Ohio State facing new opponent with some familiar faces

Buckeyes host Arkansas State on Saturday at Ohio Stadium

COLUMBUS -- Ohio State has not played Arkansas State before, but the Red Wolves will bring with them to Ohio Stadium some names and faces that are familiar to fans of the Buckeyes and college football in general.

“When you look at some of the guys who have joined their team, they come from very good programs so they have talent,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said.

Here are five things to know about the matchup:

1. Arkansas State has fallen on tough times after a strong run.

The Red Wolves had nine consecutive winning seasons with five conference titles from 2011-19 but they went 4-7 in 2020 and 2-10 last season.

ASU still has the third-most wins among Sunbelt Conference members in the last 10 seasons, but they are in rebuilding mode under Butch Jones.

SP+, a ranking that measures team efficiency and explosiveness on each side of the ball and special teams, has Arkansas State ranked No. 118 this week while Phil Steele projected the Red Wolves to finish sixth in the SBC West.

They opened the season with a 58-3 win over Grambling last week.

2. ASU’s head coach knows the Buckeye State.

Jones took over at ASU last year after three years on the staff of Nick Saban at Alabama, where he was an offensive analyst for two seasons then special assistant to the head coach for one.

That followed a five-year stint as head coach at Tennessee, where he led the Volunteers to a 34-27 record and finished second in the SEC East twice before being fired.

He got that job by putting together a 23-14 record in three seasons at Cincinnati, where he replaced Brian Kelly and won a pair of conference championships.

“One thing is when you play a high-level opponent, your mistakes that you make are magnified,” Jones told reporters this week about facing Ohio State. “So your margin of error is a lot slimmer and a lot of the mistakes that we made Saturday night, if we make those same mistakes against Ohio State, they’re gonna turn into explosive plays and negative yardage football plays and possibly turnovers generated.”

Many fans will also have heard of his quarterbacks: Starter James Blackman began his career at Florida State while his back up is AJ Mayer, a former Miami University recruit and the older brother of Notre Dame star tight end Michael Mayer.

3. The defensive coordinator is a former Buckeye.

Rob Harley is in his second season at ASU and 14 years into a coaching career that followed five years as a walk-on defensive back at Ohio State.

The Chicago native was part of Ohio State’s 2002 national championship team and after a stint in local media broke into coaching at Ohio Dominican, a Division II school in Columbus then coached by former Ohio State assistant and Middletown native Bill Conley.

He then worked at Michigan State under Mark Dantonio, another former Ohio State assistant, then spent a season at Florida International before six at Pittsburgh.

Most notable about Harley, though, is his family lineage. He is the great nephew of Chic Harley, a halfback from Columbus who was Ohio State’s first national star player from 1916-19. He was a three-time All-American who led Ohio State to its first Big Ten championship and first win over Michigan.

Harley joined Red Grange as the two halfbacks on the AP’s All-America team for the first half of the 20th Century and was a charter member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

His exploits built momentum for the construction of Ohio Stadium, which opened in 1922 and is sometimes known as “The House that Harley Built.”

4. The Red Wolves also have a former Buckeye on the active roster.

Junior running back Brian Snead was a four-star member of Ohio State’s 2018 recruiting class who ran for 37 yards on 11 carries in his first two games as a Buckeye before not playing again his freshman season.

He announced the following January he was transferring without much explanation other than to indicate it was not his choice.

“I would like to express my gratitude to those who supported me during this past season, but it is in my best interest to pursue other options,” he wrote in a Tweet that no longer exists.

The Ohio State student newspaper, The Lantern, later unearthed a police report indicating Snead had been accused of sexually assaulting another OSU student. Though no criminal charges were filed, he was dismissed from the university for violating the student code of conduct.

The Florida native spent the 2019 season at Western Carolina then transferred to Austin Peay, where he ran for over 1,000 yards in 17 games over two seasons.

He is listed as ASU’s No. 2 running back behind senior Johnnie Lang Jr. and picked up 59 yards on the ground last week.

5. Lots of new faces could see time for Ohio State.

Only one true freshman saw action for the Buckeyes last week — defensive end Caden Curry on special teams — as they rallied to beat Notre Dame 21-10.

That does not figure to the be the case this week as Day indicated this game will be more like a usual season-opening contest than the top-five clash against the Fighting Irish.

“I think in this first game, just the way it played out with the number of plays, number of possessions, there really wasn’t much of an opportunity to get guys in the game,” Day said. “I think that as the season goes on there’ll be more of an opportunity to do that. Certainly on special teams, but on offense and defense as well.

“We have some talented guys out there, but we’ll see. Whatever it takes to win the game first, and then we’ll go from there.”


Arkansas State at Ohio State, Noon, BTN, 1410

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