By Rusty Miller
COLUMBUS: The large banner at one end of the Buckeyes’ indoor practice facility simply says, “The Chase.”
It doesn’t refer to being chased, but rather to chasing something or maybe someone else.
Even though his team might just be favored in every game on its schedule, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer refuses to believe that his team is anything other than an underdog. In other words, it’s a pursuer.
“Some people think we’re the hunted. I don’t feel that way at all,” Meyer said during preparations for today’s game against San Diego State. “We are the hunter. Everybody wants an angry football team, everybody wants a team on edge and a hungry team. And if you’re the hunter, that usually equates to being hungry. If you’re the king of the hill, then you just battle that bad word, complacency.”
Meyer believes teams get fat and happy when they’re on top — and Meyer despises fat and happy teams.
So even though the Buckeyes are picked to beat the Aztecs by four touchdowns today — and also that they’re riding the nation’s longest winning streak at 13 games — Meyer continues to push the mindset that they’ve accomplished nothing.
Here are five things to watch for in the matchup:
Aztec la vista baby
The Aztecs are coming off a humbling 40-19 loss at home to FCS-member Eastern Illinois. They were outplayed and outcoached in every facet.
Coach Rocky Long says he’s not going to overreact to the defeat, even though it was a stunner.
“I try never to panic and I don’t fear anything,” he said. “If you’re a competitor, you don’t fear anything.”
This week, SDSU has focused on fundamentals and taking a small step forward instead of shocking the world at No. 3 Ohio State.
“We’re all working for one goal, which is to get better, go out there and compete this weekend,” said quarterback Adam Dingwell, who threw four interceptions in the embarrassing loss. “[We’re working on] becoming a better football team, so when conference [season] rolls around, we can get that 20th [Mountain West] championship.”
The Buckeyes reinforce two thin positions with players coming off suspensions.
Bradley Roby, an All-Big Ten cornerback a year ago, returns after being benched for his role in a mid-summer bar skirmish. He’ll likely get plenty of playing time, both on defense and special teams.
Tailback Rod Smith also is back from a one-game sojourn for an unspecified violation of team rules. He’s on punt-return and -block teams, and will likely get some carries.
Muema’s the word
Meyer called SDSU’s Adam Muema possibly the best running back the Buckeyes will face all season.
Muema injured an ankle early in the opening game and didn’t return. But he has practiced all week and is expected to make up for lost time with lots of rushing attempts this week.
Several of the Buckeyes said that after they rolled to a 23-0 first-quarter lead in their 40-20 win over Buffalo, for some reason they eased off the gas pedal.
They’ll make an effort to not repeat that mistake, since the Bulls twice pulled within 10 points and almost recovered a Braxton Miller fumble at the Ohio State 1 that might have made it a nail-biter.
“We had a good little struggle in the second half after getting up there,” wide receiver Chris Fields said.
The coaches have preached to not let that happen again.
The Aztecs, partly because of Muema’s injury and partly out of desperation as they fell behind in the second half, called almost 70 pass plays last week.
It’s quality, not quantity, this week.
“I just have to get better,” Dingwell said. “If we need to throw the ball to win, that’s what we have to do. If we have to run the ball to win, that’s what we’ll do.”
The Buckeyes don’t expect that kind of air assault, but still have to be prepared for it. The defensive backfield hopes it gets tested.
“Our defense, especially our secondary, we feel like if they throw the ball we’ll make ’em pay,” free safety Christian Bryant said.