COLUMBUS, Ohio - In most other years, it would be easy for the Ohio State football team to overlook its next opponent, Conference USA's UAB. With the bulk of their out of conference schedule behind them and the only thing standing between them and a Big Ten battle with Michigan State being the lowly 0-2 Blazers, it would be understandable for the Buckeyes to be looking ahead to next week's conference opener against the Spartans.
OSU head coach Urban Meyer admitted as much.
But the first three games of the Meyer era any Columbus have been far from typical for Ohio State teams of seasons' past. The Buckeyes may be sporting their customary 3-0 record, but those wins have come via a slow start against Miami (OH), a two-score victory over Central Florida, and a come-from-behind, one-score win over California last week.
With the Buckeyes having yet to put together a full 60 minutes of quality football in any of their first three games under Meyer, the Buckeyes coach is confident that UAB has had his team's full attention in the days leading up to Saturday's matchup.
"I think if we were playing great, it would be 'cause you would see a team overlooking a team," Meyer said when asked if motivating keeping his team's focus on the Blazers would be an issue. "I don't anticipate that at all."
Meyer's players appear to have received the coach's message loud and clear
"What we just got to keep working on right now is taking it game by game," OSU quarterback Braxton Miller said. "We can't worry about the next opponent right now. No looking ahead."
As a senior captain who's played in his fair share of games where it wouldn't have been difficult for the Buckeyes to get caught looking past an opponent, defensive end John Simon said that OSU's less than stellar start has made it easy for his teammates to stay focused on the task at hand.
"I don't think you have to tell them anything," Simon said. "We've had two close games- three tough games in a row, so really just making sure that we come into this game not taking anything for granted."
Although the Buckeyes' lack of dominance so far is reason enough for the team to stay focused on UAB, Meyer insists that the Blazers are nothing to scoff at. Despite its 0-2 record, the first-year OSU coach sees talent across the board for UAB and at least one tendency that could be a cause for concern for the Buckeyes.
"You only can control what goes on around here, and they see on film that this is a very good team that has athletes all over the place," Meyer said. "They launch it down the field and we haven't been stellar on pass coverage."
Saturday will give OSU its final opportunity to shore up its defense- which has shown a propensity for giving up big plays throughout the short 2012 season- before the start of Big Ten play. Last week against California, the Buckeyes surrendered 512 yards to the bears- 248 of which came on six plays.
Linebacker Etienne Sabino is well aware that despite their perceived drop off in talent, the Blazers are just as capable of creating momentum-swinging plays.
"People overlook them, but they actually have some good athletes on that team. So we have to come out, we have to tackle," Sabino said. "The game's going to come down to tackling and making plays. We just can't give the big play up."
But while Meyer and his staff are expecting a plethora of deep balls to be coming the Buckeyes' defensive backs' way, OSU opponents this season haven't exactly stuck with what they're known for. Throughout the week, Buckeye players and coaches have marveled at the way that their three opponents this season have deviated from what they were expecting from them, which leaves the Buckeyes preparing for anything and everything to come their way on Saturday.
"We've seen teams come out and do things that we've never seen before, so we're going to be prepared for anything they're willing to do. They could come out and run a whole power game. We haven't seen it, but you never know," Simon said. "We look forward to the challenge."