RUSTY MILLER,AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Urban Meyer isn’t handing out a lot of redshirts at No. 14 Ohio State. Instead, he’s throwing his freshmen into the heat of the action.
That might be good news down the road. But it’ll make for some anxious moments this week when the Buckeyes hit the road for the first time at No. 20 Michigan State.
Indeed, in East Lansing, those first-year players will face a trial by fire. The Buckeyes have 15 freshmen getting playing time, in fact, and 12 are listed as second-teamers on offense or defense.
It could be twice that many in Meyer’s mind.
“It seems like there’s a lot, and a lot in some key areas,” he said. “It’s alarming at times.”
It’s the price a first-year coach has to pay to change the attitude, culture and record of a team coming off a seven-loss season.
Sure, the Buckeyes (4-0) have some very good upperclassmen who are still the team’s rudder. But Meyer also knows the missed assignments, nerves and mental errors this autumn will pay benefits later.
“For the future it’s great,” he said. “There’s some quality freshmen that we believe in, so this’ll be a whole different test. It’s Big Ten play and on the road — another obstacle for true freshmen.”
The rookies the Buckeyes will depend the most on are center Jacoby Boren, linemen Taylor Decker and Chase Farris, tight end Nick Vannett, wide receiver Michael Thomas, defensive linemen Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt and Chris Carter and linebackers Conner Crowell, David Perkins and Joshua Perry.
It’s funny, but the primary example of the benefits — and pitfalls — of playing a freshman is Ohio State’s starting quarterback.
Braxton Miller got his first career start a year ago as a true freshman when the Buckeyes hosted the 25th-ranked Spartans.
It wasn’t pretty.
Miller was harassed and harried all day by linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen and linemen Jerel Worthy and William Gholston. He was sacked nine times by the active, physical Michigan State defense. When he wasn’t getting knocked down, Miller was getting hurried into an awful passing day. Before being replaced by senior Joe Bauserman, he completed 5 of 10 passes for just 56 yards with an interception while losing 27 yards thanks to all of those tackles behind the line.
Their offense throttled, the Buckeyes lost 10-7, their first of five losses in eight Big Ten games on the way to a 6-7 record.
Thankfully, Miller doesn’t remember much about that debacle.
“It’s blurred,” he said. “We had a couple struggles. It was bad, a little bit.”
Now Miller is a different player: stronger, more poised, more patient and more confident. He’s off to a strong season through four non-conference games, rushing for 110 yards a game with seven touchdowns scored. He’s completing 61 percent of his passes for seven scores with just two interceptions.
“He’s a bigger, stronger guy than he was last year,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “He was a brand new freshman in a system. Now he has all of last year, spring and summer practices, four more games and a new offense under his belt. He’s a much more experienced player. He’s more in control. He’s seen more as a leader.”
Most of the current Ohio State freshmen aren’t in positions where they have to make as many split-second decisions under pressure, like a quarterback does on almost every snap. Many are on defense, particularly on the line, where success is usually a matter of overpowering the guy trying to block you and upending the ball-carrier. Simple.
Still, this is a teaching moment for youngsters who have never played in such a loud, hostile environment.
“It’s a different mentality going into away games,” Ohio State center Corey Linsley said. “There’s more traveling, there’s less meeting time — and there’s more to handle. It’s going to be a great opportunity for the freshmen to learn.”
Concerned over mistakes by first-year players, Meyer shifted some special teams assignments so veterans were shouldering most of the responsibilities.
The older Buckeyes are also trying to offer some guidance.
“(Michigan State is) going to come out and try to intimidate, especially the young guys,” Ohio State wide receiver Corey Brown said. “Basically, I’ll tell the freshmen, ‘Just play your game, stay focused even through adversity, because obviously there’s going to be adversity everywhere. Just keep your head and stay cool.'”
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