1. Can Braxton Miller get some help?
Ohio State’s dynamic sophomore quarterback has been the team’s bell cow in the running game so far this season, a fact that is as much a testament to the state of the Buckeyes’ backfield as it is his individual talent.
Miller leads the Big Ten and is fourth in the nation with 151 yards rushing per game. His 44 carries are nearly twice as many as running back Carlos Hyde, who is No. 2 on the team with 24 totes and will miss the game against California this week because of a knee injury.
That puts the onus on young tailbacks Brionte Dunn and Rod Smith along with perhaps Zach Boren to help share the load in the running game. That trio enters Saturday with a combined 57 carries for 230 yards and three touchdowns.
2. What about the OSU wide receivers?
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said to expect the Golden Bears to crowd the line of scrimmage and challenge the Buckeyes to go to the air. That should put receivers Corey Brown, Devin Smith and Evan Spencer on islands on the outside against the Bear corners.
“They are going to force you to go over the top,” Meyer said. “The problem is the guys they have playing man coverage are really good players, so it's going to be a lot of one-o-one matchups and we have to take that shot, understanding that you might have a couple foul balls, but you hit one of them – it goes back to the risk reward.”
All three have shown flashes of being able to break a game with their ability.
3. Is this the week Ohio State generates some pass rush?
Teams have throw 95 passes against the Buckeyes in two games, but Ohio State has only three sacks. That is tied for 77th in the nation and ranks seventh in the Big Ten.
“I could list a multitude of reasons and excuses and so on and so forth,” Meyer said. “We have to get better at rushing the quarterback, or it’s going to be a long year. There's two ways of doing it. One is defeating a man on a pass rush, so I'm going to go beat him and rush the quarterback; or, I'm going to blitz and try to confuse you.
“And the answer is, we need to do both.”
Injuries have undoubtedly hindered the Buckeyes’ ability to win individual battles as talented rushers Nathan Williams and Michael Bennett both missed the last game and were replaced by freshmen who look like major talents but are still very raw. That allowed UCF to pay extra attention to talented veterans Johnathan Hankins and Johnny Simon.
“I'm not sure we have four guys right now that can just beat their man,” Meyer said. “Hankins played well. John was getting a lot of double teaming on him, but we just need to get better at the other spots.”
Cal has allowed three sacks in its two games so far.
4. Which team will win the kicking game?
California will enter Ohio Stadium as an underdog, but the Bears possess a game-changer in wide receiver Keenan Allen. He ranks fifth in the nation with a 22.2-yard punt return average after taking one back 69 yards for a touchdown last week against Southern Utah.
The punt and punt return units are near and dear Meyer’s heart, and he was happy to see the kicking game produce a touchdown in the season opener against Miami (Ohio) but somewhat disappointed last week when Ben Buchanan averaged 36.5 yards on his two punts.
He expects an average hang time of 4.5 seconds, but Buchanan’s was less than three against UCF.
“So obviously we pride ourselves on forcing correct catches and that didn't happen,” Meyer said.
5. Can the Bears avoid hibernating too long?
Last week we wondered about the kind of start Ohio State would have, and the Buckeyes answered with a game-opening touchdown drive. This week, we look toward the visitors from the West Coast. Cal will be kicking off (or receiving) just after what would be 9 a.m. back home, so it is fair to wonder if the Bears will be fully ready to go.
They have been outscored 17-0 in the first quarter so far this season but enjoy a 27-7 advantage in the second quarter.
Ohio State struggled in the season opener against Miami, but the overall numbers look good now with a 7-6 first-quarter advantage and a dominating 31-7 mark in the second quarter.