August 31, 2012

What to watch for: Ohio State vs. Miami (OH)

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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 tell you what you need to know as the Buckeyes' head into Meyer's Ohio State debut, which happens to come against the Miami (OH) RedHawks.

Meyer's arrival

It doesn't take much more than attending one Meyer press conference to see that the Buckeyes' 24th head coach to the program. Whether it's his bluntness in assessing his players or his intensity on the practice field, it's clear that the new regime in Columbus is unlike any other that Ohio State has ever witnessed.

How Meyer's attitude and coaching style will translate to game day remains to be seen. Under the Buckeyes' previous coach, Jim Tressel, season openers were often used as dress rehearsals, with second-string players routinely playing as early as the first quarter just to get game experience.

Tomorrow, we'll find out just how different or similar Meyer is to his predecessors in Columbus, but earlier this week, he dropped at least one hint regarding what you can expect to see from the 2012 Buckeyes.

"I want to make the great state of Ohio proud and win this darned game coming up, and look good doing it," Meyer said. "Our players deserve to play well on Saturday. It's the job of our coaches to get them in position to play well."

No longer a rookie

In July, OSU quarterback Braxton Miller was one of 10 players named to the Big Ten's Players to Watch List, but that was based on potential as much as it was production. The 2011 Big Ten Freshman of the Year had a good- not great- year, throwing for 1,159 yards and adding a team-high 715 more on the ground, and he now finds himself as the focal point of Meyer's spread offense.

We know that Miller can run the ball as well as almost any quarterback in America, but the sophomore quarterback will need to prove throughout 2012 that he is more than just an adequate passer.

"The one thing about our offense, you can't have a bad quarterback," Meyer said. "There's some offenses where they take the snap, turnaround, and hand the ball off- that doesn't happen very often."

All indications out of the Buckeyes' fall camp have been that Miller has made the necessary strides throwing the ball to be one of Meyer's next great quarterbacks, but tomorrow will be his first chance to prove that to the nation. The Huber Heights, Ohio native threw for 358 yards in a team scrimmage less than a week ago and tomorrow we'll find out if he's capable of replicating such numbers against a defense other than his own.

Playmakers wanted

Of course it won't hurt Miller's cause to have some additional playmakers on his side of the ball. A year ago, the Buckeyes appeared to be devoid of such talent, but that may have had to do more with their scheme than anything.

In Meyer's spread offense, it will be the playmakers who shine the brightest, but the question remains, who will they be? Running back Jordan Hall was expected get a bulk of the carries and was listed by Meyer as his No. 1 playmaker following spring practice, but a foot injury is expected to keep him out of at least the Buckeyes' first two games of the season.

Carlos Hyde, Corey Brown, Devin Smith, and Jake Stoneburner have all been mentioned by players and coaches alike as players who have stood out throughout fall camp, but tomorrow we'll get to see which players can translate success on the practice field to the playing field.

Strong up the middle?

The Ohio State defense did not live up to its 'Silver Bullets' nickname a season ago. The Buckeyes routinely took poor angles while attempting tackles, and the result was often big plays for the opponent.

This year, the OSU defense returns one of the best defensive lines in the country, all four starters in its secondary, but questions remain about the Buckeyes' linebacking corps. Particularly at middle linebacker, where Curtis Grant will start and attempt to live up to the expectations that were placed on him when he arrived in Columbus as the No. 2 recruit in the country a year ago.

Tomorrow will give us our first look at Grant playing meaningful snaps for the Buckeyes, and OSU co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is hopeful that he can make one of the biggest differences for his defense.

"If you're going to be in there, especially as the inside back is a leadership role. That's the thing you have to do. You have to have confidence in what you're doing," Fickell said. "Sometimes I think that was our biggest problem last year defensively was we just didn't have somebody that could get the things set."

Dissecting Dysert

The Buckeyes won't be the only team putting stars on the field on Saturday. Miami possesses at least two NFL-caliber players in quarterback Zac Dysert and wide receiver Nick Harwell.

"Those two kids can play anywhere in America," Meyer said of Miami's tandem.

The talent of Dysert and Harwell might not be enough for the RedHawks to overcome the Buckeyes, but it will be interesting to see how the OSU coaching staff chooses to matchup with two players of their caliber. With cornerback Bradley Roby being touted as a potential breakout star for the Buckeyes and the OSU defensive line carrying high expectations, tomorrow could be the first sign of whether or not Roby and the Buckeyes' front four are worth the hype.


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