COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Looking at the hot topics and pressing issues as Ohio State closes out its non-conference slate on Saturday against UAB.
1. Wrap it up: There has apparently been no shortage of tackling in practice. But that didn’t translate into the game last week against California, which produced an extra workout of intense contact and even more emphasis on fundamentals for the Ohio State defense. The perfect example of how important finishing every opportunity is to the coaching staff -- safety Christian Bryant broke up two passes with thunderous hits and capped the victory with his first career interception, but he didn’t grade out as a champion because he missed a tackle. The Buckeyes obviously missed plenty of other plays in giving up 512 yards of offense, but that is the standard they will be held to moving forward.
2. Roaming with Hall: The return of Jordan Hall in the backfield clearly eased the burden on Braxton Miller in the running game, allowing the Buckeyes to get his carries down to a more manageable number against the Golden Bears with just 12 attempts. Hall led the team with 17 rushes though, and in his first game back, the senior might have also benefitted from having somebody to share the load with on the ground. Ohio State still won’t have Carlos Hyde back from his knee sprain against the Blazers, and Hall should be better prepared after getting a game and another week of practice under his belt. But until Hyde returns, it might help if freshman Bri’onte Dunn or fullback Zach Boren can sneak in a few rushes.
3. Air it out: The Blazers won’t be shy about taking shots down the field no matter who they’re playing. But against a team that has been susceptible at times to big strikes, an offense that has averaged 282 yards per game through the air might even be more aggressive in challenging the Ohio State secondary. That can be a dangerous gamble with the Buckeyes entering the weekend with six interceptions through three games, but UAB has nothing to lose in a non-conference game with a ranked opponent -- particularly after dropping decisions to both South Carolina and Troy already this season.
4. Air it out, Part II: At least three targets have emerged as viable threats down the field for the Buckeyes, and they have a quarterback it trusts enough to take shots. If that’s enough to convince Ohio State to stretch the field a bit more often in the passing game, opponents are helping encourage the offensive staff to try its luck with a few aggressive throws. Defenses are loading the box more and more often to keep Miller from using his agility and acceleration as a runner, and while that doesn’t ensure success, it figures to lead to more chances for him to show off his improvements throwing the football. The Blazers might wind up seeing plenty from Ohio State wide receivers Devin Smith, Corey “Philly” Brown and Jake Stoneburner if they pay too much attention to the threat of the run.
5. Final tuneup: Urban Meyer has gone out of his way to stress how difficult it is to win any game and the importance of treating each opponent the same, and that hasn’t changed despite facing a team that has started 0-2. It might be tempting, though, for the Buckeyes to peek around the corner and ahead to the start of Big Ten play against Michigan State next week, an intriguing matchup on the road that could reveal just how close the program is to a quick return to the top of the league. But there are still a few issues to iron out before the degree of difficulty steps up for Ohio State, and the offensive lapses and missed assignments on defense should be enough to keep the focus on this game.