At noon today, the Ohio State Buckeyes kick off their 2013 season in soggy Columbus. The opponent is the Miami RedHawks, and Buckeye fans are looking for an old-fashioned butt-kicking to try to wash away the sooty taste of last year’s disasters.
In Buckeye Nation, expectation and anticipation is high. Last year’s distractions and constant NCAA issues are over. An interim head coach has been replaced by a fiery, demanding taskmaster who has already won two national championships. Urban Meyer clearly has made some significant attitudinal and cultural changes in the Ohio State program — including a new, interactive pre-game routine between players and students that will debut today — and all signs indicate that the changes are for the better. From watching Meyer and his staff, you get the impression that they will do whatever it takes (within the boundaries of propriety and NCAA regulations, of course) to win.
The team has some real talent, particularly on the defensive side. Defensive linemen John Simon, a never-say-quit force of nature, and huge, quick Johnathan Hankins anchor what should be one of the best Buckeye front fours in years. We’ll be needing them to disrupt opposing offenses, because the linebacking corps is a bit thin and unproven, although Ryan Shazier showed great promise and heart in his freshman year last year. The defensive backfield features cornerback Bradley Roby and hard-hitting safety Orhian Johnson. This is a defense that will focus on forcing turnovers, something the Buckeyes didn’t do much of last year, while avoiding the big plays that plagued last year’s unit.
On the offensive side of the ball, a lot rides on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller. Miller showed real flashes of brilliance last year — but mostly with his feet, on some stunning runs where it looked like the opposing team was trying to tackle a ghost. Miller also will have some good running backs in the backfield with him, with Carlos Hyde likely to get a lot of the carries. The Buckeyes’ air attack, on the other hand, was dismal. If Ohio State is to take significant steps forward this season, Miller needs to take a quantum leap forward in his passing mechanics and his receivers need to hold on to the ball. We should start, at least, to get a sense of that today.
It’s officially September, and I’m ready for some football!