Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor
If the Ohio State wide receivers are for real, they’re going to get a chance to prove it Saturday.
OSU’s receivers have answered their off-season critics, amassing 344 receiving yards against Miami (Ohio) and Central Florida, an output greater than any OSU wide receiver had in any two-game span during the 2011 season. But in the first two games of 2012, the Buckeyes’ playmakers were matched up against defensive backs that played soft coverage and allowed OSU to complete passes with relative ease.
That won’t be the case Saturday.
OSU’s wide receivers will be facing a California secondary that, according to OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman, will test the Buckeyes’ “manhood.”
“Coach Herman, he was talking to us about it, how they’re going to play press-man on us. He said, ‘They’re questioning our manhood,'” said sophomore wide receiver Devin Smith.
OSU first-year coach Urban Meyer said he is looking forward to seeing his wide receivers get challenged for the first time this season.
“There’s going to be no soft coverage where you can make a catch and wiggle for two yards,” Meyer said. “There’s going to be a grown man covering you for 60 minutes or whatever, probably 55-60 plays.”
The Bears’ secondary is a veteran one, with two seniors and two juniors starting in California’s most recent two-deep depth chart. They’re talented, too, with players like senior cornerback Marc Anthony, a projected high-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. California’s two starting cornerbacks, Anthony and junior Steve Williams, had a combined 23 pass breakups in 2011.
Anthony and Williams will likely be matched up, one-on-one, against Smith and OSU junior wide receiver Corey Brown most of the time Saturday. Smith said when cornerbacks play the tight press coverage California likes to employ, it pumps him up.
“It kind of makes me mad, too,” Smith said. “We’ve worked very hard this week to defeat man pressso we’re looking forward to it.”
With press coverage comes the opportunity for big plays on the outside. OSU’s wide receivers will have just one man to beat a majority of the time on Saturday, and OSU sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller said he is excited about it.
“If they want to man up on our (receiver), I believe in my (receiver) that he’s going to beat their corner. It’s a matchup,” Miller said.
Meyer, too, said he thinks there could be a lot of big plays in the passing game Saturday.
“This is a feast or famine type defense,” Meyer said of California, adding that the Golden Bears’ defense has also given up some big plays.
With redshirt junior running back Carlos Hyde out of Saturday’s game with a knee injury, and senior tailback Jordan Hall unlikely to play a lot of snaps, the No. 12-ranked Buckeyes don’t have many players with experience that they can hand the ball to. Combine that with California’s blitz-heavy defense and Meyer’s preference to have Miller run the ball no more than 15 times, the passing game should be on full show against the Bears.
“Right now, we have a lot of pass plays that are going in this week,” Smith said. “We’ll distribute the ball pretty evenly (among) the receivers.”
Meyer said OSU could do some things on offense against California that they haven’t done thus far this season.
“We’re going to have to throw the ball, and you’ll see us do some unique things on offense that we haven’t done our first two games,” Meyer said.
After not having much success through the air in 2011, Miller said he and his wide receivers are starting to click on the field. When a wide receiver needs to adjust mid-route, Miller said he knows what they are going to do. When Miller is pressured in the pocket and needs to scramble, Miller said his wide receivers know where he is going to go with the ball.
“If somebody gets in the pocket, and I have to move a little bit, (the wide receivers) know how to adjust to my movement, so it’ll be more easy for me to find them down the field,” Miller said.
Against California, though, Miller and his wide receivers will be truly tested for the first time this season. For a group criticized more than any other on the Buckeyes’ squad prior to the season, the test is a long-awaited gift.
“With the work that we put in over the summer and into the season, we’re ready for the game and we’re prepared,” Smith said. “If we play good, I think we’re going to have a good day.”
OSU and California are scheduled to kick off at noon in Ohio Stadium.