This week, Jeff Svoboda of BuckeyeSports.com was good enough to join us for an in-depth question-and-answer session about No. 4 Ohio State, as California prepares to conclude its nonconference schedule this Saturday at 4 p.m.
BearTerritory: Urban Meyer said on Tuesday that neither he nor his players had ever seen an offense that moves as quickly as Cal's does, when it's running on all cylinders, but then quickly said that Indiana's offense is in the same family as the Bear Raid. How much do you figure the experience of playing against the Hoosiers' scheme prepares the Buckeyes for what they'll see in Berkeley?
Jeff Svoboda: We shall see, but Indiana and Cal aren't exactly the same animal. That might be good for Ohio State, which gave up 49 points at IU a year ago and nearly lost the game, though some of that was because of a furious Indiana rally late in the game. Ohio State is also a very different team than it was at that time, as the Buckeyes have much more of a defensive identity now that what was a relatively new, unfamiliar staff has had more time to work together. It will still be a challenge, though, for the Buckeyes, who haven't had to face an offense that will move quite as fast as Cal's in quite some time.
BT: Cal's secondary is reeling from injuries to starting safeties Avery Sebastian (out for the year, torn Achilles) and Michael Lowe (ankle). How much have Philly Brown and Devin Smith improved since the Bears last faced them, and who else will the Buckeyes use to stretch the field?
JS: Brown appears to have taken his play to another level this season. He wasn't a big-play guy working out of OSU's slot position a year ago but has seemingly added that to his game some this season, and his two touchdown catches were beauties vs. San Diego State. Ohio State is using him more out wide as a No. 1 target and he's been solid thus far. Smith is still the same big-play threat he was a year ago when his late-game TD sunk the Bears, and he has 10 catches in two games after just 30 in 12 games last year. The third wideout is Evan Spencer, who had a great camp but has just three catches so far. He is playing faster this year, the coaches said. Chris Fields will also play some in the slot and had two TDs in the first game after just one in his career entering the season.
BT: The Bears have allowed 454 yards on the ground over the first two games, while Ohio State has ripped off 524 rushing yards over the first two games. How much of that is due to the veteran offensive line, and how much do you expect the Buckeyes to focus on the running game this week?
JS: Ohio State should run the ball quite a bit given that it will want to keep the Bears' fast-paced offense off the field as much as it can. The offensive line has four returning starters, all seniors, and they are all solid run blockers who can get to the second level to help the running backs make plays. OSU has been a run-heavy offense the past two years, and it works, as the Buckeyes have made topping 200 yards rushing a pretty regular thing since Meyer got to Columbus. Watch for freshman Dontre Wilson, who provides an added threat on the edge for the Buckeyes.
BT: With a very young defensive line, how does the groin injury to Adolphus Washington affect the Buckeyes' run defense? Given what Brendan Bigelow did last year in Columbus, how much of a focus is run defense this time around, and how big a part does the line play in that?
JS: If Adolphus can't play, that would hurt the Buckeyes, but the defensive line appears to have some depth. Junior Steve Miller, a five-star recruit coming out of high school, jumped in to replace Washington and played well on Saturday, and five-star freshman Joey Bosa has already showed he deserves time on the field thanks to his quick, powerful 270-pound frame. Meyer has said Bigelow's performance a year ago still sticks out in his mind and was one of the reasons the defense got back to focusing on fundamentals a season ago rather than trying to make huge plays. OSU's run defense has been good so far, as DTs Michael Bennett and Joel Hale as well as middle linebacker Curtis Grant have all stepped up in their junior campaigns.
BT: With a running game that has yet to really spread its wings, Cal has gone to the air 115 times, compared to 79 rushing attempts. Given that, plus a true freshman back of center in Jared Goff, what can we expect to see out of a very deep Ohio State secondary, which lost Bradley Roby for much of the first two games and still didn't miss a beat?
JS: This could be a good matchup for Ohio State, in that the Buckeyes have two cornerbacks who are very good in Roby and junior Doran Grant. Roby is an impressive player, someone with a swagger who can play physical while also boasting great recovery speed. Grant, meanwhile, struggled in his cameos in 2012 but looks like a confident starter this year and already has an interception. Add in two senior safeties in Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett, both of whom are captains, and you have a very good top four in the secondary for OSU. Facing Cal will provide a challenge for OSU's other DBs, though, as some other guys to know are nickel back Tyvis Powell, a redshirt freshman who boasts great size and can cover; dime back Corey Brown, a senior safety who is playing his best football after an up-and-down career; and sophomore corner Armani Reeves, who played in Roby's stead in game one and is confident and talented but young.
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