By Rusty Miller
COLUMBUS: If there’s one thing other than a dinner buffet that gets the attention of a big defensive lineman, it’s a freshman quarterback.
“A true freshman can be really athletic and all that,” Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “But it’s easier to get flustered and to get a little nervous — especially when you see a defensive line closing in.”
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes’ defense is well aware that the quarterback for Saturday’s opponent, California, is just a few months removed from worrying about prom dates and getting to his home room on time.
Jared Goff is the Bears’ rookie quarterback — and also the focal point for the Buckeyes’ defenders.
“I don’t feel that much pressure,” said the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder Goff, out of Kentfield, Calif. “I’m just doing what I’ve been doing since I came in this spring. I’m just doing my best. If we have to throw the ball a lot of times, we throw it a lot.”
Oh, the Bears throw it a lot, all right. And Goff is certainly no easy mark. He has gotten off to a terrific start and is leading the nation with 930 yards passing in two games in coach Sonny Dykes’ wide-open, hurry-it-up offense.
Dykes isn’t worried about Goff getting jittery over playing one of the nation’s top teams on national TV.
“We’ll just tell him last week was on national television and he probably won’t know the difference,” he cracked.
But playing Portland State is a far cry from Ohio State.
After all, most plays, Goff is all by himself in the backfield.
“This is basically an empty offense,” Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said. “They have a back in the backfield but he’s lined up outside the tackle. So they send five [receivers] out every snap. That is getting everybody out in the route.”
That means that there’s nobody left to block should Bennett or a bull-rushing lineman or outside linebacker get a bead on the guy in the pocket looking for an open teammate.
It’s one thing to be a first-year player and to hand off 40 times a game. It’s quite another to be in charge of an attack that reels off plays every few seconds and requires a steady stream of split-second decisions.
“[Goff is] very impressive, obviously, to come in and step into this kind of offense,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said.
Meyer once had a freshman quarterback when he was at Florida by the name of Tim Tebow. But that future Heisman Trophy winner backed up starter Chris Leak on the 2006 national championship team.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a full-time starter [at quarterback] who is a true freshman,” Meyer said. “I’ve had [freshmen at] other positions and that’s a handful. I can only imagine what it’s like with a quarterback. But he’s doing a great job for them.”
Ohio State will most likely throw the kitchen sink at Goff.
The line of Noah Spence, Bennett, Joel Hale and either Adolphus Washington (battling a groin injury) or Joey Bosa or Steve Miller (Canton McKinley) will try to manhandle the big guys upfront to free someone to take a shot at the frosh. The linebackers and extra defensive backs might be busy with pass coverage — the Bears average 97 plays a game, and Goff is throwing 58 passes per game — but that doesn’t mean someone might be freed up occasionally to zero in on Goff with a blitz.
The Buckeyes will mix up defenses and try to throw in some other tweaks to keep Goff off-balance.
“You can do a lot of things with a new quarterback,” Ohio State cornerback Armani Reeves said. “Just get him second-guessing and when you do things like that, especially when it’s a freshman or a new starter, it’s going to cause him some problems, no matter what.”
The Bears aren’t overly concerned that Goff will come unglued, however.
“He’s done a great job handling the game,” wide receiver Richard Rodgers said. “Jared is a great kid. He has a great head on his shoulders. He’s been ready since the day he came in.”
Meyer optimistic about QB
Meyer says he is “fairly optimistic” that injured quarterback Braxton Miller will be able to play when the fourth-ranked Buckeyes play at California on Saturday.
“Yeah, I’m fairly optimistic,” Meyer said on Tuesday. “With everything I’ve been told, the improvement made between day 3 and day 4 [after a sprained knee] is very important and it’s usually substantial. I’m fairly optimistic.”
Speaking on the Big Ten coaches teleconference, Meyer said that Miller has shown signs that he may be healthy enough to see action after spraining a medial-collateral ligament in his left knee in last weekend’s 42-7 win over San Diego State.
Meyer said he saw Braxton throw a few passes and then would evaluate him after he had practiced.
“We’ll know more [Wednesday] on if he’ll be available for the Cal game,” Meyer said.
Miller got treatment on the knee on Sunday and Monday.