The winners of these two matches will play each other on July 9 at 4 p.m. EDT. See our World Cup predictions for the latest probabilities.In DepthThe second- and third-lowest-scoring teams to make the quarterfinals of this World Cup square off against each other in Saturday’s early game (Belgium, with six goals, vs. Argentina, with seven), and then the lowest-scoring team (Costa Rica, with five goals) faces the highest-scoring side (the Netherlands, which has scored 12).Let’s look at Belgium vs. Argentina first.Since Argentina ignominiously exited the 2010 World Cup with a second consecutive quarterfinal loss to Germany, little Lionel Messi has been dominating the world of soccer like nothing we’ve seen in modern times.After scoring only one goal in both his previous World Cup tournaments combined, this year he’s taken the tournament by storm, scoring four goals (including a stoppage-time game-winner against Iran) in his first three matches, and recording the game-winning assist with just minutes remaining in the fourth.Stoking questions about whether it relies too much on Messi, however, the rest of his team has been awful on offense; Argentina’s other players have managed to put the same number of balls into their opponents’ nets (one) as those opponents have themselves (Bosnia’s own goal). Argentina’s shooting breaks down like so:Messi has scored on four of 16 shots (including converting three of 11 attempts from outside the penalty area).In the 18 shots set up by Messi (the highest number of chances created by any player going into the quarterfinals), Argentina has scored once (Angel di Maria’s game-winner against Switzerland).In the 46 shots Messi was not involved in, Argentina has scored only once, failing to score on all 42 attempts from outside the 6-yard box.Thus — despite having Messi, and despite Messi playing brilliantly — Argentina has only scored on 7.5 percent of its shot attempts, second-worst among quarterfinalists.Belgium, on the other hand, has seen six different players score. But that’s only six goals; even though Belgium has taken a tournament-leading 21 shots per game, the Red Devils have scored on only 7.2 percent of those shots, the worst of all quarterfinalists.Belgium has largely gotten by on excellent goalkeeping, with Thibaut Courtois allowing only two goals despite facing 13 shots on goal worth 4.84 expected goals (using ESPN/TruMedia’s Expected Goals model). His .22 “goals allowed below average” (GABA) per shot is the highest of remaining goalies (higher is better).Another team with good goalkeeping so far is Costa Rica, whose Keylor Navas has saved 14 of 16 shots on goal, with an average GABA of .21 per shot, good for second behind Courtois.Neither Costa Rica nor the Netherlands are what you’d call possession teams: Despite their impressive run, the Netherlands has held the ball just 44 percent of the time, and Costa Rica has held it 42 percent (the only other quarterfinalist with less than 50 percent possession was Colombia, with 46 percent). The flip side of playing this way is that these two teams also lead quarterfinalists in average pass distance (21.7 and 20.8 yards, respectively).But for the most part, Costa Rica seems badly overmatched. While they’ve shot a respectable 14.3 percent, that’s mostly because they’ve been unable to get shots at all — they’ve taken about nine shots per game, averaging only three on goal. Both those figures are by far the lowest of any remaining squad.The Netherlands, on the other hand, had one the most impressive runs into the quarterfinals. The Dutch faced the most difficult route (their opponents had an average Soccer Power Index rating of 80.0), but so far have the second-highest goal differential at +8.The Netherlands has been far superior on contested plays. When taking on defenders, the Flying Dutchmen have been successful a whopping 69 percent of the time. That compares to just 31 percent for Costa Rica. The Netherlands has won contested balls in the air at a 57 percent rate, compared to 36 percent for Costa Rica.In trying to find what, aside from good fortune and good goalkeeping, has driven Costa Rica’s gritty run (it’s scraped by against the second-hardest schedule), just about the only thing I could come up with was evidence of how well it’s run the offside trap. Costa Rica has drawn an enormous number of offsides calls: It’s pulled its opponents offsides 28 times (the next-most among quarterfinalists was 12, by Germany).Overall, our World Cup odds give Argentina a 14.9 percent chance of winning it all, the Netherlands an 11.8 percent chance, Belgium a 2.3 percent chance, and Costa Rica a 0.7 percent chance.YesterdayIn the first competitive match between France and Germany since the semifinals of the 1986 World Cup, Germany took the lead early with a headed goal by defender Mats Hummels. It was Hummels’s second goal of the World Cup, making him the first defender to score twice in this year’s tournament (he would get company later in the day). Both of Hummels’s goals have been headers, and both have been by assisted by Toni Kroos.For Germany, headers are nothing new: Over the past 50 years (as far back as ESPN Stats & Info’s data set goes), Germany has scored 37 headed goals in World Cup play, nearly twice as many as any other country (Italy has 19). Scoring first — by head or foot — has been Germany’s recipe for success in the World Cup, especially as of late. The Germans are 21-0-2 in their last 23 World Cup matches when scoring first, their last loss coming in the 1994 quarterfinals to Bulgaria.France, on the other hand, trailed for the first time at this year’s tournament, and still has never won in a World Cup match when trailing at halftime, losing all 11 times. Les Bleus made efforts to equalize, ending up with more shots (13) than Germany (8), and more chances created (10 to 7). But it was all for naught.In Friday’s second match, Brazil opened the scoring in the seventh minute, its fastest goal of the tournament. The goal came from a Neymar corner kick, his first assist of the tournament. It was Thiago Silva’s first career World Cup goal, and it was Brazil’s third goal from a corner, tied with France and Germany for the most in this World Cup.Brazil was in control for the remainder of the first half, completing seven of 15 passes into the attacking penalty area and creating seven total chances. Neymar created four chances, including the assist; Colombia, as a team, created two in the first half.Brazil extended its lead to 2-0 on defender David Luiz’s 34-yard free kick, the second-longest goal of the tournament. Luiz failed to score in his first 39 career international appearances, but he has found the back of the net in his last two. Brazil has now taken a two-goal lead in a World Cup match 49 times, and has won all 49.The breakout star in the tournament so far, Colombia’s James Rodriguez, converted a penalty to give his side hope; he scored in all five of his games in the tournament. It was his sixth goal, giving him a two-goal lead in the race for the Golden Boot. Colombia scored five goals combined in its last two World Cup appearances (1994 and 1998).Brazil and Germany’s semifinal meeting on Tuesday will, incredibly, mark only the second time these two countries have met at the World Cup. The other was the 2002 final, won by Brazil 2-0. — Jacob Nitzberg, senior statistics analyst, ESPNOff the PitchThe Netherlands and Costa Rica have been friends for a while. In fact, the Dutch were a big source of aid to the Costa Ricans until recently, when the latter ascended to middle-income status. The relationship has gradually shifted to focus more on trade and economic cooperation, but it’s still worth looking at the aid the Netherlands provided over the years.AidData reports that the Dutch sent about $362.5 million Costa Rica’s way between 1978 and 2010. The bulk allocation changed with time, and in the 1980s seemed to focus on industry growth, with $1 million going toward agriculture in 1981, $31 million toward imports to Costa Rica in 1984 and $7 million toward forestry in 1989. The ‘90s began a slow transition, with $17 million spent on multisector industry growth in 1994, $22 million on debt alleviation in 1996 and $21 million on general environmental protection in 1997. With this final pivot, it looks like Costa Rica found its stride — environmental protection continued to be the focus of Dutch aid through 2006, with a final peak of $17 million. Since then, Costa Rica’s tourism industry has boomed, and Dutch aid has all but completely ended.Further ReadingMohawks, Faux-hawks And Macklemores: The Top-Heavy Hairdos of the World CupThe World Cup USMNT Replacement Team Power RankingsStop Making Sense It’s Old Dutch Empire vs. Old Spanish Empire day, as Argentina (independent from Spain since 1816) takes on Belgium (independent from the Netherlands since 1830), and Costa Rica (independent from Spain since 1821) takes on the Netherlands itself.In BriefArgentina vs. Belgium: 12 p.m. EDTNetherlands vs. Costa Rica 4 p.m. EDT
The first College Football Playoff game ever played, Thursday’s Rose Bowl between the Oregon Ducks against the Florida State Seminoles, promised to be a classic featuring two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks. Instead, it was a one-sided romp that saw Oregon outscore Florida State 41-7 in the second half en route to a 39-point victory.Plenty of observers enjoyed the schadenfreude of seeing Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston lose his first game as a college starter, particularly in light of Winston’s off-field comportment. But the blowout loss also amplified questions about whether Florida State should have been granted a playoff berth in the first place.Going into the playoff, there wasn’t much debate over the selection committee‘s top two teams, Alabama and Oregon, but there was plenty of controversy surrounding the admittance of Florida State and Ohio State over TCU and Baylor. In addition to the strange leapfrog Florida State and Ohio State made over TCU in the final edition of the committee’s rankings, a number of oddsmakers suggested both jilted Texas schools would be favored at a neutral field over either the Seminoles or Buckeyes.Some of that second-guessing looks silly after Ohio State beat Alabama in Thursday’s Sugar Bowl, earning a trip to face Oregon in the CFP’s championship game, hours after Baylor blew a 20-point 4th quarter lead against Michigan State to lose the Cotton Bowl. But in conjunction with TCU’s 39-point obliteration of Ole Miss (who placed ninth in the committee’s final rankings) in the Peach Bowl on Wednesday, Florida State’s humiliating loss to Oregon has, predictably, led to calls that TCU should have been in the playoff instead.Statistically, there’s something to that criticism. Going into the bowls, Florida State ranked tenth in ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) rating, which emphasizes per-drive scoring margin and downplays the theory that a team could have a knack for consistently winning close games, rather than just getting lucky. The Seminoles had been 13-0 before their meeting with Oregon, but the Seminoles’ point differential suggested they deserved a record more like 10-3 or even 9-4. The Seminoles’ year of living dangerously finally caught up with them.By contrast, TCU had ranked fifth in the FPI before the bowls, and currently sits at No. 4 behind Oregon, Alabama (who still rank second despite their loss), and Ohio State. Knowing what we know now, and using the historical distribution of actual point margins for a given prediction (based on an FPI-like Elo variant for seasons since the start of the BCS era), there’s a 98.2 percent probability that TCU’s point differential versus Oregon would have been closer than Florida State’s margin of defeat Thursday, and a 54 percent chance that TCU would cover the point spread if they were made a touchdown underdog against the Ducks.Then again, based on the pregame FPI ratings, Oregon’s 39-point win in the Rose Bowl also represented the 98th percentile of all possible outcomes for a game against Florida State at a neutral site. If they were to play again today, FPI’s current data says there’s a 96.6 percent probability the Seminoles would put forth a better showing the second time around.Hindsight is 20/20. So while it’s likely that TCU was, and is, a better team than Florida State, it was difficult at the time to argue for an undefeated Power 5 conference team to be left out of the playoff field, even if their record was out of step with their point differential.And even now, the gulf between the two teams isn’t as wide as it seems after TCU had a 99th percentile performance in the Peach Bowl and Florida State had a 2nd percentile performance in the Rose Bowl. FPI says TCU would be favored by about 4.5 points on a neutral field, meaning there’d still be roughly a 39 percent chance of a Florida State victory even after accounting for the events of the past few days.
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. Hot Takedown 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 (June 9, 2015), we discuss whether LeBron James can continue to win NBA Finals games by himself, whether Serena Williams can set the record for most Grand Slams ever and what we’ve learned after the first batch of women’s World Cup games. Plus, a special Significant Digit — Nate Silver talks with 12-year-old Simon Bazelon (son of New York Times writer and Slate podcast host Emily Bazelon), who has some criticisms about FiveThirtyEight’s NBA Elo ratings.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 in this week’s show:Nate Silver takes on the adage, “Live by the three, die by the three.” It’s mostly not true.Neil Paine on the Cavs’ Game 2 win, in context.Williams is really, really clutch.Grantland assesses Williams’ remarkable career arc.We’re offering continually updated women’s World Cup predictions, and our latest model shows that Germany is slightly more likely to win than the U.S.Significant Digit: 11 championships. That’s the number Bill Russell’s Celtics won, in 13 years, but our Elo ratings still say they weren’t the most dominant dynasty of all time. Special guest Simon Bazelon (12 years old) debates Nate and presents his own data. Simon is the son of Emily Bazelon, who recently mentioned his analysis on Slate’s “Political Gabfest” podcast. Embed Code More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed
As it turned out, all Marshawn Lynch received were eight days off from the champion Seattle Seahawks’ training camp. His holdout for a new contract will end Thursday, according to ESPN sources, with no new deal as part of his return.Seattle, though, is expected to add some financial concessions to his contract, sources indicated.Lynch, 28, is in the third year of a four-year, $30 million deal. He received $6 million of it in a signing bonus. Lynch will make $5 million in base salary this season and $5.5 million in 2015, but he wanted more money up front or more money guaranteed.He is the key cog in the offense that helped Seattle win this year’s Super Bowl. Not having Lynch ready and eager would be a setback for a team with aspirations for a repeat.Lynch showed up for minicamp in June to avoid a hefty fine, but made a stand with the start of training camp. He is subject to a $30,000 fine for each day of camp he misses. Lynch has accumulated nearly $500,000 in team fines for his holdout through Thursday, but it is unclear if the Seahawks will collect the fines or waive them.He has rushed for 4,051 yards (along with 39 touchdowns) on 901 carries. He has averaged 300 carries and 1,350 yards over the past three seasons.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the “Win Forecasts: American League East” chart mistakenly showed the win probabilities of the American League Central. The values for the American League East have since been updated (apologies to any Blue Jays fans who were filled with false despair). The ESPN Forecast panel released its first-ever set of Major League Baseball predictions last week, and the editors were kind enough to provide us with the raw voting data. FiveThirtyEight had just published an article about preseason predictions, so we were eager to dig into the panel’s results.With the raw votes from the panel’s more than 140 members, we can calculate each team’s odds of winning its division and each team’s chances of making the playoffs. We can also forecast a range for the number of wins each team is likely to end the season with. We can do all this based on the assumption that the ESPN Forecast is roughly as accurate as Las Vegas’ over/unders (meaning the root-mean-square error on these predictions will be about plus or minus nine wins).How can we make that assumption for a brand-new forecast? It would seem more than a bit hubristic. But the ESPN Forecast has a strong track record in basketball, for which it actually beat Vegas over a five-year span. In the absence of any additional information about the MLB forecast, a RMSE of 9 is not a bad prior, especially given that Sports Illustrated’s similar wisdom-of-a-crowd-of-experts method fared just as well as Vegas and computer models at picking teams’ divisional placements.
For our purposes, “general archival” included bits such as Simpson’s outtakes with Marcus Allen. “News archival” is news footage from the time period, like that of the Eula Love shooting in L.A. and footage of the trial. “Archival Interviews” include all interviews that weren’t filmed expressly for the documentary, like one with a young O.J. Simpson about his retirement from football to pursue acting. “Football highlights” are self-explanatory and “original Interviews” were filmed for the documentary.You can guess how much of the breakdown goes. Episode 1, for instance, spends 41 minutes on Simpson’s football career — no other episode lingers here for more than three minutes — because Simpson’s fame began on the field. At the same time, the episode focuses on the civil rights movement, particularly in Los Angeles, and Simpson’s separatist lifestyle as a superstar on USC’s campus, away from the movement. To capture moments such as this, we also broke the series down into thematic elements, including personal life, context, trial and football.Here, “personal life” included bits like Simpson’s friend, Joe Bell talking about his childhood. “Trial” consists of archival news footage and interviews from the Nicole Brown Simpson murder trial. Football consists of his highlights from USC and the NFL or interviews specific to his football career. There are nearly 34 minutes of contextual footage in Episode 1, such as race riots in Los Angeles or Simpson signing autographs on USC’s campus, to display the two contrasting worlds during the late ’60s.Episode 2 gives 44 minutes of cultural context, as Simpson’s superstar status blossoms while the relationship between blacks and the LAPD continue to deteriorate. You see his iconic Hertz and Chevy commercials against a contrasting image of the Rodney King beating. Simpson’s personal life also gets around 45 minutes of footage, displaying the rich and powerful friends he sought while he pursued a post-NFL career in Hollywood, and his violent, abusive and controlling relationship with Nicole Brown Simpson is introduced.Episode 3 begins with the murder scene of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. There are nearly 40 minutes of archival news footage and 20 minutes of general archival footage from the double murder and the ensuing trial. The Bronco chase is covered in this episode, as well as Simpson’s own friends saying he was guilty of the crime. This is the O.J. Simpson we are more used to witnessing.An hour and 21 minutes of Episode 4 is dedicated to the trial, the most footage of any kind of any episode from OJMIA. It had 45 minutes of news archival footage and 26 minutes of original interviews about the trial. There is no footage on Simpson’s personal or football life in this episode. Episode 5 gives us the least amount of cultural context — by now, the stage hasn’t just been set, it’s being cleared — with 30 minutes dedicated to his personal life and 45 minutes for Simpson’s civil trial and his robbery case in 2007.We’re used to seeing the post-murder trial O.J. Simpson — a broken-down, has-been felon the world presumes committed a pair of murders for which he was acquitted. A lot of things went into the story that took Simpson from stardom to prison, and OJMIA arranges those disparate pieces of the timeline in a way that, somehow, makes sense of them. By now you’ve heard about “O.J.: Made in America,” ESPN’s five-part documentary about O.J. Simpson’s life and alleged crimes, which wrangles a complex story set against a complex cultural backdrop. Part of what makes the documentary work is how widely each chapter varies from the previous one — the series tracks Simpson’s early life, his football stardom, the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, the trial that followed and its eventual aftermath. Each of these is its own sort of story, told its own sort of way using a mix of original interviews and archival footage. Episode to episode, that mix varies a great deal.We took a shot list provided by our colleagues at ESPN Films (we’re in the same division of the company) and broke it down into general archival, news archival, archival interviews, original interviews and football. VIDEO: An interview with director Ezra Edelman
Even after Eli Manning’s 200 consecutive regular-season NFL starts, quantifying his career is difficult.Manning is in his 14th season, and nearly every one has felt like a crossroads. Which quarterback would show up for the Giants: the one capable of winning two Super Bowl MVPs — or the one capable of leading the NFL in interceptions for three seasons?The answer was probably somewhere in between. Manning has been reliably, and historically, mediocre.Only 10 quarterbacks in NFL history have started at least 200 games, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, and the list is a who’s who of all-time legends: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Warren Moon and John Elway. And Eli Manning. And, OK, Vinny Testaverde — but still.Save Eli Manning and Testaverde, all have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or are virtually certain to be.What to expect from the Lions vs. Giants But this is why advanced statistics exist: to help isolate a player’s performance from that of his teammates’ (hello, defensive lines and David Tyree) and to compare his performances against those of his peers. That analysts at major outlets were still citing rings and wins to claim that Eli is better than Peyton as late as 2013 is proof that we still need to look deeper.A handful of high-leverage highlights can’t outweigh hundreds of games’ worth of mediocre play, not when we’re trying to pick the best of the best. But then, Eli Manning has never been one of the best.No, the most prolifically mediocre quarterback in NFL history is in a class all by himself.Check out our latest NFL predictions. All newsletters Among that group, Eli Manning ranks either last, or ahead of only Testaverde,1In Testaverde’s defense, he spent nearly a decade toiling away on some bad Buccaneers and Browns teams. in nearly every season-indexed rate stat: completion rate, yards per attempt, interception rate, passer rating, adjusted yards per attempt, net yards per attempt and adjusted net yards per attempt.But Manning is not just terrible at being great — he regularly tests the lower boundaries of even being good. He has finished among the top 10 in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating just four times out of the 11 seasons for which QBR has been calculated; his average rank is a middling 16th. He has finished among the top 10 in passer rating just once in 12 starting campaigns, finishing an average of 18th. From 2004, when Manning entered the league, through Week 1 of 2017, he was in the bottom half of both season-indexed passer rating and season-indexed adjusted net yards per attempt2PFR’s Advanced Passing table contextualizes passing rate stats by indexing them to the league average over three seasons with the given season in the middle. 100 is average, higher is better. See the PFR Glossary for details. (among quarterbacks with at least 50 starts): We’re launching a sports newsletter. 🏆 Join the squad. Subscribe The truth is, the NFL’s eighth all-time leading passer has produced like a below-average starter across his entire career. That average contains some really low points, like his miserable 27-interception 2013 season, when he finished 35th in passer rating in a league with just 32 teams.But that is as close as Manning has come to truly poor play. That reliability — that no matter how much he teases us with flashes of greatness, he at least definitely won’t be bad — has prompted the Giants to lean on him for more than a decade. What’s more, he’s rewarded that trust: Tonight, Manning will make his 212th consecutive start, the longest active Ironman streak in the NFL — and third-longest in the history of the league.Above all, that may be Manning’s greatest skill: just being there. Since he took the starting quarterback job away from Kurt Warner in November 2004, the Giants have not had to worry about the position, allowing the team to devote resources and draft picks to other areas. By comparison, the Giants’ roommates, the Jets, have started 15 quarterbacks in this span. The Cleveland Browns have started 23.But considering that Eli will turn 37 in January, how much longer can the Giants expect this to last? Quarterbacks seldom hang on to starting jobs beyond age 35. Then again, elite quarterbacks have blown past this expiration date — especially in recent years. Brady and Brees combine for 78 years of life, and together, they threw for more than 800 passing yards when they faced off on Sunday. Favre, Moon and Eli’s brother Peyton all played some of their most efficient football very near the end of their starting career. So maybe Eli Manning will soon reach a never-before-seen level of performance?But even his best passing performance, in 2011, still couldn’t match up with the best of his peers’. He threw for 501 more yards than he ever had before or ever has since, but 543 fewer than Brees that season. Manning gained an impressive average of 8.4 yards per attempt, but Aaron Rodgers gained an average of 9.2. Manning’s passer rating in 2011, 92.9, was worlds away from the NFL-record 122.5 that Rodgers posted that season.Even if Manning finds another level sometime soon, he’ll still be several levels shy of Brady, Brees and Rodgers’ best.In some ways, Manning is a throwback: A high-risk, high-reward passer who is rarely efficient but sometimes makes big plays in big moments. A Joe Namath in an era when offensive innovations have made the average NFL quarterback better than Roger Staubach.3Hall of Famer Roger Staubach’s career average completion rate (57 percent), TD/INT ratio (1.4:1) and passer rating (83.4) were all below 2016 NFL team passing averages (63.0 percent, 1.9:1, 87.6).
Michigan might be Kelly Kovach Schoenly’s alma mater, but the Ohio State softball coach isn’t pulling punches this weekend. “All I can say is I root for my team,” Schoenly said. “We will work hard as a unit to get a win for Ohio State. I worry about us.” For the first time as coach of the Buckeyes, Schoenly will face a place she once called home. While she was a star pitcher from 1991 to 1995 for Michigan under current coach Carol Hutchins, she insists her loyalties lie with the Scarlet and Gray as they stand to face the Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Mich. “If you went to Ohio State and you’re not fired up to play Michigan, then you’re crazy,” Schoenly said. “We’re fired up about it.” No. 12 Michigan has been one of the best softball programs in the Big Ten and has been a national powerhouse since Hutchins took over in 1985. The Wolverines are the five-time defending Big Ten champions. And they haven’t lost to OSU since 2011. But the Buckeyes (21-11, 3-3), despite their underdog status, aren’t backing down. Buoyed by the confidence of three victories against ranked teams already this season, Schoenly and the Buckeyes are ready for the challenges Michigan presents, both offensively and defensively. “The challenges of the preseason have helped (us) tremendously,” Schoenly said. “We’ve seen quality hitters for the last two months and I think they won’t be intimidated by that.” And OSU freshman left fielder Cammi Prantl attested to the team’s belief that it has an extra incentive to win this weekend. “It’s Michigan,” Prantl said. “You always want to beat Michigan.” The desire to compile conference wins in Big Ten play is equally important for OSU. “We haven’t won against (Michigan) for the last two years,” said senior outfielder Alyson Mott. “There’s a little bit more incentive because it’s Michigan, but we have to not pump ourselves up too much and take it like just any other regular game.” After dropping two games last weekend against Purdue, OSU is looking to get back on the winning track as Big Ten play nears the halfway point. OSU begins the three-game series with the Wolverines Friday at 6 p.m. in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Working on special teamsFreshman punter Cameron Johnston was named Big Ten special teams player of the week after planting all six of his punts inside Wisconsin’s 20-yard line.Meyer said he was pleased with the Australian’s performance against the Badgers, but that improvement is still needed.“I’ve graded him about a C- (through five games),” Meyer said. “His average hang time was just under four seconds, which is completely unacceptable.”The punter agreed with his head coach, despite having a 55-yard punt late in the game that gave the Badgers poor field position as they tried to tie the game.“It’s great to finally get out there and be able to finally have a really good game, but there’s still plenty of stuff to work on,” Johnston said. “But right now, that’s really good.”Coombs said the entire special teams unit must be efficient, not just the punter.“We want to cover kicks, we want to split the field and make sure the other team doesn’t return the ball,” Coombs said.The Buckeyes and Wildcats are set to face off Saturday at 8 p.m. at Ryan Field. Big Ten recognitionFor the third week in a row, an OSU player has been named Big Ten offensive or co-offensive player of the week. Earning the honor against the Badgers was junior quarterback Braxton Miller, following in the footsteps of redshirt-senior Kenny Guiton, who won the award while filling in for Miller the previous two weeks.Miller threw for 198 yards and four touchdowns against Wisconsin and added running 83 yards rushing on 22 carries.“I thought his preparation for the game was one of the best he’s had,” Meyer said of Miller. “His practice was one of the best he’s had as far as Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday. I thought his accuracy on the deep ball was outstanding.”OSU’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Tom Herman was a little harder on the Buckeye signal caller.“Not great, he still made some mental mistakes that can be corrected in terms of some reads,” Herman said. “We’ve still got to do a better job of when he does decide to scramble of going vertically, not losing yards. It’s much easier to call second and eight than it is to call second and 14.”Herman mentioned how OSU would rather run the ball than throw it, saying “when we throw it, it’s because you have inhibited our ability to run it.” Prepping for the Wildcat defense is similar in that sense.“There’s a lot of different ways that you can say ‘let’s stop the run,’” Herman said. “How they decide to do it and how they have, at least on video, is a little bit different than Wisconsin, but I think that the commitment to stopping the run is not going to change.” Redshirt-senior safety Corey “Pitt” Brown (3) warms up before a game against Buffalo Aug. 31 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 40-20.Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorThe Ohio State Buckeyes sport the nation’s longest winning streak at 17 games as they head into their first Big Ten road game of 2013.The Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0) are set to face an opponent whose record is also unblemished — the Northwestern Wildcats — and will be playing under the lights for the second week in a row.OSU coach Urban Meyer has faced Northwestern only once in his coaching career, winning a 43-42 thriller in 2001 while at Bowling Green. ESPN College GameDay will be in Evanston, Ill., for the game, and the Wildcats will have had an extra week to prepare, coming off a bye week. Who will replace Christian Bryant?Coming off a physical matchup with the Wisconsin Badgers, Meyer said the team is being careful this week in practice.“We had to be very cautious on how we operated (Sunday),” Meyer said. “I’m going to be very smart how we do Tuesday and Wednesday, because that’s usually very physical. Today (Monday) I’m getting a feel for how our guys are when they are going through the training room and treatment. It is what it is. It’s part of the season.”Meyer and his staff have the task of replacing senior safety Christian Bryant, who broke his left ankle late in the 31-24 win.Likely to replace Bryant is redshirt-senior safety Corey “Pitt” Brown, who Meyer said has a bit of advantage over other players like freshman Vonn Bell or redshirt-freshman Tyvis Powell because of his experience.Special teams coordinator and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs agreed.“I think as we sit here (Monday) afternoon that “Pitt” Brown will go in there and play,” Coombs said. “I don’t know exactly the configuration of how all those guys are fit going into the week and some of that will be developed and discussed during practice.”
Freshman defenseman Drew Brevig (4) passes the puck during a game against Robert Morris Oct. 25 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 5-3.Credit: Julia Hider / Lantern photographerAfter opening the season on a three-game losing streak, the Ohio State men’s ice hockey team bounced back by sweeping Robert Morris over the weekend.The Buckeyes (2-3-0) traveled to Pittsburgh Saturday for the second of the two-game home-and-home series against the Colonials (0-4-1), and pulled out a 4-3 victory.Neither team managed to score until the second period, when the Buckeyes opened the gap to take a 4-0 lead after the first 40 minutes. Freshman forward Nick Schilkey tallied a goal 17 seconds into the stanza and junior defenseman Justin DaSilva raised the lead to 2-0 nearly a minute later. Freshman defenseman Drew Brevig added to the shutout with his first goal of the season at 13:03 with an assist from junior forward Max McCormick — his team-best fifth assist of the season.Capping the second period was a late goal by sophomore forward Tyler Lundey on the power play with 11 seconds left.The third period saw Robert Morris fall just short of a furious comeback. The Colonials cut the lead to 4-2 with two early goals at 2:23 and 4:07, and sophomore forward Zac Lynch narrowed the gap even more with a goal on the power play to make it a one-goal game with less than eight minutes to go. OSU managed to hold on for the remainder of the game, though, to clinch the victory.The first of the two-game series was played Friday in Columbus, and the Buckeyes finished on top, 5-3, after overcoming an early two-goal deficit. The victory was the first of coach Steve Rohlik’s career as a collegiate head coach.“We didn’t start out pretty tonight and we certainly have some things to work on, but what I liked about our team tonight is they weren’t going to let it (a loss) happen to them again,” Rohlik said during a press conference after the game Friday. “We have a good group. We bounced back and fought hard. Good teams find a way to win, and we did that tonight.”After trailing the Colonials by two goals early in the first period, the Buckeyes scored five straight to put a victory out of reach for Robert Morris.“I think it was that our guys just finally said, ‘Enough is enough’ and ‘Let’s get after it,’ and that was kind of the mentality on the bench, and the guys were ones talking like that,” Rohlik said.Among those who were being vocal was senior forward Travis Statchuk.“We took it upon ourselves to find a way to win tonight,” Statchuk said Friday. “Coach challenged us between periods and we went out there, stuck to our plan and got it done.”Robert Morris got a goal back during a power play in the third period, but it was not enough and the Buckeyes held on for the victory.Junior forward Nick Oddo said the team’s preparation to play more physically was a contributing factor to the win.“We’ve been working on that all week — driving the net, getting bodies around, second-chance opportunities — and it worked out for us tonight,” he said Friday after the win.The Buckeyes are slated to return to action Tuesday in a non-conference rematch against Bowling Green, who beat OSU 4-3 Oct. 15. The puck is set to drop at 7:05 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.