Are you better off today than you were four years ago?
That was the successful campaign question posed by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election that we are now hearing once again from the Republican Party.
But enough about politics…let’s try this again.
Is the Ohio State offense better off today than it was a year ago?
There are a lot of similarities between the past two seasons. Both started with convincing, dominant wins over a school from Ohio, with the Buckeyes beating Miami 52-10 this year, and shutting out Akron 42-0 in 2011.
Week two brought closer games, with OSU struggling last year against Toledo (27-22 win), while the Bucks were never in danger last week, they didn’t look that much improved in a 31-16 triumph over Central Florida.
There are also differences. Last season, Joe Bauserman was the starting quarterback, but Braxton Miller saw plenty of action, before finally being named the starter in week four. This year, Miller is the unquestioned starter, who is beginning to generate a little Heisman buzz.
Furthermore, the statistics favor this year’s offense. The Buckeyes are averaging 43.5 points per game (34.5 in 2011), 275 yards rushing (168), 199.5 yards passing (241) and 474 total yards (409).
The reason I bring this up is that unlike last season, I think the offense is just now getting its groove, and has much better things still in store; as does the entire team.
The Lead Up
Ohio State and California have met six times previously, although the most recent meeting was in 1972, just the third game of Archie Griffin’s career. All-time, the Buckeyes lead the series 5-1. Interestingly enough, the Golden Bears were the opponent for Ohio State in OSU’s first two bowl games. Cal won the 1921 Rose Bowl 28-0, while the Buckeyes returned the favor in the 1950 Rose, winning 17-14.
The Buckeyes have had decent success against current teams in the Pac-12, with a 56-26-2 mark. Dating back to 1997, OSU has won seven of its last ten against the Pac-12, including the 2010 Rose Bowl, a 26-17 decision over Oregon, the only Big Ten win over a Pac-12 school in the “Granddaddy of them All”.
The 2012 Bears come in with a 1-1 record, following a 50-31 win over Southern Utah, a FCS school. California had a 7-6 record one year ago.
When Ohio State Has the Ball
I can only imagine what practice was like this week for the OSU offense. Last week’s performance surely wasn’t good enough for head coach Urban Meyer, and it’s much easier to get kids’ attention following a close game than it is a 46-point win in the opener.
The biggest challenge for this week will be something similar to that opener; handling adjustments within the game. After a very poor first quarter against Miami, the Buckeyes scored those 56 points in just three quarters. Patience will be required against California. The Bears will leave their corners out on an island to defend OSU wide receivers one on one, stacking nine defenders in the box to stop the run. Miller will need to make the right decisions, such as recognizing the defensive formations before snap, audible as necessary, finding the open receiver, knowing when to throw it away, or when to run, etc.
The Bears operate mostly out of a 46-defense, ironically made famous by the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears. More irony…it was called the 46 defense because a safety was brought up in the box. That Bears safety was former Buckeye Doug Plank, who wore the number 46.
Cal has nothing to lose in this game, so they will gamble. The Bears will blow some plays up, and probably get a couple of sacks to go with a handful of tackles for loss. They will also give Ohio State several opportunities to hit big plays because of that risk.
The Bears are allowing over 410 yards of offense per game, with one of those contests being against a Division I-AA school. Cal-Berkeley is 90th in the country in scoring defense, allowing 31 points per game. Ohio State will be able to move the ball, and put points in the board.
Picking up blitzes often falls on the running backs, and the Buckeyes will be without starter Carlos Hyde, who suffered a knee injury last week. Jordan Hall is expected to make his 2012 debut, but it’s unsure how much he’ll be able to play after off-season foot surgery. Rod Smith could get some carries, but he’s been plagued by fumbles in his brief OSU career. True Freshman Bri’onte Dunn will also play some, but he had trouble picking up blocks and assignments last week. While Zach Boren will stabilize the back-field some, it’s a situation worth watching. Meyer said a starter won’t be named until Saturday before the game.
When California Has the Ball
By now, you’ve probably heard the name Keenan Allen, and with good reason. The junior wide receiver is quite possibly a first round draft pick in the NFL next April.
He is an exciting player, and could pose problems for a secondary that has been wracked with inconsistency and blown coverage in the first two games. Bradley Roby figures to draw the assignment of covering Allen, so that will be an intriguing match-up to watch. Allen is also one of the best return men in the country, taking back a punt 69 yards for a touchdown last week.
The quarterback is Allen’s half-brother, Zach Maynard, has been solid so far, with a pass efficiency rating of over 154. The Bears also have a good rushing attack, averaging 201 yards a game on the ground. Cal employs two backs, Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson, as part of the offense.
For the Buckeyes, they need to get pressure on the quarterback, something that has not happened enough in the first two games. If Maynard is given time, he’ll make plays, either with his arm or with his feet. As usual, if Ohio State’s defense can make the opponent one dimensional, that makes the task all that much easier.
Players to Watch
How much will Jordan Hall be capable of? Meyer gushed about Hall in the spring, and had big plans for him in this offense. The Buckeyes will take things easy with Hall, as they’ll need his play-making ability down the line, like in two weeks at Michigan State. In limited opportunities, though, it will be interesting to see what he can do in Meyer’s offense.
The running back position in general bears watching just to see who (Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn, Hall, Zach Boren) plays where, how and how much.
Corey Brown was singled out by Meyer following last week’s game as a play-maker. Will the coaching staff utilize him in any different manner? Can Brown and fellow wide receivers Devin Smith and Evan Spencer get open in single coverage to make big plays?
Roby was already mentioned for the task of trying to contain Allen. Truth is, the entire secondary will need to be ready, and avoid the confusion that has led to players being in the wrong places.
One player who needs to step it up is Johnathan Hankins. Despite his size, he’s versatile enough to line up as a defensive end. There’s been talk about Hankins being a first round pick in the NFL if he decides to come out early, but I haven’t seen that type of play from him yet.
We could see a little bit of a shootout in the ‘Shoe. I think the Buckeyes will be a little more consistent, especially on offense.
Ohio State will turn in several big plays in a 45-24 win over California. Braxton Miller won’t run as much this week, maybe something like 12 times for 70 yards or so with a couple touchdowns. He could have a career (to this point) day passing. His career best is 235 yards against Michigan last year, I think he’ll top that mark on Saturday.
I also look for a special teams play to go the Bucks way, either with a punt block, or a punt return for a score…just call it a hunch.
The coverage on 10TV and www.10tv.com/BuckeyeBlitz
will continue all weekend long. Saturday, we’ll post game pictures and analysis on our Buckeye Blitz web page, and wrap-up the game with our new “Gameday” coverage at 7pm and 11pm, as well as Wall to Wall Sports at 11:35pm.