December 18, 2014

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Ohio State Preview: Buckeyes good but must patch O-line, secondary

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer talks with a player practice on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer talks with a player practice on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

COLUMBUS (AP) — So Urban Meyer and his wife were coming back from the victory at rival Michigan last season, and he turned and asked a question.

“In your wildest dreams, could you have imagined we’d win our first 24 games at Ohio State?” he said.

Shelley Meyer thought a second and then replied, “Honey, you’re not in my wildest dreams.”

Regardless of whether that tale, told by Meyer at a women’s clinic this summer, is true, there’s no question that he could hardly believe his tenure with the Buckeyes opened with two dozen wins — or that last season would close with two painful losses.

Now 2014 beckons with a couple of units needing major overhauls — and a franchise quarterback in Braxton Miller returning for a final hurrah.

What needs work

The offensive line, perhaps the strength of Meyer’s first two Ohio State teams, lost four of five starters. Unfamiliar names fill the two-deep.

“We’ve got six or seven guys that we like,” line coach Ed Warinner said. “We just have to see where we go from here.”

Meyer and his staff blew up the pass defense after it was shredded by Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Now the Buckeyes will play press coverage with a rotation of cornerbacks in hopes of limiting completions over the top and underneath.

“That’s not a concern,” safety Vonn Bell said of the secondary. “I’m not concerned and they (the fans) shouldn’t be.”

Three-Peat?

Miller, a two-time winner of the Big Ten’s top player award, missed all of the spring after surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder. He said he had some soreness after the first week of fall camp and was held out.

“I’ve dealt with guys with arm issues before, and we’re being very cautious,” Meyer said. “He could have practiced but we’re in it for the long haul. He’s right on schedule.”

Miller may figure in the Heisman race and should set most of Ohio State’s QB records — if he’s healthy through that long haul.

It’s what’s up front

The O-line may have doubters, but the D-line doesn’t.

Tackle Michael Bennett (7 sacks) is the only senior on a young unit full of blue-chippers. First-team All-Big Ten end Noah Spence (8 sacks), Joey Bosa (7.5) and Adolphus Washington should be good enough to lend a giant helping hand to the inexperienced secondary.

Missing Mr. Hyde

Carlos Hyde was suspended for the first three games of his senior season in 2014 and still piled up 1,527 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Now Ohio State will rely on several backs to fill his sizable cleats: sophomores Ezekiel Elliott, Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball, fifth-year senior Rod Smith and freshman Curtis Samuel.

All have pluses and minuses. Still, the four veterans combined for a little over a quarter of the yards last year that the bruising Hyde provided.

All eyes on MSU

A lot can happen before the calendar turns to November, but Buckeyes fans are already focused on the Nov. 8 meeting with the Spartans in East Lansing, Michigan.

The 10th-ranked Spartans ended No. 2 Ohio State’s school-record winning streak and knocked it out of the national championship game with a 34-24 win in the Big Ten title game.

The 2014 showdown figures to loom large for both teams, well aware that the winner is in the driver’s seat of the conference’s new East Division race.

Still, Meyer said, “There’s zero conversation about tomorrow or November.”

That’s only a topic in his dreams.

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