One gets the sense that Ohio State fans aren’t particularly concerned with Saturday’s opponent. Sure, they have heard Buckeye coach Urban Meyer refer to this game as a “war”, and they might have even noticed that the Knights are receiving votes in both the Coaches and AP polls.
Deep down, though, they see a directional school from an inferior conference, and think all the respect from Ohio State is lip-service.
Let’s be clear, here…should Central Florida beat OSU, it would be considered a pretty significant upset. While it’s not likely, the potential is there. There are maybe only 3-4 teams on the Bucks’ schedule with the overall talent level that this week’s opponent has.
The Buckeyes are probably feeling pretty good, after opening with a 56-10 win over Miami, in spite of trailing 3-0 after the first quarter. Emotionally, you would expect a little bit of a drop-off from the opener, as well.
The Lead Up
These two programs have never met, and their traditions couldn’t be further apart, with all due respect to Central Florida. The Knights have only had a program since 1979, and have only been in the FBS (Division I) since 1996. UCF is 0-6 all-time against Big Ten schools, and have never defeated a ranked non-conference opponent.
You know all about the history of Ohio State, and the Buckeyes haven’t lost a home game against an un-ranked non-conference school since dropping a 34-17 decision to Florida State in 1982. That’s a span of 58 consecutive victories.
One thing these two do have in common; scoring 56 points in the season opening win. The Knights turned out the lights on Akron, 56-14.
When Ohio State Has the Ball
I firmly believe this faction of the game will determine the outcome. Yes, Braxton Miller had a good performance against Miami, and the Buckeyes did complete 33 passes for 244 yards. However, until Miller and the offense can prove they are a dangerous through the air, each and every defense is going to dare them to throw.
Central Florida will stack the box with eight, possibly nine defenders to take away Carlos Hyde and the rushing attack. That is one advantage to running a spread offense, though, even if you want to run the ball, your formations aren’t as compact as if you line up in I-formation, or in a conventional pro-style offense.
The Buckeye offensive line will be tested, as the Knights will have an SEC-type defensive front, with lots of size and speed.
When Central Florida Has the Ball
The Knights are bringing in a sophomore quarterback who will make just his second career start. Last week against Akron, Blake Bortles completed 13 of 16 passes for 168 yards and three touchdowns, a pretty impressive debut. However, that was against the Zips and 12,000 fans. I promise you things will be exponentially more difficult against the Buckeyes and 105 thousand.
On the flip side, UCF will certainly look to establish the run, after topping the 200-yard mark in week one. While starting running back Latavius Murray will be out with a shoulder injury, the Knights are deep at the position. Look for Miami, Florida, transfer Storm Johnson to get first crack.
Just like Central Florida will want to do, the OSU defense will try to stop the run first. In passing situations, the Silver Bullets will turn things loose, looking to force an inexperienced quarterback into hasty decisions.
Players to Watch
Braxton Miller’s play will be a key component. Does UCF shadow him to keep him from scrambling, or get more aggressive and try to force the sophomore into making mistakes? This game will be a fantastic barometer for Miller’s improvement.
We didn’t get to see much of Curtis Grant last week against Miami due the RedHawks pass-happy attack. Grant comes out in the nickel package, but with Central Florida’s offense, the sophomore linebacker will get more opportunity.
Everyone by now has seen the incredible catch Devin Smith made for a touchdown last week. While he won’t be counted on for plays like that each time out, he will be expected to make plays. Both he and Corey “Philly” Brown could see lots of single coverage.
As already mentioned, how does Bortles handle playing in Ohio Stadium? I can probably count on one hand the number of quarterbacks that came into the ‘Shoe as underclassmen and pulled out a win. He will have to play extremely well to set up any kind of potential upset.
He’ll need help from wide receiver J.J. Worton, who has NFL potential. Worton is also a big threat in the return games.
I don’t think you’ll see the Buckeyes with as slow of a start as they had last week, but don’t be surprised if it does happen. One of the most often repeated “coach-isms” is that a football team “improves the most between week one and two”. If the Buckeyes play better than they did against Miami, it will be hard to tell, because the level of competition isn’t the same.
To continue I theme I started last week, we often saw Jim Tressel’s teams play to that level of competition. We’ll have to see how Urban Meyer’s OSU teams handle that.
I’m also very interested to see how the Buckeyes do after a week of actual game film to learn from with the new coaching staff. Will OSU improve, or take a step back from thinking too much?
Playing in Ohio Stadium will just be too tall of a task for the Knights. This game will be a great measuring stick for the Buckeyes, particularly on offense.
I see a 31-17 win for the Buckeyes.
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 6pm and 11pm, as well as Wall to Wall Sports at 11:35pm.