Navy opened the season and challenged the Buckeyes with their disciplined triple-option attack. Then the Buckeyes had to try to stop USC's pro-style offense in front of a primetime audience. Now the OSU defense will face its first spread offense of the season when the Buckeyes face Toledo Saturday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"It's pretty difficult, but it's a great nonconference schedule that will get us ready for the Big Ten," senior defensive lineman Doug Worthington said of the early-season gauntlet. "It's something that I'm glad has happened. With Navy you had to play your job, do your role and stay in your gap. USC was a more pro-style offense where you have to read a lot of plays and get up the field and get off blocks. Now it's the spread that we have to (stop)."
The Rockets are 1-1 but have put up impressive numbers in each of their games. Toledo opened the season with a 52-31 loss Sept. 5 at Purdue in which the Rockets piled up 493 yards of total offense – all but 70 coming through the air. Six days later at home in front of a national television audience, Toledo pummeled Colorado early and cruised to a 54-38 victory. UT sliced and diced the Buffaloes for 624 total yards. This time the attack was more balanced. Talented senior quarterback Aaron Opelt threw for 319 yards and the Rockets' rushers added 305.
Against an offense that has averaged 558.5 yards and 42.5 points per game, patience will be a virtue for the Buckeyes according to co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.
"We all have to have patience," Fickell said. "Just like in the first series against Navy, (the Toledo offense) is different. This has been a unique year so far in the sense that you've had an option (team), you've had a two-back team. Now you're going to face a spread. We've got to be patient. We've got to have confidence and keep playing."
Opelt is what makes Toledo's high-powered attack go. He is fourth in the nation in passing yards (371) and completions (28) and leads the nation in total offense with 437 yards. The offense also features some talent in skill positions. DaJuane Collins leads the running backs and is coming off a 160-yard rushing performance against Colorado. Freshman receiver Eric Page has shown big play ability, especially against the Buffaloes. He caught only three passes but they went for 138 yards, including a 70-yard TD reception.
Just like against USC, the key to victory for the defense could be getting pressure on the quarterback. The Buckeyes did well keeping pressure on USC quarterback Matt Barkley and holding the Trojans' attack in check for most of the game, but repeating that performance this weekend could be a tough task. Opelt operates primarily out of the shotgun and has only been sacked once. A big reason for that is his ability to run. Opelt is averaging 11.0 yards per carry.
"We've got to him them in the mouth, as we do any opponent," Spitler said. "We've got to make sure they know we're not stuck on last Saturday and feeling sorry for ourselves. We've got to go out there and fly around from play one."
Added Worthington: "We need to … get in his face, get him riled up. So in the third and fourth quarter he knows that we're there."
If there is a silver lining to the barrage of different offenses the Buckeyes have faced in the first three weeks of the season, it is that they will see the spread several times during Big Ten play.
"It's a difficult situation, but we've done it before in previous years," Spitler said. "It's something we have to do because a lot of teams are going to the spread now."