5 Questions: Marshall at Ohio State

For the Buckeyes' season opener against Marshall, we wonder what will be with the running game, Terrelle Pryor, the new contributors on defense, the refurbished special teams and the potentially missing pass rush.

1. Can the Buckeyes hit the ground running?

Five straight seasons, the Buckeyes have opened against teams they were expected to be able to push around, but only once have they cracked the 175-yards rushing mark (2008 against Youngstown State).

Last season, Ohio State finished the regular season with five consecutive games of 200 or more yards rushing, but they needed half a season to get the running game ramped up.

Optimism abounds that this year will be different as the offensive line returns four of five starters and the backfield is completely intact from last season.

"I think we have played together more and I think our guys that have played have also progressed since the last time we played," said head coach Jim Tressel, who noted that injuries did not rob his offense of many reps during spring or preseason practices. "That will be as important as anything."

2. What will Terrelle Pryor do for an encore?

The elation from the Rose Bowl victory had hardly subsided when people began wondering one thing about the Ohio State quarterback in the wake of his throwing for 266 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead the Buckeyes past Oregon: Can he do it again?

The junior looked good through most of the spring and preseason. Coaches, teammates, reporters and team insiders alike have raved about his maturation both as a passer and a decision maker, but nothing can replicate game speed, so this will be the best test yet.

Facing a Marshall team with a new defensive staff adds another wrinkle as well.

"It's going to be a great challenge for him on Thursday because it's not like you can go out there and say, ‘Okay, we think they're going to do one of those three things, and when we're in this look they typically do that,' so this is going to be (about) how well you can adjust on the run and figure it out on the sideline," Tressel said. "But I think his progress has been really good."

3. What about those special teams?

Few, if any, followers of the program disagree the Ohio State special teams were not up to par last season.

The Buckeyes struggled covering kickoffs and got inconsistent punting.

Ray Small provided a threat as a return man, but he has used up his eligibility. In his place will be youngsters Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry on kickoffs while Hall will team with senior Devon Torrence on punts. True freshman "Philly" Corey Brown could get a chance on punt returns as well.

Add in the potential debut of true freshman kicker Drew Basil on kickoffs and perhaps long field goals and there is no shortage of items to be curious about when the Buckeyes are not on offense or defense.

4. How will the new guys on defense perform?

Safety C.J. Barnett, linebacker Andrew Sweat and defensive linemen John Simon and Solomon Thomas are scheduled to make their first college starts Thursday night, and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa's hamstring problem has Travis Howard expected to play meaningful minutes as well, so this version of the Silver Bullets will look much different from the 2009 edition that finished No. 5 nationally in scoring defense, total defense and pass efficiency defense.

That also holds true if the Buckeyes begin the game in their nickel defense, a distinct possibility as Marshall is expected to employ a spread offense under first-year head coach Doc Holliday.

Tyler Moeller, who missed all of last season with a head injury, takes over at the star position and would replace Sweat against spread looks.

"We'll probably have to settle him down, as physical and fast as he is, but I'm sure he's excited," cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said of Moeller. "It will be good to see 26 running around hitting some people."

5. Can Ohio State rush the passer effectively?

The Buckeyes' 30 sacks last season were only good enough to tie Indiana for sixth in the Big Ten, and more than half of those are gone with the departure of six seniors and NFL draft early entrant Thaddeus Gibson.

Cameron Heyward, the team leader with 6 1/2 sacks in 2009, is back on the defensive line, but expected bookend Nathan Williams will miss the game with a knee injury. Williams was third on the squad in sacks last season (behind Heyward and Gibson) and is expected to be a force as a full-time player this year, but until he returns the onus is on Thomas to perform. The junior from West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West has put up some notable spring performances, but this will be his first chance as a first-teamer with everything counting and more than 100,000 watching.

The Thundering Herd may employ a quick passing game in order to deter the Buckeye pass rush as well, something Purdue did effectively while engineering an upset last season.

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