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COLUMBUS, Ohio - After picking up a sloppily-played win over Central Florida a week ago, the Ohio State football team was left with more questions than answers heading into its game with California on Saturday. And not only did the Buckeyes provide some of those answers during their battle with the Golden Bears, but they also provided the only insight we'll get into how the team matches up with BCS automatic-qualifying competition until the Big Ten opener in two weeks.
Q: Just how much competition did California provide OSU?
A: More than originally expected, it turns out. The Bears led the Buckeyes with less than nine minutes in the game, and had OSU facing a third down from its own 28-yard line before Braxton Miller found Devin Smith for a game-winning touchdown reception.
It remains to be seen whether the Buckeyes underestimated Cal, whether they played down to their competition, or some combination of the two, but the Bears had multiple opportunities to hand OSU its first loss of the season, yet Urban Meyer's squad rose to the occasion when it needed to the most.
Q: How did Miller fair in his third game under Meyer?
A: Despite the stiffest competition he faced all season, Miller put up his most impressive passive numbers of the year, throwing for season-highs of 249 yards and four touchdowns, despite completing his lowest percentage of passes in three games this season.
Although he looked unsteady at times- especially with a fourth quarter interception- his potential Heisman Trophy competition didn't necessarily take a hit thanks to his stellar stat line and multiple highlight reel plays- including a 55-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter.
Q: How many rushes did Miller attempt?
A: After attempting 44 rushes in the Buckeyes' first two games, Meyer made good on his promise to limit Miller's carries, with the sophomore quarterback only running the ball on 12 occasions, which Meyer said would be ideal earlier in the week. The lack of hits on Miller, however, didn't come without a price as the quarterback looked hesitant at times to take off with the ball, which may have deprived OSU of using its most dangerous weapon.
Q: Who carried the ball for the Buckeyes?
A: Although Bri'onte Dunn, Rod Smith, and Zach Boren were mentioned as the top candidates to replace the injured Carlos Hyde in the Buckeyes' backfield this week, not one of those players attempted a single rushing attempt in Saturday's game.
Instead, senior running back Jordan Hall made his return to the OSU lineup after undergoing offseason foot surgery. Used as the Buckeyes' primary back, Hall turned 17 rushing attempts into 87 yards, which matches his career-high. Miller and Hall seemed to find success in running the option and that play could be something that Meyer unleashes more in the Big Ten season.
Q: How many touches did Corey Brown?
A: After Meyer called Brown the Buckeyes' top playmaker not named Braxton Miller during his weekly press conference, the junior wide receiver had his least productive game of the year on Saturday, hauling in three catches for 31 yards and attempting one rush for five yards.
Fortunately for OSU, Smith picked up where Brown left off, recording five receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears. Who the Buckeyes' true No. 1 receiver is could change from week-to-week, but between Brown and Smith, the OSU wide receiving corps is clearly in much better hands than it was a year ago as Brown's three catches gave him 15 on the year- more than any Buckeye recorded in 2011.
Q: Did any other offensive playmakers emerge?
A: Wide receiver/tight end Jake Stoneburner is emerging as the legitimate red zone weapon that many thought he would be in Meyer's offense, catching three balls for two touchdowns against California. His second touchdown of the game gave the Buckeyes a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter and came off of a Miller jump pass, which was reminiscent of some of the signature passes that Tim Tebow made under Meyer at Florida.
Q: How was the Buckeyes' pass rush?
A: The OSU defense had three sacks in two games heading into Saturday's matchup. It tripled that total with six sacks against the Bears. The pass rush came as a result of some more aggressive blitzing packages from OSU co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, that saw players from cornerback Bradley Roby to defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins get to quarterback Zach Maynard on Saturday.
Q: Did the OSU secondary shore up its problems?
A: Not exactly. In fact, the Buckeyes' defense as a whole showed more problems than it has all year, surrendering a season-high 512 yards. Roby played well, as did safety Christian Bryant, but both C.J. Barnett and Travis Howard showed some of the inconsistencies that plagued OSU during its 6-7 season a year ago.
Q: What will Storm Klein's role be?
A: Apparently more significant than many thought. With the Buckeyes playing base defense for extended minutes for the first time all season, Klein got the majority of OSU's reps at middle linebacker after sophomore Curtis Grant struggled on the Buckeyes' first defensive series.
Klein's debut, which comes after he was temporarily removed from the team following charges of domestic abuse that were later reduced, resulted in two total tackles and is something to keep an eye on as the Buckeyes face more pro-style offenses throughout the season.
Q: Who's next?
A: UAB comes to town next weekend for the Buckeyes' final tune-up before their Big Ten opener in East Lansing, Mich. the following week. The Blazers are 0-2 on the season, coming off of losses to Troy and South Carolina. UAB shouldn't present too much of a true test for OSU next weekend, but as has been the case with the Buckeyes throughout this season, you just never know.
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