5 Questions: Ohio at Ohio State

This week we examine the chances for an Ohio State letdown, the replacement at safety and the efforts to improve in three areas: special teams, passing efficiency and red zone offense.

1. Can the Ohio catch Ohio State snoozing?

Head coach Jim Tressel acknowledged his team could face a couple of roadblocks in its quest to improve to 3-0.

"We've got to prepare to jump out of bed to play at 12:00 Noon, which will be a little bit different for us," he said. "We played at night and 3:30, so now we've got to make sure when the sun comes up we're ready to go."

Additionally, there is the chance of a letdown after an emotional defeat of visiting Miami last week.

Senior linebacker Ross Homan said that is not likely, however.

"Emotions are always there every Saturday no matter who you play," he said. "You're still playing in front of 105,000 and you run through that tunnel and if you can't get up, I don't know, you shouldn't be playing this game. You shouldn't be playing for Ohio State. This team is experienced. We've learned our lesson in the past. Two years ago they came in here and gave us an unbelievable challenge. We could have lost that game.

"This is a mature team. I don't think that's going to be a problem for us."

2. Will the Buckeyes fix their kick and punt coverage woes?

The general consensus among players and coaches is a Tressel team could not emphasize special teams any more than it already does, so there must be more to it than working harder.

"It really wasn't a big thing that happened," Homan said. "It was just a little mistake, but this game is about inches. You saw the outcome of it. You've just got to take it as a one-play series. You've got to be perfect, 11 guys on that one play."

Luke Fickell, who once had the title of special teams coordinator but now is co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, said some changes in personnel could be made.

"I think we've learned maybe a thing or two about what we need to do and where we need to be, just technical things, guys being in front of somebody," Fickell said. "It's something we've stressed from the get-go, but hopefully the reality of it has set in."

Fickell also mentioned fans could see Jordan Hall, a sophomore running back who has excelled at kick and punt returns, helping out on the kick cover unit and Dan Herron, a senior who shares the No. 1 running back role with Brandon Saine, could help covering punts.

3. Will the Ohio State passing game be more efficient?

Quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano accurately pointed out the Buckeyes are going to be tough to beat when quarterback Terrelle Pryor piles up 233 yards through the air and 113 on the ground, but he acknowledged a need to continue improving the passing game.

For that to happen, Siciliano laid out three requirements: the offensive line must continue to excel in protection, as it did against Miami, Pryor needs to throw the ball more accurately and the coaches need to give him more easy throws to attempt.

"Sometimes we as coaches want to score touchdowns and sometimes we try to push the ball down the field too much," the coach said. "When the ball is being thrown farther down the field, it's harder to complete. We don't throw a bunch of bubble screens and jailbreaks and those type of things to get easy completions. If our guys are hitting 58 percent of their passes, they're hitting 58 percent of their passes. We're not a screen-oriented team that gets some easy ones."

4. What about the Buckeyes' red zone offense?

Ohio State scored on seven of nine trips inside the Miami red zone last week, but that included four short field goals and only three touchdowns.

Like the passing game, better execution may be the most important aspect of improving when the ball moves past the opponents' 20-yard line, although Tressel said playcalling is a factor as well.

Siciliano agreed.

"We've missed some opportunities, not that we've been so conservative that we've just run three times and kicked a field goal, but we have to do a little better job of converting," the assistant said.

5. Can Orhian Johnson pick up the slack at safety?

Johnson was expected to be the starter until a calf injury sidelined him for much of preseason camp. Now a knee injury to C.J. Barnett has opened the door for the sophomore to move back onto the first team.

"We stress that each and every week there is a lot of competition," Fickell said. "We had high hopes for Orhian, and we've always said you've got to put it on film and show it. During a game is most often the time you're going to see it."

Last week, Johnson fared well in the fourth quarter after replacing Barnett, but that is not quite the same situation as going the distance as the starter.

"That guy coming off the bench as a sixth man doesn't have quite the same pressure as the guy who starts the game," Fickell said. "We expect great things from him, and now we're back to where we were at the start of camp."

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