College football teams that have gone to hurry-up, no-huddle offenses have found opponents resorting to some suspect ways to slow them down.
One method is faking injuries on the field, which has drawn the ire of those snap-happy squads.
But don’t look for Ohio State to try that kind of chicanery today when it visits California, which has averaged 102 plays on offense in two games this year — about 30 more than the Division I standard last season.
For the Buckeyes, interrupting the action that way is tantamount to admitting defeat.
“I’ve never tried faking injuries,” defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “I’ve tried to fake NOT being injured (to stay in a game). I wouldn’t know how that works.”
But Bennett knows the pace of the Golden Bears’ offense will be a stretch for the Buckeyes. Coach Sonny Dykes, who replaced the fired Jeff Tedford, has installed the fast-paced, pass-heavy attack he ran at Louisiana Tech last season while leading the nation in scoring (51.8 points per game) and total offense (578 yards).
At his new locale, they’re calling it the “Bear Raid.” And for opposing defenses, it’s like hopping on the Autobahn after driving in a school zone.
“It’s a challenge. As a defensive player, you’re just running and running, and they’re going, going, going,” Bennett said. “You don’t have time to bring in subs. You’ve got those 11 players on the field for however many plays, just flying — especially with those quick passes.
“It wears you out. But I think it’s good because it makes those (defensive) guys on the field have to be the toughest guys. People don’t like it because it’s hard. But you don’t get to ignore something because it’s hard.”
The Bears, though, won’t be able to snap the ball at a rapid-fire clip if they don’t keep racking up first downs, and OSU opponents have had trouble moving the chains.
The Buckeyes have allowed 269 yards per game, the 18th-best mark in the nation. They’re ninth in rushing defense at 68.9 yards per outing.
“We are getting close to the kind of defense that I have a dream of seeing, and that’s aggressive,” coach Urban Meyer said. “Our defensive line is playing at a very high level right now. I don’t want to jinx them, but they just are playing well.
“They’re not perfect at all. As a matter of fact, they are very poor in some things they do. But as far as effort, energy, enthusiasm, esprit de corps, that whole unit is playing well. And I have to give credit to their coach, Mike Vrabel. They play like Mike coaches and I imagine the way Mike played here. It’s just a high-energy, intense, very close-knit group.”
The Buckeyes’ defense finished statistically in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten last season. Their low point was a 35-28 win over Cal, which missed three field goals that factored into the outcome.
The Bears’ Brendan Bigelow rushed four times for 160 yards because of several whiffed tackles, once ripping off an 81-yard TD.
But with co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers emphasizing fundamentals, coupled with some personnel changes, the Buckeyes fielded a competitive defense by the end of the year.
An ability to eliminate big plays has carried over to this season. Cal had six plays of 26 yards or longer, but neither Buffalo nor San Diego State was able to produce a gain of more than 25 yards.
“If you ask me (about the Cal game last year), I can’t tell you the defense, I can’t tell you the play, but I’ll just tell you it was very, very poor tackling and very poor leverage on the football,” Meyer said. “If you watch our team play right now, I think Luke and Everett have done a really admirable job teaching that, and you can see a big difference.”
Ohio State (2-0) at California (1-1), 7 p.m., FOX, 1410-AM