Tuesday, September 20, 2011

TUESDAY ROUNDUP: FICKELL FOCUSED ON HOW TO GET BETTER

Head coach Luke Fickell, right,
and quarterback Joe Basuerman
(The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
COLUMBUS — Following Ohio State's embarrassing 24-6 loss at Miami (Fla.) on Saturday night, Buckeyes interim head football coach Luke Fickell has a simple message for his team: "How do we get better?"

Fickell said during his weekly media luncheon in Columbus on Tuesday that his team has had its "17-hour" mourning period and must now focus on how each and every person can improve the team's chances of success moving forward.

"We must move on," Fickell said. "We must focus on ourselves. How are we going to get better? 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 aspect that must "get better" is Ohio State's passing game. The Buckeyes were able to muster just 35 total yards through the air in the loss at Miami.

Obviously, the two-quarterback system that Fickell has installed — featuring fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman and true freshman Braxton Miller — hasn't been successful and must be a point of focus going into Saturday's home tilt with Colorado.

Fickell wouldn't commit to a starter on Tuesday, and said ultimately this week's practice will determine who gets the nod against the Buffaloes this Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

"We've got to practice," Fickell said. "We have some ideas on how we need to go about it ... we'll find a way to get our best 11 guys on the field. We want to see how those guys compete, how they respond and we'll make a decision as we move forward."

Miller, who hasn't gotten consistent playing time this season, only getting a little more than a couple quarters of work — on and off — in two games, seems to be gaining ground on Bauserman due to the senior's uninspiring play the past two outings.

Although Miller committed two costly turnovers in the loss Saturday, the freshman did show an element to his game that Bauserman doesn't possess — an ability to make plays with his feet. The Buckeyes are in need of finding play-makers, and Miller simply exemplifies that trait more than the senior Bauserman.

But would the Buckeyes actually consider Miller the front-runner to start going forward?

"We could, if he would go out and make some plays throwing the football, yeah we will," Fickell said of Miller.

Quarterback isn't the only aspect the Buckeyes must "get better" at in order to have success — slow starts by the defense is also a major concern.

In the Buckeyes' past two outings — against Toledo and Miami — the defense has surrendered 29 points during the opening quarter of play.

According to junior defensive lineman John Simon, coming out strong early this Saturday is priority No. 1.

"We definitely have to make sure we execute early," 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."

Fickell said in order for the defense to start fast, the team must have confidence in the plan and not break down fundamentally early on.

"We have to be sound and our guys have to have confidence in what we're doing," Fickell said. "Colorado has a lot of options, they have serious weapons and we can't lose sight of that. But we want to focus on who we are and what we need to do to get better.

"We talked last week about starting fast and that's the one thing that we didn't do a good job of. We need to make sure we're ready to go this week."

NOT EVERYTHING HAS TO 'GET BETTER' ... Ohio State junior tailback Jordan Hall didn't have issues getting off to a fast start in the loss at Miami, rushing for gains of 13, 13, 15 and 12 yards on his first four carries of the night.

Suspended for the opening two weeks of the season for accepting improper benefits, Hall gave the Buckeyes' offense that shot in the arm they've been looking for early in the year.

OSU fullback Zach Boren praised Hall Tuesday and feels the Buckeyes can lean on him to help be a catalyst in righting their offensive woes.

"He is an explosive player," Boren said of Hall. "When he gets his hands on the ball, he can do amazing things. You saw that in punt returns last year. He can make people miss.

"The guy is small, but he hides behind offensive linemen well. His vision is great, for him being back there and stuff like that.

"He's a play-maker and that's what we need."

Hall is now listed as a starter on the depth chart with sophomore Carlos Hyde.

INJURIES ... Fickell said linebacker Andrew Sweat, who sort of tweaked his knee against the Hurricanes on Saturday, is "just like most guys, he's banged up, got some things. But I would imagine he'll be fighting through it and continuing to get better."

As for wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown's ankle injury that prevented him from playing last week? The Buckeyes coach said "I'm not sure on Corey. We'll see if he can do anything this week. We probably won't have a good feeling on him until Wednesday or Thursday.

Also, backup fullback Adam Homan — who had surgery on Monday — will most likely be out Saturday against Colorado.