (Even Sunday, the team was being no-hit by Chicago’s Lucas Giolito — owner of a career 5.48 earned run average going into the game — into the seventh inning.) But no matter what, it should at least be more worthwhile to watch the fleet Royals this season, both for the entertainment of all those steals and as an experiment in against-the-grain team-building.Check out our latest MLB predictions. With a blazing average of 4.07 seconds to first base — that’s 15.1 miles per hour — Kansas City Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi was one of the fastest players in Major League Baseball last season. But this year, he’s not even the fastest player on his own team. That honor belongs to new center fielder Billy Hamilton, who runs to first in an astonishing 3.94 seconds. Fourth outfielder Terrance Gore might not be much slower, either, and none of those guys is even the reigning MLB leader in stolen bases — which K.C. right fielder Whit Merrifield happens to be. These are the 2019 Royals: The fastest baseball team assembled in years.It was clear from the start that this team’s identity would be all about running as fast as possible: “We want to be a motion team,” general manager Dayton Moore told MLB.com in February. “We have to be elite at some aspects of the game, and defense and speed is something we can be elite at.” And Kansas City has already put that speed to good use in its season-opening games against the Chicago White Sox, with Merrifield and Chris Owings swiping three combined bases and Mondesi hitting two triples in a 2-1 series victory.If the 2014 and 2015 Royals were an experiment in whether a talented small-ball team could win a championship in the modern game (it worked), this year’s version will be more about how much pure speed can make up for a lack of talent in other areas. The Royals might not be “good” per se — but in an era when just about every team is constructed according to the blueprint of advanced analytics, they will be different, and that might have value in itself.Certainly last season’s Royals could not have been described as anything other than abysmal. K.C. went 58-104, the team’s worst record in 13 years, and had only five regulars1Meaning they logged at least 2 percent of available team playing time between plate appearances and (leverage-weighted) innings pitched. in common with the 2015 championship club: Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, Danny Duffy and Mike Moustakas. (Moustakas was then traded to Milwaukee in July; Escobar signed with the White Sox over the offseason.) The Royals were sixth-to-last in scoring and fourth-worst in runs allowed, with a defense tied as the fourth-least efficient in baseball. This was far removed from the team that celebrated the franchise’s second world title just three years earlier.This year’s team is projected to be better yet still far from first place. The preseason FiveThirtyEight forecast called for Kansas City to improve all the way to 70 wins, though most of that change could be attributed to regression toward the mean rather than any specific additions. (In fact, K.C.’s most notable roster development since last fall was the news that Perez, a six-time All-Star, would miss the whole 2019 season with an elbow injury.) The projections were also low on both the 2014 and 2015 Royals, getting blindsided entirely by their World Series runs, but at least those teams had established, scout-approved talent with some sort of a track record and upside. The 2019 Royals don’t pass the eye test any more than they impress the computers.The projected speed in this lineup, however, is the genuine article. According to FanGraphs’ preseason depth chart projections, Royal hitters were forecast to swipe 168 bases this year, which represented 6.2 percent of the total steals predicted for all of MLB.2Including players who were free agents in spring training but were still predicted to sign somewhere and accumulate some steals by season’s end. If Kansas City hits that benchmark, it would become only the sixth team since 1996 to claim at least 6.2 percent of leaguewide stolen bases. The 2016 Brewers did it recently, but mostly that rate was a hallmark of teams from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, when gaudy steal totals were the norm and not every team had settled into similar offensive philosophies guided by sabermetrics.The speed of these Royals emerges in other metrics as well. I filtered down every opening day lineup since 1950 for those that contained at least eight players who had logged 200 or more plate appearances during the previous year. Then, for each lineup, I averaged two numbers from its players in the season before: Speed Score — a Bill James invention that estimates raw speed by combining stolen bases (both attempts and successes), triples and runs scored as a percentage of times on base — and FanGraphs’ Base Running (BsR) statistic, which quantifies the run value of every base-running action (including steals and advancement on other events). The 2019 Royals’ average Speed Score is tied for 24th since 1950, and its average BsR per 600 plate appearances ranks 71st; only 12 opening day lineups were faster by both measures, and half of those played during the nine-season span from 1978 to 1986, a heyday for running teams.
Harden FT rateNBA FT rate 2017-18.502.345-126.96.36.19976.0 Harden’s foul-drawing prowess is muted in the playoffsChange in free-throw rate (FTA/FGA) between the regular season and playoffs for James Harden and the entire NBA, 2015-19 Avg..511.424-17.1.265.2795.4 From ABC News: YearReg SeasonPlayoffs% ChangeReg SeasonPlayoffs% Change Source: Basketball-Reference.com 2018-19.449.371-17.4.259.2808.1 2016-17.575.528-8.2.271.2855.2 Mike D’Antoni has seen a number of close misses throughout his career, with his teams coming up just short of clearing the highest bar to claim an NBA championship.Having been through that pain before, the Rockets coach knew that this most recent playoff exit — in which Houston lost to Golden State in six games — would rank right up there with the other heartbreaks. “This one’s gonna leave a mark,” he said shortly after his club was ousted on Friday by the Warriors, who took the series despite playing the final five quarters without injured superstar Kevin Durant. “This is not just something you get over with. I’m definitely not gonna get over it in this press conference, or tomorrow, or the next day.”Regardless of how long it takes D’Antoni and the Rockets to move on from their playoff elimination, at some point Houston will have to decide whether it’s time to try a different route — in either strategy, roster construction or both — or to simply stay the course.Some will undoubtedly argue that Houston is due for a change at this point, after having been bounced from the playoffs by the Warriors for the fourth time in five seasons. After all, the Rockets have long been the NBA’s biggest outlier in terms of strategy. No offense takes more 3-pointers, and no defense is more liberal in how often it switches — a strategy that hurt Houston on the defensive glass in Games 5 and 6.But for as unsatisfying as it sounds in the wake of yet another loss to the same team, there may not actually be anything intrinsically flawed about the Rockets’ construction. They lost this year’s series by a total of 11 points over six games, with every game decided by 6 points or fewer — the first series in NBA playoff history to hold that distinction. Along the way, the Rockets also got to the line more often and snagged more rebounds. Houston shot more efficiently than Golden State and limited the Warriors’ fabled shot-making ability for most of the series. As much as James Harden and Co. are hearing it for not “stepping on the throat” of the Warriors late in Games 5 and 6, Houston played Golden State relatively evenly during these past couple weeks. The Rockets were just a few toss-up plays away from wins that would have left us with a totally different narrative about their season.The challenge for general manager Daryl Morey — perhaps one he is uniquely suited to face — is figuring out how much of the Rockets’ playoff malaise is simply an artifact of winning bias (our tendency to explain things through the lens of the final outcome) and how much of Houston’s actual process does need to be changed. The cruelly ironic way the team lost last season, when the most prolific 3-point shooting team in NBA history missed 27 consecutive threes in a Game 7, already put to the test any belief that Houston’s luck would eventually even out. (We estimated the odds of that cold streak at 1 in 72,000.) Then there’s the seeming improbability of a player as great as Chris Paul — who, for the record, played a terrific game Friday — making only one conference final (and no NBA Finals) in his career. At a certain point, you have to wonder whether this is simply the unluckiest team ever or if variance ceases to be an adequate explanation for a team repeatedly coming up short.After this latest crushing loss, there are a few factors that might be legitimate areas of concern for the Rockets. For one thing, the rate at which Harden gets to the free-throw line has declined in each of his past four postseason runs, by an average of 17.1 percent, even as the league’s free-throw rate has increased in the playoffs by an average of 5.4 percent in the same span. Harden still scored a ton of points this postseason, but with his trademark ability to draw fouls lessened, he went from an otherworldly combination of offensive efficiency and volume to a more terrestrial class of Hall of Famer.Relatedly, the Rockets may also need to take a hard look at how backcourt-centric their offense has become. They got 79 percent of their scoring from guards or guard-forwards against Golden State, with $90 million big man Clint Capela notching only 8.8 points per game and rarely justifying his presence on the floor. (His plus/minus per 100 possessions in the series was -15.2.) The rigidity of Houston’s roles makes it easier for the team to fill a roster around the famously ball-dominant Harden, but it may also make the Rockets more susceptible to matchup difficulties in the playoffs. It doesn’t help matters when those supposed 3-and-D role players, who helped fill out a top-10 defensive unit during the regular season, can’t do much to slow down the opponent at the other end of the court — which was certainly the case in the fourth quarter of Game 6, in which Stephen Curry logged 23 points.Houston suffers from its lack of bench depth, which could get even worse next year if Austin Rivers signs with a team that has more financial flexibility. Then there’s perhaps the most obvious issue: that the Rockets may need more creativity and firepower than Harden and an aging Paul can provide on their own as efficient 1-on-1 specialists. Houston tried to address this by signing Carmelo Anthony, but that experiment lasted only 10 games before the front office decided to cut bait. Still, finding a third high-level player who can create his own shot — or a fourth, depending on how you feel about Eric Gordon — would make a world of difference. But the Rockets likely lack the cap space or assets to obtain one.Because of these deficiencies, it might feel futile for the Rockets to simply run it back again with a similar group and a similar game plan. But if they do, as things stand now,1We still have to see what the L.A. teams do with all their cap space. The Lakers could become interesting if they sign a star free agent to pair with LeBron James, while the Clippers — who have no All-Stars on their roster — have a good thing going and plenty of cap space to offer, too. the Rockets would probably remain the Western Conference team with the best chance of knocking off the Warriors next season. The team doesn’t have much financial wiggle room to improve around its core, having committed $107 million to its top four players — Paul, Harden, Capela and Gordon — for 2019-20. But one underrated advantage of staying the course for Houston is that Golden State itself could be weakened if Kevin Durant leaves via free agency this summer. Even for a dynasty with unusual staying power, the Warriors can’t dominate the West forever.For now, however, the Rockets are looking like this decade’s version of the ’90s Utah Jazz, a talented team that couldn’t quite get over the hump against an all-time dynasty. And the fear of that close-but-no-cigar stagnation continuing figures to leave both D’Antoni and Morey thinking of tweaks that would allow Houston to take the next step.Check out our latest NBA predictions. 2015-16.518.450-13.1%.276.283+2.5%
The Ohio State football program is adding a fourth field to its outdoor practice facilities and lights for nighttime practices.The new practice field will be made of the same artificial FieldTurf used in Ohio Stadium and will have the same markings.The existing three-field practice layout consists of two natural grass fields and one with FieldTurf. Because the Buckeyes always use at least two fields during practice, the addition of the second turf field ensures that they won’t have to risk tearing up one of the grass fields during bad-weather practices.But this insurance won’t be needed anytime soon because OSU has no games on grass fields in the 2010 regular season. As such, coach Jim Tressel said the team won’t practice on either of the grass fields all year.However, the team will utilize the practice lights, as it has night games against Marshall at home for the season-opener and at Wisconsin and Minnesota. Tressel said he has been asking athletic director Gene Smith for lighted practice fields for years.Despite revenues of more than $60 million each year, the football program needed a $5 million donation from the Harmon family of Toledo to complete the $5.2 million Practice Facility Renovation Project.The ongoing first phase will be finished by June 13, when OSU sports camps begin. The second phase, which includes lighting and video towers, is scheduled for completion by Aug. 1 and the official start of fall practice.This project will displace the field hockey practice field, which will be moved to the north side of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center at a cost of $1.6 million, said Don Patko, associate athletic director for facilities at OSU. The field hockey team’s new field is slated to be done by Aug. 12.Meanwhile, the football program will formally dedicate its new field at 4:30 p.m. Friday, when both Jim Tressel and Gene Smith will speak. It will be an opportunity to show off to recruits coming in town for Saturday’s Spring Game.
Fighting off her nerves and attempting to stay poised, former Ohio State Buckeye Carling Coffing walked down the 17th fairway at Sandals Emerald Reef Golf Club with victory on her mind. Competing against Tulane grad Lili Alvarez in 18 holes of match play to determine the champion of the Golf Channel’s “Big Break Sandals Resorts,” each golfer’s approach shot landed safely onto the 17th green. Hands shaking and heart pounding, Coffing stood over her 25-foot putt with a chance to go 1-up with one hole to play and all but secure the match. Exhibiting the same composure that propelled her to the finals, she once again rose to the occasion and sunk the biggest putt of her life. “When I made that putt on 17 to really seal the deal, I know it wasn’t over yet. But in my heart, I knew that I was going to be the champion,” Coffing said. “It was an indescribable feeling. You think of your family and your friends and your hard work and what’s coming up and all those thoughts in about a half a second.” The 24-year-old’s clutch performance on the penultimate hole proved to be the turning point as Coffing stood on the 18th green amid a shower of champagne while being crowned “Big Break” champion. Growing up on a small farm in Middletown, Ohio, Coffing began playing golf at the age of 10. If it was more than 32 degrees outside, she was out on the golf course, she said. Soon, that dedication to the sport began to pay off. After a successful high school career, which included a state championship her junior year, Carling continued her golfing career as a Buckeye. “I have been a Buckeye fan my entire life, and who doesn’t love the Buckeyes?” she said. “I have been cheering on Coach (Jim) Tressel since I was a little girl, and at the time, the Ohio State golf team was top 10 in the nation, so it was a perfect fit for me.” Her skills on the links translated just fine to the collegiate level, as she earned Freshman of the Year honors in 2005 and twice garnered All-Big Ten second-team accolades. In addition to increasing her passion for golf, Carling discovered the world of broadcasting while in Columbus. Working with CoachTressel.com and ohiostatebuckeyes.com while in school, Carling honed her broadcasting prowess. After graduation, she took both her golf game and broadcasting abilities to the next level. Turning professional in 2008, the OSU alumna has been a member of the Duramed FUTURES Tour (the LPGA developmental tour) ever since. She even branched out with her broadcasting skills, producing her own video blog documenting life on tour for GolfChannel.com in the 2009 season. “It is always important to have the plan B, but at this point in my career, I am not stopping until I am No. 1 in the world and that is my attitude,” Coffing said. “If you are going to go for the LPGA, you have to go at it 100 percent or you’re never going to make it.” And “Big Break” might have provided just the confidence she needed to reach her long sought-after goal. After failing to earn her LPGA Tour card by three strokes nearly a year ago, Carling said she was “devastated.” However, just a few weeks after the disappointment, the Golf Channel provided the ultimate pick-me-up, informing her she would be one of 11 girls on the latest installment of the show. “When they held auditions at one of the FUTURES Tour events, they had us hit golf balls in front of the camera and they did a five-minute interview,” she said. “I convinced them that this spunky little diabetic chick had something to bring.” She certainly did. Surviving 10 episodes filled with an array of golf challenges, Coffing pulled out all the stops en route to being declared winner. Along with the satisfaction of her triumph, Coffing will receive assistance in her quest toward receiving her tour card in the form of having her LPGA qualifying school paid for and receiving an exempt status for the 2010 LPGA Lorena Ochoa Invitational, among other prizes. “She has a lot of courage and a lot of belief in herself, which I think is a vital component to making the next level,” said Therese Hession, Coffing’s former coach and current OSU women’s golf coach. “She will give it 100 percent whatever she decides to go into.” But even with her newfound stardom, Coffing, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 5, has not lost sight of what truly matters. Promising to donate 5 percent of her earnings to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the longtime diabetic is using her status to promote the cause. “Being diabetic is a struggle,” she said. “Although I have overcome it and done a great job of not letting it set me back, it is really time for us all to put one foot forward and find a cure for this because we are so close.” As for Carling’s professional future, she has a revitalized confidence thanks to her big win and is currently in talks with the Golf Channel about future opportunities to appear in front of the camera. “I really proved to myself that I can make it on tour, and that is another huge step toward making it on the LPGA,” she said. “I also realized that I really missed being in front of the camera because I really have a passion for broadcasting and I look forward to getting back into it one day. So don’t turn your TVs off yet.”
Then-senior Berta Queralt (18) battles for the ball during a game against Penn State Oct. 19, 2012, at Buckeye Varsity Field. OSU lost, 3-0.Credit: Courtesy of FacebookThe Ohio State field hockey team struggled as it finished a road trip to Syracuse, N.Y., with an 0-2 record.The Buckeyes fell short to No. 7 Massachusetts Saturday and then again Sunday to No. 6 Syracuse. Both games ended with a score of 1-0. Although the team came out on the losing end in both games, OSU coach Anne Wilkinson said it was not due to their efforts.“We played great field hockey overall,” Wilkinson said. “We just couldn’t put the ball in the net.”Both games were scoreless in the first half, but the Buckeyes gave up a single second half goal in each, falling to 2-4 on the year.During Sunday’s match, junior goalkeeper Sarah Lemieux had eight saves against Syracuse. After back-to-back saves by Lemieux, Syracuse was able to score on a penalty corner with just over four minutes to go in the game.Wilkinson said she was impressed with her goalkeeper, but wishes the team could have taken advantage of the defense it played.“I think we had great defense,” Wilkinson said. “Sarah (Lemieux) had a lot of great saves during crucial times.”Lemieux said the defense as whole played well, despite the losses.“I thought we played solid defense the whole weekend. We made huge efforts to tackle to ball and stop them from scoring.”In Saturday’s match UMass outshot the Buckeyes 10-8. OSU had more opportunities with the penalty corners, 6-5, but could not capitalize on them to finish the game.The match against Syracuse was much more one-sided, despite the Orange failing to open the scoring until the 66th minute. The home side out shot the Buckeyes 20-6, including 9 shots on goal.Sophomore midfield Emma Royce provided the best chance in the first half for the Buckeyes but was denied by the Syracuse sophomore goalkeeper Jess Jecko.OSU is set to take on Miami(Ohio) Wednesday in Oxford at 5:30 p.m.
OSU redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett scans the field during practice at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center Aug. 9.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorWhen a team loses its best player, not many expect the days following to be very positive.Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer said that was not the case following the news that senior quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the entirety of the 2014 season after re-injuring his shoulder Monday.“It would be hard to say it wasn’t — maybe the best practice we’ve had since our staff has come to Ohio State,” Meyer said Wednesday. “High energy, especially for practice 20. Really impressed.”On Saturday, Meyer announced redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett had earned a slight edge on redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones for the backup quarterback position. With Miller out for the year, Barrett will likely be thrust into the starting role, something in which Meyer said he is confident.“J.T. had about 300 competitive throws this fall, where when (former OSU quarterback) Kenny Guiton went into the game a couple years ago, I think he had six,” Meyer said. “He (Barrett) is a meticulous guy.”Meyer was not shy about comparing Barrett to Guiton, going as far as calling Barrett “Guiton-ish.”Senior cornerback Doran Grant also said he sees similarities between Barrett and Guiton.“J.T. does what KG does. He has had a lot of competitive reps this fall and has been looking pretty good,” Grant said. “They call him ‘The Distributor’ — that’s a good name for him because he is doing what he has to do.”Meyer said he also believes that Barrett’s ability to spread the ball around to the rest of the offense is one of his best skills.“Some of the best quarterbacks are great distributors,” Meyer said. “I thought Kenny Guiton was one of the best I have been around as far as getting the ball out rather quickly and distributing to playmakers…my initial evaluation of J.T. is that he is very good at that.”Grant said he has been impressed with not only Barrett’s play but also his leadership on the team.“I don’t think a lot of guys know this, but he (Barrett) was a part of the leadership committee as a true freshman,” Grant said. “He was the third or fourth quarterback on the depth chart (last season)…he just has those leadership qualities, and that has shown on the field.”Senior tight end Jeff Heuerman echoed Grant’s comments on Barrett and said the young quarterback has other positive qualities to bring to the table as well.“He is a great leader. He is super smart, he’s a hard worker and I think that was the case before this happened,” Heuerman said. “He handles his business and does everything right, and we have full confidence in him and full trust.“We’re behind him 100 percent.”Although the discussion was almost solely focused on Barrett and Miller, Meyer said he will still consider playing both Barrett and Jones week one against Navy.Meyer said both Barrett and Jones have positive qualities to their game.“J.T. has a pretty good release, and he has a good skill level. Cardale has got just a cannon,” Meyer said.Despite the confidence in Barrett, the loss of Miller still was not easy to take at first, Heuerman said.“I was with him when his shoulder was out of place, and I had never seen him like that,” Heuerman said. “He was in pain. So we kind of knew right away that it wasn’t going to be good.”Heuerman said that although Miller is lost for the year, he is confident that the Buckeyes will be fine with Barrett when surrounded by playmakers.“We got a lot of playmakers, and we are going to have to rely on them a lot to make plays,” Heuerman said.The Buckeyes are scheduled to open the 2014 season on Aug. 30 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore against Navy. Kickoff is set for noon.
Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) blocks for redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) during a game against Navy Aug. 30 at M&T Bank Stadium in baltimore. OSU won, 34-17.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorThe Ohio State football team’s season-opening 34-17 win against Navy was a tale of two halves.The Midshipmen led, 7-6, at halftime — which certainly taught us all a lot about this year’s Buckeyes. The comeback run in the second half might have taught us even more, but there will be much more to watch for when the Buckeyes take the field next.The Lantern’s sports editors picked five keys to OSU’s matchup with the Hokies that could decide whether the team moves to 2-0 or suffers an early-season loss.1. J.T. Barrett round twoTo be completely honest, redshirt-freshman quarterback Barrett did as well as can be expected for his first career game. The man had not taken a competitive snap since his senior year of high school — when he tore his ACL — and still threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns.Barrett wasn’t Braxton Miller last week, and he won’t emulate the injured senior quarterback against the Hokies either. But that doesn’t mean the Buckeyes are out of luck.If you’re looking for ankle-breaking running ability or a cannon for a right arm, Miller is still your guy. But Barrett was smoothly efficient and deceptively productive in his first start. After leading the Buckeyes with 50 rushing yards and going 12 of 15 on pass attempts with just one interception, look for the offense to open up for Barrett going forward.2. Will Bud Foster’s defense shut down Buckeye offense?Ever since defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s arrival in Blacksburg, Va., the Hokies have been a model of consistency on defense.Despite losing, 35-10, to then-defending national champion Alabama last season, the Hokie defense held the Crimson Tide to just 206 yards of total offense, including just 110 passing.As Barrett enters his second start, Foster’s ability to dial up confusing blitzes will prove a tough challenge for not only for the quarterback, but also a young and inexperienced offensive line.The Buckeyes only managed six first half points last week, which marked the first time OSU had been held without a first half touchdown since the 2011 Buckeyes were held to just three first half points against Illinois (a game in which they completed just one pass).A similar performance could very well mean the first home loss under coach Urban Meyer. 3. Which running back earned the carries?When Meyer released the team’s first depth chart of the season, sophomore Ezekiel Elliott, redshirt-senior Rod Smith and freshman Curtis Samuel were all listed as co-starters at running back.Against Navy, Elliott earned offensive player of the game honors by carrying the ball 12 times for 44 yards and a touchdown, but actually finished the game behind Barrett and Samuel in rushing yardage. Samuel had 45 yards and averaged 6.4 yards per carry while Smith carried the ball just twice, but impressed Meyer by holding a block for 11 seconds during a special teams play.According to the Buckeyes’ new depth chart released this week, all three are still co-starters at the position.With one full game out of the way, it’s hard to believe Meyer and his staff have not picked a true favorite at the position. If they have, look for that player to have a breakout game against the Hokies. If the coaching staff really hold all three in equal esteem, look for the running back carousel to continue all season long.4. Record crowd expectedOhio Stadium has been a landmark for college football since being built in 1922, and it is set to break another record Saturday night. With the final touches being made to a $13.7 million renovation project that added 2,600 seats as well as new lighting fixtures, OSU is expecting a crowd of more than 108,000, a number which would crush the current record of 106,102, set during an Oct. 6, 2012, game against Nebraska. The Buckeyes prevailed, 63-38, in that game. One of the expected 108,000 is believed to be Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, who has made previous appearances at OSU football games against Texas in Austin (2006) and in Columbus last season against Wisconsin. If nothing else, the atmosphere, along with the world’s greatest athlete, should be a great recruiting pitch for Meyer and his coaching staff.5. Hokies represent last big test until late OctoberIf the past is any indication, Saturday’s game against the Hokies will be the biggest test the Buckeyes will face until traveling to Happy Valley in late October.OSU’s following games after Virginia Tech include matchups against Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers. The only road game of those four comes against Maryland. Not exactly murderer’s row.If the Buckeyes have national championship hopes, they will need to impress the selection committee of the newly-installed College Football Playoff against the Hokies before playing what most believe is a mediocre schedule at best, until taking on Penn State on Oct. 25.OSU’s game against Virginia Tech is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
OSU H-back Dontre Wilson breaks into open field during the second half against Indiana on Oct. 8. Credit: Mason Swires | Assistant Photo EditorFormer Ohio State wide receiver Dontre Wilson signed with the Los Angeles Chargers as an undrafted free agent, according to a tweet sent by Wilson.Ima @Chargers— Dontre Wilson (@treydayy_) April 29, 2017Wilson caught 27 passes for 352 yards, both career highs, and rushed the ball 16 times for 78 yards as a senior. His final year in scarlet and gray, Wilson averaged 13 yards per catch, the third highest on OSU. He entered the season on the Paul Hornung Award watch list.The former four-star recruit from DeSoto, Texas was heavily involved in special teams. Wilson averaged 24.2 yards on 53 kick returns and 7.8 yards on 31 punt returns. However, he struggled with fumbles when returning punts and was replaced during the 2016 season.A 5-foot-10, 195-pound wideout, Wilson is tied with with three players as the shortest wide receiver on the Chargers.Seven former OSU players were selected in the 2017 NFL draft, the second-most since 2009.