This whole season of college football has been rather deflating, so I have not had too much interest in ESPN’s SportsNation bowl picks and bowl chatter. That said, I’ve gathered what exactly the theme is entering this game. Texas, from the big bad Big 12, is pissed off that it was denied the Big 12 title game, that the Big 12 title game featured two teams that it beat, and that its star quarterback was denied a Heisman Trophy in favor of a quarterback from aforementioned title game team who it beat. Ohio State, from the meek and uninteresting Big Ten –whose teams are unathletic dinosaurs of football past — undeservingly limps back to Glendale — scene of the crime in January 2007 — for its run of the mill big game catastrophe. Its players: slow, lethargic, fat and pathetic. Its head coach: a laughing stock. While my interest in nationwide speculation on this game remains wanting, I’ve gathered from ESPN’s news crawl about the 90.4% confidence for a Texas victory on what the expected outcome will be.
Yes yes yes yes… yes. I know. But while ESPN.com’s comments section lights up with the chestbumping and butchered English of the quasi-literate yokels who freely roam the southeastern portion of this silly country, we should remind ourselves that the outcome of the game is ultimately not reducible to them.
Still, in spite of all the hubris, most Buckeye fans should willingly admit to their role as the underdogs in this contest. Texas’ one loss: a conference road loss to respectable Texas Tech, which featured an impressive rally by Texas quarterback and Heisman finalist Colt McCoy. Ohio State’s two losses: kinda lame, and absent the offensive fireworks that the Longhorns offense provided all season. McCoy, the aforementioned quarterback, is third nationally in QB efficiency and will likely set an NCAA record for completion percentage (currently 77.6%) by the end of this game. Better yet, he’s also the Longhorns’ leading rusher, though I’m not sure that statistic is any praise for the tailback production in 2008. His favorite targets, roommate Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby, both neared 1000 yards on the season (982 and 952 yards respectively).
This passing attack — something that appears to come as a result of the drinking water in the Big 12 — will certainly be taxing for Jim Heacock’s defense. While the unit seemed to click by the end of the season, I — along with just about every other Buckeye fan — am not confident, given the caliber of offense the Buckeyes will encounter. Production will need to come from the defensive line… naturally… and it will need to come from everyone, tackles and rush ends alike. To be honest, I think every Buckeye fan would love for Beanie to tally up some ridiculous rushing total for this game (in an ideal scenario). I think I’d be even more pleased if Nader Abadallah, academic overachiever and 5th year senior, could close out his Ohio State career with 5 or more sacks. McCoy, though, is no lightweight. He’s far from the shrimpy redshirt freshman we saw in 2006. Indeed, a respectable part of McCoy’s rushing total comes from extending drives on 3rd down and and on busted pass plays. He’s a powerful runner with arms that resemble cannons. Spy jobs may be necessary, and Jermale Hines will need to be a factor from his “Star” position.
A lot is made of the Big 12′s supposed lack of defense, but I don’t think that label particularly applies to the Texas Longhorns. The Longhorns’s defense is anchored within the hashmarks by sack artist Brian Orakpo and outside the hashmarks by, far and away, the most credible defensive coordinator in the Big 12 and whose famed sideline outburst I can’t link enough. Buckeye fans who draw attention to Texas Tech’s performance against Ole Miss or Oklahoma State’s defensive coordinator-less performance against the Ducks as credible means to inference about Texas’ predicted performance in the Fiesta Bowl are off base.
This is more apparent because our offense can look like the worst offense in college football at times, in spite of having the best player in college football line up in the tailback position (homer tendencies: not thwarted, but with merit). It starts, sadly, with the offensive line. I say “sadly” because we certainly know the story for the unit in 2008. Senior and three year starter Alex Boone’s misfires against USC were probably the most embarrassing individual performance on the line. Person and Rehring hit on traps with the best of them, but they are slow to pull and are often resorted to spectators as a play gets blown up in the backfield. Bryant Browning and speed rushes off the perimeter, well… they just don’t get along. This all plays right into the hands of Will Muschamp’s defense, where the strength is in the front 7. As I type, I’m having flashbacks to the 2008 Homecoming game. Better yet, to allay my anxieties about the unit, Jim Bollman has decided to mix things up a bit for this game. Whereas Rehring and Person, injury-raddled for a good portion of 2008, typically start at left and right guard respectively, Bollman has decided to swap positions for the two. Odd, considering that Rehring and Person are most comfortable at their usual positions, but perhaps not odd considering that they didn’t particularly look that great at their usual positions. Oh boy.
So what do I see happening?
Ohio State wins if… I think it would be necessary to speak of the Buckeyes’ chances here in terms of necessity and sufficiency. Ohio State needs to be able to establish the running game because it’s the key to its offense. This starts with the offensive line who cannot afford to look as awful as they did against Ohio, Purdue, USC and Penn State. Conversely, they will need to contain the speed rush on passing plays, or the nightmares of big games past will return. It’d help if Robiskie and the probably-not-going-to-start Brian Hartline created separation for themselves in the secondary. While it’s not explored enough in game previews for the Fiesta Bowl, Pryor cannot afford to float his downfield heaves or they will end up in the waiting arms of an otherwise inexperienced Longhorn secondary. There were more than a few passes by Pryor later in the season that could’ve been long touchdown passes, but were underthrown and wound up on the turf. That’s just what’s necessary to make a Buckeye victory possible. Where Ohio State’s odds of winning increase exponentially is in staying out of 3rd and long. After watching the Big 12 representatives in the bowl games this far, I think I’ve gathered stuff about their defenses in general. While much maligned, the defenses I’ve seen so far seem to excel in their pass rushes, if mostly because it’s become routine for them in a pass-happy conference. Nebraska and Texas Tech pass rushes were, I thought, the best elements to their defense, even with the latter coming in a losing effort. Run stuffing may be an issue, and it may be a colossal issue should the offensive line show up. Too many 3rd and longs, indicative of the first condition (offensive line play) not being met, will probably just be batting practice for a ferocious front seven.
Texas wins if… every one of those nameless faceless mouthbreathers who dominate college football discourse through this electronic medium are right and the football gods are truly mocking me.
- The exception here is the 1999 Fiesta Bowl between Tennessee and Florida State, the BCS’s first title game. [↩]