A recent poll finding most Americans don’t care about this year’s World Cup says more about polling challenges than it does about interest in the global soccer tournament.An Ipsos/Reuters poll this month said 66 percent of Americans don’t plan to follow the World Cup this June and July in Brazil, and just 7 percent expect to follow it closely. But that’s less worrying than it sounds for tournament organizer FIFA, or for ABC, ESPN and Spanish-language network Univision.1ABC and ESPN, like FiveThirtyEight, are part of the Walt Disney Co. In 2005, ABC and ESPN bought the U.S. English-language television rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups for $100 million. That’s because the poll was conducted only in English, a significant shortcoming. You can’t get complete data on Americans’ interest in the World Cup unless you talk to people who speak languages other than English.“If you don’t get the Spanish-dominant population, you’re not going to pick up the level of Latino interest in the World Cup,” Rodolfo de la Garza, a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, said in a phone interview. De la Garza has studied polling among Latinos, was born in the U.S. and greatly prefers football to fútbol. “The group that’s interested is the immigrants. They organize around soccer,” he said. Among those Latinos who responded to the Ipsos poll in English, 16 percent said they plan to follow the World Cup closely — or more than three times the proportion of the rest of respondents.Chris Jackson, research director at Ipsos Public Affairs, said the firm’s surveys for Reuters are weighted by race and ethnicity but not by country of origin or first language. “We do capture some information on Hispanic and Asian country of origin. Unfortunately we do not capture information on language spoken at home,” he said in an email. He added, “We do not have prior data on the World Cup. Our partnership with Reuters started just after the last Cup and we had not yet developed that part of our materials.”Leaving Spanish-speakers — and others who prefer languages besides English — out of the conversation is becoming increasingly untenable for pollsters, and not just when it comes to soccer. The number of Americans age 5 and older who spoke a language other than English at home increased by 158 percent from 1980 to 2010, to 59.5 million people, or 20.6 percent of the population. For 62 percent of those nearly 60 million Americans, their language was Spanish or Spanish Creole.Excluding people who’d only respond in Spanish doesn’t matter much when pollsters are measuring characteristics for which language doesn’t matter. If Latinos who respond in English respond just as those who don’t, then their answers suffice. That’s true even if Latinos are underrepresented in the survey, since pollsters typically weight responses of underrepresented groups more heavily.But unfortunately for pollsters, Spanish-dominant Latinos often respond differently from English-dominant Latinos. David Dutwin, executive vice president and chief methodologist at the survey-research firm SSRS, explained in an email why his pollsters almost always conduct surveys in Spanish: “Hispanics interviewed in Spanish are generally half as likely to own a home, half as likely to be single, nearly half as likely to be employed full time; 1.5x more likely to be a parent (and they are older); four times more likely to have never graduated high school (near 50 percent!), slightly more independent and slightly less Democratic (independent here almost certainly meaning, unaffiliated and nonpolitical); half as likely to be registered to vote; and 1.5x more Catholic; than Hispanics whose surveys are done in English.”The Pew Research Center, in its Hispanic Trends Project’s 2012 National Survey of Latinos, identified other crucial differences between the two groups by their language of interview. Just 6 percent of Spanish-language interviewees were born in the U.S., compared to 76 percent of Latinos who took the survey in English. Just 5 percent of the first group were Puerto Rican; 13 percent of the second were.2Unlike the SSRS findings, Pew found that about the same proportion of each group was registered to vote. That discrepancy highlights a potential problem in analyzing the difference between the groups. Even with the growing number of Americans whose primary language is Spanish, they still make up a minority of any polling group. So there will be large margins of error associated with their responses, and the potential for two polls to find very different results.Language preference among Latinos in the U.S., or any group, exists on a spectrum. Researchers sometimes separate Latinos into three language groups: English-dominant, Spanish-dominant and bilingual. The bilingual group might choose to answer surveys in either English or Spanish.In an ongoing, unpublished study using Pew survey results, Columbia’s de la Garza and Alan Yang find that bilingual Latinos are the most likely of the three groups to be registered and to vote.3“With the rise of the Spanish media, Latino Spanish-speakers have access to two sources of information, English and Spanish, and in the Spanish source, you get a very different perspective than you get in the English source,” de la Garza said. “They know more about the election, and they are mobilized into the election, in a way English-only-speaking Latinos are not.”FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver wrote about how polls answered by too few Latinos who primarily speak Spanish may have contributed to underestimates of Democratic support in the 2010 and 2012 national elections. Immigration is another issue for which pollsters might misgauge public opinion if they don’t survey in Spanish, survey researchers say.Latinos aren’t the only Americans whom pollsters might miss by surveying only in English. Last year Pew reported the proportion of U.S. Asian adults who said they spoke English less than “very well.”4According to the 2010 Census. At least 45 percent of many ethnic groups — including Chinese Americans and Korean Americans — said that about their English skills, compared to 9.5 percent of all American adults.More pollsters are recognizing the value of surveying in other languages, particularly Spanish, the country’s dominant second language. Langer Research Associates has conducted ABC News/Washington Post polls in Spanish as well as English since last year, and the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index in both languages since 2012. Pew has used Spanish in some polls since 2003, and has regularly used it in national polls since 2011.5“We have also done several studies of special populations with relatively high levels of non-English speakers, including Muslim Americans, Asian Americans and Jewish Americans,” Scott Keeter, director of survey research for Pew, wrote in an email. “For the Muslim American surveys, we interviewed in English, Arabic, Urdu and Farsi. The Asian American survey was conducted in English and Cantonese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog and Vietnamese. The Jewish American survey was conducted in English and Russian.”The trend continues even though it adds cost and complexity to a survey project, said Evans Witt, principal and chief executive of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. “For example, the PSRAI Omnibus surveys — a weekly, quick-turnaround, multi-client survey of 1,000 respondents on cell phone and landline — added Spanish-language interviewing for 2014 after clients’ requests.”The American Association for Public Opinion Research, pollsters’ professional association, has no standards on including languages other than English, according to AAPOR president Rob Santos. Some pollsters decide on a case-by-case basis about Spanish-language interviews.“Some national surveys do and some don’t,” said Cliff Zukin, professor of public policy and political science at Rutgers University. “It really depends on the cost and what the survey sponsor is willing to pay.”Jay Leve, founder of SurveyUSA, said in an email that his polling firm always has offered bilingual surveys, at added cost. The cost isn’t always worth it: “In round numbers, if we are surveying an area where we know (from U.S. census) that the population is 30 percent Hispanic/Latino, we may get 4 percent to 5 percent who elect to take the survey in Spanish,” he said. The rest of Latino survey participants answer in English.Leve nonetheless insists on a Spanish option for some polls. When clients who were seeking to poll on immigration refused to pay extra for surveys in Spanish, SurveyUSA has turned down the jobs, Leve said.“We do offer Spanish-language interviewing, but only when our expectations about the Latino proportion of the population are sufficiently high,” Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray said in an email. “When you get down to the level of likely voters, the number of Spanish-only (or non-English proficient speakers) qualified respondents we contact in a sample of 1,400 is something you could count with your fingers. The added cost for translating that questionnaire into Spanish and having our Spanish-speaking interviewers doing heavy re-contacts to track them down doesn’t justify the presumed benefit (i.e. it would affect our total vote estimate by a couple of tenths of a percentage point at most).”In 2012, Matt Barreto, co-founder of the polling and research firm Latino Decisions, wrote a piece criticizing fellow pollsters, including Monmouth, for missed forecasts of the Latino vote in the presidential race. Murray said the poll in question was an outlier, and other polls before and after showed more-accurate levels of support for President Obama among Latinos. “Just because this happens from time to time, doesn’t mean I am happy when it does,” Murray said. “But … that outlier would not have been ‘fixed’ if we had used Spanish-language interviewing in that poll.”Soccer polls might need Spanish interviews even more than political polls do.“Among non-English speakers, interest in the World Cup is probably 10 to 20 times higher than among English speakers in the U.S.,” Barreto said in an email. “This is not just among Spanish speakers, but pretty much among any immigrant population in the U.S.” For them, Barreto said, “Soccer is the No. 1 sport, and the World Cup is the No. 1 sporting event.”Barreto’s estimate of 10 to 20 times is just that, but there’s plenty of data showing that soccer is far more popular in other countries than in the U.S., and therefore probably more popular among non-English-speakers in the U.S. Nielsen’s sports-media review last year showed that the NFL dominates U.S. sports viewership, but in many countries around the world — including Italy, South Africa and Indonesia — people spend more collective time watching soccer than watching all other sports combined.Another indicator of the importance of language in U.S. sports surveys comes from ESPN’s annual sports poll. The percentage of respondents who said they were fans of pro soccer, international soccer and Major League Soccer was basically unchanged from 2007 to 2013, with one big exception: a jump in each of about 5 percentage points in 2011.That was the year the poll first added Spanish-language interviews, said Juan D. Rivera of ESPN’s consumer insights group.
According to our version of Stuart’s metric, Manning didn’t need to break Favre’s yardage record Sunday to cement his status as the G.O.A.T. That’s because he owned that distinction as far back as 2012, when his lifetime values over both an average and a backup passer outstripped those of former Dolphins QB Dan Marino. Since then, Manning has continued to add to his greatness, particularly after he posted yet another of the best passing seasons ever in 2013.Now the gap between Manning and the field is so wide that it would take Manning 12 consecutive games exactly like his outing Sunday (299 adjusted yards of value below average, by far the worst game of Manning’s 17-year NFL career) for Manning to fall behind Marino in those value over average rankings. And if we’re comparing Manning and Marino to backup QBs rather than average ones, it would take 15 straight games like Sunday’s (-282 adjusted yards of value, again the worst game of Manning’s career) for Manning to dip below Marino and into second place.In other words, Manning is pretty firmly entrenched as the best statistical passer ever. Even though he was way (way!) off his game on Sunday and his plantar fascia injury could have serious repercussions for his career going forward, Sunday’s dreadful game in some ways serves to help us further appreciate how great Manning was when he was at his best. CAREER ADJUSTED YARDS OVER … Drew Brees21121015,5149,400 Peyton Manning26526522,89815,644 Steve Young16914311,0227,638 Jim Kelly1601607,5203,671 Ken Anderson19217210,4846,385 Roger Staubach1251138,6465,994 Ben Roethlisberger1651639,1154,919 Dan Fouts18117113,0408,251 Aaron Rodgers11911210,4827,430 Brett Favre30229814,3576,337 Boomer Esiason1871738,0033,838 Tom Brady21821616,80810,866 Fran Tarkenton1201207,9714,878 Sunday was bittersweet for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Playing against the Kansas City Chiefs, Manning broke Brett Favre’s NFL record for most career passing yards when he completed a 4-yard pass to Ronnie Hillman in the first quarter. But aside from setting that new all-time high, Manning could scarcely have had a worse day. It was, statistically, the worst performance of his career — he went 5 for 20 with 35 yards, zero touchdowns, four interceptions and two sacks — and it ended with Manning benched in the third quarter amid a chorus of boos. (Later, we learned that Manning had a partially torn plantar fascia in his left foot.)It was also a tough game for us here at FiveThirtyEight. We’re on record as considering Manning to (probably) be the greatest quarterback in football history, an opinion informed by everything from his personal statistics to his comebacks and the catastrophic harm that came to his team when he was unable to play. So our jaws were agape as we witnessed the once-great Manning throw incompletion after incompletion, pick after wobbly pick.But one game does not change a guy’s legacy. Manning has been so good over his career that he’d have to replicate his Sunday performance — a game so bad it ranks among the worst two dozen or so in modern NFL history — every week for nearly an entire season before he ceased to be the top statistical passer ever.To figure out how good Manning has been, I used a formula created by Chase Stuart of the excellent FootballPerspective.com.1Full disclosure: I have written a number of articles for that site. The formula is based on Pro-Football-Reference.com’s adjusted net yards per attempt, and it judges the value that a quarterback accumulates over a league average quarterback.2Stuart’s full metric includes credit for QB rushing statistics and an adjustment for strength of schedule, but for the purposes of this story, I am using only the passing elements of the formula. Applying it to every QB’s numbers since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger — and adding a wrinkle in which we also compare his adjusted yards to those of a backup-caliber passer — we can generate a list of the greatest statistical quarterbacks of all time: Kurt Warner1241168,8575,610 PASSERGAMESSTARTSA BACKUP QBLEAGUE AVERAGE Philip Rivers15715310,2416,210 John Elway2342319,5893,743 Warren Moon2082039,2333,752 Tony Romo1311259,2405,845 Dan Marino24224018,80612,312 Joe Montana19216413,8579,344
Are the team’s next five years likely to be better than their previous five?1.28 Size of market in terms of population, where smaller is better0.52 Distance from team’s stadium to New York, in miles1.00 Projected wins over next five seasons1.62 Price of tickets, parking and concessions0.62 Ownership honesty and loyalty to core players and the community1.92 When I did this exercise back in September, I received predictably mixed responses. Some L.A. Rams fans said it was never really St. Louis’s team anyway (fair), and other readers told me that I wasn’t a true fan if I’d walk so easily (kinda fair, but Kroenke walked first!). A handful of St. Louis Rams fans told me that they’d also landed on Green Bay, no math needed (good call). Others told me that I was bandwagon scum (maybe). The response from Packers fans was welcoming and positive, though; the team was already easy to like.But the question came up over and over during the season: “Are you really a Packers fan now?”Early on, when Green Bay was looking a little rough, I felt simultaneously alarmed and prepared. My natural state for the previous decade had been forced optimism that would bleed into resignation, capped off with the hope that St. Louis might at least manage to embarrass the Seahawks before the inevitable Seattle playoff run. As I looked at a 4-6 Packers squad in Week 11,1I should admit that I didn’t watch every game — I did my best while juggling our other household team, the Kansas City Chiefs. I was ready to spend an offseason finding reasons to feel better about their prospects in 2017. But I love watching an Aaron Rodgers offense execute, and disappointing, injury-plagued seasons happen. Was I really a fan? Maybe, maybe not. But I wasn’t planning to walk away.And then … they were winning. And I realized, oh, yeah, I guess this is a possible outcome too. When Green Bay finished the regular season on a six-win tear (which included a 38-10 drubbing of the Seahawks) that put it in the playoffs, I was pumped. I was yelling at the TV. I was watching high-stakes, late-season football, the very best kind.I recognize, of course, that I didn’t experience this the same way lifelong Pack fans did.2I have hopes for my 2-year-old niece, who’ll scream “Go, Pack, Go” at any grown person’s request. But last weekend, I planned my Sunday around Packers-Giants. My stomach dropped when Jordy Nelson took that shot to the ribs. I fretted over the team’s slow offensive start. By the end of the game, even the Chiefs fan in my house was cheering touchdown passes.This Sunday, when Rodgers and crew head to Dallas to play the eternally hateable Cowboys, I’ll be watching. I’ll be yelling. Am I really a fan? I think it’ll be tough for anyone to tell the difference.Check out our latest NFL playoff predictions. Suspensions of players since 2007; extra weight to crimes against women1.98 Players’ effort on the field and likability off it1.74 Courtesy toward fans; how well a team uses technology to reach them1.02 Championships/division titles/wins in team’s entire history1.20 Distance from team’s stadium to St. Louis, in miles0.94 Quality of venue; fan-friendliness; frequency of promotions0.46 CRITERIAWEIGHT Strength of on-field leadership0.42 Stylishness of uniform, according to Uni Watch’s Paul Lukas0.12 At the beginning of this NFL season, I was teamless and adrift. The St. Louis Rams had left my hometown to return to Los Angeles. Embittered by sour memories of how the franchise ownership handled their departure, I had no interest in pursuing them there.So my colleague Neil Paine and I ginned up a solution: an analysis of NFL teams using metrics I cared about. Neil built the model, we plugged in my preferences (determined by my rankings of team and ownership characteristics in thousands of head-to-head matchups) and out popped my new team: the Green Bay Packers. I pledged to spend at least one season cheering for them, and that’s what I’m doing.What did I learn by choosing a new team using the sports equivalent of an online dating algorithm? A couple of things: 1. it’s not that easy to start caring about a team out of nowhere, but 2. it’s not impossible, especially if the team is — as the algorithm said it would be — a pretty good match for the stuff I care about. Size of market in terms of population, where bigger is better0.04 Blythe’s criteria for a perfect team Wins per fan dollars spent1.16
NO73NO71NO 43, WSH 19-3.1– CIN68.415.3PIT42.516.431.61554 NYG4.64.1PHI61.411.415.51488 IND5.53.4NYJ188.8.131.52419 Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 5Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 5 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game KC97.2%+/-1.9NE70.0%+/-11.713.61637 CAR59.713.2WSH29.812.125.31521 BAL51.516.1TEN56.914.030.11539 DAL61HOU50HOU 19, DAL 16+9.6– OUR PREDICTION (ELO)READERS’ PREDICTION LAC73LAC69LAC 26, OAK 10-3.9– CIN63CIN64CIN 27, MIA 17-1.2– GB22.08.3SF6.54.512.81445 NYJ56DEN56NYJ 34, DEN 16-14.3– Of course, the Chiefs have tempted us to overreact after beating the Patriots before, so maybe we won’t actually learn as much as we might hope on Sunday. But Week 6 also offers a number of matchups that could move the playoff-odds needle by at least 20 combined percentage points — including Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh, Baltimore vs. Tennessee and Carolina vs. Washington.Out of all these tightly contested games, surely some will flirt with overtime (or maybe even a tie!) again. But more than just giving us yet another chance to jokingly compare stalemates on the gridiron with those on the soccer pitch, it’s a real sign of how evenly balanced the league has become so far this season.FiveThirtyEight vs. the readersWant another way to keep up with the league? Be sure to check out our constantly updating NFL prediction interactive, which uses Elo ratings to forecast the rest of the season. And if you think you’re smarter than Elo, now you can prove it: In our prediction game, you can pick against our model (and your fellow readers) for bragging rights and a place on our giant leaderboard.Using your picks from last week, here’s our regular look at where Elo made its best — and worst — predictions against the field: When Dak Prescott’s improbable pocket escape and 44-yard heave set up a field goal to tie Sunday night’s Cowboys-Texans game late in regulation, viewers were left with a familiar feeling: This game, like so many others this season, seemed destined for overtime. (Indeed, it did require OT — the Texans kicked a field goal in the extra frame to win 19-16.) It was the eighth overtime game of the 2018 season already — the most in the first five weeks of any NFL season since 2002, which also saw eight OT games. Along the way we’ve also gotten two ties, ensuring only the league’s fourth multi-tie campaign since it first introduced regular-season OT in 1974, and we narrowly missed three others thanks to game-ending scores in the waning seconds of the extra period.1Had the Titans not scored a walk-off TD against the Eagles in Week 4, they likely would have made a 27-yard field goal to seal up the tie. (Although we can’t say for sure.) While the NFL still faces plenty of big-picture problems — and some fans are even lamenting the renewed prevalence of those dreaded ties — this wave of close finishes has mainly made last year’s complaints about boring football seem like a distant memory.The spike in overtime contests is just one element of this year’s extra drama. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, 52 of the league’s 78 games this season have seen the trailing team sit within one score of the leader with five minutes left in the game — the second-most in any season through five weeks since 2001.2In 2011, 53 games met that criteria through five weeks. Furthermore, 47 games this season have been within a score with two minutes left to play in regulation. It’s a perfect recipe for wild endings like Sunday’s Panthers-Giants duel — which saw two lead changes in the final 68 seconds of play — or last week’s Raiders-Browns thriller, with its four separate game-tying or go-ahead scores in the fourth quarter and OT alone.Speaking of overtime: It took a season to produce an effect, but in combination with so many close games, the league’s recent tweaks to the OT format have finally started to generate more of those aforementioned ties. Back in May 2017, my colleague Ty Schalter predicted that the NFL’s switch from 15- to 10-minute overtime periods (on top of its earlier decision to modify the sudden-death rule, giving the coin-flip loser a chance to answer if the winner kicked a FG on its opening drive) would dramatically hike the rate of tied games once OT was reached. Although we went an entire season without a tie in 2017 — only 14 games went into overtime at all, below the seasonal average of 16 since 20013Excluding 2018. — this year has made up for lost time, with a quarter of OT games ending in a stalemate. And you thought draws were too common in the “other” version of football…Anyway, all of this mainly speaks to the rise in parity across the league as a whole this year. Through five weeks, the Kansas City Chiefs rank No. 1 in FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings (our pet way of gauging how well a team is playing at any given moment in time), though their 1657 Elo isn’t especially high for an NFL leader at this stage of the season.4It’s the eighth-lowest rating for a No. 1 team through Week 5 since the 1970 AFL merger. At the other end of the rankings, the No. 32 Cleveland Browns (1344 Elo) are a lot better than the typical last-place team. You might say the Browns deserve better than 32nd place (I happen to agree), but choose an alternative — the Bills? Cardinals? Giants?? — and each has at least shown some signs of basic competency at various times this season. All of which is to say: The gap between the best and worst teams is not as wide as we’ve gotten used to it being.And that shows up in the overall distribution of team performances this season. Since 1970, the standard deviation of teams’ Elo ratings through a season’s first five weeks has never been lower than it is right now: CAR80CAR76CAR 33, NYG 31-3.4– BUF22.99.5HOU11.96.716.21439 KC68KC61KC 30, JAX 14-7.7– CHI54.912.2MIA35.911.824.01490 SF66SF59ARI 28, SF 18+7.2– SEA50%LAR70%LAR 33, SEA 31+13.5– The best matchups of Week 6Week 6 games with the highest average Elo rating using the harmonic mean plus the total potential swing for the two teams’ playoff chances, according to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL predictions Home teams are in bold.The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction. Team ACurrentAvg. Chg*Team BCurrentAvg. Chg*Total ChangeGame Quality Playoff %Playoff % PHI70PHI58MIN 23, PHI 21+12.8– Game quality is the harmonic mean of the Elo ratings for the two teams in a given matchup.*Average change is weighted by the likelihood of a win or loss. (Ties are excluded.)Source: ESPN.com ARI3.62.9MIN51.010.313.21495 PICKWIN PROB.PICKWIN PROB.ResultREADERS’ NET PTS CLE3.22.7LAC51.712.315.01438 BUF52TEN62BUF 13, TEN 12-17.8– NE83NE83NE 38, IND 24-2.0– DEN7.24.5LAR184.108.40.206513 Unlike college football, which is currently as imbalanced as ever, the pros have generally tended toward more competitive balance since the 1970s. That trend, though, largely leveled off once free agency and the introduction of a salary cap equalized each team’s spending, creating a parity machine that apparently only the New England Patriots — and conversely, until this year at least, the Browns — could resist. But even against that backdrop, this year’s Super Bowl race looks particularly wide open, with K.C. sitting nervously as tentative favorites.In that department, we might gain some additional insight after Sunday night’s Patriots-Chiefs matchup, which rates as the best of the week in terms of matchup quality (as determined by the harmonic mean of the two teams’ Elo ratings in each game): DAL30.710.5JAX59.811.822.31530 PIT57PIT51PIT 41, ATL 17-7.9– ATL22.79.8TB29.012.522.31509 DET60GB56DET 31, GB 23-17.4– OAK2.31.7SEA33.49.511.21468 BAL76BAL66CLE 12, BAL 9+11.3– Elo eked out another victorious week over the readers, winning by 24.3 net points on average. It’s been an unusually impressive start to the season for Elo, whose built-in lack of knowledge over the NFL’s offseason comings and goings hasn’t seemed to hamper it one bit. (Maybe this is a nice reminder that preseason NFL predictions are mostly useless.) In Week 5, Elo was too high on the Seahawks, Eagles and Ravens, all of whom fell short. But it made up for those bad picks by calling Buffalo’s win over Tennessee and Detroit’s victory over Green Bay, among other games.But Elo didn’t make all of our readers look silly. Congrats to reader Paul Diaz, who led all users in points for Week 5, and to Jevon Mallett, who leads all users on the season in total. Thanks to everyone who played last week — and if you didn’t play, get in on the game already! You can make picks now and still try your luck against Elo, even if you missed the first quarter of the season.Check out our latest NFL predictions.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – A somber Urban Meyer struggled to articulate how he felt following Ohio State’s uninspiring, 52-49, win against Indiana on Saturday night. Meyer quietly told reporters that he couldn’t explain what he was feeling, just that he was anxious to be back at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to make sense of another Buckeyes victory that seemed to again raise more questions than answers. He couldn’t say what was ailing OSU’s defense, but he vowed to become more involved. The right words evaded the 48-year-old coach. Following Meyer’s postgame press conference, though, perhaps they weren’t necessary anymore. The vacant, defeated look on Meyer’s face might have said it all. While he waited for a handful of his players to be interviewed outside Memorial Stadium’s visiting team’s locker room, Meyer blankly stared off into the venue’s east stands drinking a bottle of orange-flavored Gatorade G2 and eating a Chick-fil-A sandwich. The look was anything but that of a coach who had just taken last season’s 6-7 team to 7-0 in his first season in Columbus. Meyer, though, did exactly that as the Buckeyes kept their undefeated season alive – even if that meant throwing it on life support during different points during their game against the Hoosiers. Saturday night’s game, in some ways, was mission accomplished for OSU. The team’s 7-0 campaign is the program’s best start since storming to 10-0 in 2007. The former Florida coach’s prolific offense had built back-to-back 50-plus point outings for the first time since 1997. OSU’s ground game rolled to the tune of 353 rushing yards behind the legs of sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller and junior running back Carlos Hyde. The Buckeyes even moved up a spot to No. 7 in Sunday’s weekly Associated Press top 25 poll. For OSU, however, none of it seemed to matter. Perhaps the most pertinent issue at hand was grasping how the Buckeyes blew an 18-point lead against a perceived-to-be-inferior Hoosiers squad in front of a half empty stadium. The concept remained muddled to Meyer. “I wish I had the answer, if I had the answer,” Meyer said “That’s not very good.” It was a game that Meyer said he was “very concerned” his team would overlook. On Saturday, and maybe when it mattered most, it sure seemed that way. Did the Buckeyes play flat after back-to-back emotional victories against Michigan State and the Cornhuskers? Junior center Corey Linsley said, “absolutely.” “I think there was a ton of reasons for the flatness but, you know, there’s no excuse for that, and obviously you saw it in the first half from both sides of the ball and towards the end of the game and the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “No excuse for that, but (it) definitely played a little role.” The day, he said, “should’ve been a lot different.” The Hoosiers, whose offense totaled 481 yards Saturday night, gave OSU more than it expected to have to handle. “We kinda underestimated their offense, I would say, a little bit,” said redshirt senior wide receiver Jake Stoneburner. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Miller and Hyde seemed to be as equally game as Indiana’s aerial assault. Linsley said even co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell took note of the performances of the two offensive backs who combined for 54 attempts. “Coach Fickell made a comment about how well Carlos played so, you know, even they noticed through everything,” he said. Fickell’s defense, though, was perhaps the biggest area of concern for Meyer after surrendering 49 points to the Hoosiers and 87 points in the last two weeks. So much so that Meyer vowed to take a more active role on that side of the ball. “We’re not very good in certain areas right now,” he said. “The spread offense right now is fully exposing us.” Meyer, bluntly, said he still doesn’t know what’s ailing the Buckeye defense. “I don’t know, I gotta get more involved right now and I don’t know what the issue is,” he said. “So I don’t think you can pinpoint one thing right now.” Redshirt senior cornerback Travis Howard said the way the game panned out couldn’t have been further from how they drew it up. “We came in there and we told ourselves that we was gonna hold this team to maybe a touchdown,” Howard said. Being gashed for 49 points, Howard said, is “horrendous.” But members of the Buckeye offense said they aren’t keeping score – not when it comes to placing any sort of fault upon their defensive-minded teammates. “We just kinda, you know, people (are) getting down on themselves, but other people (are) picking them back up,” Linsley said. “You look over on that side of the ball and you got, I can’t pick out one guy that I could be like, you know, I wouldn’t put everything on that guy.” Hyde said Saturday’s near mishap “ain’t us.” “Some people was a little down. Even though we won, people was a little down because, you know, that ain’t us,” he said. “How we finish like that – that ain’t us. But you know, we got a win, so you know, we enjoy the win. But that ain’t us.” Redshirt sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby, who scored a touchdown off of a blocked punt by Howard in the second quarter, didn’t shy away from blame. “(Indiana) did what they were supposed to do and we just didn’t do our job,” he said. “It’s just everybody has to do their job and do it all 60 minutes.” Roby’s unmistakable, unwavering confidence wasn’t shaken. “We can hang and play with anybody, I feel like we play to our opponents’ skill level. That’s something that we have to learn and mature as a team,” he said. The Buckeyes, he said, are a work in progress. “We keep winning,” Roby said, “but we gotta keep getting better at the same time.”
Lantern file photo.OSU then-sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller prepares to snap the ball during a game against Michigan on Nov. 24 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 26-21.Even though only three practices are in the books in Ohio State’s preseason football camp, coach Urban Meyer said he has liked what he has seen from both his quarterback and one of the players from the heralded 2013 recruiting class.“Dontre Wilson right now, I would say he is going to play,” Meyer said Tuesday after his team’s first practice in full pads. “He’s just got something we didn’t have last year, and that’s just electric speed.”Wilson, a true freshman from DeSoto, Texas, who chose to play for the Buckeyes after former Oregon coach Chip Kelly bolted for the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL, has impressed his head coach. Meyer is not ready to mention him in the same breath of former Florida star Percy Harvin, though.“He got a quick twitch but don’t throw him in that (category),” Meyer said. “He just goes hard. He’s got jets.”Miller improvingFresh off a 2012 season where he led OSU in rushing and passing en route to winning the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year award, junior quarterback Braxton Miller has come a long way, Meyer said.“I’m pleased with Braxton,” Meyer said. “I know it’s just three days, but he had a really good day today.”Meyer said everything from his quarterback’s demeanor, to his footwork, to his relationship with the wide receivers is better than what it was last season.“It’s hard to lead when part of being a leader is setting a standard to lead by example, and he wasn’t leading by example because he really didn’t know what he was doing,” Meyer said. “I just see a much better presence from him.”Offensive line coach Ed Warinner agreed with Meyer, saying Miller is clearly more comfortable on the field, even comparing him to a basketball player.“When the point guard looks good, the offense looks pretty good,” Warinner said with a wry smile. “It’s clear ‘5’ is better.”Decker leading way at right tackleWith former OSU tight end turned offensive tackle Reid Fragel’s graduation, the Buckeyes have been working to fill the void left by the seventh-round NFL draft pick.Warinner said sophomore Taylor Decker is leading the way in the competition for the starting position after three days in camp, but said much is still to be determined.“What I saw in person today was really good (from Decker),” Warinner said. “I think he’s had what I would call probably three good days of camp. There was no hitting until today, so now after you stack three, four, five, six days of hitting in a row, let’s see if he’s consistent.”Decker said he did not feel like he earned the spot after spring practices and is still learning what it takes.“I wasn’t playing up to my ability,” Decker said. “I’m still learning how to become a college athlete, learning how to become an offensive lineman. Even though I’ve been in the program a year, I’m still transitioning and learning to do a lot.”Meyer said he is still concerned about the depth on the offensive line as well as at the linebacker position, having not changed his mind from the summer.“They don’t look Ohio State-ish,” Meyer said. “Other positions you can see three guys, they’re all good-looking players. And the offensive line and linebackers are not where we need to be.”OSU is scheduled to continue practice tomorrow, with it’s first two-a-day practice scheduled for Aug. 9 at Ackerman Road Fields.
Sophomore defensive lineman Noah Spence (8) scans the crowd during a game against Northwestern Oct. 5 at Ryan Field. OSU won, 40-30.Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor1. How does Ohio State handle the Iowa run defense?So far this season, the Buckeye rushing game has been running on all cylinders, averaging 280.7 yards per game. But this week, they face off against an Iowa squad holding its opponents to 88.5 rushing yards, good for eighth best in the nation. If OSU’s last game against Northwestern is any indication the Buckeyes will look to run senior running back Carlos Hyde and company a lot to open up some space for the passing game. Redshirt-senior running back Jordan Hall can come in as a change of pace player to help OSU, but Halls’ usage remains in question after a joint issue in his knee kept him out against Northwestern. 5. How will Iowa starting quarterback Jake Rudock fare in his first start at Ohio Stadium?OSU gets to play in front of more than 100,000 people every time they play in Columbus. Kinnick Stadium, home to the Hawkeyes, only holds a little more than 70,000. Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock has been decent so far in 2013 (1,202 passing yards, eight touchdowns, six picks through six games), but has never played in front of a crowd like the one that will be at Ohio Stadium Saturday. How he is able to handle the noise provided by what is sure to be a charged up Buckeye Nation could ultimately decide Iowa’s fate. The Buckeye secondary hasn’t exactly been rock solid even when senior safety Christian Bryant was on the field, but if Rudock struggles and turns the ball over, it could be a long night for the Hawkeyes. 4. Which team will shake off the rust better?It will be a full two weeks since the last time the Buckeyes played a football game, when they beat Northwestern Oct. 5. OSU coach Urban Meyer’s teams are 34-2 when they have more than one week to prepare for an opponent (includes bye weeks, season-openers and bowl games). Iowa is coming off a bye week as well, looking to get back on track in B1G play after falling to Michigan State two weeks ago. Turnovers could be abound early on, as both teams will be getting back in the swing of things after the time off. 2. Can Braxton Miller bounce back?After a four touchdown performance against Wisconsin in his return from an MCL sprain in his left knee, Miller struggled mightily against Northwestern. His three turnovers and no touchdowns almost cost OSU the game, and their undefeated season, but Hyde was there to pick up the slack. If the Hawkeyes can stifle Hyde and the running game Miller will need to be at his best for the Buckeyes if they hope to pull out a victory. If Miller can repeat his performance against the Badgers, the Buckeyes should take care of business, but if he struggles again the game could be a tighter affair than most expect. 3. Mark Weisman v. the Buckeye defense.Almost mirroring the battle on the other side of the ball, the sixth-ranked OSU run defense is set to face off against a strong Iowa rushing attack led by junior running back Weisman. Coming into the game, Weisman is averaging 104 yards a game on the ground, good for 21st best in the country. To prevent the upset, sophomore defensive lineman Noah Spence and company will need to win the battle up front to try and contain Weisman and the Hawkeye running game. Already this year, the Buckeyes have faced off against a high profile running back, Wisconsin sophomore Melvin Gordon, who OSU held to a season-low 74 yards, almost half his average.
Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) carries the ball during a game against Indiana on Nov. 22 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 42-27.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorFor the better part of 40 minutes of football at Ohio Stadium, Ohio State was in trouble.But in part because of four second-half touchdowns from redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall, the Buckeyes found a way to get out of Saturday’s game against Indiana with a 42-27 win. And now as No. 6 OSU (10-1, 7-0) sets its sights on rival Michigan, the team might have more questions than expected going forward.The Lantern sports editors picked five of the key takeaways from OSU’s unexpectedly close win as The Game stands less than a week away.1. Marshall is a game changer, no matter what mistakes he makesThere’s no denying his two lost fumbles against Minnesota were costly, but Marshall is the main reason OSU beat Indiana.Had he not returned a punt for a touchdown late in the third quarter this week, the Buckeyes still might have won, but that play and his three ensuing touchdown catches ensured a victory. The punt return invigorated the entire team — particularly the OSU offense — and sparked the Buckeyes to a win when a loss would have ended their hopes at making the College Football Playoff.Marshall has shown his talent on many occasions this season, but never to the extent he did on Saturday. Without sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson in the fold because of a broken foot, Marshall will have a chance to prove he’s truly one of the best weapons on the team in the coming weeks.2. Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett has done enough to prove his play is no flukeYes, Barrett threw two first-half interceptions. And yes, overall, he didn’t look sharp against the Hoosiers.But it’s no mistake that he’s mostly rewritten the OSU quarterback record books in just 11 games as the starter. You can say it’s the system or call it luck, but players simply don’t put up the numbers Barrett has without being very talented.He now holds OSU records for the longest run by a quarterback (86 yards), the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game (189), the most total touchdowns in a season (42) and the most touchdown passes in a year (33). The first three records were held by currently injured senior quarterback Braxton Miller, while the fourth used to belong to OSU’s most recent Heisman Trophy winner, Troy Smith.Regardless of his low points — most notably a three-interception outing in a loss to Virginia Tech — Barrett deserves praise for his play, and has shown he can give Miller a run for his money if there is an open competition at quarterback next fall.3. The OSU defense is good, but could be much betterHeading into the game, multiple defensive players stressed that winning wasn’t enough. They said the Buckeyes also needed to contain Indiana junior running back Tevin Coleman, and set their goal at keeping him under 100 yards rushing.Well — on 25 of his carries — OSU held him to just 88 yards and a score on the ground. The only problem is, if you add his other two carries in, his numbers skyrocket to 27 carries for 230 yards and three touchdowns.The Buckeyes’ biggest problem on defense is that they are really good the majority of the time, but when things don’t go well, they go extremely poorly.If OSU can find a way to turn the handful of big plays into short gains every game, the team will start having a chance to pitch shutouts instead of scrambling to come from behind.4. Junior linebacker Joshua Perry might be the Buckeyes’ most improved playerPerry was a starter most of last season, but he’s turned into a key player for the OSU defense in his third year.He led the Buckeyes in solo tackles (7), total tackles (14), tackles for loss (3) and sacks (2) against Indiana, and yet his name rarely comes up with more well-known players like sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa on the roster.Is Perry the best player on the defense? Probably not, but he’s still important to the unit’s success.And he’s proven that by leading the team with 99 total tackles this season. Sophomore safety Vonn Bell is second among Buckeyes, but he’s 37 tackles behind Perry.5. Ezekiel Elliott is better than advertisedWhile Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman have gotten most of the attention this season in the Big Ten, Elliott has quietly been a solid replacement at running back, filling the void left by Carlos Hyde. Elliott has compiled 1,061 yards on the season and is averaging 5.9 yards per carry to go along with eight rushing scores.He has done all of that while splitting carries with guys like freshman running back Curtis Samuel, Barrett, Marshall and Wilson. Last year, the entire offense was based on the success of Hyde and then-junior quarterback Braxton Miller.For Elliott to stand out amongst so many other playmakers on offense has been impressive and is contributing to OSU’s success. The Buckeyes and the Wolverines are set to matchup on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.
Senior linebacker Joshua Perry (37) celebrates during Ohio State’s 42-24 victory over Virginia Tech on Sept. 7 in Blacksburg, Virginia. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead / Photo EditorOhio State will look to extend its nation-leading 14-game winning streak on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., when the Buckeyes are scheduled to face Hawaii.Here are five things to watch for against the Rainbow Warriors. Who gets the field goal duties this time?Besides the quarterback battle, the other one-on-one battle heading into the season was for the kicker spot.While it was known for some time that redshirt senior Jack Willoughby, a transfer from Duke, would be handling kickoff duties, he was still neck-and-neck throughout camp with sophomore Sean Nuernberger for field goals.In OSU’s opener at Virginia Tech, it was Willoughby who got the job. However, his one attempt — a 43-yard kick late in the first quarter — had the distance but missed wide.Willoughby kicked extra points for the Buckeyes as well, converting all six tries.OSU coach Urban Meyer said on Wednesday that the battle was back to square one, and it will be the kicker who performed better during Thursday’s practice who wins the job against Hawaii.No matter who wins the job, though, Meyer said he is not pleased with how the kicking situation has turned out for the Buckeyes for the second year in a row after Nuernberger missed seven of 20 attempts last year.“(I’m) disappointed right now in our kicking obviously,” Meyer said. “That carries on from last year. We were not a very good field goal team, and we have to get better.”Who fields punts?Arguably the biggest surprise in the Virginia Tech game, other than redshirt junior Cardale Jones getting the start at quarterback, was junior tailback Ezekiel Elliott returning punts for the Buckeyes.The Heisman hopeful was far from impressive as the return man, granted Tech’s solid kick coverage forced him to call fair catch twice. His muffed punt late in the second quarter that set up a go-ahead touchdown by the Hokies was a critical error.Elliott — who Meyer, on Wednesday, called the team’s best catcher for fielding punts — was not listed as the punt returner on the depth chart released prior to the season opener; rather redshirt senior quarterback-turned-H-back Braxton Miller was penciled in as the starter with sophomore H-back Curtis Samuel as his backup. As it turned out, neither returned a punt against the Hokies.Meyer offered insight Wednesday as to why he opted to not go with Miller. “I just didn’t think it would be fair to put him in that environment back there,” Meyer said.For Saturday’s game, Meyer said he doesn’t know “who the starter is yet” but that it would be either Miller or redshirt sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall, who returned some kicks in 2014 but was suspended for the season opener.After a misstep in the return game led to a Hokies touchdown, Meyer will need whoever is back fielding punts to be sure-handed to avoid giving the opposition extra possessions. Three more guys, just one ballThe Buckeyes offense had an explosive performance Labor Day night at Lane Stadium, where it put up 42 points while racking up 572 yards of total offense — 360 of which were on the ground. For the game, OSU averaged a remarkable 10.2 yards per play. All of this was accomplished with three projected offensive starters not in uniform due to suspension. Now against Hawaii, Marshall, redshirt senior wide receiver Corey Smith and junior H-back Dontre Wilson will be back in action.Meyer and offensive coordinator Ed Warinner have so many weapons at their disposal and they exhibited that against the Hokies. Factoring the three suspended players into the mix now raises an interesting question: There is one football. How do you spread it around to all the weapons?Sophomore H-back Curtis Samuel, who had two catches for 32 yards and a score against Tech, said he is not concerned about how the bevy of playmakers will get their touches. “There is great talent. We’ve got the best receiving corp in college football,” Samuel said. “We got a lot of guys on this team that are playmakers and whoever goes out there gonna make plays.”The Brooklyn, New York, native said that the decision as to who will be on the field during games will be decided by the coaches based on practice.“(It) starts on the practice field,” he said. “We all gotta go out there and put in the same amount of work. Whoever making plays in practice, the coaches build trust in you from there and when it comes to game time, they’ll put you on the field and go make the play.” How many deep balls will the Buckeyes throw?Despite being ranked 89th in the country in passing yards allowed per game in 2014, Colorado did not opt to attack the Rainbow Warriors through the air too much in Hawaii’s 28-20 season-opening victory.The longest completion of the game for Colorado junior quarterback Sefo Liufau was 26 yards, and that came on its final drive. Prior to that, the longest completion was just 12 yards.For OSU, obviously, Jones presents a little more of a threat through the air than Liufau, who threw 40 times against the Rainbow Warriors for just 156 yards.The Cleveland native could have a chance to show off his arm at never-before-seen levels. The combination of a weak Hawaii secondary and multitude of aerial weapons — including redshirt junior Michael Thomas, Smith, Miller and Marshall — could enable Jones to put on a show with his deep throws.Will we see a two-QB system this time?Heading into the Virginia Tech game, Meyer said he had already made up his mind that both quarterbacks will play against the Hokies.While he wasn’t wrong, as redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett ended up leading the final three drives of the game for the Buckeyes, that was more of a function of the game being out of hand than actually making Barrett a part of the offense.Saturday’s game figures to be another blowout, so it is more than likely that Barrett — and perhaps even third-stringer and redshirt freshman Stephen Collier — will get a good number of snaps. But will Barrett come in for a play or two earlier in the game to give Jones a breather or catch the defense off guard?Meyer didn’t confirm on Wednesday that Jones will be the starter on Saturday, but he said that the coaching staff is working on packages to get Barrett involved.“There might be packages that I’m going to put in,” Meyer said. “We talked about that (Wednesday) with the quarterbacks, with maybe J.T.“They both have to be on call and ready to go.”