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Bucks set to host Bulls

September 3, 2013
By SETH STASKEY - Buckeye Blitz , Times Leader

The wait is nearly over.

When the Buckeyes take the field inside Ohio Stadium Saturday against the University of Buffalo, it will have been 279 days since they completed their magical 12-0 season with a win against Michigan.

It's obviously tough to do better than undefeated season, so the question becomes what will the Buckeyes do for an encore?

With all of the bowl bans lifted and the Buckeyes eligible to compete for more championships than just the Legends Division title at the end of the season, the expectations are off the chart for a team that's ranked number two in both of the major polls.

Urban Meyer's success rate at all of his previous head-coaching stops during his second season has been well documented. Part of the process when a team is facing high expectations is making sure the players don't get caught up reading their press clippings.

"I would be disappointed in our staff if that happened," Meyer said. "I don't think we have that problem. First of all, we're not that good yet. I'd tell you if I believe we are, and we're not. We have a long way to go in a lot of areas."

One of the areas where Meyer has been stressing during the off-season and camp about where the Buckeyes need to improve the most is in the leadership department. Most of the teams "leaders" from the 2012 campaign have graduated.

Thus, during the off-season, Meyer and his staff invested a lot of time in developing leadership because the head coach was adament that the 2012 Buckeyes' leadership was the chief reason they finished undefeated.

"I've made the comment many, many times that fundamentally we were 12-0 and some really great things happened with some incredible leadership, motivation and a team that got really, really close, which is more important than everything else."

It's tough to believe that Buffalo, which the Buckeyes have never faced on the football field, will provide the stiffest of tests for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes will be without the likes of Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith and Bradley Roby, all of whom are suspended for at least this game.

However, plenty of talent remains for the Buckeyes, who are coming off one of their most productive offensive seasons in which they averaged 37.2 points a game and more than 400 yards of total offense a week.

Still, Meyer wasn't fully pleased with the offense that is led by junior quarterback Braxton Miller. The number of playmakers around Miller wasn't up to the par that's needed to fully execute Meyer's spread offense at the level he would like.

"Last year we were not a read offense," Meyer said. "To be honest with you, I'm not sure how much read offense we are going to be this year. I think we are going to have the idea that we want to do is get guys in space, but we might be doing that by throwing the ball more this year. We're much better in those areas."

Miller passed for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, but he completed only 56.7 percent of his throws. As a runner is where Miller was most lethal. He accumulated 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.

The Buckeyes' entire receiving corp is back from a year ago and with a few new pieces in the mix, too. Corey "Philly" Brown, Devin Smith and Chris Fields are all back. Plus, Evan Spencer, who is the son of St. Clairsville graduate Tim Spencer, has been splendid this summer in camp and made a steady climb up the depth chart.

The tight end spot is a position of strength with Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett sharing the duties.

Though Hyde and Smith are sitting out due to transgressions in the off-season, depth prevails in the backfield. Senior Jordan Hall is back and healthy after accepting a redshirt during a injury-riddled campaign in 2012. Warren Ball has also been impressive in camp. Plus, freshmen Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott are also expected to work their way into the mix.

"I hope (Braxton) doesn't lead us in rushing again this season," Meyer said. "He was by far our best player, and when I say by far, I mean, it wasn't even in the same hemisphere as far as who the next player was that could go make a play to help us win. I'm very comfortable with Philly Brown; Evan Spencer has had a tremendous camp and Jordan Hall looks better than he ever has."

Ohio State's offensive line has battled some injury issues during the pre-season, but Meyer said all five are cleared to play on Saturday.

The Buckeyes have been installed as better than a five-touchdown favorite against the Bulls, but there's more than just winning the game that Meyer and the Buckeyes' coaching staff are seeking this weekend.

If you remember, Ohio State didn't play well, especially early, in its opener last season against Miami of Ohio. That opening quarter has stuck with Meyer as he prepares for the 2013 season opener.

"I want us to play well and play clean," Meyer stressed. "Last year, it was 7-0 (Miami) after the first quarter and it should have and could have been worse. We didn't play cleanly up until about the third or fourth game.

"I'm hoping that we leave the field Saturday obviously with the win, but you feel good about the fundamentals of your football team," Meyer continued. "If you do that, it's a real positive and we didn't feel that way last year. It took us awhile to feel that way."

Ohio State is hosting a Buffalo squad that finished 4-8, but suffered losses to seven teams that earned their way to a bowl game and return nine starters on offense and seven on defense.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for our kids to go and play in the Horseshoe," said Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn, who was an assistant at the University of Cincinnati under Brian Kelly before accepting the Bulls' job. "We know Ohio State is a tremendous, well-coached team. It's one of the elite programs in the United States. They have a leading Heisman candidate (Braxton Miller), so this will be a great test for our entire defense and team."

Buffalo won three of its final four games last season and will be playing its second straight game inside the Columbus city limits. The Bulls lost to Bowling Green at Crew Stadium in November last year.

The Buffalo defense is led by Khalil Mack, who plays at outside linebacker. Mack led the team in both tackles (94) and sacks (8) last season. He's also drawn the eye of numerous NFL scouts and has been climbing the boards of mock 2014 drafts.

Buffalo's defense is coordinated by former Illinois head coach Lou Tepper.

"They play an unorthodox defense," Meyer said. "It's called a 54 and it's like an inversion of the 3-4. It can really screw up blocking schemes and they play a unique coverage called two invert, which we've not seen in a couple of years. Good thing is we've been working on this for a while, but it's a pain in the butt."

The Ohio State defense is breaking in almost an entirely new front seven. The lone returnee in the first two levels is Ryan Shazier at linebacker. Depth at linebacker is still a concern. Curtis Grant is expected to move into one of the starting jobs, but was slowed in the pre-season somewhat by injury. Joshua Perry is ticketed for the other linebacker spot.

Up front, it's an entirely new, but talented group. Noah Spence is penciled in at the viper spot, while Adolphus Washington is set for the other defensive end post. Michael Bennett and Joel Hale are the defensive tackles.

Depth at tackle took a hit this week when it was announced that Tommy Schutt would be sidelined several weeks with a broken foot.

In the secondary, Armani Reeves and Doran Grant are expected to start at corner with Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett slated to start at free and strong safety, respectively.

The Bulls' offense is led by quarterback Joe Licata, who took over and won the job from Cardinal Mooney graduate Alex Zordich last season when Zordich went down with an injury. Licata threw for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns.

Alex Neutz is the Bulls' leading returning receiver with 65 catches for 1,015 yards and 11 touchdowns. Fred Lee, Devon Hughes and Rudy Johnson are also impressive targets.

Drew Basil is back again as the Buckeyes' placekicker and Australian true freshman Cameron Johnston is the punter.



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