The First Test

Tonight the Ohio State Buckeyes face off against the University of California Golden Bears.  It will be the Buckeyes’ first road game and first real test this year.

Ohio State has won its first two games against marginal opponents.  The team had a dominant first quarter but later struggled against Buffalo in game one, then beat an over-matched San Diego State team in week two.  Neither opponent is comparable to those that the Buckeyes will need to beat later in the season if they want to keep their championship hopes alive.

So far this season, at least, Cal hasn’t looked like a particularly good team, either.  The Golden Bears got beat at home by a ranked Northwestern team, then barely squeaked by Portland State.  I’m sure the Cal coaches and players will deny it, but I expect they have been focused on this game as a chance to make a national statement.  For the Buckeyes, it is the first road game of the season, and one that will require them to travel thousands of miles and adjust to a time change.  For a young team, the first road game always raises issues and distractions.

I don’t think the Buckeyes have jelled yet.  You look at the offense and defense and you see weapons, but the parts haven’t meshed fully and the dominance that Buckeyes fans expect really hasn’t been displayed.  Braxton Miller’s injury against San Diego State will further slow the effort to get the offense running in clockwork fashion, and it will take time for the host of new defensive players to get used to their schemes and rotations.  I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that Miller plays tonight, avoids injury, and shows progress in getting back to the form that made him a preseason Heisman hopeful, and also that the defense brings pressure, forces turnovers, and starts to fully display its apparent talent.

This is the kind of game that makes many people in Buckeye Nation worry — an initial road test, in a faraway place, against a team that has been unimpressive so far this season.  A young team could take a win for granted, and then find itself trapped in tough struggle with the clock winding down in the second half.  I hope the Buckeyes avoid that scenario tonight — and I’m sure that Urban Meyer and his staff are working hard toward that goal.

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