John Isner became the top-ranked American male tennis player by playing his best tennis at home. He wins more than two-thirds of his matches in the U.S., but just half elsewhere. Tennis writers have portrayed Isner’s strength at home as a weakness abroad. But in his sport, where players set large parts of their own schedules, displaying a repeatable competitive advantage is an opportunity, not a liability.1Unlike, say, in the NBA, where an Eastern Conference team that struggles out west can’t replace trips to California with more home dates.Even as he’s pledged to solve his road woes, Isner has filled his calendar with U.S. events. His home-court advantage has helped him rise this month from the world’s No. 13 to No. 10. A couple of weeks ago at a tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., Isner reached the semifinals, where he took a set off No. 2 Novak Djokovic. This week in Miami, he reached the round of 16 but lost on Tuesday to No. 7 Tomas Berdych. In two weeks, Isner will seek to defend his title in Houston.These wouldn’t have passed for spectacular American results when Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras ruled the sport in the 1990s, or even when Andy Roddick and James Blake took up residence in the top 10 during the last decade. These days, though, pretty good is as good as it gets for American men in tennis. None of Isner’s peers got past the round of 64 at either tournament this month; he was the last American man at each by at least two rounds. And no other American man is ranked in the top 60 in the world. (There’s little reason to hope for better things from the next generation: No American ranks in the top 20 in either the under-20 or under-21 world rankings.)Isner is famous among casual fans for his role in the longest match ever played, which he won over Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010, with the basketball-like 70-68 score in the fifth set. But he’s done his best work at home. Fourteen of his 17 career finals and six of his eight career titles have come in the United States. He’s been an entirely average player at the tour level2This means matches that count towards a player’s official match record: matches at Grand Slam tournaments, in Davis Cup matches and at ATP World Tour events. away from the U.S., winning 51 percent of his matches. At American events, he’s won 69 percent.“I always play my best in the United States,” Isner said at a press conference in Indian Wells. “A lot of times, especially in Europe, I have ‑‑ you know, I haven’t had great results at all.” He was at a loss to explain why, offering perhaps a lack of toughness at overseas tournaments. “There is no reason I can’t have a result like this outside of the U.S.,” he said.The reasons for Isner’s home advantage are varied. The obvious suspects, like the surface he’s playing on and the strength of his opponents, don’t fully explain it. A lot of it comes down to Isner himself.It’s true that much of Isner’s home success has come against weak competition. He has thrived at smaller U.S. tournaments that are optional for top players, who mostly live in Europe and don’t bother to make the trip. These events account for all of his U.S. titles and all but two of his U.S. finals. Just 6 percent of his matches at those events have come against top 10 players, none ranked in the top four. The relative weakness of his competition thanks to these events can be seen in the median ranking of his opponents over the last year: just 64, making his the softest schedule of any player in the top 35 in the world rankings.Isner also gets to play on hard courts, his favorite surface, at most of the U.S. events where he chooses to play. Just two are played on other surfaces: Houston, on clay; and Newport, R.I., on grass.These factors alone don’t explain Isner’s U.S. success, though. I pulled his career match record and ran a logistic regression, controlling for surface,3Isner has played 32 matches on grass, 66 matches on clay and 256 matches on hard courts. I separately ran the regression with each surface and also combining hard and grass, since so few matches are played on grass. The results were essentially the same. the ranking of his opponent4Technically I used the logarithm of his opponent’s ranking, since there is a much wider gap between the No. 1 and No. 10 players in the world — and therefore the probability of beating each one — than there is between the No. 10 and No. 100 players. and the value of each match, in ranking points.5The goal was to check whether Isner plays better in higher-leverage matches, those that count for more — i.e. matches in big tournaments, or later rounds of smaller ones. If he does, this effect could be confused with a preference for home courts. That’s because many of his U.S. events have weak fields, pitting Isner against early-round opponents whom he’d likely beat anywhere. That gives him more high-stakes home matches, so if he thrives in high-stakes matches, it might help explain his home advantage.To calculate the leverage of each match, I took the number of ranking points Isner would receive if he lost the match and subtracted it from the number he would get if he won, then lost the subsequent match. The result is roughly the value of the match, as prize money rises with ranking points and the points also determine a player’s subsequent seedings and affect his earning potential. The calculation is complicated by the ATP’s change in ranking points in 2009, so it isn’t exact, but since most of Isner’s tour-level matches came after 2008, the effect is small. Even after controlling for these factors, Isner remains a homecoming king. Surface, it turns out, isn’t a statistically significant driver of his success. Nor is the value of winning the match. His opponent’s ranking is highly significant. But independent of these factors, a 50-50 match for Isner away from home becomes a match he’ll win two out of three times in the U.S.Tennis isn’t usually associated with strong home-court effects, because of its individual and international nature. Many events draw fans from across the globe, who cheer for players from countries other than their own. And most players get few chances to play at home outside of the Davis Cup, the partisan international team competition that provides a rare home-court advantage in tennis. A popular explanation for home advantage in many other sports — that officials are influenced by partisan crowds — doesn’t translate to tennis because electronic line-call review at the sport’s top levels has greatly reduced the potential influence of subjective calls on match outcomes.Perhaps Isner thrives so much at home because of his background in college tennis, a level of competition where the team is primary. Isner starred at the University of Georgia and loves college team sports, spending much of a press conference last Saturday in Miami breaking down his NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket. Isner counts on support from American crowds, and was taken aback by U.S. Open fans’ cheers for his opponent, Frenchman Gael Monfils, last summer.Isner lamented his inconsistency away from home in that Indian Wells press conference, and he’d naturally rather do as well outside the U.S. as he does in it. But if he had to choose between his unbalanced current record and, say, maintaining the same win probability everywhere, he should opt for the status quo. Ranking points and prize money nearly double at each stage of a tournament, rewarding players who alternate finals with first-round exits over players who consistently lose in the second round.6We can illustrate this by imagining a simplified five-tournament sequence in which each tournament has 32 players and five rounds. Points and prize money double each round, from one point and $1 for a first-round exit up to 32 points and $32 for a title.Player A, with one title and four first-round losses, would pick up 32 points and $32 for the title, and an additional four points and $4 for the other four tournaments, for a total haul of 36 points and $36. His record would be 5-4.Player B, with five quarterfinal exits, would get four points and $4 in each tournament, for a total of 20 points and $20 — barely half the yield of Player A, despite a superior win-loss record of 10-5.So inconsistency in tennis is good. Even better is predictable inconsistency. A player who doesn’t know when he’ll thrive can’t plan around it. Someone who does best at clay-court events can schedule as many as he can fit in. A player who plays best at home ought to schedule as many home tournaments as possible. Isner has learned that lesson. He has reaped the benefits of a tournament calendar that still features a significant number of U.S. events, even as players from other countries have ascended in the rankings.In addition to the U.S. Open and the mandatory events in Indian Wells, Miami and Cincinnati, Isner had 10 ATP events in the U.S. to choose from in 2007 and 2008, his first two years on tour. That number declined to nine, then eight and then, this year, seven. But the decline in American men’s talent has been even steeper during that time, making ranking points at those events low-hanging fruit for Isner. Combine the easy fields with his home-court preference, and Isner finds lots of success in places such as Atlanta, Winston Salem, N.C., and Houston — even as events he played earlier in his career in Indianapolis, Las Vegas, San Jose, Calif., and New Haven, Conn., have vanished.Early in his career, Isner didn’t choose so well for himself. In his first two years on tour, he opted to play just three of his 10 non-mandatory events in the U.S. But from 2009 to 2013, he managed to play 29 of his 53 optional events in the U.S., even though only one-fifth of such events took place there. Last year, the U.S. hosted eight of these events, and Isner played in seven. He reached the semifinals of six and the finals of three, winning twice.Isner has taken advantage of his home-court preference more wisely than his peer and frequent doubles partner, Sam Querrey. I ran the same analysis on Querrey, the second-ranked American man today. For Querrey, too, surface and leverage weren’t significant. He also showed a significant home-court advantage, though the effect was smaller and less significant than for Isner.7A 50-50 match away from the U.S. for Querrey would turn into a match he’d win 62 percent of the time at home. Yet after playing almost exclusively at home in his rookie year on tour, Querrey has opted to play events away from the U.S. almost as often as home tournaments, averaging one more optional road trip per year than Isner.Perhaps many players would show a strong, significant home advantage if they had the chance. None of the world’s top five players gets more than two or three home events each year. Players from the other Grand Slam-hosting countries — the U.K., France and Australia — have a few more opportunities. But those countries combined have about the same number of tournaments as the U.S.Tennis’s general move away from the U.S., and Isner’s impending 29th birthday, might keep him from entering as many home events in the future. He’s compensating by making more of his opportunities and stepping up at the bigger U.S. events, such as this month’s strong runs and his finals in Cincinnati last year and in Indian Wells the year before that. If Isner can keep improving at the big U.S. events, he won’t have to worry about getting better away from home.
Last Saturday, the Mississippi State Bulldogs — ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, the Coaches Poll and the College Football Playoff committee’s rankings — lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide 25-20. The loss ruined the Bulldogs’ quest for their first undefeated season since 1940, when they went 10-0-1.But under college football’s new playoff system, which will select four teams to contend for the national championship, a late-season loss by a No. 1 team isn’t as devastating as in years past. Mississippi State, for instance, fell only to No. 4 in the committee’s rankings after it lost to Alabama.It’s less clear whether the Bulldogs control their own destiny. They’ll have another chance to impress the committee when they travel to Oxford, Miss., on Nov. 29 to play No. 8 ranked Mississippi. But they probably won’t play in the SEC Championship and could be leapfrogged by a team (such as Baylor or TCU from the Big 12) that runs the table.The permutations can get intense. To forecast a team’s likelihood of making the playoff, you not only have to account for all plausible outcomes of upcoming football games but also how the set of humans who make up the selection committee might react to those different outcomes. We’re in the midst of investigating these questions and will have some results for you soon.But we’ll start, in this article, with a simple cut of the data: What’s happened, historically, to the ranking of No. 1 teams like Mississippi State when they lose? Could Alabama, the new No. 1, remain in the top four if it loses one of its remaining games?Because the playoff committee is new, we’ll be looking at the historical results from the Coaches Poll for guidance. (We figure the Coaches Poll might be a better proxy for the playoff committee than the AP poll since the committee leans heavily on athletic directors and former coaches.) Here are all the teams since 2002 to have lost a game while ranked No. 1 in the Coaches Poll:No. 1s that lost a regular-season game wound up anywhere from No. 4 to No. 10 after their defeats. That shouldn’t give much comfort to Alabama. Mississippi State’s case was unusual; most regular-season losses knock a No. 1 team out of the top four.What accounts for the different outcomes? Well, it’s complicated. The humans voting in the polls are a little forgiving if the loss comes against another ranked opponent. (No. 1s that lost to a ranked opponent fell to No. 6 on average, versus No. 8 for those that lost to unranked teams.) The margin of defeat may matter some as well. The No. 1s that lost regular-season games by the largest margin — Alabama and Ohio State on consecutive weekends in 2010 — fell to No. 8 and No. 10, respectively.Another factor is whether the year features a deep field of contenders. Part of Ohio State’s steep drop in 2010 may have been because there were an unusually high number of undefeated teams ranked just behind them at the time.Human voters have historically been more forgiving of losses in the conference championship: No. 1s to lose there have fallen to only No. 4 on average. That could be good news for Alabama. Still, this is a small sample with just three examples. Furthermore, the playoff committee claims it will put a particular emphasis on conference championship results.As I said, we’ll be making an effort to sort all this out. It will necessarily come with a lot of probabilities and approximations — this is the first year of the new system and we’re not expecting to identify hard-and-fast rules.There is one rule, however, that has almost always been true. It’s a simple one: A team can’t gain ground by losing.The chart, below, shows what happened to teams ranked throughout the top 25 in the Coaches Poll after they lost a game. (In the chart, read the vertical axis to find a team’s original ranking, then scan across to find the red line, which shows the team’s expected ranking after a loss. The dashed line represents what would happen if a team held its previous position.) Of the 1,133 ranked teams to lose since 2002, only 22 retained their original spot in the rankings. And even fewer — just five teams — improved their position in the poll.This may not be a surprising result, but it tells us something about how human voters react to college football outcomes. As I mentioned, the evidence suggests that voters pay some attention to margin of victory. A definitive win might get a little more credit than a narrow one.But what voters almost never do is reward a team because it loses by less than expected. Say, hypothetically, that No. 24 Gotham Tech travels to No. 3 Gotham State’s home stadium and loses on a last-minute field goal despite having been a 17-point underdog. Your esteem for Gotham Tech should probably improve: That’s a much better showing than you really had the right to expect. But a team’s standing in the polls has almost never improved after an outcome like this; the team has just been punished less. (In this respect, human voters seem to behave a lot like our version of NFL Elo ratings, which account for margin of victory but always prioritize a win over a loss by any margin.)Nor do teams seem to be demoted after narrower-than-expected wins. Take the non-hypothetical case of the 1995 Texas A&M Aggies. On Oct. 14 of that year, they won by just 3 points at home against the SMU Mustangs, an awful team that would go 1-10 that year. If there were ever a time to punish a team for a bad win, this was it. But the Aggies held their position at No. 22 in the polls.The next chart shows the data for ranked teams after wins since 2002. There are a few cases where a team lost ground in the Coaches Poll despite winning — but from what we can tell these were mostly cases where a team was leapfrogged by another that won in more impressive fashion. (That happened to Florida State earlier this year, for example.)There are some other interesting characteristics in these charts. After a loss, teams fall more positions in the poll if they are ranked lower to begin with. While No. 1-ranked teams fall five spots, on average, after a loss, teams ranked No. 15 fall eight positions. This may reflect the fact that teams are more closely bunched together toward the bottom of the Top 25 than toward the top, which is what you’d expect if team skill levels abided by a normal distribution.And a ranked team’s position falls more after a loss than it improves after a win. For example, when the No. 10 team wins a game, it improves only to No. 9, on average. But the same team falls to No. 17 after it loses.This is mainly a reflection of the fact that ranked teams are expected to win. A successful college football season is mostly a matter of running the gauntlet and avoiding upsets. The playoff system gives teams more slack, but not much.
New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has re-injured his left ankle and the team isn’t sure when he will return.In Saturday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, the team captain was pulled for a pinch-runner after hitting an RBI single in the sixth inning.The 39-year-old later went to a hospital for a precautionary CT scan. The Yankees office said the initial results were negative.Jeter has been out most of the season recovering from the broken left ankle he suffered in last year’s playoffs. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman says that if the team wasn’t playing to make the playoffs, he could simply take a few days off to rest.Since being back, Jeter has hit .190 in 17 games.
It’s getting to the point where the NFL appears to be singling out Detroit Lions’ player Ndamukong Suh for scrutiny, as the defensive tackle is facing yet another potential fine.The NFL is currently reviewing Suh’s play against the Cleveland Browns in Sunday’s game. Suh appeared to lead with his helmet when he hit Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden.The hit happened after the QB let go the ball but it wasn’t penalized. After the play was shown on video posted on nfl.com Tuesday, the vice president of officiating, Dean Blandino said, “Why don’t we look at it some more?” indicating that they may change the call.Suh, who has a heap of fines on his resume, was fined $100,000 earlier in the year for an illegal block on Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan in Week 1. He appealed the penalty, but lost last week. That payment was the largest fine in NFL history for an on-field conduct issue.
Serena Williams talks with referee Brian Earley during the women’s final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament against Naomi Osaka, of Japan, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)NEW YORK (AP) — Serena Williams thought she was treated more harshly by the chair umpire in the U.S. Open final than a man would have been.Williams was cited by official Carlos Ramos for three code violations during her 6-2, 6-4 loss to Naomi Osaka on Saturday: for getting coaching signals; for breaking her racket, which cost her a point; and for calling the chair umpire a thief, which cost her a game.“I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things. I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. For me to say ‘thief,’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief,’” Williams said at her news conference.“For me, it blows my mind,” Williams said. “But I’m going to continue to fight for women.”Earlier, as Williams pleaded her case on court with tournament referee Brian Earley, calling the penalties unfair, she said: “Because you’re a woman, you’re going to take this away from me?”“There’s a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things,” Williams said, “and because they are men , that doesn’t happen.”Two-time Australian Open champion and two-time U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka backed up Williams’ stance, writing on Twitter : “If it was men’s match, this wouldn’t happen like this. It just wouldn’t”Billie Jean King, who won 12 Grand Slam singles titles and helped found the women’s tennis tour and pave the way for equal prize money in the sport, also commented via Twitter on what happened Saturday.“Several things went very wrong during” the match, King wrote. “Coaching on every point should be allowed in tennis. It isn’t, and as a result, a player was penalized for the actions of her coach. This should not happen.”In a second tweet, King said: “When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ & and there are no repercussions. Thank you (Serena Williams) for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”There have been a series of recent happenings that illustrate the ways in which tennis does do things differently for men and women.Just before the U.S. Open, the French tennis federation president said that the black catsuit worn this year by Williams at the French Open would not be allowed at that tournament in the future. During the U.S. Open, a female player, Alize Cornet, was incorrectly admonished by a chair umpire for changing her shirt during a match, which is allowed — and which men do all the time. And the U.S. Tennis Association created a new rule last week that allows for a 10-minute break in men’s matches when the heat and humidity are too harsh; previously, only women were given that chance for a delay.“I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions, and that want to express themselves, and want to be a strong woman. They’re going to be allowed to do that because of today,” Williams said. “Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”
Julio Jones is unlike most other star receivers. He doesn’t scream at his quarterback or sulk or throw a tantrum when passes don’t come his way. He’s happy to share the wealth with his teammates. In short, he’s no diva.But if any NFL wide receiver has earned the right to complain on the sidelines, it’s Jones. The Falcons star hasn’t scored a touchdown this season — and in fact has underperformed his whole career when it comes to scoring. His touchdown rate has never come close to matching his outsized production everywhere else on the field. So maybe the Falcons — who have scored just 17 points in each of their past two games (both losses) heading into their Super Bowl rematch with the Patriots on Sunday — would actually benefit from Jones flipping a Gatorade cooler or two.Since 2014, Jones has been nothing short of unstoppable. He’s been the NFL’s most productive receiver when measured by yards per game, the second best in terms of receptions per game and the third best in yards per target.1Among all wide receivers and tight ends who have averaged at least 50 yards in at least 25 games since 2014. In those three-plus seasons, he’s averaging 104.8 yards but a ho-hum 0.4 touchdowns per game, which is roughly the same as less-heralded wideouts such as Allen Hurns, Emmanuel Sanders and Jordan Matthews. For an elite receiver, Jones is solidly middle-of-the-pack in touchdown production: Last Sunday, Atlanta lost to the Dolphins in the final minute when Ryan forced a pass in double coverage to second-year tight end Austin Hooper (36 career catches) instead of giving Jones a chance to make a play. The result was a game-ending interception at the Miami 6-yard line. While Jones said nothing, head coach Dan Quinn made it clear that he wasn’t pleased with bypassing his team’s best weapon.Atlanta’s strange unwillingness to use its best receiver has now spanned three offensive coordinators. When the current one, Steve Sarkisian, was handed the keys to the offense that in 2016 led the NFL in scoring, he saw one major area where the unit could improve.“Is there a way to get Julio more touches in the red zone and finding those matchups?” Sarkisian said at the time.The answer, apparently, is “no.”Check out our latest NFL predictions. The 51 receivers on the chart above average a scoring strike every 157.1 yards. Jones averages a TD for every 262 yards he accumulates, which is the third most extreme discrepancy in the sample.2Only Vincent Jackson and Willie Snead have Jones beat here, with 343.6 and 270 yards per touchdown respectively. The Dallas Cowboys’ Dez Bryant, meanwhile, leads all receivers in fewest yards per touchdown, 92.7, but that’s probably no accident: Bryant has long made it clear that he expects a big portion of the touchdown glory — or someone, possibly everyone, is going to hear about it.Jones’s scoring woes almost defy explanation. Receivers who thirst for touchdowns are generally undersized players who do their damage between the 20s. But Jones is one of the game’s largest targets at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. He’s also one of the position’s best athletes, crushing his scouting combine in speed, jumping ability and agility. It’s tough to imagine a better receiver his size on the NFL boundaries when it comes to getting both feet down inbounds and defying gravity in the process. If an NFL quarterback were to design a perfect red-zone weapon in a lab, he would look a lot like Jones.Incredibly, Jones’s lack of scoring seems to be by design. His percentage of QB Matt Ryan’s targets drops steadily the closer Atlanta gets to the goal line: from 32.8 percent of passes when the Falcons are at least 80 yards from the end zone to just a little more than half that — 16.7 percent — when they’re in the red zone.
OSU sophomore forward Maddy Humphrey (23) during a game against California on Oct. 25 at Buckeye Varsity Field. OSU won 6-3. Credit: Robert Scarpinito | Copy ChiefOhio State field hockey is set to face fourth-seeded and No. 17 Northwestern in the opening game of the Big Ten Tournament, where the winner will move on to compete against top-seeded Maryland or eighth-seeded Michigan State.Northwestern (12-7, 4-4) and OSU last met less than a month ago when they squared off at Buckeye Varsity Field in a game in which the Wildcats scored once in each half. Those two goals were enough to defeat OSU in shutout fashion, 2-0. OSU hopes to increase offensive pressure this time around, coach Anne Wilkinson said.“We can’t give up the amount of shots we’ve given up in the past,” Wilkinson said. “We haven’t generated enough attacks and been able to sustain them so we need to take more shots and challenge more of these goalkeepers.”Sophomore forward Morgan Kile said one of the main components going into the tournament is putting all of the pieces together one last time. “I think the key thing for our team going into the tournament is to put all the skills and things we’ve worked on throughout the season together,” Kile said. “We need to really show Northwestern what we can do out there.”The Buckeyes will enter the tournament with three players being awarded All-Big Ten honors. Senior co-captains Peanut Johnson and Emma Royce, along with sophomore forward/midfielder Maddy Humphrey, were bestowed the awards after their efforts this season. Johnson, Humphrey, Royce and Kile have all registered double-digit points, with Johnson and Humphrey being the fourth-highest scoring duo in the Big Ten this year with 53 total points. This year will be the Buckeyes’ 20th all-time appearance in the Big Ten tournament. Thrice they have taken home the Big Ten title. In 2001 and 2010, OSU was a co-champion, while it captured the outright crown in 2006. The last time OSU and Northwestern squared off against each other in the tournament was in 2013. In that game, Johnson registered a goal and an assist, pushing the Buckeyes to a 3-2 victory against the then-No. 13 Wildcats.In order to post another win this time around, Wilkinson said teamwork will be critical.“The most important thing is we have to play together,” Wilkinson said. “Sometimes they take too much on themselves and put too much weight on their individual ability. We just need to rely on each other and play as a team, and the results will take care of themselves. We have to work hard, which they have.”OSU and Northwestern are set face off at 10 a.m. on Thursday in Bloomington, Indiana. Defensive gainsOSU has given up 18 fewer goals this year — 56 last season compared to 38 in 2015 — as well as allowing 21 fewer shots (280 in 2014, 259 in 2015) and 10 fewer penalty corners (124 in 2014, 114 in 2015). Sophomore goalie Liz Tamburro finished the season with 124 total saves. She ranks second in the conference with 6.88 saves per game.Game results when OSU…Scores first: 7-0Leads at the half: 5-0Trails at the half: 2-9Is tied at the half: 2-0Outshoots its opponent: 4-3Is outshot: 5-6Is in a one-goal game: 4-2Is in a two-goal game: 5-7Heads to overtime: 1-1
The Ohio State football team prepares to run onto the field prior to the first game of the 2016 season against Bowling Green on Sept. 3 at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes won 77-10. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorAfter a 77-10 rout of the Bowling Green Falcons on Saturday, the Ohio State football team appears to be ready for the challenges ahead in 2016. Here are five takeaways from the game.Samuel the workhorse for OSUEarlier in the spring, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer named junior H-back Curtis Samuel as his No. 1 playmaker. Known for his speed and agility, Buckeye fans got a glimpse Saturday as to why Meyer had faith in Samuel. Touching the ball 22 times, the junior picked up 261 all-purpose yards and three total touchdowns. Although the day was a chance to see how redshirt sophomore Noah Brown and redshirt senior Corey Smith would perform at wide receiver after season-ending injuries last season, Samuel was the leading pass catcher on Saturday.Redshirt freshman Mike Weber was the leading rusher on the day, receiving 19 carries. Samuel was the second leading rusher on the day, handling the ball on the ground 13 times. Weber will be facing stiff competition with Samuel playing at such a high level.“It’s a great feeling to be one of the first people out there to touch the ball. I have to keep my mind right,” Samuel said. “I just want to ball out and make opportunities for my team.”One thing is certain after OSU faced Bowling Green; Samuel really is a playmaker. The Silver Bullets are fast and have depthRedshirt junior defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle sustained what appeared to be a serious right knee injury in the first quarter. OSU fans’ worst fears were confirmed by Meyer at the press conference following the game, as it was announced that the early indication is a patellar tendon injury, most likely requiring surgery. “Tracy’s been my roommate since we first got here. Me and Tracy, we were real close during recruiting,” junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis said. “I love Tracy to death. That’s my brother. When he went down, it was the worst thing. He’s family to me.”Although the loss of Sprinkle might hurt in the long run, the Buckeyes regrouped quickly and had little drop off without their primary defensive tackle on the field. Much of the reason for the success can be credited to the depth Meyer and the rest of the OSU coaching staff has talked about all spring.As for the speed of the defense, the ability of Buckeye defenders to chase down ball carriers and undercut routes to prevent receptions was showcased throughout all four characters. On two occasions, redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker used his speed to track down the ball and come up with an interception.“Greg Schiano, who has coached at the highest level in football in the pros, and his comments to me about the things Malik can do,” Meyer said. “He can do whatever he trains to do.”Holes filled up quickly by linebackers and secondary defenders, preventing long carries by Bowling Green. Although a few players showcased potential weakness in coverage and pass rushing, the speed of OSU’s defense quickly made up for the miscues. The Buckeyes’ coaching staff definitely were right in saying this team is faster than last year’s. The secondary can depend on more than Gareon ConleyAlthough the only returning starter for the OSU secondary was redshirt junior Gareon Conley, the Buckeyes looked sharp throughout the afternoon. Bowling Green struggled to create any offense through the air, and Hooker came up with two big interceptions. True freshman cornerback Rodjay Burns took full advantage of his time on the field, picking off Bowling Green backup quarterback James Morgan and returning the ball 75 yards for a touchdown. The Buckeyes surrendered just 175 yards through the air.“We have a lot of talent,” junior cornerback Damon Webb said. “We’re just trying to get guys as much experience as we can and get guys on the field because we have a lot of talent, and we want to show it.”The longest pass the Falcons could muster all day was 17 yards, a testament to the swarming secondary play OSU enjoyed. They may not have the likes of Eli Apple, Tyvis Powell or Vonn Bell. But the Scarlet and Gray may just have a dominant group of cornerbacks and safeties for 2016. J.T. Barrett has maturedWhen redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett first appeared for the Buckeyes in 2014 to replace the injured Braxton Miller, Barrett helped lead the team to the College Football Playoff. Although the offense succeeded under the then-freshman, the workload of former running back Ezekiel Elliott was thought to have carried the team through most of the season. Barrett was considered immature as a player and needed time to develop. The game against Bowling Green Saturday is a testament to just how far he has come as a player. Misreading a route early in the first quarter, Barrett gave up a pick-six to Falcons linebacker Brandon Harris.“Throwing an interception for a touchdown we don’t like that,” Meyer said. “But rebound, let’s go, and he went right back and said that’s on me.”Barrett went on to complete 21 passes on 31 attempts and toss six touchdowns on 349 yards, adding another score on the ground. The seven touchdowns he was responsible for set a new record for OSU. All of this was accomplished with more than six minutes left in the third quarter.After finishing fifth in Heisman voting in 2014, Barrett makes for a compelling player who just may find himself on voters ballots this year if he can continue with this kind of production. Mike Weber has the potential to succeed at OSUAfter the recruiting saga that went with Weber, the debut of the Detroit native was delayed after a meniscus tear in his knee resulted in a redshirt season in his freshman campaign. In the spring of 2016, Weber had many expectations to meet from his coaches, and that’s exactly what he did.OSU running backs coach Tony Alford called Weber’s parents on Wednesday to share the news that their son was going to be the starting running back for the Scarlet and Gray.In his first game as a Buckeye, Weber rushed for 136 yards on 19 carries. Although he failed to score, Weber showcased a punishing running style, especially on his first carry. After being tripped a few yards from the line of scrimmage, Weber barreled into the defender in front of him, flattening the would-be tackler. The crowd erupted in cheers.Meyer spoke highly of his tailback, but extended the challenge to Weber of running a bit more like departed Ezekiel Elliott. Lofty standards for a guy appearing in his first game, but a good showing for the redshirt freshman nonetheless.
Sophomore forward Brooke Hiltz (6) marks an opposing player during a game against Penn State on Sept. 28 at Buckeye Varsity Field. OSU lost, 4-3.Credit: Grant Miller / Copy chiefBehind two goals from senior forward Jenna Chrismer, Penn State field hockey outlasted Ohio State, 4-3, Sunday afternoon at Buckeye Varsity Field.OSU senior co-captain and midfielder Kaitlyn Wagner made the game interesting late when she converted on a penalty stroke with 7:50 left to play in regulation to cut Penn State’s lead to one.The Buckeyes (3-6, 0-2) couldn’t climb the ladder, however, and were unable to break through in the game’s final minutes.Freshman midfielder Maddy Humphrey created the penalty stroke after she dribbled down the field and was tackled inside the scoring circle. She subsequently had to leave the game due to a right leg injury, but returned with less than four minutes to play.OSU had one final gasp when junior back and co-captain Emma Royce fired on goal off a penalty corner with a little more than five minutes left, but redshirt-senior goalie Kylie Licata made a diving stop to preserve the game for Penn State (8-2, 2-1).Despite the valiant effort toward the finish, OSU coach Anne Wilkinson said Sunday the game was lost in the opening minutes against the two-time defending Big Ten champions.“We could have (done) a lot better job in the first 15-20 minutes of setting the tone and playing strong defense,” Wilkinson said. “We need to be able to take charge in the (defending) circle.”Royce said the team’s mindset must change in order to dictate the pace from the start of each game.“I think the best way we can stay focused for the first 15 (minutes) is instead of ball watching, focusing on our tempo and keeping possession of the ball,” she said. “The reason why we get turned over in our back third in the early 15 is because we give away the ball too easily. So it’s more attention to detail, which I think is the key.”It took Penn State just 2:41 to get on the board when Chrismer scored off an assist from senior forward Taylor Herold from three yards out.Less than eight minutes later, with the score 2-1, Chrismer connected again off a pass from sophomore midfielder Carly Celkos.“I think we need to mentally prepare beforehand, have good warm-ups,” OSU junior forward Peanut Johnson said. “It starts there because I think it’s taking us a little bit of time to be on our game, which can’t happen.”In the second half, OSU struggled with Penn State’s size and the pressure they put on the ball. The Buckeyes found it hard to get into scoring position, recording five shots in the second period.Penn State had a 4-2 advantage in penalty corners in the second half. Penn State sophomore back Emilee Ehret converted off one a little more than 10 minutes into the frame with assists from Herold and senior forward Laura Gebhart. And Ehret’s goal proved to be the difference maker in the end.Herold’s three assists Sunday put her one point away from 100 in her Penn State career.The Buckeyes are set to go on the road for three consecutive games to start October against Maryland, Virginia and Rutgers. OSU is set to face Maryland on Friday in College Park, Md., at 3:30 p.m.