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Four downs: Keys to Ohio State's opener

8/31/2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The opener has finally arrived. Urban Meyer is slated for his debut at Ohio State, his team is eager to reestablish itself as a national power after a rough year and the Buckeyes can finally put a bow on the offseason after months of brutal workouts. They'll have the talent advantage when the curtain comes up at Ohio Stadium at noon on Saturday, but these four areas will be important and well worth watching.

FIRST DOWN

Hurry up: There's a reason the offseason program focused so intently on conditioning.

The Buckeyes won't be slowing down on offense to catch their breath with the fast-breaking, no-huddle style going to be the approach almost exclusively.

There might be some timing issues and kinks in the schemes to work out in the first live test after installing the spread during spring practice and training camp, and that's to be expected for an opener during a coaching transition. But Meyer will be watching closely to see who is best up to speed as he finds the right mix of offensive players ahead of Big Ten play.

SECOND DOWN

Tough Hyde: Jordan Hall will be back eventually, and the projected starting running back is going to be plugged back into the lineup when he's healthy.

But now is the time for Carlos Hyde to prove that his role doesn't need to shrink when Hall's foot is fully healed.

Meyer made it clear even before camp started that the junior was facing a pivotal moment in his career, and with the ball going to be in his hands early and often in the backfield, it's now up to Hyde to prove that he is capable of being the power rusher the offense needs in Ohio State's version of the spread.

He's got the burst and the build to be a productive tailback, and his attitude has apparently been much improved according to the coaching staff. Now he's got to validate the positive reviews if he wants to cement a spot in the offense for when Hall returns.

THIRD DOWN

Fresh faces: Nathan Williams is expected to make his return from microfracture knee surgery, but he's likely going to be limited as the Buckeyes ease him back into action.

Michael Bennett impressed enough to essentially be locked in as a starter throughout camp, but Meyer announced on his radio show that the sophomore is also likely to be held back some due to a previously undisclosed injury.

Those absences at defensive end are almost certainly going to put the talented freshmen up front in the spotlight in their first game at the Horseshoe, with Noah Spence perhaps in line for the most work on the edge.

Tommy Schutt and Adolphus Washington figure to see plenty of work on the interior as well as the Buckeyes see up close just what they really have in those newcomers. And against a team that relies on its passing attack to move the ball, the Buckeyes will need every lineman who steps on the field to pressure the quarterback.

FOURTH DOWN

High five: Miami has little interest in establishing itself on the ground.

The RedHawks finished dead last in the nation in rushing yardage a season ago, and that approach isn't likely to change on Saturday. So the Buckeyes can probably forget about playing much base defense.

Expect to see defensive coordinator Luke Fickell operating out of packages with extra defensive backs for the overwhelming majority of the afternoon, giving the secondary an early chance to have an impact and prove it's capable of returning to an elite level.

At this point, neither Fickell nor co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers have been in a hurry to finalize a rotation in the Nickel package. But reserve safeties Orhian Johnson and Corey Brown both should be involved in slowing down the RedHawks, perhaps with starter Christian Bryant occasionally sliding into the "Star" role as the fifth defensive back.