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Insider

Four downs: Keys for Ohio State-UAB

9/21/2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Critical areas for the Buckeyes as they gear up for their last non-conference game of the season, Saturday's home date with UAB (TV: BTN, noon).

FIRST DOWN

Middle ground: The receivers on the perimeter are starting to command more attention in coverage, and defenses are already concerned about Braxton Miller's rushing ability.

That's likely going to leave plenty of room for Jake Stoneburner to operate in the middle of the field, and the Buckeyes could take advantage of that and reap the benefits like they did on his 40-yard catch last week more often moving forward.

Ohio State has seemingly just scratched the surface with how it would like to use the hybrid tight end/receiver, and while it might not want to show everything in the arsenal off against a defense that has been gouged in its first two games, using Stoneburner as a weapon when it takes its deep shots could pay off in a big way.

SECOND DOWN

Keep 'em fresh: John Simon's toughness isn't up for debate, and Nathan Williams can't be questioned for his heart as he returns from microfracture knee surgery either.

Both of those defensive ends are more than willing to stay on the field for every defensive snap, but against a Blazers offense that will take its chances in the passing game, the Buckeyes will need fresh bodies to get after the passer.

That also means freshmen bodies, and Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence will be needed to bulk up the rotation in the trenches against UAB -- and keep the veterans from working too much heading into Big Ten play next week at Michigan State.

THIRD DOWN

Small change: Whether it's matching up with personnel or through injuries to its own players in the secondary, one way or the other Orhian Johnson is likely going to need to be a factor for the Buckeyes.

The senior was thrust into an expanded role two weeks against Central Florida, and he responded with a huge game in the Nickel package. If C.J. Barnett's sprained ankle limits him on Saturday, Johnson might be needed to form a tandem with Christian Bryant at safety.

But with the Blazers throwing for nearly 283 yards per game so far this season, Johnson figures to be on the field regardless and his experience will be important in helping Ohio State get back on track forcing turnovers in the passing game.

FOURTH DOWN

Special spark: Other than a bad snap in the opener that produced a fumble recovery for a touchdown, the game-breaking special teams unit coach Urban Meyer has emphasized hasn't really made an impact just yet.

The Buckeyes have been sound in all areas, particularly in covering kicks, but they are aiming for something more than that.

Through four attempts, they have just 10 yards returning punts. The longest kickoff returns have been for 26 yards, with Devin Smith and Armani Reeves tying for the team lead there. With Meyer stressing field position and explosive plays on special teams, the Buckeyes will need more from the return units -- and with Big Ten play looming, the sooner he gets it the better.