September 21, 2012

What to watch for: Ohio State vs. UAB

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - With a two-time national champion head coach taking over one of college football's most successful and polarizing programs, there should be no shortage of storylines in Urban Meyer's first season at Ohio State. With this in mind, every Friday for the rest of the season, I'll list and examine the most relevant headlines heading into the next day's Buckeye game.

Today, I tell you what you should be keeping an eye on as the Buckeyes head into their final game before Big Ten play begins, a Saturday matchup with Conference USA's UAB Blazers.

Big play Blazers

After giving up 512 yards and 28 points to California, to say that Meyer was less than thrilled with his defense would be an understatement. And while UAB may be a step down in competition from the Buckeyes' previous two weeks, the OSU coach has already expressed concerns about the Blazers' willingness to attempt to create big plays.

"We've seen enough big plays for a season, let alone three games," Meyer said. "This team is willing to launch it down the field, so that's an issue."

The notion that the Buckeyes need to pick up their effort on defense hasn't been lost on co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, who admitted that his team needs to find a way to stop giving up big gains to opponents.

"The address isn't going to be a whole lot different. We know we want to be a sound football team," Fickell said. "We got to revaluate how we go about practicing that, how we go about doing those things. We've got to get some different looks, but it all starts with leveraging the football."

Big Ten ready?

Saturday's matchup with UAB will provide OSU with its last test before heading to East Lansing, Mich. on Sept. 29 for its Big Ten opener against Michigan State. After a slow start against Miami (OH) followed by two games decided in the fourth quarter against Central Florida and California, the Buckeyes are yet to put together a full 60 minutes of action under Meyer, which is something that the OSU coach acknowledged that his team needs to do.

"We'll lose a game if we don't. We almost lost one Saturday," Meyer said. "That's the bottom line. We're here to win games and do it the right way."

Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman said that he'd also like to see the Buckeyes' last out of conference game this season be their best one.

"Just clean a lot of things up. We can get a lot better," Heuerman said. "We're working hard to do that."

Braxton for Heisman?

After putting up gaining 611 yards passing the ball, 377 rushing the ball, and 12 total touchdowns in three games, Braxton Miller has already garnered early season Heisman Trophy talk from analysts around the country. Facing a team like UAB- that has given up an average of 44 points in its two games this season- could help Miller pad his box score and highlight reel, although his coach isn't quite buying the hype just yet.

"I don't think he's played enough," Meyer said when asked about a potential Meyer-for-Heisman campaign. "He hasn't been playing well enough yet."

Some plays of their own

Despite the Buckeyes' propensity for giving up big plays, outside of Miller, they haven't been able to create many of their own this season. And that's something that Meyer would like to see change this week.

"Hopefully the return of a guy like Jordan Hall or maybe we're trying to figure out who can touch the ball and take it a little bit," Meyer said. "Break a tackle and do something with it because we see other guys doing it. We don't do that enough. We don't break enough tackles. We need some highlight reels on the Ohio State, other than Devin Smith making a great catch."

Despite the absence of running back Carlos Hyde in the OSU lineup, a lack of big play production against the Blazers on Saturday could alarming, especially with the stout defense of Michigan State right around the corner.

Who's in the middle?

Last week presented the Buckeyes with their first chance to spend significant time in their base defensive package, where Curtis Grant was expected to emerge as a star at the middle linebacker spot. The true sophomore, however, struggled, and was soon replaced by senior Storm Klein, who was returning from a two-game suspension to start the season.

"There's a lot of guys in there that are able to play this year, so we're splitting some reps and stuff and it's not hard on our bodies," Klein said. "We're doing a good job."

Fickell downplayed the significance of Klein taking reps away from Grant, but admitted that the senior's playing time will likely only increase over time.

"Is going to continue to play more? Yeah. We've got to continue to get him into the mix some more," Fickell said. "Storm's played a lot of football here. He started every game last year. This team needs him."


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