Friday, September 23, 2011

GAME PREVIEW: REELING BUCKEYES DOING SOME SOUL SEARCHING

Ohio State interim head coach Luke Fickell, right, speaking to his Buckeyes before kickoff. Ohio State (2-1) will host Colorado (1-2) Saturday at Ohio Stadium. (The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
COLUMBUS — It is no secret that the Ohio State football team is reeling against the ropes after the beating they took in Miami last Saturday night.

Through three games this season — which included a narrow escape of Toledo, and a 24-6 throttling by the Miami Hurricanes — the unranked Buckeyes (2-1) are in desperate search to right a ship that seems to be taking on water.

With just one game remaining before Big Ten conference play begins, the Buckeyes must do some serious soul searching.

"Our focus is on ourselves, how do we get better?" OSU interim head coach Luke Fickell said. "That's what we're going to continue to talk about as a team. All week people are going to ask us about the match-ups, how do we do this, what's this? Ultimately it's going to come down to how we look at ourselves.

"We're going to look at ourselves, figure out how we're going to get better as a football team, as a football coach ... focus on how we can get better fundamentally in everything we do, so we can go out and play football like we know how to play football."

One thing Ohio State must avoid going into this Saturday's contest against Colorado (1-2) is starting the game off slowly — something that's crippled the team in recent weeks.

In the past two games — against Toledo and Miami — the Buckeyes have been outscored 29-7 in the first quarter of play. The slow starts must be resolved quickly, especially with an attacking Colorado offense coming to town Saturday.

"We definitely have to make sure we execute early," junior defensive lineman John Simon said. "That's been our problem as of late. We're really focusing in on that this week and we have to make sure that doesn't happen because Coach (Jim) Heacock gave us a stat, you know, it was like the second, third and fourth quarters we usually don't give up points, it's usually early on.

"We need to make sure we shore that up this week and be ready to go on Saturday."

Colorado likes to throw the football and put a lot of pressure on the defensive secondary. Through three games this season, Buffaloes quarterback Tyler Hansen has been brilliant, passing for 912 yards and seven touchdowns, with just one interception.

Colorado also provides Hansen with many weapons to use at his disposal, none better than sophomore receiver Paul Richardson. The 6-1, 175-pounder from Gardena (Calif.) has been a major big-play threat thus far for the Buffaloes, hauling in passes at 20 yards per snag this season. Richardson recorded 11 receptions for 284 yards and two touchdowns alone in a week two loss against California.

Add in 500 total yards of offense — including 18 receptions for 277 yards — from tailback Rodney Stewart, and touchdown grabs of more than 24 yards each this season by receivers Toney Clemons, Kyle Cefalo and (tight end) Ryan Deehan, and you have the ingredients to make a defense's afternoon excruciatingly long and depressing.

"They have some athletes with ability," Fickell said. "They are an energetic group. Looks like a confident group. They'll fly around.

"They'll sling it around, too."

Simon understands that the Buckeyes aren't going to have any time to lick their wounds after last week's embarrassing loss to the Hurricanes.

"Everything stands out," Simon said of Colorado's offense. "They've got a great wide receiver core, great offensive line, good quarterback, running back, threats all over the field ...

"I wouldn't say you forget (about the loss to Miami), you just put it in the back of your mind," Simon detailed. "You always want to learn from your past. I think we definitely learned from it, need to fix the mistakes we made this past Saturday.

"Colorado is our objective now, so that's all we're focused on."

Braxton Miller will make his first start Saturday
(TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
Bottom Line

It doesn't matter if the Buckeyes shore up their slow defensive starts or not, if the offense can only manage 35 yards passing for the game, Ohio State's woes will continue.

Fickell will now turn to the true freshman Braxton Miller as his starting quarterback this Saturday. The multi-talented signal caller has yet to get any sustained playing time through the first three weeks, getting on the field — off and on — for a total of around two-and-a-half quarters of action.

If Fickell stays with Miller for the majority of the game Saturday, the offense should get into a flow and bring a dimension that they've yet to exhibit.

I think the Miller-era in Columbus will begin in winning fashion.

Prediction: OSU 27-20.