Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big Ten [Print without images]

Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Buckeyes try to hang on through adversity

By Brian Bennett

Luke Fickell
Luke Fickell's Buckeyes have played shorthanded and will face a tough test in Miami on Saturday.
Ohio State has played two MAC teams thus far this season. But the Buckeyes feel like they've been taking on more than just that this season. They feel like most of the public is against them, as well.

"I think people kind of want to see us fail," defensive back Tyler Moeller said.

That us-versus-the-world sentiment is understandable, as Ohio State has lived through months of off-the-field scrutiny brought on by NCAA investigations and suspensions. Some critics will only be happy when the Buckeyes lose. They almost got their wish last week.

Toledo very nearly sprung an historic upset, driving all the way to the Ohio State 16 in the waning moments before falling 27-22. It seemed the perfect fodder for all those who had predicted the program's demise this preseason.

As the 17th-ranked Buckeyes travel to Miami, a team that knows all about controversy and suspensions itself, they know they have to drastically improve in order to prevent the haters from being right.

Carlos Hyde
Toledo limited the Buckeyes to just 112 yards on the ground -- most of which came on Carlos Hyde's 36-yard carry.
"We know Toledo is a good team, but we also know some people thought we should have blown them out," tight end Reid Fragel said. "I think we have a lot to prove this week. We're all kind of anxious to go down to Miami and prove something else. We have a lot of business to take care of down there."

The Toledo game exposed some serious flaws. Ohio State scored only six points in the second half and managed just 301 total yards for the game. The running game produced a paltry 3.3 yards per carry, and that included Carlos Hyde's 36-yard touchdown. That kind of offensive production against a MAC team does not bode well with Miami's fast, athletic defense up next.

If not for a punt-return touchdown, the Buckeyes might not have held on last week. But even the special teams, a hallmark of TresselBall, had their share of problems. A blocked punt led to a Toledo touchdown, and place-kicker Drew Basil missed his only field goal attempt for the second straight week. Remember Miami scored twice on special teams in last year's 36-24 loss in Columbus.

At least the Ohio State defense has been solid, but head coach Luke Fickell would like to see more than just two turnovers forced through two games.

Some struggles, though, had to be expected given how shorthanded the team has been. Against Toledo, nine key contributors were missing, including six guys who would have started if they were available. The Buckeyes have known since last year that the "Tattoo Four" wouldn't play the first five games, but the suspensions of running back Jordan Hall and defensive backs Travis Howard and Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown were announced just before the opener against Akron, and the team learned those three couldn't play again last week less than 48 hours before kickoff.

"We're going through a lot of adversity right now," center Mike Brewster told reporters after the Toledo game. "Look around, there's nine, 10 dudes that should be starting and they're not."

Hall, Howard and Brown will return this week for Miami, helping bolster the numbers a bit -- "It's a feeling of reloading, in a way," Fragel said.

Still, this team remains young in many key spots. The Toledo game featured 12 first-year starters, not to mention all the younger players who have moved into backup roles. Two of the youngest positions are cornerback and receiver, the latter of which suffered another setback when the most experienced wideout, Corey "Philly" Brown, hurt his ankle last week.

And even though he's a 26-year-old, fifth-year senior, quarterback Joe Bauserman had never started before this year. After a standout opener against Akron, Bauserman misfired on several throws against Toledo, finishing 16-for-30 for 189 yards and a touchdown. Many Buckeyes fans want to see freshman Braxton Miller, who played in the opener but never made into last week's game.

"We know there's things we are going to have to do moving forward, but I think Joe did a lot of the things we asked him to do," Fickell said. "He was careful with the football."

Fickell said last week's close call taught him a lot about his younger players.

"You just can see how guys really react and respond to pressure," he said.

The pressure has been on the Buckeyes to keep winning despite all the adversity they've faced this year. They haven't failed yet, but the tests are about to get more challenging.