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Buckeyes, Bears set to clash

September 14, 2012
By SETH STASKEY - Buckeye Blitz ( , Times Leader

COLUMBUS - There's a football cliche that says teams make their biggest strides from game one to game two.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is probably hoping his Buckeyes just held off on their jump for an additional week.

As preparation for a visit from California got under way this week, Meyer and his coaching staff still found themselves trying to figure out how to correct the Buckeyes' deficiencies and also figure out who will step into key spots as injuries took a toll last week.

Finding time to improve and still get ready for the Golden Bears (1-1) is a challenge.

"The amount of improvement that happens during the course of the season is not that much," Meyer said at his weekly press conference. "I mean, you'll see it, but there's not that much. Certainly not the individual improvement and fundamentals. That's so hard to find time to do that because Tuesday and Wednesday are really the only days we've got during the week with hard practices."

Every team in the America is dealing with the same issues as they work to get better, but all realize the main objective.

Meyer has pointed out in each of the first two weeks, the idea of winning football games is the most important thing and thus far Ohio State has done just that, toppling Miami (56-10) and Central Florida (31-16).

The wins have catapulted the Buckeyes up to No. 12 in the Associated Press poll.

California, which is playing its first road game, flew to Columbus on Thursday to help it adjust to the three-hour time difference and the noon kickoff, which is 9 a.m. on the Golden Bears' campus in Berkeley.

The Golden Bears come into the game with a 1-1 record. They lost their opener to Nevada and used a strong fourth quarter to pull away from Southern Utah, which is a member of the FCS.

"Cal is obviously a Pac 12 team with Pac 12 players and coaches," said Meyer.

This marks the first meeting between the Buckeyes and Golden Bears since 1972. This is the seventh meeting all time between the two programs. The Buckeyes' only loss to Cal came in the 1921 Rose Bowl, 28-0.

The two teams won't have to wait nearly as long for their next meeting. Ohio State will make the cross-country flight next year to play at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 14.

The big question of the week for the Buckeyes has been the running back position.

When Meyer and company began spring drills they thought this was a real position of depth. Now as preparations for the Golden Bears wind down, the Buckeyes are down to two scholarship tailbacks who are fully available for this week.

Carlos Hyde, who started the first two games of the season, was lost for at least this week with a knee injury against Central Florida. During the week, Meyer reported that Hyde's injury was a sprain to the MCL and it didn't swell, which was a good thing.

He had no timetable for his return, however. Jordan Hall has been medically cleared after his foot injury he suffered in late June when he stepped on a piece of glass. However, he's got a lot of catching up to do after missing camp. Warren Ball - the Columbus DeSales product - had foot surgery in the pre-season and is done for the year.

That leaves freshman Bri'onte Dunn and sophomore Rod Smith. Dunn is listed at the top of the depth chart, but a good week of practice was still necessary for him to take over the job.

"(Bri'onte) doesn't have to play," Meyer said. "It's one thing getting your mind right to be a backup or third-string tailback for a game, but it's another thing getting your mind right to be the guy that's going to jog out there with the first offense."

Smith has had a bizarre career at OSU thus far. He wasn't allowed to make the trip to last year's Gator Bowl and has battled his way back. Meyer has been open that Smith is highly talented, but it takes much more than that to be a contributor for the Buckeyes.

Meyer also reserved the right to use Philly Brown, who he said is the team's best playmaker at this point, or Zach Boren at the primary running back spot. A decision won't be made until just before gametime as to who will get the start.

"Those kids are talented, so it's not like we'll have a bad player back there," Meyer said. "We just need to look into those guys' eyes now. It's about the psychological approach to coaching now."

The running back job is critical because Meyer, offensive coordinator Tom Herman and probably Buckeye fans around the nation don't want to see Braxton Miller carry the ball 27 times a week like he did against Central Florida.

Miller is averaging 332 yards of offense per game, which is a very good thing, but he's averaging 22 carries a game. His carries against UCF were a school record.

Through the air, Miller has thrown for 362 yards and three touchdowns.

"He's experiencing the normal maturation of a quarterback," Meyer said. "He knows. He sees it. Everybody can see it. We are just trying to push that maturation as fast as we can. We ask the position to do a lot of things. We have to play better around him to eliminate some of those carries. "

Meyer, who didn't hesitate to call out his receivers in the pre-season, has been impressed with how well they've come along thus far.

Evan Spencer and Devin Smith are listed as players who played like champions and Brown was the offensive player of the game, grading out at 95 percent, which Meyer said, "is extremely high for a wide receiver."

Smith has made eight receptions for 88 yards and Spencer has caught four passes for 60 yards. Jake Stoneburner - the senior from Dublin - has made four receptions for 48 yards and scored a touchdown.

Despite coming up short on a fourth-and-short around midfield last week, Meyer was happy with the offensive line's development.

Andrew Norwell, Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall and Reid Fragel are all still listed on the depth chart as the OSU starters.

"On the short yardages we missed, it was not scheme," Meyer said. "It was a personnel error by an offense, by really one or two guys, that should not make those errors again. We are 0-for-2 on it, but does it mean we're not going to go for it? I don't that. But, yeah, I am a little stung right now. They have to start showing it. You don't get confidence by failing at something."

Cal's coming to Columbus with a defense that has led the Pac-12 in total defense each of the past two seasons, but is currently allowing 31 points a game.

"Cal plays a very unusual defense," Meyer said. "They run like a bear defense, which is a 46, where they play with a nose and then two, three ends. It's a very unusual defense, but they have very good players. We made errors against a very traditional defense last week, very traditional. My concern is making sure we have a tight enough package because sometimes there is a lot of rule breakers, so we have to really tighten it down."

Robert Mullins and Josh Hill lead the Golden Bears' defense with 20 tackles each. Steve Williams and Brennan Scarlett have 18 and 16 tackles, respectively. J.P. Hurrell leads the team in sacks with three.

The Golden Bears' defense has forced just three takeaways, which could be a blessing for the Buckeyes because they were guilty of three giveaways last week, which is an area Meyer was really discouraged about.

The Buckeyes' defense also has its share of issues as the conference schedule is just two weeks away.

Coming into the season, the OSU defensive line - with Johnathan Hankins and John Simon leading the way - was supposed to be the team's biggest strength.

Because of facing two quick passing teams, the Buckeyes' linemen have been basically neutralized.

"A lot of the time we were dropping eight (into coverage), which means there are only three pass rushers and teams have made a decision when they drop back to pass on a quick game. Teams are doing a good job of defending our best pass rusher. I could continue to list a multitude of reasons or excuses, but we have to get better."

Getting pressure this week will be highly important since the Golden Bears possess a highly talented quarterback in Zach Maynard and a receiver, who some mock NFL Drafts have listed as high as the sixth overall pick in Keenan Allen.



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