Rodney Stewart is returning to Columbus, only fifteen minutes from his home in Westerville, Ohio. Now the pressure spotlights the tailback taking stage in CU’s run-centered offense.
“I did picture myself playing against them,” Stewart said. “So I don’t know how that’s going to transfer on the field. I’ll take a couple of deep breaths, get it out of my head, and focus on the game.”
Saturday’s game in Columbus marks a homecoming for key parts Stewart and Doug Rippy, as well as reserve corner Deji Olatoye. The Buckeyes overlooked all three as high school recruits. Now, Stewart says, the rest of his teammates return with an eye on getting the Ohioans a win.
“We all want to win for each other,” Stewart said.
Rippy, the junior linebacker who is second among Buffs in tackles and sacks realizes the importance of coming home, and not just because he had to manage over 50 tickets for friends and family. His team has dropped 18 straight road games, with the last win coming in 2007. Rippy still played Ohio high school ball back then.
Ohio Stadium, known far along the Olentangy River as “The Horseshoe,” possesses capacity for over 102,000, topping even football’s sanctified Rose Bowl as the largest venue the Buffs will encounter in 2011.
“Obviously it’s going to be an advantage for them,” said Rippy. “But we have to end this losing road streak.”
A much-needed win against CSU reassures Jon Embree that his young team’s potential is progressing into concrete results. His emphasized run game cracked a season-high 145 yards on the Rams.
“We are starting to get into a groove of running the football,” Embree said. “We still have a ways to go, but again, it was another step forward in the right direction. That is the one thing that I am encouraged about of this team, is that each week we have improved.”
Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy are also counting screen passes into their pro-style set. Halfback screens and receiver bubbles help to act in place of the run when CU’s offensive line gets clogged.
Stewart nabbed a team-high seven catches last week and ranks tops with Richardson for most receptions on the season.
The former NFL coaches are sure to lean again on designed screens, allowing Stewart and the rest of the backs to launch from open space.
“To me, that is the most underused play in college football because unlike in the NFL, you can be down the field blocking,” Embree said. “It is an extension of the run game to me. I think as long as you have that rule in college football, that you should be using it to your advantage.”
Can CU run at will against a truck stop, nose bleeding Big Ten defense?
Though CU is riding on a first-win high, the Buckeyes return home after a 24-6 loss at Miami (FL). The road-cursed Buffs could be wandering straight into an angry bully who’s coming home after an even bigger bully beat on him.
Ohio State’s pass offense is statistically muddied among the bottom of the FBS pond. But its 14th-ranked defense will provide for a rugby-type battle of grit.
“They are a physical, line up and run it down your throat team, which is something that we are aspiring to be,” Embree said. “It will be, and I hate to date myself, an old school Big Eight football game.”
In 1986, when these two programs last met, the Buffs were still a part of the Big Eight Conference and had a senior tight end by the name of Jon Embree. As he revisits Ohio Stadium’s sidelines, he’ll bypass the helmet for the headset, trying to script the signature victory for his rookie season.
He knows they cannot start out slow nor can they afford frequent penalties. Both are subjects where his learning players continue to show problems after three games.
“Missed opportunities are magnified a little bit, especially when you go to a place like Columbus,” Embree said. “When you are playing in the ‘Shoe’ (102,000) people are trying to will their team to victory. So when you miss an opportunity it can create a momentum shift, when you do a play on the road at a place like this, it is magnified.”
A few familiar eyes glaring down upon the Buffs’ hometown trio may stir butterflies in three stomachs. But a few thousand eyes screaming open at every inch of field will test a team.
For Embree’s group, Saturday is all in the details. Or as they say in the Buckeye state, dot that “i”.
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Michael Krumholtz at Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org