Ohio State Buckeyes running back Dontre Wilson (1) speaks to the media during Ohio State Football media day at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Enlarge
COLUMBUS — For the second-ranked Buckeyes, this is what qualifies as a pressing concern against the University of Buffalo.
Meyer’s two biggest questions: Can OSU win in a satisfying manner? And how will the freshmen respond to their first steps onto one of the sport’s biggest stages?
Meyer wants the Buckeyes to win, of course — they are 36-point favorites against a Bulls team that averaged three wins the past three years — but also make an early statement with a fortified roster.
While guard Andrew Norwell and center Corey Linsley missed part of camp with foot injuries and linebacker Curtis Grant missed about 10 practices with a concussion, the Buckeyes will be at near-full strength for the opener. Or at least full health. Cornerback Bradley Roby and top running backs Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith are suspended, though Meyer on Monday called senior Jordan Hall the "best running back on our team right now, so he’ll have to lose that spot."
"I just want us to play well," Meyer said, noting that was not the case in last year’s opener against Miami (Ohio). "I want us to play clean. Remember, last year the first quarter, it was [3‑0] after the first quarter. It should have been worse and could have been worse. ... I'm hoping that we leave that field Saturday obviously with a win, but also feeling good about the fundamentals of your football team."
Meyer also looks forward to breaking in the game-ready freshmen of the Buckeyes’ highly ranked incoming class. He said five newcomers will "for sure play" — running backs Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott, defensive linemen Joey Bosa and Michael Hill and punter Cameron Johnston — while a roster of others will play if the game progresses as expected.
Asked what he most wanted to see Saturday, Meyer said, "the reaction by Ezekiel and Dontre Wilson in the stadium."
"I don’t, but I think coaches have a tendency to devalue what happens when you jog out that tunnel, especially a place like Ohio Stadium," he said. "There will be a lot of deep breaths being taken and you just can't create that animal until you get that opportunity."
Senior left tackle and St. John’s Jesuit graduate Jack Mewhort called his first game at OSU in 2009 a "life-changer."
"Running out of the tunnel for the first time, I don’t think there’s any other feeling like it in the world," Mewhort said. "I’m excited for those guys."
Can, say, Wilson and Elliott handle the glare?
"I don’t think those guys are short on confidence," Mewhort said, smiling. "I think they’ll be all right. It’s more excitement that anything."
Excitement, too, is what coaches hope a freshman class modeled on speed will add to a ready-made veteran group. That starts with Wilson, who has generated more buzz than any Buckeyes newcomer since Terrelle Pryor in 2008 and could offer a dynamic playmaking complement to quarterback Braxton Miller.
Wilson, a 5-foot-10, 174-pound former high school track star from DeSoto, Texas, has split time in camp working as a running back and receiver, and should see early action at both positions Saturday. He will also start as the Buckeyes’ primary kick returner.
"When I was a freshman, I was waving a towel," safety C.J. Barnett said. "[Wilson is] going to have a pretty important role. The feeling is unexplainable. The only thing I can tell him is to take a deep breath."
Then, he added: "You guys keep hyping him. Hopefully he lives up to it."
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