Ohio State Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. California
Ohio State has likely already played its toughest non-conference opponent with Central Florida last week, but that doesn't mean it should take Cal lightly.
There's a lot of anticipation for this matchup because the Buckeyes and Golden Bears have a long history together, dating back to the 1921 and 1950 Rose Bowls. Neither team has seen each other since 1972, however, when OSU won on the road 35-18.
California is still feeling the aftershock of its disappointing 31-24 season-opening home loss to Nevada, although it beat Southern Utah by 19 last week.
Ohio State was tested by the Knights in a closer-than-it-seems 31-16 win last Saturday. It needs to do a better job of holding onto the ball and closing gaps in the secondary.
The Buckeyes are a 16.5-point favorite over Cal, and if everything goes as planned, I think that line is right on the money. Here are five keys to the game and what OSU needs to do to start 3-0.
Beat the Press
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Senior running back Jordan Hall will return to the starting backfield this Saturday, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
With Carlos Hyde sidelined due to an MCL injury, the Buckeyes need a solid contribution from Hall in the ground attack. Braxton Miller has been forced to carry the ball far too many times and hasn't had much help from his outside receivers.
California loves to use press coverage on its opponents, which has led to its 20 tackles for loss (sixth in NCAA). If Ohio State can break it early by sustaining a consistent running game, the Bears will be susceptible to the deep ball.
Play a Clean Game
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One big reason why Ohio State had issues with Central Florida was because of, well, itself.
The Buckeyes—mostly the offensive line—shot themselves in the foot on various occasions, but more notably during pivotal drives.
Ohio State finished with 10 penalties for 79 yards and a good majority of them were in the second half when the Knights were viciously attempting a comeback.
This can't continue, and the Buckeyes need to be more disciplined, especially in front of their home crowd. If this becomes a recurring theme, they'll find themselves on the losing end sooner than later.
Get to Zach Maynard
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Before the season started, Ohio State's defensive line was nominated as the biggest strength of the team. This largely was in thanks to the return of John Simon and Johnathan Hankins as well as the addition of some big-time freshmen.
However, the Buckeyes have failed to work up a pass-rush in their first two outings. They have a combined three sacks thus far, and all have been in the second half of regulation.
California's Zach Maynard isn't an elite quarterback and has shown inconsistency when pressured. If Ohio State's front seven can take control of the line of scrimmage, a playmaking secondary that already has five interceptions will do the rest.
But if Maynard has time in the pocket, he will do some damage. Hopefully the return of Nathan Williams to the starting rotation will help get a rush in the backfield.
Let the Bears Beat Themselves
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Get this: California took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter over FCS South Utah last weekend before giving up 30 in the final 15 minutes.
Not to bash the Thunderbirds or anything, but they're not necessarily a powerhouse football program, as they lost to Utah State 34-3 the previous week.
The Golden Bears sputtered 12 penalties for 106 yards, gave the ball away twice and allowed 10-of-20 (50.0 percent) third-down conversions on defense.
Other than the running game—which Ohio State has shut down so far this season (first in the Big Ten)—there hasn't been an area in which Cal has excelled.
If the Buckeyes play the game they're the capable of and let the Bears beat themselves up, there's no reason they can't run away with this one.
Unleash the Braxton
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Nevada dual-threat quarterback Cody Fajardo single-handedly ripped apart the Cal defense in the season opener on Sept. 1 in the re-opening of Memorial Stadium.
The sophomore finished 25-of-32 (78.1 percent) with 230 yards while taking 21 carries for 97 yards (4.6 YPC) and a touchdown in the 31-24 win.
Although the Golden Bears have three takeaways so far this year, they've been extremely vulnerable to the pass (261.0 YPG) and aren't versatile enough to contain option quarterbacks.
If a player of Fajardo's caliber can have a field day against the Cal defense, the sky is the limit for Braxton Miller, who already has 664 total yards and seven touchdowns.
Miller should be able to do as he pleases once he has the Bears on their heels. And if his past two performances are any indication of how he'll play this Saturday, that could be the first play of the game.
Prediction: Ohio State 34, California 17