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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive Preview: Ohio State at California
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar




- Saturday, September 14, 2013

- Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, California

- Ohio State at California

- 7:00 p.m. ET

- TV: FOX -

OSU Cal 2012c JamieSabau GettyThe Buckeyes take their show on the road for the first time in 2013 with the finale of their two-game series with the Golden Bears of California. The 4th-ranked Bucks (2-0) head west with the nation’s longest winning streak, now at 14 games, but also with some uncertainty about who will be playing quarterback come kick-off time Saturday.

The latest word from Urban Meyer is that Braxton Miller’s sprained left knee is responding well, and that the OSU starter at quarterback will be a gametime decision, based in large part on how he performs in practice on Thursday. The coach is in the enviable position of having a backup QB on his bench who enjoys the full confidence of his teammates and the coaching staff. Buckeye fans have seen enough of senior Kenny Guiton to know he’ll be ready if called upon.

Cal gave Ohio State a scare a year ago in Columbus, losing to the Buckeyes when Miller and Devin Smith hooked up on a 72-yard touchdown pass with less than four minutes to play to break a 28-28 tie. That close call may have been the highlight of the Bears’ season, however, as they went on to finish 3-9, and Jeff Tedford lost his job as head coach in the process.

The new head man is Sonny Dykes, one of the architects of the productive passing attack at Texas Tech for several years before spending the last three seasons making Louisiana Tech respectable in his first head coaching assignment. Dykes welcomes the Buckeyes to Berkeley with a 1-1 mark in his first season, having dropped the opener to Northwestern before getting by Portland State last week.

Ohio State leads the all-time series 6-1, but last year’s meeting was the first time the schools had met on the gridiron for 40 years. They have split two Rose Bowl meetings, with Cal taking the 1921 game 28-0, and OSU winning 17-14 in 1950.

State of the Bucks

OSU Cal 2012The quarterback situation is perhaps the only question mark concerning the health of Ohio State coming into this one...but of course it’s a big one. Guiton’s strong performance against San Diego State last week gave OSU fans a sense of security, but he is not the game-breaking threat that opponents face on every play with a healthy Braxton Miller behind center.

There are aspects of the game that Guiton arguably performs as well as Miller. Last week, Ohio State ran a lot of option, and Guiton’s decision-making was near perfect. He underthrew one ball that was intercepted, but for the most part, his passing was on target. As a runner he is more than adequate, but there are very few players walking the planet with the quickness and elusiveness of Miller...that is, Miller at 100 percent.

On his Thursday call-in radio show, here’s what Meyer had to say about Miller: “Braxton threw a little bit yesterday, had a great workout this morning in the pool, and feels pretty good…It’s going to be a game-time decision, because it’s healing at a rapid pace….If Braxton is not ready to go, he won’t play. If he is ready to play, I have to make a decision on will he start the game, or will he just come in in certain situations, or if we need him.”

Senior center Corey Linsley, who has had his playing time limited in the first two games as he worked his way back from a spring foot surgery, is expected to be able to go the whole way if necessary this week. Carlos Hyde has one more game to go on his suspension, so Jordan Hall and Rod Smith are again expected to carry the load at running back, with Ezekiel Elliott and Warren Ball at the ready behind them.

California: Key Personnel

CaliforniaCal returns just five starters on offense, and must replace their starting quarterback, their all-time leading receiver, and their top running back, in addition to three offensive linemen. As expected, the Bears under Dykes have shown a wide open passing attack in a no-huddle, spread offense, and they have a strong-armed true freshman quarterback at the controls.

Jared Goff leads all FBS quarterbacks in passing after two games with 935 yards, on 72 completions in 115 attempts (62.6%), with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Despite losing Keenan Allen to the NFL, Cal has some experienced wide receivers for their spread attack, as Chris Harper (2012: 41 rec, 544 yds, 2 TD) and Bryce Treggs (21 rec, 216 yds, 1 TD) were both key contributors a year ago.

Buckeye fans will remember running back Brendan Bigelow from last September, when the then sophomore tailback broke two long touchdown runs (81 and 59 yards) to keep Cal in the game. Bigelow made a great effort on both plays, but also capitalized on some shoddy tackling technique by OSU defenders, something Meyer has reminded them of all week. The Bears have an excellent placekicker in senior Vincenzo D’Amato.

On defense, the Bears are hoping they get something figured out in a hurry, because they have been shredded in their first two games, giving up an average of 471 yards and 37 points per game. Defensive tackle Deandre Coleman and Penn St. transfer Khairi Fortt are players to watch, and freshman Hardy Nickerson, son of the former NFL standout of the same name, led the team in tackles last week with 12.


Idle Speculation

As the title of this segment admits, I’m guessing here, but I don’t expect to see Braxton Miller start the game. If he is less than 100%...a near certainty given the nature of the injury...I would start Guiton and try to get Braxton completely healthy for the Big Ten schedule. But you know Miller will be lobbying hard to play the game.

I look for the Buckeye offense to run the ball pretty much at will. Cal has surrendered over 200 yards rushing to both opponents so far, and neither of them approaches OSU in running back or offensive line talent. Meyer has not been happy with the “yards-after-catch” results by his wide receivers on bubble screens and quick hitters, so some improvement there is something to watch for Saturday, from Corey Brown and Devin Smith especially.

Cal has some solid skill position talent, and the freshman quarterback Goff has a big arm, so the potential is there to put some points on the board. I do think that whatever damage the Bears offense does to Ohio State will have to come through the air, because they have had trouble running the ball, and the OSU defense has been stout against the run in the early going.

This will be an excellent test for the OSU cornerbacks, Bradley Roby and Doran Grant, both in terms of coverage and tackling, and the much-hyped OSU pass rush will have to show up and perform as well. I think the OSU defense will force the young quarterback into at least a couple of turnovers, and that will be the difference in a fairly high-scoring game.

Meyer has taken care to prepare his defense to play as many as 100 plays against the fast-paced no-huddle of Sonny Dykes’ offense, but the game day temperature is expected to be mild, and the hydration and cramping issues shouldn’t be a problem for the Buckeyes. The defense faces the same type of hurry-up attack every day in practice, so their conditioning shouldn’t be a factor.

I expect OSU to match their scoring output of at least 40 points per game (41.0 avg), while holding the Bears in check. Let’s say 46-17 OSU.


2013 Ohio State Roster

2013 California Roster


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(photo credit - Jamie Sabau - Getty Images - at top) 


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