COLUMBUS — Even though San Diego State was beaten by a lower-division team in its opener, Urban Meyer believes it is dangerous to take the Aztecs lightly.
The Ohio State coach made the case that the Aztecs were on the wrong end of a 40-19 score at home on Saturday night because they lost Adam Muema to an ankle injury — “arguably the best tailback we’ll face all year” — and that FCS member Eastern Illinois played a great game.
Rocky Long will bring his Aztecs to Ohio Stadium on Saturday to face the second-ranked Buckeyes.
After the opening-game loss, he said, “That’s as bad a performance as I’ve ever been around, and obviously I’m responsible, so that’s my fault. It was a horrible, horrible job of coaching.”
Meyer, however, said Long has always been a terrific coach, including stops at New Mexico and now San Diego State.
It was while Long was at his alma mater, New Mexico, in 2003 that his Lobos handed Utah one of only two defeats Meyer sustained during his two years with the Utes.
“I coached against Rocky Long before,” Meyer said Monday. “He’s an excellent football coach, tough, and his guys play real hard. They won nine games last year, which is not surprising for his teams.”
Most of Meyer’s words were directed at his own team, which rolled to a 40-20 win over Buffalo in its opener.
As expected, mistakes were made in the first game. But the Buckeyes figure to be a lot better with the addition of star cornerback Bradley Roby and No. 2 tailback Rod Smith, both coming off one-game suspensions.
Roby, an All-Big Ten performer a year ago, isn’t guaranteed to start but will vie for playing time this week in practice. Armani Reeves, who got the call to replace Roby against Buffalo, and the other starter, St. Vincent-St. Mary graduate Doran Grant, would also be in the mix.
“We’ll get a lot of work in and rotate those three guys with the first team,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said of his practice plans.
Smith could see action backing up Jordan Hall, who rushed for a career-best 159 yards and two TDs on Saturday, or playing tailback while Hall shifts to the H-back spot. The Buckeyes are still awaiting the return of 2012 leading scorer and No. 2 rusher Carlos Hyde, who is suspended for three games.
“Rod is a commodity to this football team,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “Having him back is definitely a plus for us.”
In addition to Roby and Smith, the Buckeyes will are hoping they get help from two other starters. Safety C.J. Barnett was held out of the opener with a sprained ankle and center Corey Linsley was limited to less than 20 snaps as he continues to recover from offseason foot surgery.
Quarterback Braxton Miller had a solid game and a young defense also acquitted itself.
All last week, Meyer preached that the Buckeyes needed to get out of the blocks quicker than they did a year ago, when they frequently had problems early.
They more than met that objective against Buffalo by rolling to a 23-0 lead after a quarter. But then they watched as the 35-point underdog Bulls twice pulled within 10 points.
“I was not very pleased when we had the lull,” Meyer said.
There were other glitches that are being addressed. The offensive line surrendered four sacks, with Buffalo’s brutish linebacker, Kahlil Mack, dominating whoever tried to block him.
“His stock in the draft just went up a little bit after playing against us. He did a very good job. He manhandled some guys,” Meyer said of Mack. “He could play anywhere at any school in America.”
Meyer said he still has extremely high expectations for his offense.
“I want to score every time we touch the ball,” he said. “I’m disappointed if we don’t score.”