September 23, 2012

Questions answered during Ohio State vs. UAB

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State's final game before Big Ten play was supposed to leave fans feeling warm and fuzzy about the Buckeyes heading into their conference opener in East Lansing next week. But with a 29-15 win over lowly UAB on Saturday, we know perhaps even less about this year's OSU squad than we knew a week before- and that's saying something.

Nevertheless, I'll do my best to search for some answers that were provided about the Buckeyes during their battle with the Blazers.

Q: Can the Buckeyes take care of business?

A: Traditionally, good teams take care of the teams that they should take care of. If there's any truth to that, then this year's OSU squad could be in trouble. The Buckeyes struggled against the Blazers, falling behind 9-0 by the end of the first quarter, and didn't truly put away what could be the worst team on their schedule until late in the 4th quarter. If OSU can't look dominant against UAB, it's hard to imagine who it will look dominant against.

Q: Did Braxton Miller pad his Heisman numbers?

A: No, in fact statistically, he had his worst game so far this season. The sophomore quarterback completed 12-of-20 pass attempts for 143 yards and gained a season-low 64 yards with his feet. Miller still rushed for two touchdowns and added some impressive jukes and spin moves to his highlight reel, but any momentum of Miller becoming a dark horse candidate for college football's most prestigious individual award has been tempered.

Q: How did Jordan Hall look in his second game back?

A: More like the player that Urban Meyer has hyped him to be. Hall ran for a career-high 105 yards and added 21 more on two receptions, becoming the first Buckeye not named 'Braxton' to gain 100 or more yards on the ground in a game this season. Expect for the senior running back's role to expand next week and for him to truly take on the "Percy Harvin role in Meyer's spread offense.

Q: Who stepped up as this week's No. 1 receiver?

A: Statistically, it was Corey Brown with four catches for 67 yards, but as a whole, no OSU wide out truly stood out for the first time all season. Devin Smith also pulled in four catches, which netted him 39 yards, and No. 3 receiver Jake Stoneburner failed to record a catch for the first time all season. A part of this can be blamed on OSU's lack of possessions and insistence on running the ball, but for the most part, the Buckeyes receivers looked closer to their 2011 selves than they did this year's versions.

Q: Did a week of hard practice solve OSU's tackling problems?

A: Not really. The Buckeyes' defenders looked improved as tacklers, but last week's effort didn't exactly set the bar all that high. Too many times UAB ball-carriers seemed to break free of holds and push piles, which is especially alarming for OSU considering that 250-pound power back Le'veon Bell will be waiting in East Lansing.

Q: How did the defense as a whole look?

A: By Meyer's admission, the Buckeyes have taken on a bend but don't break mentality, which means that it could just be a matter of time before a more quality opponent breaks it. Giving up 403 yards to a team like UAB isn't ideal, but it's a step up from the 512 the Buckeyes surrendered to California last week. The pass rush didn't get to UAB's quarterback as consistently as it did against the Bears, but at the very least a stellar effort from Doran Grant showed that the Buckeyes have depth at the cornerback position.

Q: Who played in the middle?

A: A week after returning from his two-game suspension and a month after not even being on the roster, Storm Klein played the majority of the snaps for the Buckeyes at middle linebacker. In fact, Curtis Grant, to my knowledge, didn't play at all on defense on Saturday. The OSU coaching staff is clearly more comfortable going with the senior over the upside of the sophomore.

Q: Did the Buckeyes cut down on their stupid penalties?

A: Yes, but not enough. On just the first possession of the game, Travis Howard gave the Blazers a first down by running into the kicker, and late in the game, Christian Bryant extended a UAB drive with a taunting penalty. Statistically, the Buckeyes did better than they did a week ago with seven penalties, but this team looks far from disciplined.

Q: What type of team do the Buckeyes have heading into Big Ten play?

A: That's a question that Meyer might not even know the answer to. The Buckeyes have been enigmatic throughout the ups and downs of their first four games, yet all four games have resulted in wins. Saturday's Big Ten opener will give OSU the chance to advance to 5-0 on the year, which is all it can really be asking for given the trials and tribulations of last year.

Q: Who's next?

A: The Buckeyes will now pack their bags for the first time this season and hit the road for a 3:30 PM kickoff with No. 21-ranked Michigan State. The Spartans are 3-1 on the year, having suffered a loss at the hands of Notre Dame a week ago, before bouncing back with a 23-7 win over Eastern Michigan on Saturday.


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