Friday, September 6, 2013
Four downs: Buckeyes to watch vs. SDSU
By Austin Ward
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Players and positions to watch as Ohio State goes back to work on Saturday against San Diego State at Ohio Stadium (TV: ABC, 3:30 p.m.).
The reviews were just average for the big guys up front in the season opener, and that's not nearly good enough for a program that expects its offensive line to be the best in the conference. A so-so performance also puts prized quarterback Braxton Miller directly in the line of fire, and after giving up four sacks to Buffalo, the Buckeyes are obviously looking for a significant improvement there. Part of the issue is health, and with center Corey Linsley in the game during the first quarter, the Buckeyes were close to unstoppable with the football. When coach Urban Meyer decided to pull him and rest his surgically-repaired foot, adding another new player in sophomore Jacoby Boren to the mix along with right tackle Taylor Decker certainly appeared to knock things out of whack. That unit will be in the crosshairs of Meyer this week.
The dynamic junior cornerback had to wait an extra week to get back on the field thanks to his one-game suspension, delaying his chance to start improving his NFL draft stock and also forcing the Buckeyes to tap the brakes a bit on their plans for a more aggressive defensive approach. Ohio State has continually stressed that it won't build its program around one guy, but with Roby out, the amount of press coverage was clearly lower than anticipated and the blitz packages appeared to be scaled back some. Not having safety C.J. Barnett on the field was also a factor with less depth overall in the secondary, but Roby is the centerpiece in the backend, and he'll no doubt be energized to prove he's better than ever before.
The job continues to belong to Jordan Hall, but the first true threat to unseat him early in the season is returning to the fold. Rod Smith was yet another expected contributor forced to watch the opener due to suspension, and the projected backup missed out on what could have been a golden opportunity to prove he could be an every-down back while Carlos Hyde serves his own punishment over the first three weeks. Instead Hall turned in the most prolific rushing performance of his career and raised the bar for Smith, who will have to prove himself quickly on special teams before he can get a crack at showing off his physical rushing style -- and what Ohio State hopes will be improved ball security.
The receiving version of Philly Brown was barely a factor in the opener, and Meyer was quick to shoulder the blame for the senior's lack of touches during a two-catch outing against Buffalo. The special teams version showed some flashes of productivity with 44 yards on 4 returns, but he was also shaky fielding the football and, according to assistant Kerry Coombs, had issues with a "high sky and a bright sun." The Buckeyes need Brown to be a factor both in the passing game, like he was last year as the team's most targeted receiver. And they can also use the dynamic returner he proved he could be last season while taking a pair of punts back for touchdowns. Ohio State will be looking for improvement in both areas heading into Week Two.