Fresh off the win against the Army Black Knights, the Ohio State Buckeyes are now preparing for their last non-conference matchup of the regular season, the UNLV Rebels.
On Monday, Buckeye head coach Urban Meyer talked to the media, and gave insights into his program heading into Week 4. Below are the three biggest points from the press conference.
1. “Pass defense and continue growth on offense. And punt return has still been nonexistent. No one's fault. We just haven't had very many opportunities to return a punt.”
When asked what parts of the OSU game plan were the most critical to get, Meyer answered with the pass defense and growth on offense.
It’s been no surprise that the Buckeyes’ pass defense needs more work heading into conference play. But by playing Army West Point, a team primarily focused on the triple-option offense, Ohio State lost a week in getting the pass defense fixed. (Army rolled into Columbus with a whopping 17 yards worth of passing, and walked out of Ohio State throwing for 19 more.)
With the Rebels on the slate this week, it’s critical that the secondary makes some plays. UNLV has one of the best receivers in the Mountain West in Devonte Boyd, who’s leading the conference with an average of 104 receiving yards per game.
Shutting down quarterback Armani Rogers and receiver Boyd will also help give Ohio State more chances at fielding/returning punts. Through three games, only four punts have been returned—totaling a measly nine yards.
On offense, fixing the passing game is once again on the agenda. Against Army, passes were still off target/not caught, but the problems seemed to be getting ironed out. As Meyer pointed out, “continued growth on offense” is one of the big things OSU needs to work on as Big Ten play comes next week.
While Barrett is setting conference records—and is on the doorstep of moving up even more in the OSU record books—he can’t do it all. Yes, the quarterback has to make decent throws, but he can’t catch them, too. A solid receiving corps is needed for the pass attack to be effective.
That brings us to the next point...
2. On Demario McCall: “He certainly needs to improve. He has not been at full speed. He's much closer than he was.”
After having a freshman year that saw 270 rushing yards, Demario McCall hasn’t seen the field much in his sophomore campaign due to injury.
That could be changing shortly, as Meyer said on Monday that “I'm going to try to get him in a game and determine if he can go.” That’s big news for the Buckeyes and McCall, as he could be used as another threat for the OSU ground and air game.
Last season, McCall averaged 5.5 yards per carry and tallied three TDs on the ground, and caught four receptions for 84 yards and a TD. Getting McCall in the game against UNLV will be a good experiment to see how game ready the sophomore is at the moment. The recovery from a sports hernia has taken time—which, unfortunately, has gone into the first few weeks of the season.
When McCall does get back to 100 percent, finding a place for him may prove to be tricky. The running game is dominated with J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, and there is a revolving door at the wide out spot. Against Army, eight different receivers caught the ball.
Parris Campbell is the No. 1 target for Barrett, and it shows in the statline. On the season, the wide out has 15 receptions for 217 yards and a touchdown. His longest catch was the TD haul against the Indiana Hoosiers that went for 74 yards—and busted the game open for the Buckeyes.
It’ll be interesting to see how McCall fits into the offense’s scheme. Best option may be at the receiving end, as there really isn’t a clear-cut No. 2 receiver in terms of receptions.
3. On Mike Weber: “He's very critical for us as we continue to move forward in conference play coming up in a few weeks. So we're going to need him at full strength. He's still not at full strength. We have to make sure we get him full strength.”
Keeping up on the theme of overcoming injury, Mike Weber still isn’t 100 percent. As Dobbins has taken off, going for 172 yards and two scores against the Black Knights on Saturday afternoon, Weber has been used sparingly.
In the last two games, the sophomore has been given the rock seven times, and picked up 42 yards. But, Meyer using Weber sparingly may be the best for both worlds. This enables Dobbins to get more experience, which isn’t a bad thing to have. Already, the La Grange, Texas native has 425 yards on the ground—good enough for eighth best in the nation.
For Weber, this let’s him get back to full health. Against the Oklahoma Sooners, Weber came up limping after getting wrapped up on his second carry of the night. Ohio State can afford to let Dobbins run the show for now, but there needs to be a second running back option available by the time conference play starts to take off.
If Weber gets over five carries against UNLV, that’d be surprising. Expect Dobbins to again go for another 150 plus yard performance this weekend.