It's the Buckeyes' first road game, and it's a good one. Going all the way out to California is never easy, so in that regard, the scarlet and gray will have a tough travel day. Thankfully, the game is at 7 p.m. Eastern time (4 p.m. Pacific) so everyone should have a decent chance to adjust to the time difference. Here are five other things you can watch for during this weekend's game.
1. Press coverage
It remains to be seen whether Luke Fickell and Kerry Coombs have enough trust in their corners yet to jam Cal's receivers at the line of scrimmage, or if the relative inconsistency of Armani Reeves and Doran Grant have given the coaching staff pause. Much to the frustration of some Buckeye fans, the Buckeye DBs have been playing back quite a bit and giving up short completions, which allow for manageable conversions. Cal's receivers are very dangerous if they get in space, especially speedsters Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper. Treggs reminds me a lot of Chad Johnson with his ability to get behind a defense. Those two are not especially known for their physical nature, however, so if Bradley Roby and whoever plays the short corner – most likely Doran Grant – can get bumps on them before they hit the five yard mark, it could cause true freshman Jared Goff's timing to be thrown off. With the Air Raid, timing and accuracy is key. Putting pressure on the wide receivers to get off press coverage might just be a solution to the Bear Raid problem.
2. Blocking multiple NFL-caliber players
The Buckeyes may not see anyone as good as Khalil Mack all year, but that doesn't mean there aren't excellent players on defense elsewhere on the schedule. Cal has some excellent players on the defensive front seven, starting with nose tackle DeAndre Coleman. Coleman is big and powerful, and overwhelms guards at the point of attack. No doubt they will have Coleman lined up against Corey Linsley or Marcus Hall, in order to make those two prove they can block him effectively. Hall is going to have a long day. Chris McCain, playing the position Ohio State's coaching staff calls the "Viper", will be chasing after Braxton Miller/Kenny Guiton all game long. Expect him to make one or two splash plays - especially if he's lined up against Taylor Decker on the right side of the Buckeye line. The linebackers have some players with pedigree as well - starting Will backer Khairi Fortt was a four-star prospect from Connecticut and played for Penn State before transferring in 2012, and the middle linebacker is Hardy Nickerson. If that name sounds familiar, his father, also named Hardy Nickerson, had a long and fruitful NFL career.
3. Attacking the Cal secondary
If Braxton can get protection, expect the Buckeyes to try to pass a little bit more often on Saturday. The Cal secondary depends a lot on its pass rush to make plays, and when the pass rush doesn't get home, they get chewed up. Stefan McClure is their best player, but he is a little bit undersized at corner. I can see the Buckeyes airing it out if whoever plays quarterback can get some time to throw - the wide receivers should have no trouble winning 1 on 1 matchups against the Cal corners and safeties, or finding a soft spot in a zone defense.
4. Hands up!
The Bear Raid offense is predicated on having a set play and getting the ball out quickly to the correct read before the pass rush has a chance to get home. A few batted-down passes by Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa and some of the more athletic defensive linemen will go a long way toward frustrating mistake-prone Jared Goff. The Air Raid is an offense that, when run to perfection, is beautiful to watch and very difficult to stop. The problem is, Cal is running it with a true freshman QB. Frustrating Jared Goff will be a big part of the game plan, and a few passes batted down at the line of scrimmage ought to be a good start.
5. Getting the halfbacks involved
I expect Cal to try to get the speedy Brendan Bigelow involved in as many plays as they can to take some pressure off the receivers. The Buckeye defense needs to be aware of draws, screens and middle dump-offs. The defensive line, especially, will have to be patient and disciplined. Despite Bigelow's meager rushing stats so far, he has the confidence to make big plays against the OSU defense – he did it last year. The Buckeye defense will need to dissuade him of that notion early and often.
Let us know your keys to the game in the comments below.