The 12th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes will try to remain perfect under the watchful eye of first-year head coach Urban Meyer, as they welcome the California Golden Bears to Columbus this Saturday for a non-conference clash.
Jeff Tedford's California club is 1-1 on the young season, as it dropped a 31-24 decision to Nevada in the opener before taking out Southern Utah in week two, 50-31 -- both games taking place at the newly-renovated Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. The recent win over the Thunderbirds, which improved the Golden Bears to 6-0 all-time against FCS foes, was Tedford's 80th at the school.
This bout marks the first of two straight the Golden Bears will play against ranked foes on the road, the next being their Pac-12 Conference opener at No. 2 USC on Sept. 22.
Ohio State is playing the third of four straight home games to open the 2012 campaign this week, having already disposed of Miami-Ohio (56-10) and UCF (31-16). As a result, Meyer's record improved to 106-23 in 11 years as a head coach, and his teams are 36-4 in the month of September.
Following this bout, Ohio State will entertain UAB before hitting the road for the first time this season to open Big Ten Conference play at nationally- ranked Michigan State on Sept. 29.
This game marks the first meeting between Cal and OSU since 1972, and the Buckeyes have won the last five encounters to take a 5-1 lead in the all-time series.
California QB Zach Maynard currently ranks fifth in the Pac-12 with a 154.2 passer rating, and he has completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 474 yards to go along with three TDs and one INT. In the recent win over Southern Utah, the senior signal-caller went 17-of-23 for 229 yards with a TD and an INT. He also carried the ball six times for 39 yards, although the team's leading rusher, senior Isi Sofele, tallied 104 yards and a TD on 19 totes. It was the sixth career 100-yard rushing game for Sofele.
Freshman WR Chris Harper hauled in seven balls for 94 yards against the T- Birds, giving him a team-leading 12 grabs for 151 yards and one TD this season. Fellow wideout Keenan Allen has 11 receptions for 155 yards and a score through the first two games, and he has caught a pass in all 26 games of his college career, leading to nearly 2,000 receiving yards.
Maynard spoke about the challenges he and his offensive cohorts face at Ohio State this week, "I would say that we have to play more consistently. I put myself in a lot of long third down situations this week. We need to do a good job on first and second down and put ourselves in better field position so that even if we can't score a touchdown, we can get a field goal."
Defensively, Cal ranks sixth in the country with 10.0 TFL per game, and is tied for 23rd with 3.0 sacks per outing. Linebacker Robert Mullins and DB Josh Hill sit atop the team's tackles list with 20 through two games, while LB J.P. Hurrell has three sacks -- all coming against Southern Utah.
Senior DB Marc Anthony picked off a pass and returned it 61 yards for a TD against the Thunderbirds, who tallied just 79 net rushing yards despite moving the chains on 10-of-20 third-down conversion attempts and claiming a near 12- minute edge in time of possession.
Citing the fact the his team was penalized 12 times in the game, Tedford knows that against more formidable opposition, that's a recipe for disaster.
"Penalties, too many penalties. We cannot continue to do that, shoot ourselves in the foot and expect to win close football games."
Ohio State QB Braxton Miller was a one-man wrecking crew in the team's recent win over UCF, as he ran for 141 yards and three TDs, becoming the first Buckeyes signal-caller in more than three decades to score three rushing TDs in a game. Additionally, he threw for 155 yards and another score to WR Jake Stoneburner. He did throw an INT, as OSU committed three turnovers in the game, and not only was Meyer upset about that fact, but also that the Buckeyes were penalized 10 times for a loss of nearly 80 yards.
The OSU defense certainly did its job against UCF, coming up with three INTs while holding the Knights to just 103 net rushing yards. CB Travis Howard logged one of the picks, giving him three for the season and seven for his career. Howard actually has more INTs and passes defended (five) than he does tackles (two) at this point.
Howard was complimentary of the Knights and his teammates following the win, "It was a great team. We felt well prepared but they came out and gave us a battle ... We were able to go out there and still get a victory."
The Buckeyes have registered six turnovers (five INTs, one fumble) after two games, and they are giving up just 13.0 points and 51.0 rushing ypg. LB Ryan Shazier (14) is one of four players with double-digit tackles to this point, but the one area that hasn't quite materialized yet is making plays in the backfield as the defense as a whole has just five TFL and three sacks to its credit.
UCF coach George O'Leary praised the Buckeyes defense following last week's game, "Ohio State's front seven is outstanding. John Simon is as good as anyone in the country. You don't want to take your time passing against them. The quarterback can't take more than three or four step drops."