Ohio State Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Central Florida
Ohio State is an 18-point favorite over Conference USA foe Central Florida, according to Vegas Insider.
But don't let that number deceive you: The Knights are a very underrated football team and could pose a threat to any high-caliber team, if taken lightly.
The Buckeyes are coming off a dominant 56-10 win over Miami (Oh.) in Urban Meyer's coaching debut. Quarterback Braxton Miller combined for 368 yards—including a career-high 161 rushing—and three touchdowns, looking like an all-around improved player from last year.
UCF took care of business in its season opener, as it destroyed Akron 56-10 after taking a 35-0 lead by halftime. The offense got the job done, but it was the defense that took home the game ball—it forced four turnovers and held the Zips to 6-of-19 (31.6 percent) on third down.
This matchup poses some intrigue. Both teams have been banished from postseason festivities due to NCAA sanctions, but could likely contend for their respectable conference championship if eligible.
Here are five keys to the game and what Ohio State needs to do to avoid a colossal upset in Columbus.
Control the Line of Scrimmage
Both Central Florida's offensive and defensive lines are enormous.
Starting center Jordan Rae (6'2", 275 pounds) is the smallest of the bunch and is on the Rimington Trophy list. He and the other front four led the way for 206 yards rushing against Akron and allowed just one sack to starting quarterback Blake Bortless, who had plenty of time to stand in the pocket.
The Knights' defensive front seven forced several hurries and pressured Zips quarterback Dalton Williams all day. Three different UCF players recorded a sack, which helped force ill-advised throws and decisions.
Ohio State cannot afford to be pushed around at the line of scrimmage or it will be a tightly-contested game throughout the 60 minutes.
John Simon and Nathan Williams should provide a solid pass rush from the edge while Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel plug up the middle and stop the run. UCF's offensive line is big, but I don't think it's athletic enough to handle the speed of the Buckeyes' front seven.
The same goes for Ohio State's front. Not only is Meyer's offense too fast for the Knights' d-line to keep up, but I think the matchups are in the Buckeyes' favor.
Shut Down Rannell Hall
Ohio State forced two interceptions from one of the better passing tandems in the country last week, but not before it was beat on numerous deep balls.
The Buckeyes' secondary struggled against Miami (Oh.) quarterback Zac Dysert, mainly due to mental lapses and busted coverages. In its defense, it was Week 1 and kinks were still being hammered through.
But that's still no excuse.
Central Florida has a much better all-around offensive unit, including wide receiver Rannell Hall—a legitimate deep threat. The speedy flanker brought down four receptions for a whopping 94 yards (23.5 ypc) and two touchdowns last week and could present some issues if not handled correctly.
Travis Howard and Bradley Roby, along with the safeties, will need to contain Hall in order to allow the front seven to concentrate on stopping the run.
Braxton Miller's Option Reads
A big part of Ohio State's success running the football last week was due to Miller's outstanding ability to read the defensive end during option plays.
The Buckeyes' ability to run outside against UCF will be determined by the same exact thing.
If the end is standing up and keying on the quarterback, it's necessary to hand the ball off to the running back. But if the end crashes inside, the quarterback needs to sell the handoff and keep it, racing to the outside. He then has to decide whether to keep it again or to pitch it, but that's another story.
The Knights' ends do a very good job hiding what they're going to do and reading the quarterback, so Miller is going to have to be on top of his game.
There can't be another first quarter like the one he had against Miami (Oh.), where decision-making was questionable.
Control the Tempo
Central Florida is going to attempt to play its style of game by pounding the football on the ground and finding soft spots in zone coverage.
This helped contribute to winning the time of possession over Akron, while compiling 386 total yards and converting over 50 percent of its third downs.
The Ohio State offense needs to continue the high-tempo pace that it had sustained in Week 1, when it finished with 86 total plays in 31:26 minutes, maxing out at 538 yards.
That's nearly three plays per minute.
With Urban Meyer at the helm, controlling the pace of the game should be no problem. Even if it's not pretty, he'll have it his way and the Buckeyes will get it done.
Attack the Secondary
Although it allowed only 14 points, the Central Florida defense gave up 256 yards passing to an Akron team that struggled to find consistency at the quarterback position all of last season.
Ohio State receiver Corey (Philly) Brown and Devin Smith combined for nine receptions, 118 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday, while Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton involved seven different players in the passing game. Those numbers are good, but will have to amplify against a subpar UCF secondary.
With a solid rushing game from Miller and Carlos Hyde, the air raid should open up even more.
And I wholeheartedly expect that to happen.
Prediction: Ohio State 37, Central Florida 21
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