The No. 17-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (2-0) hit the road for their first away game of the 2011 season against the unranked Miami Hurricanes (0-1), which were picked to finish second in the Atlantic Coast Conference. OSU holds a 2-1 advantage in the all-time series against Miami, including a 31-24 double-overtime victory in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl for the 2002 BCS National Championship. Last season’s 36-24 win against the Hurricanes was vacated as part of OSU’s self-imposed penalties for NCAA violations.
Here is a discussion of some of the pressing concerns facing the Buckeyes’ in their Week 3 contest against Miami.
1. Should I be concerned about last week’s 27-22 win against Toledo and, if so, how much?
It’s reasonable to be worried after Saturday’s closer-than-expected win against Toledo, but only to a certain point.
One area of question is the success the Rockets’ quarterbacking duo of sophomore Terrance Owens and junior Austin Dantin had in the game. Owens and Dantin combined to throw for 292 yards against the OSU defense.
Perhaps the biggest worry for Buckeye Nation was that their team struggled to stop the offensive weapons Toledo figured to rely on heading into the game — junior wide receiver and kick returner Eric Page and senior running back Adonis Thomas combined for 372 all-purpose yards in the game.
But the fact that OSU dropped only two spots in the Associated Press’ Top 25 poll from No. 15 to No. 17 could be a sign of respect for the Rockets’ playmakers, and Toledo earned every bit of that respect.
For all the missed opportunities and big plays allowed to the Rockets’ predictable playmakers, the Buckeyes defense came up with the stops it needed to win the game.
As several players and coaches said after the game, OSU bent but didn’t break.
Toledo made a game of it Saturday and that can’t be wholly negative. Buckeye fans got a scare watching the game, but more importantly, players got a formidable test before their first road trip.
2. How will previously-suspended OSU players — sophomore defensive back Corey Brown, junior running back Jordan Hall and junior defensive back Travis Howard — figure into the game plan against the Hurricanes Saturday?
The NCAA reinstated Brown, Hall and Howard on Tuesday. Each player was suspended for the Buckeyes’ first two games for receiving white envelopes containing $200 from a university booster at a Feb. 19 charity event in Cleveland.
Coach Luke Fickell said on several occasions that he would focus on the players that were present and not suspended. Additionally, Fickell said the players returning from punishment would have to win their jobs back from the starters that filled in for them during wins against Akron and Toledo.
Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jim Bollman announced Wednesday that Hall will start at tailback for the Buckeyes against Miami even though Fickell said the sophomore running back Carlos Hyde was the team’s starter after the Toledo win. In all likelihood, perhaps Hall also outperformed Hyde in practice this week.
Sophomore cornerback Dominic Clarke has played well in Howard’s absence and was also listed as a starter on the team’s depth chart, which was released to the media on Tuesday.
Howard and Brown were not listed on the depth chart.
3. Which players on the Hurricanes could hurt the Buckeyes on Saturday?
The list of Miami players whom are certain to pose a threat to OSU starts with redshirt sophomore running back Lamar Miller, who rushed for 119 yards on 18 carries while also scoring a touchdown in the Hurricanes’ season-opening loss to Maryland.
Miller will also pose a dual threat to the Buckeyes as he amassed 100 return yards on four kick returns against the Terrapins.
As far as wide receiving targets are concerned, none of the Hurricanes’ receivers put up eye-popping numbers against Maryland. Sophomore quarterback Stephen Morris spread the ball around in the season opener, completing passes to nine different players in the game.
Sophomore Allen Hurns led all the Hurricanes’ receivers with 69 yards on four catches.
And, of course, there’s senior quarterback Jacory Harris, who is returning from a one-game suspension.
Harris was one of eight players suspended for receiving impermissible benefits from former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, who is now serving a 20-year prison sentence for his involvement in a Ponzi scheme.
The Miami quarterback hasn’t seen action since Dec. 31, 2010, when the Hurricanes’ lost, 33-17, to Notre Dame in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Given the amount of time it has been since Harris’ last meaningful snap, it is hard to say how threatening he’ll be on Saturday.
In 2010, Harris threw for 1,793 yards and 14 touchdowns against 15 interceptions, with four of those interceptions coming against the Buckeyes during the teams’ Week 2 matchup last fall.
Harris figures to be an “X” factor in Saturday’s game. Another interception-laden performance against OSU would likely be Miami’s downfall. A strong 2011 debut for Harris could have the Buckeyes’ defense back-peddling and chasing the ‘Canes throughout the game.
4. How will this young Buckeyes team react to a hostile, away-game environment?
When you consider that members of this OSU team have played in famously large and loud Big Ten stadiums such as Michigan Stadium, Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium and Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, Miami’s Sun Life Stadium just doesn’t compare.
Miami students and fans will make some noise for the nationally-televised night game, but it won’t be anything the Buckeyes haven’t experienced before. According to a Hurricanes’ press release, their home field holds 74,916 fans — six Big Ten stadiums hold more.
Upperclassmen leadership will be key for the Buckeyes, and many members of the team are capable of providing it to the team’s underclassmen.
5. Can quarterback Joe Bauserman lead the Buckeyes to the third win against Miami in program history?
In a word, yes.
Fans booed and jeered the redshirt senior quarterback on Saturday against Toledo while simultaneously calling for Braxton Miller to go under center for the team.
Statistics support any decision by Fickell to entrust the team’s fate to Bauserman on Saturday.
Bauserman has passed for 352 yard
s and four touchdowns against Akron and Toledo. Most important, though, is the fact that he hasn’t thrown an interception or been sacked.
Sun Life Stadium may or may not present an intimidating atmosphere on this weekend, but it’s still worth questioning how Miller, a true freshman who has never played in any kind of hostile environment at the collegiate level, would respond to those conditions.
The Buckeyes would do well to stick with Bauserman — the better-known commodity — throughout Saturday’s game.
EXTRA POINT — Suspension updates for both teams
OSU’s Daniel Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas, who each sold OSU football memorabilia and received improper benefits in the form of tattoos, will remain suspended until the team’s Oct. 8 game at Nebraska.
For Miami, Harris, along with linebacker Sean Spence, defensive tackle Marcus Forston, defensive end Adewale Ojomo and receiver Travis Benjamin return to the Hurricanes’ lineup Saturday. Safety Ray-Ray Armstrong, defensive end Olivier Vernon and tight end Dyron Dye, however, remain suspended for receiving impermissible benefits from Shapiro.
Final score prediction: OSU 31-27 Miami