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Buckeyes look to prove they’re a complete team

Jack Mewort, the Ohio State senior left tackle, remembers how amped up he was hearing the roars of the crowd as the team was running out of the tunnel to the field for his first Buckeye game.

As far as adrenaline rushes go, the experience was something akin to a bungee-cord jump.

“There’s nothing really like it,” he said. “It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It’s a life-changer.

“I’m excited for those guys to run out and see how many people really support the Buckeyes on game day. It’s going to be fun for those guys.”

Buckeye fans certainly know how to let loose in Ohio Stadium, of course, but they can’t help but be a little apprehensive going into the season-opener against Buffalo at noon today.

Sure, OSU is ranked second in the polls and is coming off a 12-0 season — and they’re a popular choice to make the national title game — but they were hardly dominant last year, winning six games by seven points or fewer, including two in overtime.

They have plenty of key returners, but also a slew of questions. And coach Urban Meyer is taking a typically blunt approach with his players to make sure they don’t start believing the hype about them.

“I’m always worried about that,” he said. “The question is, because of high expectations, (will) they think they’ve got some of the answers?

“I’d be disappointed in our staff if that happened because that’s what practice is for — and corrections and meeting rooms and meetings. I don’t think we have that problem. First of all, we’re not that good yet. I’ll tell you if I believe we are. We’re not. We have a long way to go, especially in certain areas.”

The main area of concern is the defensive front seven where only preseason All-American linebacker Ryan Shazier returns. The depth chart this week lists two linebackers and five defensive backs as starters, and Meyer said the team will line up frequently with six DBs.

That may say more about the linebacker depth than it does the skill of the players in the back end.

“I feel like the biggest concern right now is because we have a lot of inexperience and a lot of young guys,” Shazier said. “When we get a lot of guys that haven’t played together on the field, it’s kind of a struggle.”

But they have plenty of promise on that side of the ball, though most are unproven players.

“There’s a lot of guys in that front seven that we have high expectations for,” co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “But until they do it in front of 107,000 people, we’re still going to sit here a little anxious to see what they can do. We really have liked what we’ve seen so far, and the upside is incredible.”

The Buckeyes led the Big Ten in scoring at 37.2 points per game last season and had to replace only two starters in receiver Jake Stoneburner and right tackle Reid Fragel. Vandalia product Taylor Decker has moved seamlessly into the vacant line spot, and the receiver group is the team’s deepest position.

The Buckeyes did suffer a setback when running backs Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith were suspended for off-field incidents. But the experienced Jordan Hall, a 5-8, 197-pound senior, will get the starting nod, and Meyer doesn’t sound as if Hyde and Smith will be missed.

“Jordan Hall is the best running back on our team right now. … He’s a tailback at Ohio State. He’s earned that right,” he said.

“Jordan is a little smaller, but he is arguably one of the tougher guys pound for pound on our team. (Running backs coach) Stan Drayton has done a nice job with pass protection, which is a big part of it. And catching the ball in the backfield is a big part of it, and Jordan is fantastic at that. Others are, too. We are comfortable going into this game.”

The Buckeyes have gotten a noticeable bounce from a 2013 recruiting class ranked second nationally by Hybrid back Dontre Wilson will line up all over the field to create mismatches, and receiver Jalin Marshall and running back Ezekiel Elliott also are expected to get some meaningful snaps.

Are those newcomers ready for the big stage?

“I think these young guys add a new dynamic to this offense,” Mewhort said. “There’s a lot of speed that got infused into the program to go with all the great skill players we had last year. I think there’s a quicker edge to us than maybe a year ago.”

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