September 2, 2012

Buckeyes' opener provides long awaited answers

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Although Urban Meyer has been blunt in assessing his first roster at Ohio State, there's always going to be a bit of "coach speak" any time the head coach of a major college program takes a podium. As the old saying goes: actions speak louder than words, and for Buckeye fans with questions about their football team, nothing to date could tell you more about it than its season-opening 56-10 win over Miami (OH) on Saturday.



Q: How is quarterback Braxton Miller progressing?


A: As a runner, Miller looked every bit like the star you'd expect him to be in Meyer's spread offense, rushing for 161 yards- a school record for a quarterback. There's a good chance that Saturday won't be Miller's last time breaking that record, and his 65-yard touchdown run in the third quarter appeared to be the perfect combination of his skill set and Meyer's offense.



As a passer, however, Miller left something to be desired. He completed 14-of-24 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns- one of which came when wide receiver Devin Smith bailed out Miller with a spectacular leaping one-handed catch on what appeared to be an overthrown ball. The sophomore quarterback showed improved mechanics from a year ago, but with tougher opponents on the schedule, he'll have to complete more than just 58 percent of his passes moving forward, and Meyer admitted as much on Saturday.




Q: How did the Buckeyes' defense look?


A: In the first quarter, not very good, giving up passing plays of 42 and 58 yards in consecutive series'. However, thanks to some adjustments- and frankly some luck, the OSU defense managed to not give up a touchdown until the third quarter with the game out of hand.



A lot of promise was shown, and the RedHawks finished the game with only -1 rushing yards against the Buckeyes, but if they don't clean up some of the deficiencies they had in the secondary early on Saturday, it's only a matter of time before a more talented team takes advantage of them.



Q: Has Meyer's praise of the OSU wide receivers been warranted?


A: Yes. Many were hesitant to believe Meyer's assessment that Corey Brown is the No. 1 receiver on the Buckeyes roster, but the junior receiver hauled in seven receptions on Saturday- half of the 14 that were good enough to lead the OSU roster in catches a year ago.



Smith also showed promise, pulling in two catches for 31 yards, including his highlight reel-worthy touchdown, and sophomore receiver Evan Spencer brought in three receptions for 54 yards, including one 44-yard catch. Jake Stoneburner, Verlon Reed, Nick Vannett, and Zach Boren all also recorded receptions for a Buckeye passing attack that looked much improved from a year ago.



Q: How did freshmen defensive linemen Noah Spence and [db]Adolphus Washington play?



A: Both five-star prospects looked good on Saturday, with each recording the first of what figures to be many sacks in their respective Buckeye careers.



Washington was the first to get on the field, playing in the middle of the OSU defensive line for much of the first half, but the second half provided Spence with his chance to shine as he played at both defensive end spots- often times opposite John Simon. OSU co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said that he ultimately wanted to get Spence on the field earlier in the game, but the Miami offense forced the Buckeyes defense into some formations that he wasn't sure Spence would be comfortable playing in. Regardless, expect both Spence and Washington to be a big part of the Buckeyes' plans moving forward.



5. What other freshmen made an impact?



A: In addition to Spence and Washington, David Perkins, Najee Murray, Devan Bogard, Tommy Schutt, Taylor Decker, Bri'onte Dunn, Michael Thomas, Camren Williams, Jacoby Boren, and Armani Reeves all made their Buckeye debuts on Saturday.



Outside of the defensive linemen, Reeves made the biggest impact, serving as OSU's primary kick returner. Dunn got the chance to show what he could do as the Buckeyes' No. 2 running back, rushing seven times for 31 yards and his first career touchdown. Each freshman who played on Saturday could see expanded roles as the season advances, and it's also possible that linebackers Josh Perry and Jamal Marcus could be on the field as early as next week.



6. Who played the pivot position in Jordan Hall's absence?



A: Brown primarily played the pivot, moving from the slot into the backfield multiple times on Saturday, but in fall camp, OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman admitted that the Buckeyes' coaching staff would tailor the position to whoever happened to be playing it.



The junior receiver was certainly used differently that Hall will be when he returns from a foot injury that could keep him out of at least the Buckeyes' first two games, but lining Brown up all over the field provided him the the mismatch opportunities that he took advantage of to lead the team in receptions on Saturday.



7. Other than the slow start, what was most concerning about the Buckeyes?



A: While running the ball 17 times on Saturday, Miller twice left the game with apparent cramps. The humidity in Ohio Stadium may have played a factor in that, but ideally, Miller wouldn't be taking the pounding that he took against the RedHawks.



The OSU quarterback has had a history of injury problems dating back to high school, and the Buckeyes can't afford to lose the star of their offense for any significant time this year. Kenny Guiton looked more than serviceable in Miller's short absence, but it's clear that this team will go as far as Miller can take them.



8. How did Curtis Grant look at middle linebacker?


A: It's tough to tell. While much of the preseason talk about the Buckeyes' defense centered around the emergence of the former No. 2 overall recruit, Grant wasn't on the field much as Miami's spread offense forced the Buckeyes into their nickel defense and brought safety Corey Brown onto the field to play the 'star' position.



Grant figures to be a big part of what figures to be an improved OSU defense, but Buckeye fans will have to wait for another week to see if he can live up to the standards that Meyer and his staff have set for him in the offseason.



9. Did the "Freak Show" make an appearance?



A: Kind of.



It's no secret that Meyer places a huge emphasis on going after blocked punts, and while the Buckeyes didn't technically record one on Saturday, perhaps their mere presence was enough to force a RedHawks punt over punter Zac Murphy's head, which OSU cornerback Bradley Roby recovered for a touchdown. It may not have been the type of exciting special teams play that many expected to kick off the Meyer era in Columbus, but seven points is seven points.



10. Who's up next?



A: Many may not realize it, but the University of Central Florida could be one of the tougher teams on OSU's schedule this season. The Knights kicked off their season with a 56-14 win over Akron yesterday and will come to Columbus riding the arm of quarterback Blake Bortles, who threw for 168 yards and three touchdowns against the Zips.



They may not be the big name out of conference opponent Buckeye fans are used to seeing, but OSU would be wise to avoid the early game mishaps it suffered against the RedHawks while playing the Knights.







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