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OSU, MSU open Big Ten play

September 28, 2012
By SETH STASKEY - Buckeye Blitz (sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com) , Times Leader

It's well documented that when it comes to the Ohio State football program, and sports in general - patience isn't always something that everyone embraces in today's what have you done for me lately culture.

But, when you're working with a new coaching staff, some new personnel and a new approach, there has to be some room for growth.

Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, the maturation process will have to speed up as they are set to begin Big 10 Conference play Saturday against Michigan State in East Lansing.

Not only are the Buckeyes embarking on their first league game of the 2012 season, but they're also leaving the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium for the first time after opening with four straight victories at the Horseshoe.

While the masses of Buckeye Nation are thrilled to be 4-0, there are plenty who are far from pleased with how OSU has reached that point, including three not-so-impressive performances the last three weeks against Central Florida, California and heavy underdog Alabama-Birmingham, which moved the ball seemingly at will up and down the field, but just couldn't punch it into the end zone.

However, as head coach Urban Meyer has been quick to point out every week thus far, the Buckeyes will never take winning for granted and realize that winning games in major college football isn't always easy.

Having said that, Meyer is quick to be blunt on his team, too. He knows that there are too many areas to even name where his football team needs to improve. But, he, his staff and players are working dilligently to become the type of team that all of those people and the fans had envisioned.

"I thought we'd be further ahead, but I was well aware of our shortcomings," Meyer said at his weekly press conference. "I know we're Ohio State and there's all kinds of expectations here. I am still not giving up. I think by the end of the year this might be a hell of a football team. I mean, it might even be sooner than that."

Meyer believes his players have taken on a new, refreshed approach as the season moves into conference play. It was learned a few weeks ago that despite the NCAA sanctions, which keep OSU from playing in a bowl game or the Big 10 Championship Game this season, it'll be allowed to win the Leaders Divisions.

"I feel a different pepper in (the players') step," Meyer said. "I would expect that. This is a rivalry game that's going to have an instrumental impact on the Big Ten Conference."

Could it start Saturday with a nationally televised audience looking on as the two highest ranked teams in the conference renew their rivalry, which has been dominated over the years by the Buckeyes?

"I really think we have the potential to be a hell of a football team," Meyer continued. "I think people will eventually be saying great things about Ohio State, I really do, if we continue to grow and mature."

The growth and maturatation process will be needed this week as Ohio State plays not only its first road game, but first game at Spartan Stadium since 2008. Only Nathan Williams and Etienne Sabino played in the 2008 game as true freshmen.

All told, this is the 41st meeting between the two schools and the Buckeyes lead the all-time series 27-13. However, the Spartans prevailed in a not-so-exciting game last season in Columbus, 10-7.

While the Buckeyes made it through the non-conference portion of their schedule unscathed, the Spartans are 3-1 on the season. Their only loss was to Notre Dame. They own victories against Boise State and last week they upended Eastern Michigan after trailing for much of the game and not playing well in in any phase.

"It's frustrating because I think it's very important that we play with great confidence in whatever we do," said Sparatans' head coach Mark Dantonio, who was the defensive coordinator for the 2002 Buckeyes, which won the BCS National Championship. "We've got to move forward, but sometimes we have to wait on our young players to grow and we can't give up on them."

The Spartans' defense has been impressive, allowing just over 10 points and 233 yards per game, including only 69 yards a game on the ground.

"I was looking at Ohio State's personnel, and I could go through all the names," Dantonio said. "I would say probably 70 percent of the guys that are starting on their football team are guys that we've recruited. There's never going to be a shortage of great football players at Ohio State. The expectations there are very, very high."

After playing against teams three straight weeks which featured a nary a player from the Buckeye State, that changes this week as the Spartans have 28 players from Ohio, including seven starters.

"It makes it an even more exciting atmosphere because when you are from that state or this state, then you have your entire families. There's a lot going on there in terms of a lot of people you know, things of that nature. You sort of play for respect from those areas. I'm sure it'll be exciting on both sides."

As the Ohio State offense continues to settle into its spread, up-tempo attack, it could be the first time this season where Meyer has all of the weapons he expected on the field at the same time.

Carlos Hyde is expected to return to the lineup this week after missing two games with a knee injury.

Throw in the fact that Jordan Hall is healthy and coming off a 100-yard performance along with sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller continuing to amongst the nation's leaders in rushing from the quarterback spot.

"We have to find some ways to get some yards," Meyer said. "It has to be some creative stuff because to turn around and hand the ball off, we tried that last year a little bit and it went reverse. (Michigan State) is a very good defense against the run, so we'll have to be every efficient."

Meyer didn't tip his hand too much, but did allow for some packages and formations when Hyde and Hall are on the field at the same time.

"We're working on that," Meyer said. "I had both of them in the (meeting) room with things put together up on a drawing board."

Miller is averaging 110 yards per game and has 441 and seven touchdowns for the season. He's also passed for 754 yards and seven touchdowns.

It's still a matter of finding consistency. For instance, last week, the Buckeyes scored three of their touchdowns in about a 7-minute span of the second quarter. However, it went a funk offensively and then had to turn it on at the end of the game.

Against this Spartans' defense, which Meyer believes "has a bunch of NFL players on their defensive line," the Buckeyes won't be able to afford moments of inconsistency.

"I've seen some good defenses in my career and this is one of the best," Meyer said.

"This is a very well thought out defensive approach. They're going to take away the run and force you to throw the ball down the field. We need plays and we need drives."

To help prove his point to his offensive unit, Meyer elected not to show the Buckeyes the entire game film from last week. He broke the tape up and basically showed a reel of highlights, including those aforementioned touchdown drives. There's certainly a method to his madness.

"I wanted the players to have a great taste in their mouth and get ready to go play a big-time college football game," Meyer said.

The Ohio State defense hasn't been anything near what the Buckeyes' backers have long come to know. It's a unit that's surrendering yards in bunches, but has been resilient in the red zone.

The defense has forced its fair share of turnovers, but it's also missed its fair share of tackles, which has led to some trying days and nights for defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.

"I know it was painful to watch," Meyer said. "It was painful for me to watch, too. However, at the end of the day, we did keep them out of the end zone. It's not a finished product by any means, but (our tackling) was much better last week, we've been getting pressure on the quarterback a little better as well. The aggressiveness of the back end of our defense right now is a little bit of a concern."

The Buckeyes' secondary received strong play from sophomore Doran Grant last week. Meyer expects C.J. Barnett and Bradley Roby both to play and defensive lineman Michael Bennett is improving and could make his debut this week as well.

With the Spartans, the Buckeyes must find a way to slown down Le'Veon Bell, who has ran for 610 yards and five touchdowns. Bell, who is from Groveport Madison High School in suburban Columbus, is a powerful, yet agile runner as he showed when he hurdled a defender in the Boise State game.

"He reminds me of (Wisconsin's) Ron Dayne, but even more athletic," Meyer said. "He times up his blocks very well and runs through tackles with athleticism guys that size usually don't have."

Andrew Maxwell is settling into the quarterback role with 869 yards passing. His favorite target is Dion Sims (22-277-2td) and Keith Mumphrey (15-161).

 
 

 

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