By Bill Rabinowitz
and Tim May
COLUMBUS: For months, they had heard how great they were. A No. 2 spot in the preseason rankings served as validation that Ohio State was an elite team.
The Buckeyes looked well on their way to confirming that status by jumping to a 23-0 lead against Buffalo on Saturday.
It was everything a coach loves in a season opener — yet secretly fears.
Then Buffalo outscored Ohio State over the final three quarters.
It was everything that a coach fears — yet secretly loves in a season opener.
So Ohio State’s 40-20 victory and a drop in the Associated Press poll to No. 3 served dual purposes for coach Urban Meyer. He can point to the first quarter as proof of how good the team can be. He can also point to the last 45 minutes as evidence of how much better it has to get.
“I think complacency is certainly not a problem this week,” Meyer said Monday at his weekly news conference. “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 [funny] because they have just been told how great they are.
“So, as much as we would have liked to have seen it [be] cleaner, it’s a great opportunity for us to coach them hard and get better Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Receiver Chris Fields, who had two touchdown catches on Saturday, acknowledged that the team subconsciously relaxed after jumping on Buffalo early.
“Our mental focus broke down a little bit,” he said. “It wasn’t anything physical. We just came out complacent and half-stepping. We just have to play full-throttle next time.”
Squashing any sign of complacency will be important this week as the Buckeyes turn their attention to San Diego State. Entering the season, the Aztecs looked like an under-the-radar team that might have the potential to test Ohio State. Coached by respected Rocky Long, San Diego State won its final seven regular-season games last year in the Mountain West Conference.
But if the Buckeyes’ performance against Buffalo was uneven, San Diego State’s against Eastern Illinois was embarrassing. Eastern Illinois, a Football Championship Subdivision team, dominated the Aztecs late in a 40-19 upset.
Ohio State will be a deeper team than the one that was severely depleted at times against Buffalo.
“We are starting to get our roster back intact,” Meyer said.
Safety C.J. Barnett was held out of the opener because of an ankle sprain. Meyer said he is expected to play on Saturday.
Cornerback Bradley Roby and running back Rod Smith will return from one-game suspensions. Armani Reeves filled in for Roby and was picked on at times. Reeves took two snaps as a freshman last year and also had to play on special teams Saturday, so he didn’t exactly get to ease into full-time duty.
Smith won’t supplant Jordan Hall as a starter, but he can provide a complement as a power runner to the shiftier Hall. It also would help if center Corey Linsley can play into the second half. For the first time, Meyer provided details on the foot injury that has limited the senior captain.
He said that Linsley had an injury similar to a Lisfranc sprain. Even after rest during the offseason, Linsley still felt discomfort, so he had surgery to have a screw inserted in the foot.
“Those are [long-term] injuries,” Meyer said. “So he’s a little bit ahead of schedule.”
Linsley played 17 snaps against Buffalo over three possessions, all touchdowns. He then sat the rest of the game, replaced by Jacoby Boren. Meyer said he wanted to put Linsley back in the game after Ohio State’s offense began to sputter, but chose to stick to the original plan.
“He’ll play more, and so he’ll just keep gradually getting better and better,” Meyer said.
Meyer hopes that applies to the entire Buckeyes team.
Roby back; no guarantees
Roby is back, but despite being an All-Big Ten cornerback who was on many preseason All-America teams this year, his starting spot is not assured, Meyer said.
“He is competing for a spot,” Meyer said. “He will not [just] be named starter.”
Roby must prove himself worthy again after serving his punishment for an altercation in a bar in Bloomington, Ind., in July.
Meyer pointed out that the charges finally were conditionally dismissed after video of the incident showed that Roby did little, if anything, wrong.
“But I think he learned a really strong lesson, and he has done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Meyer said. “And I’m anxious to get him back on the field.”
Roby, a fourth-year junior, contemplated leaving for the NFL Draft after the 2012 season but opted to return “because he came in with a group of players and he wanted to finish, which I think is very admirable,” Meyer said.
In the meantime, after hearing from others about whether Roby made the right decision, “I believe that he went through a little bit of a funk of buyer’s remorse or whatever,” Meyer said, but that he snapped out of it.
Then came the incident in Bloomington, in which Roby initially was charged with misdemeanor battery after a confrontation with bar security. The charge later was reduced to disorderly conduct. Finally, he agreed to complete a diversion program, which could result in the charges being expunged.
His challenge this week is to compete with Reeves for the starting job. Roby will have plenty of chances to prove himself as he, Reeves and the other starting cornerback, Doran Grant, go through drills.
“We have a ton of reps available in practice, as you might imagine,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. “We get a lot of work in. We’ll rotate those three guys … with the first team, because that’s what we always have done.”