How Able Are The ‘Canes? (And The Buckeyes?)

Tonight the Ohio State Buckeyes play their first road game of the 2011 season, at 7:30 against the Miami Hurricanes.  Pundits are having fun with the fact that both teams have had to deal with off-season NCAA issues — emails about ‘Tats vs. ‘Tutes have burned up the internet in Columbus over the last few days — but let’s focus on football for now.

This is a young, inexperienced Ohio State team, and for young players going on the road is always a challenge.  In such games you start to learn about how players will perform in pressure situations, away from the encouraging crowds at Ohio Stadium.  When the key third-down play needs to be made, how will Joe Bauserman respond?  Can the defense rise to the occasion on a crucial series with the game on the line?  Miami’s Sun Life Stadium, with its warm temperatures and a crowd that is likely to include more than a few members of Buckeye Nation, is not going to be as intimidating as the trips to Nebraska or the Big House that the Buckeyes must make later this season — but tonight’s game may begin to give us a sense of the Buckeyes’ inner grit and fortitude.

Miami, playing without a number of suspended players, lost its first game last week at Maryland.  Forget that result.  For tonight’s game, Miami’s starting quarterback, Jacory Harris, and a slew of defensive players will return to the lineup, while the Buckeyes will regain starting running back Jordan Hall and starting defensive back Travis Howard.  Miami has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and will try to put pressure on the young Buckeyes.  Ohio State, meanwhile, will try to work through the snags and missed assignments that appeared in last week’s struggling win against Toledo.

Pre-game analysis doesn’t mean much in these situations, where so many players will be playing in their first big away game.  When Luke Fickell — who will be experiencing his first road game as head coach — leads the team out onto the field for the kickoff, he will no doubt be thinking:  will our players be able to overcome the jitters and perform?

The Hurricanes Blow Into Town (Cont.)

The game against the Miami Hurricanes is less than two days away, and the excitement here in Columbus is building.  Buckeye and Hurricane fans, and no doubt college football fans generally, are looking forward to what should be a marquee matchup between two teams with storied programs and lots of tradition.

The Miami program has experienced a few down years since the glory days of the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s, and Miami fans, I think, view this game as a chance to make a national statement that “The U” is back.  Ohio State fans, on the other hand, are looking to continue the momentum created by the 2010 Rose Bowl win and to wipe away the memory of the tough home loss to U.S.C. last year.  It seems like, every year, pundits raise questions about whether the Buckeyes can win the big games.  So, each team will come to the game thinking they have something to prove.

Early season matchups also have their own intriguing aspects because the teams are largely unknowns.  Last week Miami beat the snot out of Florida A&M, a Division 1-AA program, scoring 45 points, completing a high percentage of passes, pitching a shutout, and constantly harassing and sacking Florida A&M’s quarterback.  The Buckeyes pretty much did the same with Marshall.  But Ohio State fans like to think that the Buckeyes are much better than the Rattlers, and Miami fans believe they are much better than the Thundering Herd.  In all likelihood, the first games don’t tell us much.

I think the game is going to be decided on the line of scrimmage.  The Hurricanes have a fine quarterback, Jacory Harris, who is highly accurate when he is given time to throw.  Last year, however, he was sacked 34 times and threw 17 interceptions.  Ohio State will be looking to Cameron Heyward, Dexter Larimore, and their fellow defensive linemen to control the line of scrimmage.  If the Buckeyes can get pressure with their front four, it will simplify the task of Ohio State’s somewhat inexperienced secondary.  If Miami’s offensive line can keep the defensive line away from Harris, on the other hand, it will open up Miami’s running game and allow Harris to exploit the Buckeye secondary.

The Buckeye faithful will need to be loud on Saturday

On the other side of the ball, the burden will fall on the Ohio State offensive line.  Miami has some excellent speed rushers but has been victimized by power running games.  The Buckeyes may well focus on their stable of running backs and dare Miami to stop the run.  If Ohio State does mix things up, it will need to protect Terrelle Pryor.  Like Harris, he has shown that he can turn the ball over when significant pressure is applied.

Neither side seems to have a significant advantage on special teams.  The Buckeyes looked raggedy in the kicking game last week, giving up a long kick-off return, a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, and a blocked extra point.  Miami will have speed to spare on its special teams, so the Ohio State coaches will have had to work on the spacing and coverage issues if they don’t want to get burned come Saturday.  When a team like Miami comes into a tough environment like the ‘Shoe — and let’s hope the Buckeye Nation is loud, loud, loud — you don’t want to give them a cheap touchdown that makes their task any easier.

This is one of those games where we will know early whether the teams are evenly matched.  I think we will see a tough, hard-fought game on Saturday.

The Hurricanes Blow Into Town