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?