When the Ohio State football team lands in California, it will be stepping into uncharted territory.
It will be the first road game of the season and Ohio State’s first regular-season trip to California since a 35-3 loss to USC in 2008. Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer hasn’t ventured out to the West Coast while coaching at an Eastern Time Zone school since his days as a wide receivers coach in South Bend.
“Big challenge,” Meyer said of the trip to Berkeley at Big Ten media days in July. “I’ve done some research. That’s a big challenge for the week after, too. You lose all that time coming back.”
Luckily for the Buckeyes, the scheduling carousel that followed Vanderbilt’s cancellation resulted in the contest against FCS program Florida A&M being moved to the week after the trip to the Bay Area. Ohio State won’t return home until approximately 5 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday, but facing the Rattlers offers an easy transition from jet lag before heading into Big Ten play.
However, the challenge that awaits Ohio State this weekend will provide the stiffest test of the season to date. Not only will the Buckeyes be experiencing their first game in a hostile environment, but their relatively inexperienced defense will also be squaring off against California’s brand-new “Bear Raid” offense.
This will be Ohio State’s seventh game against the Golden Bears and first trip to Berkeley since a 35-18 road win in 1972. On Saturday, the Buckeyes will see a vastly different Memorial Stadium than the one played in by their predecessors. Cal completed a $321 million renovation prior to the 2012 season.
“Well, it’s a brand new stadium, so I’m anxious to see that,” Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warriner said. “It’s carved into the side of a hill and a lot of kids watch the game up on the hill. It’s a unique campus, and I’ll just leave it at that. I’ve been there a couple times. I have people I know who have gone to school there. It’ll be a fun environment to go play in, and I’m anxious to see that beautiful new stadium they’ve put up.”
While the five-hour flight may be different than what players are accustomed to, Meyer and his staff have drilled into the team a single-minded focus on the game instead of the surrounding environment.
“There’s a lot of things your mind goes through, but I think our coaching staff does a great job of keeping us focused on why we’re there,” sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry. “Even with the time change, it’s something you’ve got to deal with. It’s going to be 7 (p.m.) our time, so that’s like a night game. We get really, really pumped for those. Hopefully we can take that type of energy in there.”
Senior wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown bristled at the idea of visiting tourist destinations like the Golden Gate Bridge, offering his own assessment of the Golden State.
“I don’t think there’s anything there anyway,” Brown said. “No, not at all. California is not a special state.”
With six underclassmen listed atop the depth chart at their respective positions, contributors on both sides of the ball will see the first meaningful road action of their careers on Saturday. That’s not a scenario that concerns Meyer, however.
“This isn’t a flight to East Lansing or a bus ride somewhere, and the last time I’ve done this was at Notre Dame… but I think we have mature guys,” he said.