Ohio State Buckeyes vs. California Golden Bears Complete Game Preview
The rematch takes place on Saturday in Berkeley, Calif., as No. 4 Ohio State hits the road for the first time this season to take on Cal and close out their two-year home-and-home series.
The Buckeyes (2-0) are coming off a 42-7 victory over San Diego State. Ohio State piled up 445 yards of offense, including 263 on the ground, while limiting the Aztecs to just 280 total yards.
The Golden Bears can expect to see a similar-looking Buckeyes' attack under head coach Urban Meyer, but the same can't be said for Ohio State. Cal's new head coach, Sonny Dykes, has completely remade the Golden Bears' offense, implementing his up-tempo, pass-heavy attack.
The biggest unknown surrounding the Buckeyes is whether Miller, who suffered a slight MCL sprain on the Buckeyes' first drive against San Diego State, will be healthy enough to go this Saturday.
Time: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m., ET
Place: Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, Calif.
Ohio State Keys to Victory
Even with Braxton Miller's status unknown, Ohio State's biggest priority will be tackling, especially in space.
The Buckeyes struggled getting the Golden Bears on the ground during last year's game, and that alone turned what should have been a comfortable win into a close game.
Sonny Dykes' offense is geared to spread a defense out while operating at a breathtaking pace. Through the first two weeks, the Golden Bears lead the country with an average of 97 offensive plays per game.
Defending an offense as good as Cal's at that pace will put a lot of pressure on Ohio State's secondary.
The Buckeyes couldn't contain the Golden Bears last year, giving up a season-high 512 yards of total offense. Multiple Cal playmakers exploited Ohio State's defense, something that has haunted Urban Meyer for a year, as ElevenWarriors.com's Ohio State beat writer Kyle Rowland tweeted:
Urban Meyer said Brendan Bigelow's performance last season has led the team to practice tackling almost daily since that game.
This year, the Buckeyes will face a more-explosive Cal offense. If Ohio State's poor tackling hasn't been resolved, it could be a long night for the Buckeyes.
California Keys to Victory
If the Golden Bears plan on beating the Buckeyes, they'll likely have to win a shootout.
Cal is capable of lighting up the scoreboard, averaging more than 33 points and 582 yards of offense per game.
The key will be for the Golden Bears to find an offensive balance against Ohio State. Cal hasn't had much success in running the ball, averaging just 110 yards per game. The Golden Bears don't need to establish a huge presence between the tackles, but if they want to keep Ohio State off balance, they'll need to get something going on the ground.
If Cal doesn't make Ohio State respect the run, it will be much harder to keep up its end of the shootout.
Players to Watch for the Buckeyes
All eyes will be on Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller.
During the Big Ten teleconference on Tuesday afternoon, head coach Urban Meyer expressed optimism regarding Miller's playing status, according to Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch.
Meyer said he's "fairly optimistic" about Braxton Miller playing on Saturday.
If the Buckeyes do get Miller back, how limited will he be?
If Miller does play against Cal, will the coaches try and protect him by limiting or eliminating the zone-read play? Also, will Miller be less aggressive? If he sees an open running lane, will he take it or continue through his progression to try and get the ball out of his hands?
If Miller is limited, a heavier burden will be placed on the running backs. Fifth-year senior Jordan Hall has played very well, rushing for a team-high 234 yards and three touchdowns. The Buckeyes also have Rod Smith, Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott and Warren Ball in a deep backfield.
Players to Watch for the Golden Bears
Running back Brendan Bigelow torched the Buckeyes last year, running for 160 yards and two touchdowns on just four carries.
Bigelow is back and he'll be looking to get on track against Ohio State after struggling in Cal's first two games. Against Northwestern and Portland State, Bigelow totaled just 140 yards and no touchdowns on 34 carries.
Bigelow took advantage of Ohio State's poor tackling in last year's meeting. If he manages to get loose again, Cal's offense will be much more dynamic.
If the Golden Bears are to pull of the upset, though, they will need a huge day from freshman quarterback Jared Goff.
Goff has proven he's capable of posting big numbers, as he leads the country in passing yards by a wide margin, tweeted Jeff Svoboda, editor of BuckeyeSportsBulletin.com.:
Fun Cal fact: Cal QB Jared Goff has thrown for 935 yard to lead the FBS. Oregon State's Seth Mannion is second at 794 yards. That's a gap.
If his offensive line gives him enough time, Goff could do some damage to Ohio State's defense.
What They Are Saying
Cal's Jared Goff on Leading the Country in Passing Yards
"It's cool, but we need to beat Ohio State, can't really think about stats."
Ohio State's Michael Bennett on Faking an Injury to Slow Cal's Up-Tempo Offense
"I've never tried to fake an injury. I've tried to fake not being injured."
Cal's Sonny Dykes on Playing Ohio State
"We have a standard and expectation of play that we want to meet every week, not worry about who our opponent is."
Ohio State's Urban Meyer on Slowing Down Cal's Quick-Strike Offense
"The ball comes out so fast, the screens, it's quick passes, you don't really have a chance to get to the quarterback... how do you disrupt passing is you disrupt the quarterback's flow and all that."
Dykes on Cal's Offensive Strategy
"We have to be able to run the ball, this is not a team to drop back and throw 70 times against."
Ohio State's Jeff Heuerman on freshman Dontre Wilson
The kid can run. He can flat-out fly. We saw that the first few days of fall camp. I don't think you've really seen it all yet. He hasn't had one of those runs where he straight-up runs away from people like we've seen.
Both teams will start the game with a long, quick touchdown drive and both offenses will look untouchable early.
With a 14-10 lead, the Buckeyes will slow down the game at the end of the first quarter and wear on Cal's defensive front. The Golden Bears will tack on a field goal to cut Ohio State's lead to one, but the Buckeyes will end the half with back-to-back touchdown drives to take a 28-13 lead into halftime.
Ohio State will continue to pound the ground, chewing up the first seven-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter with a 75-yard touchdown drive. On Cal's ensuing drive, Jared Goff will force a pass that Bradley Roby intercepts and returns for a touchdown.
Cal will score 10 more points and Ohio State will add a field goal in the fourth quarter to close out a 45-23 victory.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.