OSU vs. Cal Preview

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Last updated: 09/13/2012 7:11 PM
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California at Ohio State Preview
By Tony Gerdeman

Saturday will mark the first time in 40 years that Ohio State and California have met on the football field.

The Buckeyes own a 5-1 record against Cal all-time and have not dropped a game to them since the 1921 Rose Bowl.

Ohio State is 56-26-2 all-time against current members of the Pac Twelve conference, and have won seven of their last ten such meetings.

California has played 33 games against ranked opponents under head coach Jeff Tedford and are 13-20 in those games. The Bears have lost their last six meetings against ranked opponents.

When California Has the Ball

California has the 49th-ranked offense in the nation, averaging 441.5 total yards per game. The Bears are fairly balanced, but their standouts can be found at the receiver position.

Keenan Allen caught 98 passes for 1,343 yards last season, but those numbers aren't quite on pace this year as he has just eleven receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown in two games this season.

Allen (6-3 210) also has three carries on the season, including a 39-yard touchdown run. He is both a possession receiver and a big-play maker. That big play has alluded him through the air to this point, as his longest reception is just 32 yards.

Cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Travis Howard will both match up with Allen, and with a plan to blitz more than maybe they have in the past, the man-to-man coverage becomes more important than it has been all season.

If Roby and Howard are losing more battles than they are winning early the front seven will be forced to play more coverage and less kamikaze.

Cal also has a pair of true freshman receivers who are making an impact. Chris Harper leads the team in yards and receptions with twelve catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. Bryce Treggs was a five-star recruit in the 2012 class. He has six catches for 100 yards on the season, including a 37-yard touchdown reception.

Quarterback Zach Maynard has completed 34-53 passes for 474 yards. He has thrown three touchdowns and one interception. He also has a 22-yard run to his credit, which gives you an idea of his athletic ability.

Maynard has been sacked three times on the season, and that's a number that the Ohio State defense would like to exceed. Urban Meyer has been disappointed with the Buckeye pass rush and has mentioned that there will likely be more blitzing this weekend.

Defensive end Michael Bennett is still out with a groin injury, but fellow defensive end Nathan Williams should return once again from his own injury.

Teams have countered Ohio State's pass rush with double and triple-teaming defensive end John Simon, as well as employing a quick passing attack. California likes to go downfield a bit more than most teams, so the Bears' offensive line will need to make sure they give Maynard enough time to throw it deep.

The offensive line is also paving the way for 199.5 yards rushing per game. Cal employs a 1-2 punch at running back with Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson. Sofele has rushed for 126 yards this season and Anderson has added 112 yards.

Ohio State will counter California's rushing attack with the nation's eighth-ranked run defense. To this point, the Buckeyes are allowing just 51 yards rushing per game behind defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and linebackers Ryan Shazier and Etienne Sabino.

Cal does employ a fullback, so there should be more of middle linebacker Curtis Grant this week as well.

The question will be whether or not the Bears decide to go with past plans of attack this week and go with a three-step drop in their passing game. It's not always what they do, but they will want to protect Maynard. Not having injured starting right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin on their quarterback's blind side will need to be addressed.

Keenan Allen is not just a tremendous receiver, he is also a tremendous punt returner, averaging 22.2 yards per return this season. He already has a 69-yard touchdown return to his credit.

Cal is averaging just 20.5 yards per kick return, and the Buckeye kick return unit is allowing just 17.4 yards per return.

Punter Cole Leininger is averaging just 36.2 yards per punt, and placekicker Vincenzo D'Amato is 4-5 on field goals this season and 8-9 on extra points.

When Ohio State Has the Ball

As it will until he leaves Columbus, the Ohio State offense begins with quarterback Braxton Miller. Miller, the fourth-leading rusher in the nation (151 yards per game), has carried the ball 44 times already this season, and that's a pace that needs to slow down sooner rather than later.

Still, when an opportunity arises for Miller to take off, he won't hesitate to do so.

California plays a '46' defense, which brings a safety down into the box, giving them eight players near the line of scrimmage. The purpose is to get into the backfield, and it has been very successful in that regard.

Cal is third in the nation with 21 tackles for loss. By comparison, Ohio State has just five tackles for loss. However, the Bears' aggressive defense can also get them in trouble as they are allowing 14 plays per game of ten or more yards.

The '46' defense generally requires man-to-man defense in the secondary, but the Bears have tried to play it with zone coverage. After allowing 31 points to both Nevada and Southern Utah, obviously it's not working.

Urban Meyer expects Cal to play more man-to-man coverage, which will put pressure on Braxton Miller to complete passes downfield. The Buckeyes expect to take more shots deep this week because the Bears will be daring them to do so.

Cal is 94th in pass efficiency defense. As long as Miller is accurate, he has a chance to put up some good numbers.

For Miller to have time to be accurate, his offensive line will need to hold up. Defensive end Deandre Coleman has 1.5 sacks on the season and will be just one of eight or nine players intent on disrupting Miller's timing.

Meyer expects to throw the ball more than normal this weekend, and for that to happen the Buckeyes will need to be prepared for the constant blitzing. This will be the first real test for the Ohio State offensive line. They will face better defenses, but few will be as aggressive. If they can provide protection, Miller should have time to find open receivers.

Offensive coordinator Tom Herman has challenged his receivers this week, telling them that the California defense has no respect for them. Will that change at some point on Saturday afternoon?

Last week Corey Brown and Devin Smith each caught six passes, and that's a good target number for them this week as well. At some point, however, they are going to to need to make some plays after the catch.

California's cornerbacks are three and four-year starters, so they have seen everything there is to see. The receivers will need to make room, because it won't simply be given to them.

Tailback Carlos Hyde is out this week, but the Buckeyes may regain injured tailback Jordan Hall. He won't be able to carry a heavy load, but he would certainly give the Buckeyes a look that they haven't shown yet this season.

Ohio State won't announce their starter at tailback until Saturday, but more than likely it will be freshman Bri'onte Dunn, who has twelve carries for 60 yards and a touchdown this season.

If the Buckeyes are in control in this game, expect a healthy dose of Dunn. If it is close throughout, expect Miller to carry it another 27 times.

Meyer wasn't as happy with his special teams last week as he was the week before, and while they are a solid unit, he would obviously prefer spectacular.

Punter Ben Buchanan is averaging 40.9 yards per punt, and Drew Basil is 1-1 on field goals this season. Freshman cornerback Armani Reeves is averaging 22.5 yards per kickoff return on his two returns this season.

How It Will End Up

With California's unorthodox defense, this could be the game where the hybrid roles in Urban Meyer's offense begin to shine. Finding themselves just on the other side of blitzing linebackers, if Miller can see players like Jordan Hall and Jake Stoneburner, they could move the ball quite a bit on Saturday.

Expect Corey Brown to have his role expanded, including a couple of extra carries this week. Ten-plus touches would be a good number for him, but he will likely end up closer to eight or nine.

California will have some positive moments downfield in the passing game because the Buckeyes haven't yet shown themselves capable of stopping them.

It will be a very committee-based rushing attack for the Buckeyes on Saturday, unless the game just isn't very close, in which case Dunn and Rod Smith can expect the bulk of the carries.

Miller has completed 75% of his passes since beginning the season 1-7, and while he likely won't continue that pace in this game, if he does, the Buckeyes should win comfortably.

Asking him to complete even 65% of his passes with as many downfield looks as he'll have this week will be asking a lot. California's defense will present problems to him as a quarterback, but will also present opportunities to him as an athlete.

The key will be for Miller to execute on the opportunities provided. He won't have to be perfect, but he needs to show that he can be a downfield passing threat.

Ohio State 34 - California 17

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