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Ohio State Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. UAB

Luke PetkacFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2017

Ohio State Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. UAB

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    Ohio State is heavily favored against UAB this weekend, but they're still going to have to do a few things right if they want to handle the Blazers.

    The Buckeyes have two big games against Michigan State and Nebraska coming up. But, despite holding a significant edge in talent over UAB, they can't afford to look ahead to next week.

    The Blazers may be the underdog, but under the right circumstances, they could definitely give the Buckeyes a scare.

    Here are five things the Buckeyes can do to ensure that never happens.

Get an Early Lead

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    Everyone knows that Ohio State has the overwhelming talent advantage against UAB, but it's a moot point unless the Buckeyes go out and prove it in a hurry.

    There's nothing more dangerous in college football than letting the underdog keep the game close. A slow start would put Ohio State in jeopardy of doing just that.

    All too often, heavily favored teams start off looking sluggish against underdogs, and because they're almost unanimously expected to win, they never show any sense of urgency or intensity.

    That exact scenario is what the Buckeyes need to avoid this weekend. If they come out hot and get a 10 or 14-point lead, the Blazers won't be able to respond. Not in Columbus.

    However, if Ohio State looks sluggish out of the gate, UAB has a chance (however small) at pulling out the upset.

Avoid Costly Turnovers

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    Ohio State has turned the ball over four times in three games this season. That's not terrible, but it's not great either.

    They'll be going up against a Blazer defense that has forced two turnovers in each of their two games and will be looking to add to that total on Saturday.

    Teams have sloppy games sometimes. It just happens.

    But the Buckeyes need to make sure they don't provide the Blazers with any extra help through turnovers this weekend.

    Nothing pumps up an opposing team more than a turnover. Ohio State is more talented, but if UAB gains some momentum from a couple of bad interceptions or fumbles, the Blazers could pose a legitimate threat.

    If the Buckeyes are able to protect the ball, they shouldn't have a problem running away with this one.

Strong Showing from the Ohio State Running Backs

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    This isn't just important for the UAB game—it's actually important for the entire season.

    Quite frankly, Braxton Miller is taking too many hits.

    The Ohio State quarterback has done everything offensively for the Buckeyes, passing for 611 yards and rushing for 377 more in just three games. The problem is that those 377 rushing yards have come on 56 carries. That's just a shade under 19 carries per game for a quarterback. That's insane.

    It's hard to imagine that Miller won't break down if he keeps carrying the ball at this rate. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman recently expressed his own concerns to Fox Sports Ohio's Zac Jackson, saying:

    “You go into the game saying he can really help you win the game with his feet, but you have to then be cautious of how often you ask him to do that, too.”

    The Buckeyes need to prove that more players than Miller can move the ball on the ground. It will be tougher to run with starting running back Carlos Hyde out with an MCL injury, but someone has to step up.

    A strong showing from running back Jordan Hall, or even freshman back Bri'onte Dunn, could go a long way in preserving Miller's health in the future.

Don't Give Up Big Plays

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    The Buckeyes have really struggled with this one recently.

    Though the Ohio State defense is surrendering only 18 points a game, they've given up a ton of big plays.

    The Buckeyes have allowed 13 plays of 20 yards or more this season, which is an astonishing total for such a talented defense.

    When asked about the big plays they've given up, head coach Urban Meyer told the Associated Press (per ESPN):

    “That is the most alarming thing. I've watched Ohio State's defense for a long time, and I can't remember a defense I've been around that's given up this many (big plays). We've got to stop or we'll lose a game.”

    UAB's offense hasn't been sensational by any means, but they're fairly dangerous through the air. They rank 30th in the nation in passing yards per game.

    If quarterback Jonathan Perry is able to throw the ball for a couple of big gains, the Blazers might be able to give Ohio State some competition.

    The Buckeyes need to flex their muscles this weekend and find a way to prevent the big plays. It will be crucial both in this game, and games further on down the road.

Dominate the Line of Scrimmage

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    Ohio State needs to be the aggressor at the line of scrimmage—both offensively and defensively.

    Offensively, the line needs to open up holes for Jordan Hall and protect Miller when he's in the pocket. It's absolutely crucial that Miller takes as few hits as possible this weekend. The Buckeyes can't afford to have him banged up heading into games against Michigan State and Nebraska.

    The only way the line can ensure Miller's safety is by giving Hall plenty of room to run and keeping defenders out of Miller's face. They'll have to be aggressive and bully the Blazers' line all game.

    The same thing goes for the defensive line.

    As mentioned earlier, the Buckeyes have had some problems giving up big plays. UAB won't be able to get anything on the ground against Johnathan Hankins and Co., so they'll look to the passing game to stay competitive.

    If the Ohio State can get constant pressure on quarterback Jonathan Perry with just a four-man rush, they'll be able to drop multiple defenders back into coverage and stop any big plays from developing.

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