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COLUMBUS, Ohio - The more time that the Ohio State football team gets to adjust to Urban Meyer's spread offense, the more comfortable the Buckeyes figure to be. That appeared to be the case on Saturday, when they bypassed the slow start that they suffered a week ago, and showcased many of the abilities that were expected from them when Meyer took the OSU job last November.
But thanks in large part to an injury suffered by one of its major contributors, all eyes will be on the Buckeyes' offense as they head into this week's game with California. As we will each week, we do our best to break down the state of the Ohio State offense, with insight from its players and coaches.
A week after completing just 58 percent of his passes against Miami (OH), Braxton Miller appeared to make some strides throwing the ball against Central Florida, completing 18-of-24 pass attempts for 155 yards and one touchdown. The sophomore quarterback looked a lot more comfortable completing shorter passes, with no OSU receiver catching a pass for more than 15 yards. Miller, however, insisted that the shorter completions came as a result of taking what the Knights' defense was giving him.
"They was taking away the deep balls," Miller said. "I definitely was (more calm)."
The bulk of Miller's production again came on the ground, where he ran for 141 yards on 27 carries. Meyer admitted that he'd like to limit the amount of times his quarterback carries the ball, especially with Miller having already accumulated 44 rushing attempts in just two games.
"That position is going to have to do a lot of things. We have to play better around him to eliminate some of those carries," Meyer said. "The job description is to win that game; and also player safety and being smart is a big part of that."
No position on the OSU offense will come under more scrutiny this week than the running backs. With Carlos Hyde out with an MCL sprain and Jordan Hall just getting back from foot surgery, there's a strong possibility that the Buckeyes could be down to two healthy scholarship running backs in Bri'onte Dunn and Rod Smith.
"The beauty of this offense for that position is they're trained to do pretty much everything," OSU running backs coach Stan Drayton said. "They have to run the ball effectively, no doubt, but they have to be solid in protection. We're going to ask those guys to do things in the pass game from a route standpoint."
In the event that Hall isn't ready to go and neither Dunn or Smith are effective, the OSU coaches could turn to fullback Zach Boren or even wide receiver Corey Brown to help carry Miller shoulder the load carrying the ball.
"I always want to run the ball," Brown said. "I joke around about it a lot in the locker room with the running backs, telling them I can play running back and everything. So for it to happen would be really good."
Thought to be the weak point of the offense following spring practice, the OSU wide receivers have emerged as one of the strengths of Meyer's spread attacks. Three Buckeyes' wideouts graded out with winning grades during OSU's win over UCF, with Brown, Devin Smith, and Evan Spencer all being named to Meyer's 'Champions Club' on Monday.
"I'm just out there trying not to mess up basically," Brown said. "Braxton's doing a good job distributing the ball, getting the ball to everybody, but he's throwing it my way a lot too, so that's good."
Although he didn't grade out with a winning performance, Jake Stoneburner caught his first touchdown as an OSU wideout on Saturday, hauling in a 12-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter of the OSU win. Stoneburner said that he's enjoyed his new role as a wideout, especially the part where he gets to block defensive backs as opposed to the defensive ends he tried to block as a tight end.
"I love being out there all day with little guys like that as long as we're able to execute," Stoneburner said. "I feel like I can block great being out there being bigger than most of those guys, I feel like it works really well for me."
At times the OSU offensive line looked improved on Saturday, giving up only one sack against the Knights- two less than it gave up against the RedHawks in the season opener. Still the Buckeyes' line wasn't without its faults, with Jack Mewhort twice getting whistled for false start penalties and Marcus Hall getting called for holding.
"A lot of those penalties were miscommunications, which are easy to fix," OSU center Corey Linsley said. "Those are going to be alright. Obviously penalties are huge."
Still it wasn't all bad on Saturday for the Buckeyes linemen. After failing to convert a fourth down conversion early on in its game against the Knights- as it did a week ago against Miami- Meyer again put his faith in the offensive line to convert a fourth-and-short opportunity, to which it rose to the occasion and sprang Hyde free for its first successful attempt of the season.
"It was a roller coaster day," Linsley said. "The highlights were when we were correcting the miscues we had from last week. That's a great testament to the work we put in this week."
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