Buckeyes won’t look past struggling Aztecs

Ohio State’s Jordan Hall may be moved back to traditional H-back role against San Diego St.
Ohio State’s Jordan Hall may be moved back to traditional H-back role against San Diego St.

COLUMBUS — The dog-eat-dog perfectionist in Urban Meyer wishes Ohio State’s opener had made every whopping preseason declaration for his team seem like an understatement.

Practically speaking, the Buckeyes coach is glad it did not.

"I think complacency is certainly not a problem this week," Meyer said Monday. "There's been times where you smoke a team and then all of a sudden, you're going on Tuesday and you start trying to get after them and they are looking at you, because they have just been told how great they are.

"So this is a great opportunity for us to coach them hard and get better Tuesday and Wednesday."

The idea, of course, is for the second-ranked Buckeyes to then make the kind of wire-to-wire statement they did not in a 40-20 victory over Buffalo.

Their next opportunity is Saturday against San Diego State — a game in which the anticipation belies the 28-point spread.

For one, is an Aztecs team once thought to offer one of OSU’s stiffest tests mad or just plain bad? How will the Buckeyes look once returned to near-full strength? All-American cornerback Bradley Roby and running back Rod Smith are back from one-game suspensions while Meyer said senior safety C.J. Barnett — their only injured starter — should return from an ankle sprain.

OSU’s toughest challenge this week may be trying to get a read on an Aztecs team that was just throttled 40-19 at home by Eastern Illinois of the second-tier FCS.

San Diego State returns 15 starters from a nine-win team that won the Mountain West Conference, including all-league tailback Adam Muema, who ran for 1,458 yards and 16 touchdowns last year despite playing in a two-back offense. Meyer called Muema "arguably the best tailback we’ll face all year," and, ever the disciple of Lou Holtz, dutifully propped up the Aztecs.

That will be a harder sell after last weekend’s stunner. Muema left early with a sprained ankle — he is expected back this weekend — and the Aztecs abandoned their run-heavy attack with lamentable results. Quarterback Adam Dingwell threw four interceptions, fumbled three times, and completed 27 of 63 passes.

It was the rarest phenomenon: "A bad day in San Diego," OSU safety Christian Bryant said.

Afterward, Aztecs coach Rocky Long told reporters, "You wanted to talk about [Ohio State] all along in fall camp. I told you."

He added: "That's as bad a performance as I've ever been around, and obviously I'm responsible. That's my fault. It was a horrible, horrible job of coaching."

Now, it’s Ohio State pledging not to look ahead to its Sept. 14 trip to California.

"You can’t take anything for granted," cornerback Doran Grant said.

Players spoke of putting forth a more complete effort, especially on offense, where the Buckeyes felt they left touchdowns on the field against Buffalo. Running backs coach Stan Drayton said, "I don’t know if it’s a matter of points," before stopping to reconsider.

"I think it is with Urban," he said with a smile. "But I think it was more a matter of how we played. We weren’t very consistent at times."

Meyer on Saturday will look for an accomplished offensive line breaking in sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker to respond from a four-sack performance and Smith to expand the playbook. Smith’s return could allow OSU to shift senior Jordan Hall — who ran for a career-high 159 yards against Buffalo — to the H-back role pegged for him before the season. (Suspended projected starting running back Carlos Hyde will return Week 4.)

"I hope [Smith] does earn the right to carry the ball," Meyer said, "because that will free Jordan Hall to maybe help us in some other areas."

The defense, too, will have a new look, with the return of Barnett and Roby allowing for a secondary that was prone to the Bulls’ underneath passes to play more aggressively. Roby, especially, is billed by coaches as a game-changer — both in his leadership and talent.

"I think he learned a really strong lesson and he's done everything we've asked him to do," Meyer said of Roby, who was suspended one game for a bar skirmish in which no charges were filed. "So I'm anxious to get him back on the field."

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.