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Four downs: Keys for Ohio State-Cal

9/13/2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Critical areas for the Buckeyes as they gear up for a visit from the Golden Bears on Saturday at Ohio Stadium (TV: ABC, noon).

FIRST DOWN

Foot patrol: The decision was put off until game day, but eventually Urban Meyer is going to have to pick a starting running back.

The fact the Buckeyes hadn't made a choice earlier in the week as originally planned bodes well for Jordan Hall's bid to return from offseason foot surgery, though Meyer certainly doesn't want to rush the senior back too quickly.

Even if he plays, Ohio State is likely going to need Bri'onte Dunn to step up and play a meaningful role in just his third collegiate game. Dunn has the ability to run with power between the tackles and he's got a nice burst, and there doesn't seem to be any hesitation on Meyer's end to put him in the game.

But how many carries a tailback who was just medically cleared or an inexperienced newcomer can offer remains to be seen. Wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown and fullback Zach Boren can also lend a hand, and some combination of those four will need to be productive to limit the number of rushing attempts for quarterback Braxton Miller.

SECOND DOWN

Tight quarters: The defensive line has been given plenty of reminders about the lack of pressure on the quarterback early in the season, and the Buckeyes seem to be getting tired of hearing about it.

The solution is simply to go create some.

Ohio State has the talent and experience to get after a quarterback with just four rushers, but it's struggled to do that against a pass-happy offense first and then a max-protecting team second. Cal will want to take some shots downfield with star receiver Keenan Allen, and the guys up front will need to do their part to force rushed or inaccurate throws without needing assistance from blitzing linebackers.

THIRD DOWN

Fully armed: The Golden Bears will roll out a 4-6 defense the Buckeyes will seldom see, though it might become more common to see a similar approach if Miller keeps gouging teams on the ground.

Cal will load the box to try to slow down the spread rushing attack, but Miller has shown improved efficiency as a passer and that style of defense will afford him no shortage of one-on-one opportunities to take advantage of on the perimeter with Brown and Devin Smith emerging as weapons at receiver.

In his third game in the new system, Miller should have an early chance to prove that he's equally dangerous airing the ball out as keeping it himself and running.

FOURTH DOWN

Turning point: The defensive staff will gladly take the five interceptions through two games.

The offensive coaches were obviously less than thrilled to have given the ball away three times to balance out the turnover margin a week ago.

The two fumbles and Miller's first interception of the season didn't cost the Buckeyes anything in the win column, but that hardly seemed to matter to Meyer after the victory over Central Florida and throughout practice this week. The emphasis is on having an edge in that statistical category every game, and that requires placing just as much importance on protecting the football on offense as snatching it away on defense.