While Urban Meyer likes what he's seen so far from Braxton Miller, the first-year Ohio State coach wants his quarterback to concentrate more on the passing game.
For Miller to do that, the rest of the Buckeyes must cut down on sloppy play.
Miller and 12th-ranked Ohio State meet California for the first time in 40 years on Saturday in Columbus.
Following last Saturday's 31-16 win over Central Florida, the Buckeyes will now look to open 3-0 for the second time in three years.
The key to making that happen might be Miller, who has proved to be more dangerous when running the ball, ranking fourth in the nation in rushing with 302 yards on 44 carries with four touchdowns. The sophomore has completed 66.7 percent (32 of 48) of his passes for 399 yards with three TDs and an interception.
Miller ran for 141 yards on 27 carries – a school record for quarterbacks – against Central Florida to help Ohio State overcome 10 penalties and two lost fumbles. Meyer now wants to see the other Buckeyes show improvement in order to keep Miller from having to run so much.
"We have to play better around him to eliminate some of those carries," said Meyer, who pointed out that several of Miller's runs last week were a result of blown assignments. "My, gosh, is he a good runner. And we all see that. So we just have to be a little smarter."
However, Miller could still be forced into seeing more action as a runner against California. Starting back Carlos Hyde suffered a sprained MCL last week and is expected to miss this game. That means freshman Bri'onte Dunn and sophomore Rod Smith should see extended playing time after combining for 86 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries this year.
Meyer believes the youngsters are up to the challenge.
"Those kids are talented, so it's not like we have a bad player back there," he said. "We just need to look in those guys' eyes. It's the psychological approach to coaching now, with those two young players. Who can handle it? You're the starting tailback, now let's go see how you do."
California (1-1) has one of the poorer run defenses in the nation, allowing an average of 149.5 yards per game. The Bears also have been penalized 23 times through two games.
"We cannot continue to do that, shoot ourselves in the foot and expect to win close football games. We have to clean that up for sure," coach Jeff Tedford said. "We are making positive plays, but shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties."
The Bears, coming off last Saturday's 50-31 win over Southern Utah, begin their most challenging stretch of the season. After visiting Columbus, they travel to face second-ranked Southern California on Sept. 22.
Cal's top threat may be wide receiver Keenan Allen, who had two touchdowns – one on a 69-yard punt return – last Saturday. Allen is fourth in the nation with an average of 22.2 yards per punt return, and he's also had one rushing and one receiving score this year.
The Buckeyes and Bears last played in 1972 with Ohio State winning 35-18. The Buckeyes have won five straight in the series after losing the inaugural meeting in 1921.
- Braxton Miller
- Urban Meyer
- Ohio State
- the Buckeyes