1. How will the new Ohio State offense perform?
This was really the only choice for a first question of the season, wasn’t it? Urban Meyer’s spread offense has been a hot topic since he was hired last November (and maybe before). It brings with it a certain amount of excitement and curiosity as fans are not sure what to expect from an attack that has been very effective at three different previous stops but never contained quite the combination of players it does in Columbus this season.
The coaching staff presents a bit of a mystery, too, as Meyer has not previously worked with co-offensive coordinators Tom Herman and Ed Warinner.
“That's probably the biggest difference going into this one,” Meyer said. “Usually I've had some – not some, complete – continuity on offense. And now this is completely new.”
2. Who will step up as far as pass catchers?
Meyer said Tuesday he feels comfortable with the Ohio State offensive line but not the skill players on the perimeter. That came as little surprise as his dissatisfaction with the OSU wide receivers has been documented since nearly the beginning of his time in Columbus.
Saturday presents the first chance for someone to emerge from a still pretty young group. The first crack figures to go to starters Corey “Philly” Brown and Devin Smith on the outside with Jake Stoneburner taking over the newly permanent slot position. Meyer said he expects to get a good look at true freshman Mike Thomas, too, while Evan Spencer, Chris Fields and T.Y. Williams figure to try to make an impression if given the opportunity.
Senior cornerback Travis Howard said to keep an eye on Brown in particular.
“The coaches try to get the ball to him any chance they can,” Howard said.
3. Can the Miami passing game do serious damage?
Ohio State has a veteran secondary with all four starters back from last season, but the unit has a lot to prove after finishing eighth in the Big Ten (53rd overall) last season in pass efficiency defense. Tackling and pursuit angles were at times issues, especially in losses to Miami (Fla.), Nebraska and Michigan.
The RedHawks present a stiff challenge to start this season as quarterback Zac Dysert will head to the Horseshoe looking to add to his career total of 8,530 passing yards. His favorite target, Nick Harwell, is back as well after averaging 129.6 yards receiving per game in 2011. That figure was second in the nation to Jordan White of Western Michigan.
4. Which team will be better in the red zone?
Miami was 14th in the country in passing yards (299.1 per game) and 29th in passing efficiency (143.7) last season but struggled to put points on the board (21.3 per game, 103rd nationally). The nation’s worst running game certainly did not help, but another likely culprit in the disparity of success could have been red zone offense. The RedHawks were 104th in the nation with a 72-percent scoring rate.
On the flip side, red-zone scoring is part of Meyer’s Plan To Win that permeates his program.
“That’s the money down,” Meyer said. “On offense we get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals. We spend a lot of time down there.”
5. What about pass protection?
Keeping the quarterback safe was no easy task for the Buckeyes last season as they allowed 3.54 sacks per game in 2011, a total of 46 that is all the more eye-opening considering the team’s quarterbacks only attempted 245 passes all season.
Miami actually allowed more sacks last season (47, or 3.92 per game) but the RedHawks attempted nearly twice as many throws (459).
Improving the pass rush has been a point of emphasis during spring football and preseason camp for Ohio State, which managed only 23 sacks last season.
A return by senior defensive end Nathan Williams could bolster the Buckeyes in that area, but how much he is able to contribute remains to be seen.