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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Although games are usually a place where we find our answers to a week's worth of questions, Ohio State's sloppily-played 31-16 victory over Central Florida on may have just provided more questions that it did answers. Nevertheless, I'll do my best to examine what exactly we did learn in the second game of the Urban Meyer era in Columbus, even if it might take a few more weeks to determine the actual answers to these questions.
Q: How did Braxton Miller look as a passer?
Improved. Miller started off the game completing seven consecutive passes, and finished the game with a stat line that consisted of 18 completions in 24 attempts, 155 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
The sophomore quarterback got going early with some shorter pass attempts- something that he claims was the result of taking what the defense gave him. Although no OSU receiver on Saturday caught a pass for longer than 15 yards, Miller's ability to complete just the simple passes in Meyer's offense is a positive sign for the Buckeyes.
Q: What did Meyer do to reduce Miller's carries?
Nothing. In fact, he increased them.
Miller rushed 27 times- the most times any OSU quarterback has in modern history- something which was the product of more designed runs and a depleted Buckeyes' backfield. The OSU quarterback's plethora of carries was a major topic with both Miller and Meyer in the postgame press conference, and after 44 carries in two weeks, look for many to be keeping an eye on Miller's attempt totals for the remainder of the season.
Q: Was the production from the OSU wide receivers last week legit?
Apparently so. In fact, both Corey Brown and Devin Smith recorded six receptions, and Jake Stoneburner caught his first career touchdown while being listed as a wideout.
Brown's six receptions now gives him 13 on the season, which means that if he catches two balls next week, he will have more receptions than any OSU player had in all of 2011. Given his steady play in OSU's first two games, that looks like a certainty.
Q: Could Carlos Hyde top the 100-yard mark?
No. And he might have to wait a few more weeks before he has the chance to do so.
Hyde left the game in second quarter and never returned after suffering an MCL sprain. Meyer said that he's expected to miss a week or two and expressed concern about OSU's running back stable, with Jordan Hall and Warren Ball already out with injuries.
The expected replacements for Hyde should Hall not return next week- Zach Boren, Bri'onte Dunn, and Rod Smith- combined for 55 rushing yards against the Knights, but with Miller and Brown combining for 174 rushing yards (141 from Miller, 33 on two carries from Brown) expect to see more creativity than usual in the Buckeyes' run game.
Q: How did the pass rush look against a conventional offense?
Not very good, and that's concerning.
A week ago, the highly-touted OSU pass rush didn't get much pressure on Miami (OH) due to quarterback Zac Dysert making a conscious effort to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible. But with Blake Bortles running a more conventional offense for UCF, the Buckeyes only managed to record one sack on Saturday- something that Meyer expressed concern about.
OSU was without defensive linemen Nathan Williams and Michael Bennett, who both missed the game with injuries, but with a pair of All-American candidates in John Simon and Johnathan Hankins and a trio of heralded recruits in Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, and Tommy Schutt, it's hard not to be confused by the lack of production from the Buckeyes' defensive line.
Q: Did the secondary replicate its championship-caliber performance?
At times yes, and at times, not so much.
It will be interesting to see how the Buckeyes' secondary grades out after the coaches review film after what was an up-and-down performance by OSU's defensive backfield. Cornerback Travis Howard recorded his third reception in two games, but was also whistled for a crucial pass interference call. Cornerback Bradley Roby didn't look much like the defensive player of the week that he was in the Buckeyes' first game and both safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant followed stellar tackles at the line of scrimmage with missed tackles in the secondary.
The inconsistent secondary played a factor in the Buckeyes' 6-7 2011 season, and with all four starters returning this year, there are plenty of reminders why OSU suffered its first losing season since 1988.
Q: How consistent were OSU rotations?
On the offensive ball, everything pretty much stayed the same as it did a week ago, but the Buckeyes' defense saw some major changes throughout the game.
Fifth-year safety Orhian Johnson replaced safety Corey Brown as OSU's star/nickel back and responded well with an interception and six tackles. Meyer admitted that he was a major advocate for Johnson's insertion into the starting lineup and was happy with how he responded.
On the defensive line, Schutt got his first start, playing defensive tackle, only to come off the field on the next play to have Spence and Washington take his and Garrett Goebel's places. The Buckeyes' versatility on the defensive line is one of their strengths, and look for it to cause a steady- albeit inconsistent- rotation throughout the season.
Q: How did the linebackers look?
Both Etienne Sabino and Ryan Shazier built on solid opening games, with Sabino recording an interception off of a tipped ball and Shazier recording five tackles, but we're still yet to get our first extended look at middle linebacker Curtis Grant as the Knights often put multiple wide receiver looks on the field that forced the Buckeyes' into their nickel package.
Q: Was Central Florida really a Big Ten-caliber opponent?
Yes. In fact, the Knights found themselves at the Buckeyes' 9-yard line in the fourth quarter with the chance bring themselves within one score of the Buckeyes before Johnson's interception stopped them short.
UCF might not be the same caliber team of a Michigan State, Wisconsin, or Michigan, but they did nothing on Saturday to discount itself as any worse than a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, and that gives the Buckeyes reasons to be encouraged about their double-digit win over the Knights.
Q: Who's next?
When they were initially scheduled for this season's matchup, California appeared as though it would be the big name out of conference opponent that OSU tries to face each year. The Bears' program has slipped into mediocrity, however, and Jeff Tedford's squad will come to Columbus with a 1-1 record thanks to a loss last week to Nevada and a 50-31 win over Southern Utah yesterday.
Nevertheless, California is a Pac-12 team, and that alone will give Meyer incentive to make sure that the Bears have the Buckeyes' full attention heading into next Saturday.
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