This will be the first ever meeting between #2 Ohio State (0-0) and the Buffalo Bulls (0-0), who are kicking off their 100th season.
Ohio State has won 34 straight home-openers and is 29-1 against schools from the Mid-American Conference.
Last season, Buffalo opened with a similarly difficult test, falling 45-23 at Georgia. The Bulls are 0-4 all-time against Big Ten opponents. They have one win against an AQ BCS opponent (Rutgers), and are looking for their second opening-day road win since 1980.
UB has 22 seniors and 23 juniors returning for 2013, so they are a veteran and experienced football team. They also have 13 players on their roster from the state of Ohio.
When Buffalo Has The Ball
Buffalo will be breaking in their sixth different opening-day starting quarterback in the past six seasons, but that does not mean Joe Licata does not have experience. The sophomore took over with four games remaining in 2012 and won three of the four games he started.
Licata, who won the starting job over Alex Zordich, completed 52.8% of his passes with seven touchdowns and three interceptions last season. Licata can make plays down the field with his arm and The Bulls will likely look to use that against the Buckeyes.
Ohio State’s starting safeties, C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant, are both seniors with 46 starts between. Both have discussed being part of the best secondary in the country and they will look to make a statement in game one.
The Bulls have an experienced offensive line made up of juniors and seniors. They will go up against a young but talented OSU defensive line that will be looking to make an early statement. Don’t be surprised to see several guys rotated through the line for the Buckeyes to see what each player offers.
The big names for Ohio State this year will be sophomore defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. They will look to be menaces for the Bulls’ offense to handle.
When Buffalo does take to the air they will likely look for senior wide receiver Alex Neutz. Number 19 finished 2012 with 1,015 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, which earned him All-MAC honors.
They will attempt to take advantage of the suspension of Bradley Roby and attack Doran Grant and Aramani Reeves. Grant played in all 12 games for the Buckeyes last season, but this will be his first year as a starter. Reeves played in six games, mostly on special teams, and will make his first career start in Roby’s absence.
Even with the preseason All American out of the lineup for Ohio State, it will likely still be difficult for Buffalo’s passing game to get into gear.
Where they may have success is using their tight ends to match up with the Buckeyes’ linebacking corps that has one returning starter.
Head coach Jeff Quinn believes he has four talented players at tight end. He will look to use the four of Jimmy Gordon (81), Alex Dennison (17), Mason Schreck (85), and Matt Weiser (85) in different packages to exploit their individual skill sets.
It will be mostly up to Ryan Shazier, Curtis Grant, and Joshua Perry to matchup with these tight ends and prove an early season point that this will not be a weak spot in Ohio State’s defense.
Early in the game, Buffalo will likely look to use its ground game to move the ball. Starting running back Brandon Oliver missed most of 2012 with injuries after concluding 2011 with 1,395 yards. He only needs 627 yards this season to break James Starks’ career rushing record at UB.
Even while missing Oliver during 2012, the Bulls still ran for a Division 1-era school record 2,120 yards. They will likely face a stiff test against this Buckeyes’ front seven, despite the inexperience, but there were teams last year who were able to put up big numbers on the ground against Ohio State.
The kicking game for Buffalo was good from distance the last two years. Junior Pat Clarke hit 7-of-8 from more than 40 yards. He will look to continue his success this year.
Sophomore punter Tyler Grassman did not kick the ball deep as a true freshman, but did force 28 fair catches and had 19 punts downed inside opponents’ 20-yard line.
UB did not have much of a return game last year, struggling to find big plays, and had issues with fumbles on kick and punt returns. They do return many of their special teamers and Quinn said he is not against using starters to improve the play of the unit.
When Ohio State Has The Ball
Like last year, things will always start with quarterback Braxton Miller.
The Heisman contender threw for more than 200 yards only four times last season. With the work Miller has put in on footwork and mechanics heading into 2013, that number should increase significantly. Expect this game to be one where Miller tops the 200-yard passing mark.
Number five may also have a good day running the ball, but the coaches would like to use him less in this facet. With more playmakers around him, Urban Meyer does not want Braxton to be this team’s leading rusher in 2013.
The Buffalo defensive line has improved in each of the last three seasons. Last year, the team finished with 34 sacks and they will look to get to Miller, who was sacked 28 times last season, before he can scramble away.
They will face a stiff test with an experience and talented offensive line. Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, and Marcus Hall are all seniors who started on last year’s 12-0 team. Sophomore Taylor Decker is the lone new starter, but was highly recruited and impressed coaches this offseason.
The starters will likely see a lot of time early, but do expect to see backups Jacoby Boren, Pat Elflein, and Daryl Baldwin, among others, get some snaps as well.
The Buckeyes’ running game is missing last year’s top two backs in Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith, yet Meyer announced this week that fifth-year senior Jordan Hall was the best running back on this team. He will get the start, but youngsters Bri’onte Dunn, Warren Ball, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dontre Wilson will all get carries as well.
Hall and Wilson will likely lineup in several positions throughout the game and will be in motion often before the snap. Meyer is looking to establish his H-back position and these are the two players who have the best skillset to do so.
Buffalo uses a unique 3-3 stack defense that can also morph into a 5-2. There is a lot of pre-snap movement, designed to confuse the quarterback and cause issues on the run.
This defense may appear gimmicky, but there is nothing gimmicky about Bulls’ outside linebacker Khalil Mack. Meyer singled out Mack as a player who would start on the Buckeyes, which is quite a compliment to someone who was only just received a two-star ranking coming out of high school.
For his career, Mack has recorded 229 tackles, 18 sacks, and a ridiculous 56 tackles for a loss. He has forced 11 fumbles, including four last season. Miller and the Ohio State offense will have to keep an eye out for number 46, who will lineup as the outside linebacker or a defensive end in a two-point stance. He is a menace that could cause the Buckeyes problems.
The Ohio State offense will look to play quickly as they did last year in order to tire out Mack and his defense.
The receiving corps boasts what the coaches have called four starters. This does not mean the Buckeyes will lineup in four receiver sets all the time, but it means they are comfortable enough with Philly Brown, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, and Chris Fields to declare them all starters.
Both Brown and Smith looked to improve on the opposite things this offseason; Brown on being a better deep threat and Smith on being more consistent on his intermediate routes. The coaches raved about Spencer leading into the season, saying he was the most improved player of the group.
Fields was named a starter at the end of spring practice because of how much he impressed the coaches. He is listed on the depth chart as the H-back spot, but he does not have much experience rushing the ball. It is likely he will lineup in the slot often, but Hall or Wilson will be the ones playing the role fully.
The secondary is experienced for Buffalo, with four upperclassmen starters who all played at least seven games last season.
Safety Derek Brim led the unit with 40 tackles and cornerback Najja Johnson had the most interceptions (5). They will have their hands full with a receiving unit that should see a lot of action, as the coaching staff wants to see how Miller does in live play.
The tight ends have received a lot of talk from the staff leading into 2013. Jeff Heurman and Nick Vannett have been called the best tight end pair in the country by their coaches.
Both emerged later in the season last year, but will be featured early and often this season. Miller was willing to use short and underneath routes a lot in fall camp, so tight ends and running backs may see a larger amount of receptions this year.
Drew Basil has been reliable throughout his career at Ohio State. He has 41 touchbacks in his three seasons and has made 75% of his field goals. The Buckeyes will expect his numbers to improve in his senior year.
Freshman punter Cameron Johnston brings a new feel to his position. The 21-year old Australian punter has impressed the coaches with his punts and athletic ability. It will be about consistency for him, which should come with time.
Buffalo struggled stopping opponents’ return game last year, which might give a chance to Wilson if he receives the open kicking. Expect the proverbial roof to lift off the Horseshoe if highly-hyped Wilson takes his first touch to the house.
How It Will End Up
A heavy dose of the Ohio State offense should be the name of this game, as they should not have much of an issue moving the ball on Buffalo and stopping the Bulls from doing the same.
Meyer made it clear this week that he was not happy with the slow start last season against Miami in the opener and Buckeye players seemed to understand that.
This is a team with a lot to prove carrying that number-two ranking. The offense is loaded and experienced and may have to carry the defense at points this season, but this should not be one of those games.
UB should be an improved team from a year ago, but should not be able to hang with OSU. Their superstar linebacker may make some big plays in this game in his audition for NFL scouts – their only other major game is against Baylor – but it will not be enough for his team to hang around very long.
Buckeyes roll big in their opener, as the starters rest early and fans get a look at a lot of the young players.
Ohio State 65 – Buffalo 9.