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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Not many expected the Ohio State offense to be outplaying its defensive counterpart in 2012, but through three games this season, that's exactly what's happened. The Buckeyes hung 35 points on a team that ranked first in the Pac-12 in defense a year ago in their victory over California on Saturday, and have provided first-year head coach Urban Meyer with the confidence that he was hoping to have in his offense heading into its final game before Big Ten play begins.
Following OSU's season-opening win over Miami (OH), Meyer was asked for his thoughts regarding a potential Braxton Miller Heisman Trophy campaign, and following a career day against the Bears, that talk is only going to gain steam. The sophomore quarterback threw for career highs of 249 yards and four touchdowns, in addition to adding 75 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
"I am pleased with his progress. He was a much different player than he was a year ago," Meyer said. "That's where I'm probably most pleased is the way he's practicing much better than he did in the spring. I do think he's on schedule."
After carrying the ball 44 times in the Buckeyes' first two games, Miller gained his 75 yards on Saturday on just 12 carries. His coach was happier with the quarterback's lessened load, but admitted that was worried that Miller was too hesitant to run the ball at times.
"I had a talk with him and that was my responsibility. I came out and said, 'It's too much, it's too much.' It's getting back to him. He just needs to play the game," Meyer said. "He is a young player, and someone gets in his head and says why do they run you? It's not your job to evaluate. Go play and we'll make it work. So we'll need him to carry the ball a lot."
After spending most of last week stating that the competition to replace injured running back Carlos Hyde was between Bri'onte Dunn, Rod Smith, and Zach Boren, none of those three players received a carry in Saturday's game against Cal, with Meyer opting to give 17 carries to Jordan Hall. Returning from offseason foot surgery, Hall matched a career-high with 87 rushing yards, but Meyer admitted on Monday that he'd still like to see some more production from the running back production.
"We were not getting enough big plays from the run game other than our quarterback. That's got to change," Meyer said. "Break a tackle and do something with it because we see other guys doing it. We don't do that enough. We don't break enough tackles."
For his part, Hall was happy with his production in his first game action of 2012. And with Hyde expected to miss the Buckeyes' matchup with UAB, he'll likely be shouldering the OSU load at running back for the second consecutive week.
"I felt good, a little rusty," Hall said. "It took a little bit of time adjusting to the game speed again, but I think next week I'll be alright."
Against Central Florida, Corey Brown emerged as the Buckeyes' No. 1 receiver, but against the Bears, it was Devin Smith's turn. The sophomore wideout hauled in five receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns, including the 72-yard game-winning score in Saturday's game.
"Not only myself, but the whole group is getting better every day," Smith said. "You can see the change that we've had from the spring until now. In the summer we worked really hard to have the success that we're having right now."
After spending the offseason questioning who the playmakers on this year's team would be, Meyer said that he's found two of them in Smith and Brown. And with his newfound faith in the receiving corps will come more plays called to get the ball in the hands of the Buckeyes' new dynamic duo.
"The best thing that's happened so far in the first few weeks is we've identified a go get it guy on the outside that we did not have a year ago. I was worried about it. I didn't see that develop until this first three games, and that's Devin Smith," Meyer said. "Him and (Brown) have now proven to me that we can start to be a little more aggressive down the field."
For the first time this season, the OSU offensive line didn't give up a sack on Saturday. Yet despite perhaps its best effort of the season, left tackle Jack Mewhort wasn't satisfied with the Buckeyes' offense as a whole- particularly in the third quarter of their battle with the bears.
"It was really frustrating. We put a lot of pressure on the defense to win the game for us and we appreciate what they did out there," Mewhort said. "We showed a lot of improvement in the fourth quarter which will be something to build on."
Although he didn't grade out as a champion this week, Meyer has been impressed by the play of Mewhort in particular this season, one that has followed an offseason where he had his scholarship pulled after he pled guilty to a disorderly conduct charge.
"He's a hard-nosed player that does great for the community, does great for Ohio State," Meyer said. "He's probably our best lineman right now."
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