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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'll examine what you should be keeping an eye on as the Buckeyes face one of their more highly anticipated opponents on their out of conference schedule in the Pac-12's California Bears.
Where's the rush?
Although the OSU defensive line was supposed to be one of its strengths this season, the Buckeyes' front four has left much to be desired through the team's first two games. The Buckeyes have only recorded three sacks so far this season, and rank second-to-last in the nation in tackles for loss.
"Teams are doing a good job of defending us and defending our best pass rusher," Meyer said, referring to OSU senior defensive end John Simon. "I could list a multitude of reasons and excuses and so on and so forth; we have to get better at quarterback or it's going to be a long year."
OSU freshman defensive lineman Noah Spence has seen ample playing time with Michael Bennett and Nathan Williams missing games with injuries and admitted that he's been dissappointed by the lack of pressure the Buckeyes have gotten on opposing quarterbacks.
"I'm a little surprised. We just need to keep working, try to get a little better every week," Spence said. "We need to find a way to put more pressure on the quarterback. I feel like when we get into the game it's easier to forget about our assignments sometimes. We haven't lived up to our potential yet."
Carrying the load
With starting running back Carlos Hyde expected to miss Saturday's game with an MCL sprain and the status of senior running back Jordan Hall yet to be determined, Meyer will turn towards a duo of inexperienced backs to shoulder the load for the Buckeyes in true freshman Bri'onte Dunn and redshirt sophomore Rod Smith. Meyer said that although they haven't shown much production in their short OSU careers, both backs have shown that they possess skills similar to that of Hyde.
"They're both big talented backs, which for whatever reason, the productivity hasn't been there," Meyer said. "What I like about Bri'onte is really what I like about Rod. They're big, physical guys who can accelerate."
Aside from the fact that he may only have two healthy running backs on scholarship available on Saturday, the injury to Hyde is especially troublesome to the Buckeyes as they try to figure out a way to reduce the number of times that OSU quarterback Braxton Miller carries the ball. After the sophomore quarterback carrying the ball 44 times in the Buckeyes' first two games- including 27 in their win over Central Florida- Miller admitted that he'd like to find a way to get the ball into other players' hands on a more consistent basis.
"I've never had 27 (carries in one game) in my life. It's a lot," Miller said. "Carlos went down so I had to help with the running game so we had to get that going a little bit."
A 'Bear' unlike any other
On multiple occasions throughout the week, Meyer has expressed concern regarding the Bears' unique 46 defensive scheme. With so much time this week devoted towards understanding the scheme, the Buckeyes have been left with little time to improve on themselves.
"Very unique. We will not face another defense like that all year," Meyer said. "Normally, we'd go right back to our fundamentals, and we're trying to find the time, because a lot of our time is going to spent blocking this very unique defense.
As for what makes the scheme unique, Meyer explained that one of California's goals will be to isolate OSU center Corey Linsley for one-on-one matchups with Kendrick Payne
"Your center's exposed, he's basically one-on-one with a very good player the entire game" Meyer said. "I would imagine that they'll say we have to stop No. 5 (Miller), and to stop No. 5, you've got to get an extra guy down there. So we're going to have to find some weaknesses in that defense."
Keying in on Keenan
Asked about his Bradley Roby on the Big Ten coaches teleconference this week, Meyer admitted that sometimes OSU's No. 1 cornerback can become bored when he doesn't feel as though he's being challenged. That shouldn't be a problem this week as the Buckeyes will be facing an All-American caliber receiver in California wideout Keenan Allen.
"I've coached Joe Haden and some other great corners and those guys never got bored," Meyer said. "This ought to be no challenge as far as getting him motivated. You're facing potentially the best receiver he'll face all year.
Through California's first two games, Allen has hauled in 11 passes for 136 yards and one touchdown. After the Buckeyes' secondary has shown a propensity for giving up big plays in its first two games, OSU cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs asserted that Allen will have the team's full attention on Saturday.
"Any time you play a great receiver, you have to have a tremendous respect for their ability," Coombs said. "We watched the film, we've studied the mistakes that have been made, and most of the errors that have been made have been as a result of communication breakdowns."
Calling on Grant
Despite receiving hype as an up-and-comer on the OSU defense throughout the offseason, middle linebacker Curtis Grant has seen little playing time so far as the Buckeyes have spent much of their first two games in their nickel defense. With much of the California offense relying on running back Iso Sofele, Grant figures to finally play a factor for the 'Silver Bullets.'
"A year ago I just came in wanting to earn a spot like any other kid,
but I didn't show it. I talked about it but I didn't show it," Grant said. "This year, it's a different me. I just come out and have a good time with the guys."
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