1. Will the Ohio State defense clamp down on big plays?
The 16th-ranked Buckeyes enter their game against UAB on Saturday an uncharacteristic 66th in the nation in yards allowed (392 per game), and the major culprit is explosive gains.
They have allowed 13 plays of 20 yards or more, including three runs and two passes by California last week.
Poor tackling has been a problem, but head coach Urban Meyer said there is more to it than that. There are also scheme issues that must be worked out after Cal burned the Buckeyes repeatedly with runs to the short side of the field.
“A good piece of it is poor tackling, but once again to blame it on the kid for poor tackling, that's not acceptable,” Meyer said. “That is the most alarming thing. I can't remember an Ohio State defense looking like that. I've watched them for a long time, and I can't remember a defense I've been around that's given up this many. We've got to stop or we'll lose a game.”
2. Can the Buckeyes cut down on penalties?
Ohio State enters the game Saturday having been assessed 24 penalties for 200 yards, both totals that are 11th in the Big Ten. Eleven of the flags came last week, including four personal fouls. In full, Ohio State had 101 yards walked off against it last week.
“Penalties were obviously very alarming and they were bad penalties, very ignorant penalties that have to be corrected,” Meyer said. “That is a sign of an ignorant or lack of disciplined team, and that is my responsibility to get that fixed up.”
3. How will the Ohio State passing game continue to evolve?
With quarterback Braxton Miller continuing to refine his delivery and honing his ability to read defenses, the Buckeye passing game has taken steps every week this season.
He was an efficient 18 for 24 for 155 yards in week two against UCF before seeing a drop in completion percentage (16 for 30) but a rise in yardage (249) last week against a higher pressure defense from Cal.
Meanwhile, Meyer has been pleased with the improvement from receivers Devin Smith and Corey Brown, who sit second and 10th, respectively, in the Big Ten in receiving yards after three weeks.
This should be a good week to get better as the Blazers enter the game 116th in the country in pass efficiency defense this season after finishing 117th in that category last season.
4. Will production continue to grow from the defensive line?
After a week full of talk about the lack of pass rush Ohio State showed in its first two games, the Buckeyes posted six sacks against Cal. Three came from the back seven thanks to blitzes, but front-line starters John Simon, Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel also posted one apiece.
The Blazers have allowed eight sacks in two games while breaking in four new starters on the offensive line, so this could be a chance for the Buckeye starters – not to mention young understudies Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt – to pad their stats.
5. Will there be any personnel changes?
This could go for either side of the ball, but we are thinking primarily about the defense. Changes could come in new faces getting more time at linebacker, where production has lacked aside from Ryan Shazier, or safety, where mistakes continue to be an issue.
Whether or not the nickel defense continues to be the most-used unit remains to be seen as well. The Buckeyes played their base 4-3 defense for only about a quarter of last week’s win against Cal.
On offense, Jordan Hall went most of the way at running back last week despite being in his first week back from foot surgery. Could he get some breaks from youngsters Brionte Dunn or Rod Smith as Carlos Hyde continues to be sidelined? That might allow the staff to expand Hall’s role, including using him in the slot.