Buckeyes Nearing Full-Strength for B1G Opener
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — One way or another, Urban Meyer should have a much better idea of his team’s identity after this weekend’s trip to East Lansing.
Photo by Dan Harker
The Buckeyes have started the year 4-0 under Meyer, who took over as the head coach after a 6-7 season under interim coach Luke Fickell a year ago. They have beaten a team from the MAC, a team from the Pac-12 and a pair of teams from Conference USA.
Now Meyer is getting ready to coach his first Big Ten game as the head coach in Columbus, and while the conference is visibly down this season, the Buckeyes will face one of the better defensive ball clubs in the country.
“I can only compare to what's the strongest conference I have a lot of experience in,” Meyer said, referencing his six years at Florida as a part of the SEC.
“I can tell you this defense we're getting ready to play would be in the top couple of that conference. That tells you the quality of players, number one. And then they do a good job on defense.”
At No. 11 in scoring defense and No. 6 in total defense, Michigan State will easily be the top-rated defense Ohio State has faced in 2012. Mark Dantonio’s group was also among the top defensive units in the country a year ago when they sacked Ohio State quarterbacks nine times during a 10-7 win in Columbus.
Meyer expects to face a similar test on Saturday, this time on the road.
“I always like to save my judgment until we get playing,” Meyer said Monday, “but all I know is this team we're getting ready to play is what I'm used to seeing on defense the last seven years or six years.”
Photo by Dan Harker
While the Buckeyes have yet to face a defense – or likely a team – of this caliber under Meyer’s watch, they also have yet to play a game at full-strength. That could change Saturday, as Meyer expects to have a number of key players back on defense, along with starting tailback Carlos Hyde.
“Hyde is very probable,” Meyer said Monday, “so pretty close to cleared.”
The junior tailback out of Naples, Fla. has missed the last 10 quarters of football after spraining his MCL during the first half of Ohio State’s 31-16 victory over UCF in week two. He ran for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the opener, but has yet to be on the field with senior Jordan Hall, who missed the first two games with a foot injury.
“I put together a drawing on the board with both of them in there,” Meyer said of his top two running backs.
“I think that's what you want. We want those guys in there.”
They will probably need both of them on Saturday, along with quarterback Braxton Miller and maybe even Rod Smith, if they are going to generate any kind of a rushing attack against the Spartans’ staunch defensive front seven.
“Carlos, Jordan Hall and Braxton Miller – we have to find a way to get some yards running the ball,” Meyer said.
“It has to be some creative stuff because to turn around and hand the ball off, we tried it last year a little bit and it went reverse. It's a very good defense against the run. We'll have to be very efficient. That means we just don't want to waste time.”
Defense Reloading Too
Along with Hyde, the Buckeyes should be getting some key reinforcements on defense this week. Starting defensive backs Bradley Roby (shoulder) and C.J. Barnett (ankle) both missed the game against UAB, but Meyer is expecting to have a full stable of defensive backs this week.
Photo by Dan Harker
“I'd say probable on both,” Meyer said of Roby and Barnett.
“We'll give an update. They ran around yesterday. Roby has a shoulder, Barnett has an ankle. I saw them both earlier today. They're bright eyed, ready to go, getting treatment. I'd say probable at this point. We need them, obviously.”
Without them, the Buckeyes leaned on sophomore Doran Grant to replace Roby at corner and senior Orhian Johnson to take Barnett’s spot at safety. Both players could be in the mix for playing time this week, as Johnson likely slides back down to the ‘star’ position in nickel.
Saturday could also mark the first time Ohio State has had a loaded barrel on the defensive line. Nathan Williams appears to be fine for another full week of action, and it’s possible the Buckeyes could also have Michael Bennett on Saturday.
“I think every indication is he's going to play,” Meyer said Monday.
“If he doesn't, then I'll address that. But if he plays, he plays.”
His answer was in response to whether he and his staff had given any thought to the idea of redshirting Bennett if he’s not ready to play early on in the Big Ten season.
“I didn't even know … I did hear that he had a redshirt (available),” Meyer added.
“We're not thinking redshirting at this point.”
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