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OSU set for final Big 10 tuneup

• No. 16 Buckeyes set to host Alabama-Birmingham Saturday at noon

September 21, 2012
By SETH STASKEY - Buckeye Blitz ( , Times Leader

All that stands between 16th-ranked Ohio State and the start of Big 10 Conference play is a date with the University of Alabama Birmingham.

As has been the case for each of the first three weeks, the Buckeyes won't get caught looking ahead to their trip to East Lansing and date with Michigan State next weekend.

This week's encounter with the Blazers also wraps up a four-game homestand to open the season, which has led to convincing victories against Miami of Ohio, Central Florida and last week's 35-28 squeaker over California.

Last week against the Golden Bears was the first time the Buckeyes had really faced any sort of on-field adversity in terms of having to come from behind. The Bears led the game in the fourth quarter and it took a Braxton Miller to Devin Smith touchdown pass, a few missed field goals and a late defensive stop to preserve the outcome.

"The best thing about 3-0 is a chance to go 4-0," said Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. "You try to simulate those situations in practice and in training camp, but there really is no way to simulate (having to come back to win) other than doing it in the arena."

The Blazers (0-2) don't figure to put up nearly the type of challenge that the Golden Bears presented. UAB is rebuilding under first-year head coach Garrick McGee, who was formerly on the staff at Arkansas and coached against OSU in the Sugar Bowl, and has lost to Troy and South Carolina. Last week, in Columbia, the Blazers were beaten 49-6.

Meyer and the Buckeyes have spent much of the week focusing on getting better both in terms of tackling and continuing to fine tune the spread offense.

"We have to find a way to get win number four," Meyer said. "We're an average team right now. At times, we're playing fairly well. I like our team; I like our guys and I like the way we faced adversity, but I am ready to have some non-adversity games. We're attacking this one."

One of the staples of the Buckeyes' programs over the course of history has been the play of the defense or the 'silver bullets,' but that unit hasn't been playing as well as Meyer or defensive coordinator Luke Fickell had hoped or expected.

The Buckeyes' pass defense is allowing 283.3 yards a game, which is 101st among FBS schools. Outside of last week's poor tackling performance against Cal, OSU has been pretty tough on the run. It's allowing 108.6 yards a game, which is tied for 31st in the country. All told, Ohio State ranks 66th in total defense.

"It's all about a fundamental technique," Meyer said of his team's struggles on tackling last week. "I know we tackled more than anybody, but obviously it's not getting the job done, so we have to tackle more. How to you improve technique and fundamental? You work really hard on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I can't remember an Ohio State defense, and I've been watching them for a long time, giving up this many points. We've got to stop or we'll lose the game. We're working awfully hard to get it done."

Meyer did single out John Simon, who played last week with a banged up shoulder, Johnathan Hankins, Bradley Roby and Ryan Shazier as the team's defensive champions last week.

After the Central Florida game, the Buckeyes' coach stressed the need for more sacks. The Buckeyes responded with six and now the focus shifts to tackling.

"All of the stats on defense, there are two that caught my eye," Meyer said. "That's hitting the quarterback and also the fact that we stiffened up when we had to down there."

The Blazers' offense averages 363 yards a game, including 282.5 through the air and only 80.5 on the ground.

UAB's quarterback is Jonathan Perry. He's completing 52 percent of his passes for 536 yards. He's thrown only two touchdowns.

Jacki Williams (11-202) and Patrick Heam (11-174) are the team's top receivers..

"This is like a typical Ohio State team," McGee said in his weekly press conference. "Ohio State is another one of those programs that has the top talented players in the country. They're always sound defensively and they understand how to play with levarage."

UAB is the third straight OSU opponent, which features nary a player from the Buckeye State on its roster.

However, the Blazers do have some familiarity on their coaching staff. John Peterson spent eight years on the Buckeyes' staff, working under Jim Tressel and last year for Luke Fickell.

"John's a great coach and a great guy," Meyer said. "I wanted to hire guys who had spread offense backgrounds because I got stuck before where I hired guys that don't have the same alignment, same philosophy. (Retaining) coaches is one of the hardest decisions you have to make, but in this situation it had absolutely nothing to do with quality coach or quality of person."

The Buckeyes' offense continued to score points in bunches last week except for a stretch of the third quarter when it had consecutive three-and-out possessions.

"Taking six three-and-outs isn't acceptable," Meyer relayed. "We've just got to get better. We need some highlight reel (kind of plays) on the Ohio State side, other than Devin Smith's catch (in Week one). We're still working to see who can touch the ball a lot for us."

One guy who does touch the ball and certainly deserves it after earning is Miller. The dynamic sophomore quarterback has popped up in all sorts of Heisman Trophy conversation.

"(Miller) is the type of quarterback that Coach Meyer has played with throughout his career, so he probably feels comfortable calling the plays with that kid because he brings some of the same elements that Tim Tebow brought to the table at Florida and Alex Smith brought to the table at Utah."

And he's earned the publicity. He's the leading quarterback rusher in the country with 377 yards and five touchdowns. His passing is continuing to improve. He's thrown for 611 yards and seven touchdowns.

"It's rather obvious that we need him to carry the ball a lot for us, but a lot of that is dictated by defenses, too," Meyer said.

A season ago, the Buckeyes' passing game was so inept that 14 receptions led the team for the season. Philly Brown already has 16 catches for 166 yards and Smith has 13 receptions and three touchdowns, including the game winner last week.

The Buckeyes' ground game got a lift last week with the return of senior Jordan Hall, who missed the first two games of the season due to a foot injury. Hall finished with a solid 87 yards.

Meyer has ruled running back Carlos Hyde out this week. Hall has taken the top spot on the weekly depth chart with Bri'onte Dunn listed as the top backup.

Senior Jake Stoneburner, sophomore Evan Spencer and senior Zach Boren are also developing into more solid offensive weapons.

Kickoff is set for high noon and the game will be broadcast on the Big 10 Network.



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