1. Braxton Miller had a strong season in 2012. Where has he improved this fall?
It's been tough to grade Miller because he missed the three games with a knee injury during the nonconference season. Even when he came back, he seemed a bit limited vs. Wisconsin and Northwestern. But he was hitting on all cylinders vs. Iowa, breaking off some Miller-esque juking runs while also having great feel in the short passing game. By the time it was over, he had completed 22 of 27 passes, and one of the misses was a drop by tight end Jeff Heuerman that the TE was able to joke about after the game. So if the Miller that played vs. Iowa shows up vs. Penn State, he'll be a player who is equally adept in both phases of the attack. He also looked as good as he's ever looked running the option vs. Iowa.
2. Miller and Carlos Hyde are well known offensive weapons for Ohio State. Are there some other players on that side of the ball who will make a difference in this game?
I'd say that there are a few other names worth knowing. In the running game, Dontre Wilson is a nice complement to the offense because the freshman provides the speed on the edge the team simply didn't have last year. He is effective both with the ball in his hands and as a decoy, though the Wilson package is still limited at this point. As far as receivers, Heuerman has developed into a pretty dependable receiver, and wideouts Corey Brown and Devin Smith have taken steps forward this year. Brown is a more well-rounded player than a year ago who is capable of breaking big plays, while Smith is more the opposite -- he has become more consistent in running short and intermediate routes after excelling at the deep ball last year.
3. Iowa's tight ends seemed to give Ohio State trouble last week. What was the issue there and have opposing tight ends been a problem for the defense all season?
I'd say that was a pretty new phenomenon vs. Iowa, which came out in more three-TE sets and clearly noticed during its open week that the Buckeyes were susceptible to short passes in the flats. OSU's linebackers are, in general, better against the run than the pass as well, so there might be some mismatches there to be had for the Nittany Lions. But the bigger worry for OSU fans right now is definitely Allen Robinson, simply because the memories of Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis putting up big numbers vs. the Buckeyes are still fresh in peoples' minds.
4. Why has OSU been so effective in the second halves of close games this season?
It's funny you ask this because I went around after the game on Saturday and asked a number of Ohio State players why they seem to respond well to being challenged. Their answer was simply that there's a refuse to lose mentality on the team. That might sound a bit simple, but after 19 wins in a row, there is a real confidence about this team, and they feel pretty good about their ability to make plays when the chips are down. Another facet of it is that the Buckeyes are really talented. Sometimes they don't play to the level of that talent, but when Miller focuses in and Hyde gets rolling in the second half, they're really hard to stop on offense. In the second half of the last two games, Hyde has simply been a monster. He's a classic physical back who plays better in the second half as defenses wear down.
5. If you had a vote, where in the Top 25 would you rank the Buckeyes?
That's a really interesting question that I haven't pondered until you asked. I think it's pretty fair to put them behind Alabama, Florida State and Oregon, all of whom pass the look test a little better than the Buckeyes. But I'd say OSU is at or near the forefront of the rest of the pack. I still think the Wisconsin and Northwestern wins were somewhat impressive -- both were in the Top 25 at the time, and Wisconsin really should be ranked higher in my opinion -- and I'd definitely put OSU ahead of Texas Tech, Missouri and Miami. That leaves Baylor, and that's a tough one because I think the Bears would have the potential to put up a lot of points on the Buckeyes. So I'd say fourth or fifth — fair enough?