Coming off another rather unconvincing win against Northern Illinois, Ohio State will have a chance to redeem itself on Saturday against Western Michigan. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. at Ohio Stadium.
Here are five things that The Lantern’s sports editors Ryan Cooper and Kevin Stankiewicz will be on the lookout for during the game. Check back after the game to see how these points played out.
The discombobulated offense’s turnover problems
Through three games, OSU has turned the ball over a total of eight times. In all of college football, there are only eight teams that have more turnovers than the Buckeyes.
Coach Urban Meyer expressed his concern with that statistic during the week, calling the rate at which his team has turned it over “alarming.”
Against Virginia Tech, OSU had three of them — two fumbles and an interception by redshirt junior Cardale Jones. The Hokies scored on each of the ensuing possessions, totaling 17 points.
The Buckeyes didn’t cough it up against Hawaii in Week 2, but against NIU the turnover problems reappeared as OSU had five.
But unlike against VT, points off turnovers were less of an issue as the Huskies only managed 10 points because twice OSU’s defense forced an NIU to turn the ball over on the ensuing possession.
Meyer said the coaching staff will focus during the week on fixing the issue of turnovers.
It will be interesting to see if the Buckeyes were able to address the problem enough during practice, as a team on a quest to repeat as national champions cannot afford to be giving opponent’s extra possessions, especially with Big Ten play on the horizon.
Will Elliott’s explosiveness reappear?
Junior running back Ezekiel Elliott has rushed for over 100 yards in all three contests in 2015 but the preseason Heisman Trophy hopeful has yet to look like the same player who carried OSU on his back during last year’s postseason games by running for over 200 yards thrice.
The only hint of that player came on his first run of the season by way of an 80-yard touchdown. But other than that one play, Elliott’s explosiveness has been kept in check.
Sans the 80-yarder, the St. Louis native’s season long rush is only 13 yards.
With Elliott, it is more of question of when — not if — he regains his form from 2014. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, this weekend might be a good chance for him as Western Michigan’s run defense has been dreadful.
WMU ranks 109th in the nation in run defense. Opponents have been torching the Broncos on the ground. Michigan State had 196 yards in Week 1, but that pales in comparison to the 413 Georgia Southern racked up the following game.
So, as for when Elliott’s explosiveness will resurface, Saturday could be the day.
Who will Jones be able to throw the ball to?
That’s the number of receptions the players on OSU’s roster listed as wide receivers and not named Michael Thomas have this season.
While the redshirt junior Thomas has done his part despite getting the defense’s top assignment with 10 catches for 158 yards and two scores, the Buckeyes have had an extremely tough time finding any other options.
Redshirt senior Corey Smith has two catches for 15 yards and redshirt freshman Johnnie Dixon has a 29-yarder.
Beyond that, receivers such as redshirt freshmen Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin have given Meyer nothing in terms of catching the ball. Campbell, who had two drops in the opening game, is also expected to miss at least a week with a leg injury suffered early against Northern Illinois.
When sophomore Noah Brown went down with a broken leg before the season, many speculated about how thin OSU’s receiving corps might be.
This has to be considered worse than imagined, however, and is a big reason for the offensive struggles thus far.
While players like sophomore H-back Curtis Samuel and redshirt senior tight end Nick Vannett have kept the offense clinging to life, a true wideout not named Thomas stepping up could be the only true remedy.
Can Braxton find his early effectiveness?
After an electrifying start to the season for H-back Braxton Miller, the redshirt senior has seen his usefulness dwindle each week.
Against VT, Miller caught two passes for 78 yards and a score and ran six times for 62 yards and another touchdown. He was undoubtedly the offensive star of that contest, and his spin move around a defender on his rushing touchdown was the highlight of the week.
The following week against Hawaii, Miller actually had more touches, but with much less effectiveness. Meyer had his rushes come out of direct snap runs, and his catches came mostly on shovel passes across the middle. In all, he finished with two catches for 16 yards and eight runs for 57 yards, but did not find the end zone.
Then last week against NIU, Miller had just seven yards on four carries. He was targeted once by Jones, but a miscommunicated route led to the interception that caused Meyer to pull Jones out of the game.
As discussed above, the OSU offense is struggling to stay afloat from a major lack of playmakers. Miller could be the answer to Meyer’s prayers, but whether it’s because of the learning curve of a new position or just not being used correctly, he has not been a big help in OSU’s two home games. Before beginning Big Ten play next week, the Buckeyes will need the former quarterback to rediscover his playmaking abilities.
Who wants the sack lead?
OSU’s defensive line is arguably the best in the nation, with nine different players already being involved in at least one sack. But with only so many hits on the quarterback to go around, no one is off to a huge individual start.
Three players — redshirt sophomore linebacker Darron Lee, redshirt freshman defensive end Sam Hubbard and redshirt sophomore defensive end Tyquan Lewis — have 2.5 sacks each to tie for the team lead.
Lewis paced the way early with 1.5 sacks against VT, Lee pulled in the season-high of two sacks against Hawaii and Hubbard was credited with 1.5 against NIU.
Lurking in the wings as well is junior Joey Bosa. The defensive end was suspended for the opener, had his first sack of the year called back due to penalty against Hawaii and combined with Hubbard for a sack last week.
While Bosa commands double teams on every play — and quite often triple teams — it is hard to rule out a guy who had 13.5 sacks last year for putting his name in the sack-lead hat. At the very least, Bosa’s presence makes it easier for other players to get through the offensive line, something Hubbard said Bosa does not let him forget.