Here. We. Go. The first Buckeye football Saturday of the year. Everyone, including myself, is super fired up. Without further ado, here are five things that you should be watching for:
1. Stay healthy
This should be a no brainer, but one of the main goals for this game, other than getting the W, should be keeping all of Ohio State's main players intact. If Braxton Miller needs to sit a quarter out, do it. To me, and hopefully to the coaching staff, #Miller4Heisman should take a back seat to #Miller4TwelvesGames, especially given his propensity to get dinged up in the middle of games. The last thing anyone wants to see is Braxton Miller laying on the ground after some third-string DB dives at his ankles in the 3rd quarter of a 30-0 game.
2. Return of the mack
His exploits have been covered elsewhere on this site, so I don't need to tell you that Khalil Mack is being looked at as a possible first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Mack's scheme versatility, athleticism and general nastiness have him high on many team's draft boards, and he has the capability to singlehandedly disrupt some plays. Look for Ohio State to read him on option plays if he puts his hand on the ground. Also, if he is standing upright at outside linebacker, look for Ohio State to try some power runs at him, or some misdirection away from his side. Ohio State will also want to test him in space, but one thing they will not want to do is give Mack an opportunity to attack Braxton Miller on passing downs. Look for the Buckeyes to exploit other matchups in the passing game.
3. Staying focused
Ohio State had a few problems against lower-tier teams last year, namely, playing down to the level of its competition. The Buckeyes didn't really get going against UAB until the second half, and they let the
Trogdors Blazers hang around all game long. Buffalo is a team with a little bit of a higher talent level than UAB, and could make a bowl game out of the MAC. If the Buckeyes let them hang around, we could be seeing a repeat of the Toledo game from a few years ago. Offensively, the Bulls run a slightly different scheme than the Rockets did – and there's no Eric Page on that side of the ball – but make no mistake, the Buckeyes will need to take the Bulls seriously if they're looking for the result they expect.
4. The Buckeye back seven
The back seven are, to me, the most important position group in this game. Buffalo will no doubt run lots of screens, draws, quick slants, and play action passes to take advantage of an Ohio State defense that is sure to be aggressive. The back seven must remain disciplined and stick to the receivers all game long. If the coaches keep them off in coverage, they must be prepared to come up, shed blocks, and make tackles. The loss of Bradley Roby, one of the most physical corners in the Big Ten, hurts a lot. Doran Grant will really need to step up his game, and the two senior safeties will need to provide lots of leadership and splash plays to give the rest of their unit confidence. The linebackers must play fast, but smart, in order to keep the Bulls' offense in check.
5. Be quick, but don't hurry
Urban Meyer and the rest of the offensive staff and players have placed an emphasis this year on playing at an increased tempo. This is, of course, in keeping with the current college football trend of playing offense at ludicrous speed. However, the offense must perfect this style in order for it to work properly. Braxton Miller and his skill players need to be concerned with making the right reads. The offense in general needs to make sure that all plays come in correctly and that no one is false-starting, lining up in illegal formations, or committing other penalties that kill drives. We'll definitely be watching to see if Ohio State's players are sacrificing disciplined play for the purpose of tempo. The coaching they've received should alleviate that, but you never know what's going to happen early in the season.
What will you be watching for in the Ohio State-Buffalo game this weekend?