When Angels star Mike Trout went down for six weeks with a thumb injury at the end of May, it suddenly looked like the American League’s most valuable player title was anybody’s to claim. Would it be rookie sensation Aaron Judge? Or perhaps diminutive Astros sparkplug Jose Altuve would claim his first MVP crown. Could Boston’s strikeout machine Chris Sale work his way into the conversation? The race seemed wide open.Four months later, it’s becoming clear that we may have underestimated the best player in baseball.Trout returned from his first career DL stint after the All-Star break and started knocking home runs like he’d never left. In 51 games since his recovery, Trout has slashed .305/.457/.563, accruing a total of about 21 runs above an average player. Trout’s hitting has been so otherworldly that he has almost entirely closed the gap between himself and the best offensive players in baseball. Here’s a chart showing Trout’s Weighted Runs Created, which quantifies a player’s total offensive value, relative to the rest of the league since the start of the 2017 season. Throw in Trout’s decent defense and proficient base-stealing, and you have the league’s fourth-highest WAR total. And he’s gaining fast on current AL leader Altuve, who slowed down his pace of production slightly as the summer wore on, posting his worst on-base plus slugging rate in September. It’s a long shot, but Trout could pass Altuve in the next couple of weeks.Trout has been among the best players in baseball each full season he’s played. But he’s not only the best in his generation, he’s also the best player in history through ages 21-24. He’ll have to make up a little ground on Ty Cobb to extend that streak to age 25, but there’s no doubt that he’s on his way to an inner-circle Hall of Fame career.Even if Trout doesn’t manage to catch Altuve (or Cobb), he still has a legitimate shot at his third AL MVP award. While the WAR leaderboard doesn’t care about how good your team is, the same cannot be said for MVP voters. And that may be the best argument for Trout’s claim: The Angels are unexpectedly in the running for a wild-card spot, and they owe much of their success to Trout’s bat. To the Angels’ credit, they managed to slightly improve their playoff position in Trout’s absence, but their chances didn’t really take off until he came back.In retrospect, perhaps it was inevitable that Trout would make a run at league MVP. He is the king of consistency, after all. We can just add “injury” to the long list of factors, such as aging and opponent adjustments, that could end a mortal man’s career but barely seem to slow Trout.
Ultimate should be fertile ground for analytics. The mostly amateur sport first blossomed at universities and remains popular with engineers, computer scientists, mathematicians and teachers — curious, creative nerds eager to break down the sport and share what they learn. Its profile is growing, too. This summer, the International Olympic Committee made the sport eligible to be included in a future Summer Olympics.When I attended the under-23 world tournament in England this summer, I saw hundreds of the sport’s future stars coached by some of its brightest minds, but I also saw a sport missing something vital: detailed data.It’s easy to take sports data for granted in an age when cameras track and quantify the movement of players and balls in baseball, basketball, tennis and soccer. The biggest challenges for analysts in those sports is how to wrangle and make sense of all that data and to get fans to look past traditional box-score numbers.But in ultimate, there are hardly any traditional box-score numbers. Other sports have digitized stat-keeping even at the college or high-school level. But for ultimate, even at a relatively organized and well-run event like the under-23 worlds, the sport’s best young players checked opponents’ scores on schedules filled in by hand. Coaches — including my FiveThirtyEight colleague Jody Avirgan, an assistant coach for the U.S. men’s team — carried clipboards to log who played each point, with paper flapping in the wind and ink blurring in the rain. Players got a glimpse of what wealth can bring to a sport every time they walked past one of Watford FC’s brand-new 500,000 pound ($750,000) fields, but rope fences made clear that the Premier League team’s training ground was off-limits — as were stats as advanced and sophisticated as the EPL’s.At best, ultimate box scores — such as those posted on the under-23 worlds website — contain just goals, assists and Ds (discs knocked down or intercepted). “That is Stone Age material to work with,” said Sean Childers, an ultimate player and co-author of a study on ultimate presented last year at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, in an email. “Imagine a baseball or basketball box score from 50 years ago, but worse.”Ultimate coaches dream of stats corresponding to some of their favorites from other sports. Several wished hockey assists — the pass that leads to the pass for the score — were tracked. Bob Krier, head coach of the U.S. men’s under-23 team, wants to see a shooting percentage for the most difficult passes into the end zone. Others want stats on “pulls,” ultimate’s version of kickoffs: Coaches suspect pulls matter a lot in helping a team set up its defense, both for how long they hang in the air and for where they land.A catch-all metric for player value such as wins above replacement would be nice, too. But Martin Aguilera, who coached the U.S. mixed team at the under-23 championships this year, said, “We’re so far away from that.”Many coaches said they look to basketball for stats they want to see for ultimate. On the surface, ultimate has more in common with football (passing toward a score in an end zone), soccer (a field sport with fluid positions and no play clock) and tennis (starting a point on offense is like serving, and scoring on a defensive point is called breaking). But ultimate has similar defensive principles to basketball, with players switching suddenly from offense to defense and both teams resetting after each score.Plus, basketball has lots of cool data. Ultimate nerds speak with envy and awe about SportVU, the system of cameras that ring NBA arenas and produce data about where the players and ball are at every moment of each game. And they cite the shooting charts of FiveThirtyEight’s Kirk Goldsberry as models for charts they’d love to see, ones that would map success rates for players’ shots at the end zone by field position.Other sports are also seeking better data than their traditional, limited box scores provide. In volleyball, “the official stat sheet is basically useless,” said Todd Dagenais, coach of the University of Central Florida women’s team. He’s seeking better stats to help his team but says there’s a dividend for spectators, too: A smarter sport is more fun to watch. “When an offense is run well, fans love that, which causes the defense to have to make more spectacular moves and more spectacular plays, which is also very entertaining,” he said.Ultimate’s stats are stuck in the Stone Age in part because it takes a lot of work to get not a lot of insight. To improve on the kind of time-consuming, manual stat-keeping process that some coaches at the world championships were using, ultimate players developed an app to track players moving around the field. The Ultiapps Stat Tracker can generate heat maps showing the best scoring spots. Childers and a fellow researcher used data from the app to figure out where those spots are and which players were best at getting the disc there. What they found mostly reinforced basic tenets of the sport, like the importance of keeping the disc in the middle of the field. The heat map above, which is from the paper by Childers and Jeremy Weiss, shows a team’s likelihood of scoring from different points on the field. As a team moves closer and closer to the end zone (at the top of the chart), its chances of scoring increase (the higher the number, the better). The large dip in the 40-percent zone — shown as 0.4 — suggests that a team is just as likely to score from about 50 yards outside the end zone (marked as 20 on the heat map) in the middle of the field as they are from 35 but stuck on the sideline.But data collected at one level of the sport with, say, little wind may not translate into a different level in windy conditions. Partly because of limitations like that one, teams mostly have stopped using the app to collect data.“Teams liked our analysis but found collecting and inputting the data was too onerous to justify the time investment,” Childers said.Part of would-be ultimate analysts’ challenge is that top ultimate players don’t play that many meaningful points1Each game of ultimate is played to a certain number of points, and each team must keep the same group of players on the field until the next point is scored. in a season. Players might play during only eight or 10 points of a game because top teams are deep, usually with more than twice the number of players on the sideline as are on the field at any time. And the roster is rarely the same from tournament to tournament.2Even in an age when ESPN is airing ultimate, no one makes a living playing the sport. Top players often skip tournaments because of personal or job conflicts.Even if everyone could agree on which new stats are needed in a sport like ultimate, a tough question remains: Whose job should it be to collect the stats? Tournaments are mostly run by volunteers focused on tasks such as ensuring players find the right field, have enough water and uphold the sport’s unique spirit of the game during play. That leaves coaches to keep any extra stats they’d want for analysis. But they’re also busy doing lots of other things during tournaments. It’s often easier to collect advanced stats during tryouts or practices instead.For the under-23 tournament, U.K. mixed coaches had to choose 26 players from 93 who showed up at trials. They divided them into six groups and filmed them, rating them in 24 categories. None was scores, assists or Ds. The categories were more subtle: essential but hard-to-measure ultimate and interpersonal skills. One, for example, was “nicehead,” which gauged how well someone played with others. “What we didn’t want to do is pick very skilled players who couldn’t interact with other human beings,” coach Megan Hurst said. She and her fellow coach Felix Shardlow entered all the stats into a big spreadsheet and looked for players whose low ratings came in categories they could easily improve, like catching. Aguilera thinks that more ultimate should be filmed and that more film should be watched. He filmed games at the under-23 worlds from atop a ladder he’d bought for 30 pounds ($45) just before the tournament. Many top college basketball players have seen hundreds of games by the time they get to campus. Incoming college ultimate players might have watched fewer than 20 ultimate games, Aguilera said.Absent data, coaches have to rely on scouting to get ahead. Film analysis has become a hallmark of the best college and club programs in the country. And it was on display at the tournament in England, too.Take, for example, the women’s final between the U.S. and Japan. Mike Whitaker, the head coach of the U.S. team who’d been scouting that Canada-Colombia game with his assistants near the start of the tournament, said that Japan used “advanced scouting more than any other team at the worlds.” The Japanese team brought personnel dedicated to the practice, which played a big role in the final’s outcome. He noticed Japan made adjustments to its defense after its group-stage game against the Americans (the U.S. won 17-13) and scouting other U.S. games.Eri Hirai, Japan’s head coach, said the team tracked which players on other tournament teams threw the most long passes and which ones ran the most. Harai said this kind of scouting is standard practice in Japan. “It’s very important because we knew nothing about other teams before the tournament,” she said in an email interview conducted through a translator. By the end of the tournament, the Japanese team knew enough about the Americans to win the final in a big upset, 17-15. It was the only game any U.S. team lost in the tournament. ST ALBANS, England — On a field 20 miles north of London, three people were camped on the edge of a field wearing USA Ultimate hoodies, notebooks open in front of them. They were the coaches of the U.S.’s under-23 women’s team, and they were scouting two of their biggest Ultimate Frisbee rivals, Canada and Colombia, who were about to play in a group-stage match of the 2015 world championships. The coaches barely even had any data on their own team — but there they were, scrounging for some on their future opponents. Read more: A Plea For More Frisbee Data From A U.S. Ultimate Coach Riley Erickson records video of future opponents for the U.S. mixed team. Carl Bialik Head coach Mike Whitaker and assistant coaches Carolyn Matthews and Lauren Boyle of the U.S. women’s team. Carl Bialik
One of baseball’s most prestigious groups has a new member: Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols joined the 3,000-hit club Friday with a single in the 5th inning of L.A.’s game against the Seattle Mariners. Pujols was a future Hall of Famer regardless of his club membership, of course, but the achievement helps bring into focus just how incredible a hitter he has been over his nearly two-decade-long career.Including the brand-new entry, 32 batters have broken the 3,000-hit barrier, from Cap Anson in 1897 (maybe?) to Pujols 121 years later. Of those 32, only the scandal-ridden1e.g., Pete Rose and Rafael Palmeiro. aren’t either honored in Cooperstown already or bound for the Hall when eligible. But even among that group of baseball’s best-ever hitters, Pujols stands out. While many members of the 3,000-hit club (such as the recently quasi-retired Ichiro Suzuki) secured their memberships by rapping out single after single, Pujols did it with power and patience. He’s tied with Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez for the highest isolated slugging percentage (a stat that measures raw power) of any 3,000-hit-club member, and he has the club’s very best career ratio of extra-base hits plus walks to singles:To be sure, others in this club mastered the art of waiting for the right pitch and crushing it. Willie Mays, for example, had almost as many extra-base hits plus walks per single (1.42) as Pujols does (1.45). But it’s still pretty uncommon, and Pujols is perhaps the greatest practitioner of the style among 3,000-hit-club members. It’s hard to get 3,000 hits against major-league pitching at all, much less to do it while also swinging for the fences.Perhaps this partially explains why Pujols hasn’t aged as well as other hitters; heck, one outlet went so far as to call him the worst player in baseball last year. (Oh wait, that was us.) A base-hit maestro like Tony Gwynn or Craig Biggio might naturally fare better as the baseball odometer ticks up. But despite a steep slowdown in production, Pujols still made it into the 3,000-hit club — a milestone other hitters with power and patience never reached (think Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Schmidt or even Babe Ruth). It’s a testament to the 21st century’s most fearsome hitter.
With just under 30 seconds to go, Ohio State sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop hit a corner 3-pointer to cut 10th-ranked Virginia’s lead to just three points, 61-58. But after not being able to steal the ensuing inbounds pass, the Buckeyes were forced to foul, sending the Cavaliers to the free-throw line. Virginia cashed in on a pair, eventually dodging the upset bid from OSU to win 64-58. The loss drops OSU to 2-4 on the season, while also giving the Buckeyes just their fourth four-game losing streak since the turn of the century. Virginia moves to 6-1 after the victory.OSU had three players in double-figures, highlighted by forward Marc Loving’s 19 points on an efficient 7-of-11 shooting, including netting three of his six 3-point tries. The junior forward also chipped in five rebounds. Joining Loving in double figures was Bates-Diop, with 15 points, powered by him shooting 3-of-6 from deep, and sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate with a dozen. Tate added eight rebounds, five of which came in the second half. Although they might have picked up the loss, the Buckeyes churned in, arguably, their best performance of the season.“I definitely think we’ve gotten better,” Tate said. “It just seems like all our games come down to the wire. We just have to figure out a way to bring it home. We’re so close.”One of the main reasons why the Buckeyes could not bring it home was the performance of Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon. The redshirt senior guard led the way for his team, scoring 22 points on 7-of-16 shooting, including six 3-pointers. It seemed that as soon as OSU would close the gap, Brogdon would be there to hit a big shot to swing momentum back toward the Cavaliers. “That kid is one of the best players, honestly, I’ve seen,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “He’s so patient, he’s so smooth, he’s so efficient when he plays … when he made his first couple shots, I was so like, ‘Oh boy, here we go.’” As Matta mentioned, Brogdon got out to a hot start, scoring nine of Virginia’s first 13 points. But after being down 13-6, the Buckeyes climbed back into with an 8-2 run to make it a one-point game. The Cavaliers seized momentum back from the Scarlet and Gray from there to go up 26-17 with 2:39 left in the first half. The nine-point advantage was the game’s largest by either team, but instead of rolling over, the Buckeyes fought back to behind a personal five-point run from redshirt sophomore center Trevor Thompson. A key to the Buckeyes entering the locker room trailing by just two was their defense. OSU held Virginia to just 26 first-half points, a season-low, on 37 percent shooting. Freshman center Daniel Giddens was instrumental in the strong defensive showing, as any time a Cavalier player got into the paint, he was there to alter their shot. In the first half alone, he had three blocks. Because of his presence, Virginia often was passive, settling for jump shots. But for the Buckeyes, it turned out to be a double-edged sword, as the Cavaliers shot an efficient 4-of-9 from deep.“We haven’t gone against a team that is able to block shots like that yet,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, adding, “When we’d try to go to the lane, they’d just block it.” In every one of OSU’s four losses, the game has been very close at halftime. In fact, it even led in two of the three prior to Tuesday’s matchup. However, the problem for the Buckeyes had been less-than-stellar second halves. Against Virginia, the opposite happened. Bates-Diop and Loving hit early 3-pointers to grab OSU its first lead since five minutes into the game. The cliché about basketball being a “game of runs” was definitely true in the second half, as the team’s traded runs for much of the final 20 minutes. “I just think that we were hungry for a win — everybody, coaching staff, teammates,” Tate said about finally having a strong second half. “I feel like that was the key. Everybody was locked in.” OSU’s final lead came with 13:20 left in the game, but it had multiple trips to the offensive end where it could’ve taken the lead or tied the contest. Loving hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to cut Virginia’s lead to just one point with just over eight minutes left to play. The Buckeyes forced a missed shot by the Cavaliers on the ensuing possession, give them a chance to grab the lead. Instead, freshman guard JaQuan Lyle kept up with what has been plaguing OSU all season long: turning the ball over after dribbling into traffic. In those critical moments, the young Buckeyes just continued to come up short. As for why, Matta said he was clueless. “I don’t know,” the coach said, chuckling. “That one I don’t know the answer to. You look at this team and just how few a plays away we are from turning the corner.” And against the Cavaliers, it was certainly just a few plays here and there that, had they gone the other way, perhaps OSU would be celebrating its upset. Because of just how close it was, Loving said the loss leaves him with mixed emotions. “It’s bittersweet,” he said. “It’s bitter because we lost but it feels good to know that we’re getting better each and every game to the point where we’re able to compete with top-10 teams. “We’re just taking each day in practice to get better and prepare for our next opponent.”That next opponent is a team from the same commonwealth as the Cavaliers, in the Virginia Military Institute. The Buckeyes and the Keydets are scheduled to be in action at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday inside the Schottenstein Center. OSU freshman guard Austin Grandstaff (3) dribbles around Virginia’s Malcom Brogdon during a game on Dec. 1 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU lost 58-64. Credit: Bree Williams | Lantern Photographer
“The Strength of the Pack Is the Wolf. The Strength of the Wolf Is the Pack.” A sign bearing this mantra hangs just inside the entrance to the Columbus Crew locker room. Never has its meaning been more on display than in the 2-0 Crew victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy Saturday night.With the Galaxy’s lone wolf, David Beckham, not making the trip to Columbus with his team because of an ankle injury, the Crew cruised to victory with a starting lineup devoid of its top scorer, Guillermo Barros Schelotto.Following the victory, Crew coach Robert Warzycha summed up his “no man is above the team” mentality. “We don’t have reserves,” he said. “We have 23 players right now that can step up anytime.”On a dark and rainy night, less than an hour after the Buckeyes’ victory over Illinois, the conditions were prime for a subdued crowd. The raucous fans in Crew Stadium’s Nordecke, however, would not let that be.As pyrotechnics erupted, the Crew players made their way onto the field through a tunnel of supporters while black-and-gold-clad fans cheered wildly from the northeast corner of the stadium. This particular section of the crowd brought the energy to a fever pitch early with a variety of chants, cheers and songs that reverberated throughout the stadium from start to finish.Less than five minutes into the match, the fans in the Nordecke were chanting, “Where’s the Spice Boy?” in reference to the absent Beckham, husband of Posh Spice.Crew midfielder Eddie Gaven kicked off the scoring in the 33rd minute with a slick header off a pass from Emmanuel Ekpo following a free kick.Forward Steven Lenhart, who spent much of the match being knocked to the ground, made the last goal for the Crew with a soft shot off a rebound that Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts couldn’t handle.The only significant scoring opportunity for the Galaxy came off a free kick, which was tapped by Galaxy star Landon Donovan to Chris Birchall. Birchall’s shot took a hard bounce off the left post and the follow-up shot sailed high above the goal. It was a chippy, physical game in which eight yellow cards were issued. Crew team captain Frankie Hejduk received one for a reckless tackle in which he and another Crew player sandwiched Donovan. The yellow card will result in Hejduk’s suspension for the Crew’s next match.At one point, during a free kick for the Crew, the referee stopped play to admonish players from both teams who were roughly jockeying for position.When asked about the scrappy game and the physical play of Lenhart in particular, Warzycha said, “I don’t think there were any cheap fouls. I think this guy (Lenhart), he likes this kind of game.”With the victory, the Crew (12-4-10) remains atop the Eastern conference and pushes its home unbeaten streak in the MLS to 22. The Galaxy (10-6-11) also holds steady in its second-place position in the Western conference.Following the game, the Crew players saluted the ‘blackout’ effort of the announced, sellout crowd of 20,966 by joining hands and taking a bow. Several players also tossed jerseys to eager fans.
It’s tough to say who was colder Thursday night; the students jumping in Mirror Lake or the Ohio State men’s basketball team.In the 2K Sports Classic semifinal game against No. 6 North Carolina, the Buckeyes shot a frigid 9-31 from the field in the first half, en route to a 77-73 loss.“We had a rough first half,” junior guard Jon Diebler said. “If we had come out with a little bit more intensity, the game probably would have been different.”In the second half, the Tar Heels extended their lead and were up 19 points before the Buckeyes finally made a run. Five quick points by Dieber, coupled with two free throws from junior Evan Turner, sparked a 7-0 run. The Buckeyes got as close as two points after a Diebler three-pointer with 15 seconds to go. Carolina’s Larry Drew then made two free throws to end any hope of a miracle, and the Buckeyes were handed a four-point loss. “Obviously we made a great comeback,” coach Thad Matta said. “Finally late in the second half we started making some shots and got a little rhythm to our offense. I’m proud of the way our guys fought back into it, but it obviously wasn’t enough.”The Buckeyes dug themselves too deep of a hole with their first half shooting woes. Though everyone struggled to make shots, it was sophomore William Buford who had the most trouble. Buford made only two of 10 shots in the first half and finished an abysmal 3-16 from the field.In addition to scoring difficulties, Turner struggled to hold onto the basketball. His 23 points led the team, but the Buckeye point guard turned the ball over 10 times. “Sometimes I might have thought about the situation too much, whether I should shoot or pass, so I traveled here and there,” Turner said. “I just have to make sure it never happens again.”However, Turner and Co. had little time to work out any kinks. OSU played the following day against California in the tournament’s consolation game. Junior center Dallas Lauderdale got his first start of the season against California, completing his return from a preseason hand injury. Lauderdale scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds in 30 minutes of play.More importantly, he anchored the Buckeyes on the defensive end, blocking seven shots. “He gives us a different look both offensively and defensively,” Matta said. “He has pretty good timing. It allows us to do a little bit more on the perimeter knowing he is back there.”Friday’s game had a similar feel to Thursday’s, but with reversed roles. It was the Buckeyes that dominated the majority of the game, and with about 15 minutes to go in the game, they had a 22-point lead. Then, like OSU the night before, California began a comeback. California promptly went on a 17-2 run to cut the Buckeye lead to nine. But on the shoulders of Turner’s 22 second-half points, the Buckeyes were able to hold on and earn a 76-70 victory. “Basketball is a game of runs,” Turner said. “Fortunately we are mature enough to keep a lead. We handled what we had to handle, and we took care of business.”Turner finished the game with 26 points and 14 rebounds and, along with Diebler and David Lighty, played all 40 minutes. Friday marked the fourth time in as many games that Turner has recorded a double-double. “It has been a good stretch of games,” Turner said. “I am just trying to play hard.”The Buckeyes return to play Lipscomb Tuesday at the Schottenstein Center.
The Ohio State defensive line boasts a preseason All-American, a projected first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and multiple players that were five-star prospects coming out of high school. The unit many claim to be one of the best in the country at its craft hasn’t lived up to expectations thus far this season, though. Through two games against Miami (Ohio) and Central Florida, the stat line for the Buckeyes’ front four reads: three sacks and five tackles for loss. In other words, not the production first-year coach Urban Meyer expected out of his pass rushers. Not even close, really, Meyer said. “The negative I see right now is I don’t see the quarterback getting hit. And that’s something that has to be addressed,” Meyer said after Saturday’s 31-16 win against UCF. The talent on the defensive line is evident in practice, but those skills have not been translating into performance on gameday. “I feel like when we get to the game, we forget about all our moves and everything. I don’t know, we’re just not living up to our potential,” said freshman defensive end Noah Spence, a top-10 player from the 2012 recruiting class. After a lackluster outing in the Sept. 1 season opener against Miami (Ohio) in which the Buckeyes’ front four recorded only two sacks, Hankins and Simon vowed that they, along with their teammates, would be better. That wasn’t the case, though. OSU’s defensive front was worse against the Knights than it was against the RedHawks, at least statistically. On Saturday, sophomore defensive end Steve Miller was the lone Buckeye to record a sack after two players got to the quarterback Sept. 1. The absence of hits on opposing team’s quarterbacks has not just disappointed Meyer; it’s been somewhat of a shock to the players. “I’m a little surprised. We just have to keep working hard and keep getting better every week and start trying to put a little more pressure on the quarterback,” Spence said. Rushing the passer has been something OSU has been stressing in practice, and Tommy Schutt, a freshman defensive tackle out of Illinois, said the Buckeyes might have to be more creative with their schemes. “I think just different ways to get to the quarterback. Different rushes, different blitzes, different techniques and some moves,” Schutt said. The quarterback can’t be hit if the pass rushers don’t have enough time to get him, though, and that’s been the case for OSU’s defensive line in the majority of their games so far. Miami used a three-step drop most of the time in their game against the Buckeyes, and UCF, for the most part, followed suit, irritating OSU players. “It’s very frustrating because you prepare to get off the ball and get to the quarterback, and all of a sudden you get there and the ball is already gone,” said freshman Adolphus Washington, a highly recruited defensive end from Cincinnati. Spence echoed his teammate. “It’s real frustrating. You work so hard on the line and everything like that, and for him to drop back three steps or whatever and just throw it immediately … but it’s no excuse for what we’re doing right now. We need to get better,” Spence said. While the quick passes annoyed OSU defensive linemen, the Buckeyes’ front four also recognized the respect Miami and UCF showed them. Many players also said it’s something they expect to continue for the rest of the year, too. “So far, that’s what it’s really looking like. The good thing for us is it shows the respect they have for our defensive line,” Schutt said. Washington agreed with Schutt, but said that eventually, OSU’s talent on the defensive line is going to shine. When that does happen, Washington said Meyer and the rest of Buckeye Nation will see opposing team’s quarterbacks on the ground, a lot. “If they hold that ball too long, then we’re there, without a doubt, we’re there,” Washington said.
While his name is not present on Ohio State football’s official depth chart this week, a familiar face is slated to make his return against Wisconsin on Saturday. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said redshirt senior linebacker Etienne Sabino will strap on his pads when OSU makes the trip to Madison, Wis. to play Wisconsin this Saturday, after missing the last four games because of a broken right fibula. “Yeah, I can’t tell you what percent (health) he’s at, but he’s in the starting lineup for the game,” Meyer said. Sabino, who suffered the fracture during the Oct. 6 Nebraska game, needed surgery to fix the damage. In six games before the injury, Sabino recorded 37 total tackles, two sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. Even though he has been out since the first quarter of the contest against the Cornhuskers, missing the last four games, he is tied for the seventh-most total tackles on the team. Senior defensive end John Simon said Sabino’s play in practice hasn’t changed since the injury. “He looks great, you can’t even tell there was ever an injury,” Simon said. When Sabino went out, the defense’s productivity decreased, specifically in scoring defense. In the first six games of the season, OSU’s defense gave up an average of 20.5 points per game. Since Sabino’s injury, however, it has allowed an average of 29 points per game, including the 49 points Indiana scored in Sabino’s first contest out on Oct. 13. Although the first four games were against non-conference opponents perceived to be inferior to Big Ten opponents, the loss of the Miami, Fla., native forced the Buckeyes to pull senior Zach Boren, who once started at fullback, to help fill the void Sabino’s absence left. During an Oct. 15 press conference, Meyer called Boren’s switch from offense to defense “temporarily permanent.” Evem with Sabino’s return, the change is looking more permanent now that Boren was also announced a starter for the upcoming game. “The three that broke the starting lineup today, on Monday, is (sophomore Ryan) Shazier, Zach Boren and Sabino,” Meyer said Monday. As a starting linebacker, Boren has collected 29 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Against Indiana, Boren was the leading tackler for the Buckeye defense. “He’s been a stabling force for our defense,” Meyer said. “One of the most undervalued characteristics of a football team is leadership, and that’s what No. 44 (Boren) gives you.” For the first time this season, Boren, Sabino and Shazier will play together on defense. Boren said he is excited to play with Sabino, but the three are trying to get used to playing as a unit. “I definitely think Ryan’s and my play has elevated because of what Sabino brings to the table,” Boren said. Junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said he believes Sabino brings the same leadership intangible. “He’s one of our key guys that is at the linebacker position. He’s the leader of the defense, so it’s good to have him back,” Hankins said. “I feel like he is going to be at full force and he is going to be ready.”
Since the beginning of collegiate athletics and the birth of the NCAA, a war has been waging.Should student athletes be paid?These players, particularly in football and basketball, help bring in potentially millions of dollars at major universities, but because of NCAA restrictions, they are unable to profit from this themselves.But if they want to make money, and have the talents to do so, why can’t they just skip a level and head straight to the professional ranks? Nothing is making these student athletes attend college, right?Again the NCAA rears its ugly head.Although certain sports like baseball and soccer currently have no restrictions on when an athlete can start making money in their given field, basketball players have the option to be “one-and-done” and head to the NBA after their freshman year, and football players can leave campus after three years.ESPN reported that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said Wednesday that the idea of forcing athletes to attend a university before they go into the field is ludicrous.“Maybe in football and basketball, it would work better if more kids had a chance to go directly into the professional ranks. If they’re not comfortable and want to monetize, let the minor leagues flourish,” Delany said.These years spent in college are often for the protection of the players, and it would be incredibly difficult for a player to make the jump directly from high school to the NFL due to the change in speed. I tend to agree with Delany.Before the NCAA and NBA implemented the rules in basketball that forced a player to wait at least a year before joining the league in 2005, there were numerous athletes who made the jump and succeeded. Players like Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant in 1996, Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard in 2004 and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Garnett in 1995 have all been perennial All-Stars since joining the league. Not to mention the fact that Miami Heat forward Lebron James in 2003 will go down as one of the greatest players in the history of the game without ever playing a minute of college basketball.Sure for every Lebron there is a Kwame Brown, center for the Philadelphia 76ers, that cannot cope with the speed and physicality, but they should be allowed to take that risk themselves.If a player judges they are capable of holding their own in the league, that should be their choice and theirs alone, not one of a larger governing body.In most other fields, this sort of thing would come off as utterly ludicrous. Imagine if Michael J. Fox or Justin Timberlake were forced to postpone their careers in entertainment for a couple of years because a group decided they needed the experience college could grant them.Even if a player does have that extra experience, there is no guarantee they will become a star. Former Ohio State center Greg Oden is considered one of the NBA’s biggest busts because of suffering through a multitude of knee injuries. Oden even spent his required year in college instead of just jumping straight from high school.While the discussion continues about whether or not players should be paid. it is time for a change in the NCAA rulebook.The removal of a player’s requirement to attend college will slow, at least partially, the number of scandals involving student athletes being compensated that have surfaced in recent years.Overall, a rule change would be beneficial to all parties involved, so it would only make sense if such a rule change were to be implemented.Delany said it best.“Why is it our job to be minor leagues for professional sports?”
Junior forward LaQuinton Ross (10) takes a free throw during an exhibition game against Walsh Nov. 3 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 93-63.Credit: Kelly Roderick / For The LanternDeshaun Thomas. Jared Sullinger. Evan Turner. Three names that live in Ohio State basketball lore — Buckeye stars that took a boatload of points with them when each left college ball.Since 2009, those three players each led OSU in scoring over the course of a season. Thomas averaged 19.8 points per game last season, Sullinger scored 17.5 per contest in 2011-12 and Turner tallied 20.4 in 2009-10. All three players are now in the professional ranks, and OSU is looking for someone to fill their shoes.Many OSU faithful are looking for one junior forward from Jackson, Miss., to be that player for the Buckeyes this season: LaQuinton Ross.Ross was fourth on the team in 2012-13 with 8.3 points per game, a total he managed while only averaging 16.9 of the 40 minutes during a game.Although the season has yet to officially get under way, Ross is already off to a good start after tying the team lead with 15 points in an exhibition match against Walsh Sunday.Ross said during OSU Media Day Oct. 10 even if he isn’t the team’s leading scorer this year, he feels like he has grown into a leader for the Buckeyes.“That’s one thing I worked on too, also — communicating with my teammates more. Because I think down the line, they’re going to need me a little bit more than they needed me last year,” Ross said. “Knowing that if I’m not talking to them, they’re not going to look at me in the game.”Ross added in his expanded role this season, he has had to bulk up to be able to defend bigger players.“I don’t think it was as much getting points, I think it was more just being able to take that contact in the Big Ten,” Ross said about adding weight. “With the Big Ten being physical, and this year, seeing how small we play, (I’ll) definitely (be) having to guard (bigger players) this year … It might have some plays where I switch off and we’re playing Purdue and I have to guard (a big guy) and I can’t be under 200 pounds doing that.”Because he might have to defend those larger players, Ross said he now weighs 225 pounds, up from the 215 he played at last season.Senior guard Aaron Craft said Ross has grown into more of a team player instead of a just a player who looks to shoot first.“He’s done a phenomenal job coming in right now and not taking everything on himself. Is he playing perfect? No. But he’s doing a great job of playing with other people right now,” Craft said at Media Day. “He’s communicating. He’s talking on defense and offense and that makes us a better team. He’s feeling that role pretty well.”But Craft made clear Ross wasn’t expected to step in and be exactly what Thomas was last season.“Is he going to be Deshaun? Absolutely not. But he’s bringing his own twist that Deshaun can’t do either,” Craft said.Craft added that although Ross is talented, replacing the scoring Thomas brought to the table is going to be a team effort this season.“You can’t replace Deshaun with just one person,” Craft said. “Even with him, we shot one of the worst percentages in coach (Thad Matta’s) career here at Ohio State (45.1 percent). Our biggest focus is being able to knock down open shots, elevating our shooting percentage and that opens up countless other things on the offensive end.”Ross was vital to OSU’s run to the Elite Eight last season, as he averaged 15 points per game during the NCAA Tournament, including scoring 17 against both Iowa State and Arizona.Against Arizona, Ross made an impression, hitting a game winning 3-pointer with two seconds left on the clock.Matta said Ross finished last year well, and that since the season ended, he has grown into a more aware player.“LaQuinton finished the season on a high note, I think that he had hit his stride in terms of having a better understanding of what we need him to do and how we need him to do it,” Matta said during Media Day. “One of the biggest things I’ve noticed thus far is he’s got a much broader vision offensively than what he had in the past.”Consistency should be a big focus for Ross this season, Matta added.“From the standpoint of LaQuinton, his entire playing career a lot has been based on potential and he and I have had that discussion,” Matta said. “It’s time to be productive, but probably more important it’s time to be consistent and that to me would supersede any expectations that anybody outside of the program can possibly put on him.”OSU is scheduled to begin regular season play Saturday at noon against Morgan State at the Schottenstein Center.