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COLUMBUS, Ohio – It's unlikely that anyone at Ohio State last winter had ever heard of Gunner Kiel.
Now the unique moniker of the Cincinnati quarterback is on every Buckeye's lips.
"It's one of those names," linebacker Joshua Perry said. "It's like (with a name like) Gunner, he'll throw the ball around."
Kiel and his pass-happy Bearcats (2-0) come to Ohio Stadium on Saturday night to provide a daunting challenge for 22nd-ranked Ohio State and a defense that has had troubles with throwing teams in the past and is hoping to prove it has found a solution.
It'll be an interesting matchup. The Buckeyes (2-1) will try to get to Kiel before he can duplicate his incredible numbers from his debut three weeks ago. And Kiel will try to pick his spots against a young Ohio State secondary that has yet to be really tested.
After surrendering 38.33 points and 380 passing yards per game in the final three games a year ago, Ohio State replaced safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers, who took the head coaching job at James Madison, with Chris Ash, who completely rethought and rebuilt the defensive philosophy. The Buckeyes, supposedly, are more aggressive and less reactive on defense, although that hasn't been apparent in the first three games.
Now it's time to find out whether the new approach works.
"This team is a real legitimate throwing team," head coach Urban Meyer said. "This will be a giant test for us."
There are good reasons why everyone is talking about Kiel, a 6-foot-4 sophomore out of Columbus, Indiana. He leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in points responsible for per game, 30 a contest. In his two career starts, he has completed 50 of 76 passes for 689 yards and 10 touchdowns, including a glittering 25 of 37 for 418 yards and a school-record tying six touchdowns in a 58-34 win over Toledo in his debut.
"He's a guy who has a lot of confidence and looks through all his reads," said Ohio State cornerback Doran Grant, who'll likely see a lot of Kiel's passes on Saturday. "He's a talented guy. He didn't play much last year. So we'll see what he's got."
Safety Tyvis Powell added, "For the secondary, this is big. Because this is the best quarterback with the best wide-receiver group we're going to see all season. So this is the best time to show the fans that the pass defense has improved."
Of course, the Buckeyes are well aware it's not just the secondary that's under the microscope. The line has to apply some pressure, and the linebackers must do their part, too.
"We've got to make him feel uncomfortable," said tackle Adolphus Washington, a Cincinnati native. "We've got to make him move around a little bit so he can't just stand there and lock onto a target and get the ball down the field on us."
Perry seconded that.
"We've got to put some pressure on him," he said. "We'll have to find some new ways to maybe get after him a little bit so they can't throw the ball out to some of those receivers. Hopefully, the stadium will be a little loud and get in his head."
Powell hinted that the Buckeyes had added some new wrinkles to the pass defense last week, but coach Kerry Coombs politely declined to comment.
"Each week presents opportunities for you to do things differently, and I'm sure not going to give away any secrets about what we did or didn't do last week, next week or five weeks from now," Coombs said, smiling sweetly. "Thanks for asking."
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