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Ohio State focuses on pass defense during week off

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OSU redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Michael Thomas (left) outruns defenders following a catch against Kent State on Sept. 13 at Ohio Stadium. Thomas led OSU in receiving with 77 yards on 2 catches with a touchdown in OSU’s 66-0 win. Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

OSU redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Michael Thomas (left) outruns defenders following a catch against Kent State on Sept. 13 at Ohio Stadium. Thomas led OSU in receiving with 77 yards on 2 catches with a touchdown in OSU’s 66-0 win.
Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

In its season-opening win against Toledo last week, the Cincinnati football team attempted 42 passes.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said he was worried the Bearcats could throw it 75 times when they face the Buckeyes, but then backtracked and decided his concern lies with a different statistic.

“No, I’m worried they’d catch it 75 times,” Meyer said Wednesday. “It’s ‘cause they’re really good.”

Meyer said pass defense is his main focus during OSU’s week off after a 66-0 win against Kent State last Saturday.

Cincinnati redshirt-sophomore quarterback Gunner Kiel — who has just one game under his belt for the Bearcats — threw for 418 yards and six touchdowns in his team’s first game of the season. Meyer said Kiel and his teammates caught OSU’s attention during that game.

“Pass defense is going to be the call to arms,” the third-year OSU coach said. “They’re really good, and they got a really good quarterback.”

Meyer said he expected to see the Bearcats struggle — or at least have more mistakes — last week as Kiel made his debut, but added that didn’t happen. After watching that performance, Meyer said his Buckeyes don’t necessarily have an edge on Cincinnati, even though they have two more games under their belts.

“Go watch the first half against Toledo and you’d say no,” he said. “You’d think there would be more first-game mistakes with a new quarterback but … they were outstanding.”

Despite the concern surrounding his team’s ability to defend against the Cincinnati passing attack, redshirt-sophomore safety Tyvis Powell said he is looking forward to making a statement, especially when it comes to pass defense.

“I’m not shying away from it, I’m actually kind of excited about it,” Powell said. “Like I said, I’m ready to show the world that the pass defense has improved.”

So far this season, the Buckeyes have given up just 298 yards through the air, or 99.3 yards per game on average. But that includes a matchup with the Navy Midshipmen — who only threw four passes — and the demolition of an overmatched Kent State team.

The only real test for the OSU pass defense so far in 2014 has come against Virginia Tech, and even the Hokies don’t tend to put up the same numbers Cincinnati did through the air last week.

While redshirt-freshman linebacker Darron Lee said this wasn’t quite finals week for the OSU pass defense, he compared it to something like an important midterm exam.

“I wouldn’t say a final exam because you’ve still got the rest of the season to go,” Lee said on Wednesday. “But I’d say it’s the first big test.”

Lee said the team is preparing with Kiel and the Bearcats’ passing attack in mind, and added he hopes to show the development the defense has undergone this season.

“I think what people are going to see is our pass defense has come full circle,” he said. “We’re preparing for that and we’ll be ready.”

Powell said matchups like the one OSU is set to have against the Bearcats are what defensive backs like him “live for.”

“It’s like a huge game of seven-on-seven but with a pass rush,” he said.

After seeing what Cincinnati was able to do against Toledo, Powell said OSU is working to be ready and waiting when Kiel and the Bearcats arrive in Columbus. He said the Buckeyes expect Cincinnati to come in throwing, especially since OSU has struggled in pass defense in recent seasons.

“We know that they know that, so we know that they’re going to come trying to sling the rock on us, so that’s why all week we’ve been focusing on pass defense,” Powell said. “Putting in new coverages and stuff like that.”

While Powell said he can’t disclose exactly what those changes to the pass defense will be, he said they are coming in preparation for what could be the best passing attack the Buckeyes face all season.

“For the secondary, this is big,” Powell said. “Because this is like the best quarterback with the best wide receiver core group we’re going to see all season. So this is the best time to show the fans that the pass defense has improved.”

The Buckeyes’ matchup with Cincinnati is scheduled for Sept. 27 at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. The Bearcats are scheduled to have one more game — against Miami (Ohio) on Saturday — before making the trip to Columbus.

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