September 7, 2012

What to watch for: Ohio State vs. UCF

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - With a two-time national champion head coach taking over one of college football's most successful and polarizing programs, there should be no shortage of storylines in Urban Meyer's first season at Ohio State. With this in mind, every Friday for the rest of the season, I'll list and examine the most relevant headlines heading into the next day's Buckeye game.

Today, I tell you what you need to know as the Buckeyes' head into the second game of the Meyer era, which comes against Conference USA's Central Florida.

A different animal

With all due respect to Miami (OH), who the Buckeyes defeated 56-10 in their season opener, UCF will present a much tougher challenge to Meyer's team. The Knights could very well be the best team that OSU faces until the Big Ten season opens up in three weeks.

"Whole different animal coming in here this week," Meyer said. "I know this team, I know this coach, I know this coaching staff, and we have great respect for everything they've done."

After getting off to a slow start against the RedHawks- which included a scoreless first quarter and four punts- the Buckeyes could find themselves in trouble if they come stumbling out of the gate for a second consecutive week. Meyer, however, is that UCF will have his team's full attention.

"You can get up here and babble all you want, but if they see it on film what they're getting ready to play against, this will be a war and something we have to be ready for," Meyer said. "And we will."

A player so nice, they named him twice

One of Meyer's biggest concerns heading into the Buckeyes battle with the Knights stems from the presence of 340-pound defensive tackle Jose Jose. After giving up three sacks against the RedHawks a week ago, the much bigger defensive line that the Knights possess will be the first true test for an Ohio State offensive line that's breaking in three new starters.

"They're good upfront. Pretty quick ends. Some big guys in the middle that we'll have to adjust to," OSU right tackle Reid Fragel said. "Miami was a little bit smaller than them. I think we'll be alright."

Passing along

OSU quarterback Braxton Miller was named his team's offensive player of the week for his performance against Miami, but that had more to do with his legs than it did his arms. Miller ran for a school record 161 yards for a quarterback against the RedHawks, but his 14-of-24 passing performance left something be desired.

With a tougher opponent in the Knights coming to town, Miller may need to connect on more than just 58 percent of his passes against a UCF defense that has been Conference USA's best for the past three seasons.

Meyer admitted that he'd like to see some improved fundamentals from his quarterback.

"When he pops open and wants to get out there so fast, his fundamentals kind of get away from him," Meyer said. "He's going through some growing pains and we have to get him through those growing pains really fast, because we expect more out of our quarterback."

All the right reads

It's not just in the passing game where Meyer would like to see Miller make some improvements. On Saturday, running back Carlos Hyde failed to top 100 yards rushing, something which the OSU coach admitted could be blamed on Miller making the wrong reads in his spread offense.

Although Meyer wants to see better decision-making out of Miller, he said that it's nearly impossible for a quarterback to play perfect in his offense.

"There were a couple of reads where that same play, most teams in America run, they read the defensive end. He pulled it a couple of times when he should have gave it," Meyer said. "Some offenses you take the snap, hand the ball to the tailback and hope things work out well. We don't have too many of those plays. He has to make a read on every play, so he's going to make a few mistakes."

A base emphasis

Thanks to a spread offense that often put the Buckeyes in their nickel package, OSU middle linebacker Curtis Grant didn't see much playing time in the team's opener. That may have been disappointing to both Grant and fans, who are expecting a breakout year from the former No. 2 overall recruit.

But with the Knights expected to bring a more balanced offense to Columbus this weekend, expect Grant to have his first opportunity to shine in the Buckeyes' starting lineup.

Grant is excited for the chance to finally showcase what he bring to the OSU defense.

"We have potential to be great. Everybody is a whole lot older and everybody has game experience except for me," Grant said. "I just have to step up and do what I have to do."


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