It is game day and despite an underwhelming vibe for this game, I am wound up and feeling the attending stomach butterflies. Some of that fluttering makes me feel good, some not-so-good.
What Makes Me Feel Good
Ohio State’s Run Defense v. Texas Run Offense: Don’t get me wrong, Texas has the best offense that the Buckeyes have seen all season but they are not much of a running team. The Longhorns’ rushing attack ranks 35th nationally (177 ypg), which is ten spots behind the Buckeyes. Not bad, but it is not keeping me up at night.
If there is one thing that the OSU defense has done consistently well over the years in big games, it is stop the opposing teams’ running game (with the exception of USC this season; they picked up 5.1 ypc). LSU only gained 3.1 ypc, Florida 3.6 ypc, and the Vince Young-Longhorns in 2005 only gained 2.9 per run and 150 yards below their would-be average.
So, it would seem that the Buckeyes have a bit of a head start: traditionally good run defense against a pass happy, system-based run offense. Combined with a willingness to play some man coverage (see below), the Buckeyes defensive line could allow the OSU linebackers participate in the pass rush.
Pryor Potential “Arrival” Moment: If you put me the spot, I would confess to not knowing exactly what this means. What I do know is that college football has been heavy on the poetic overtures throughout the years. How many times have you watched a an unheralded player have the game of his life against his home state’s university or against the school that did not offer him a scholarship. If you are having trouble thinking of one, check out the tape of the 2001 Outback Bowl (hint: Ryan Brewer).
Excuse me for seeming callous but I really do not think Pryor has had a great, defining game yet. He has engineered a great drive against Wisconsin and has had a handful of magical plays, but he has yet to produce like we all imagine. In fact, he has never had more than 230 yards of total offense. For a player who some believe is a potential Heisman candidate next season, he needs to blow up on a national stage. We know this game is coming, but we just do not know when. Tomorrow night is as good a time as any.
I am not saying that Pryor was snubbed by Texas or that he has a grudge against the Longhorns. Anything but. Still, poetic justice comes in many forms and I can certainly see the headlines and references on Tuesday if Pryor approximates a game like Young had in the 2005 Rose Bowl. It would be sweet to read: “Texas burned by the next Vince Young.”
What Makes Me Feel Not-So-Good
Ohio State’s lack of defensive imagination in big games: How many times have we seen it? The Buckeyes face a stacked offensive team with a litany of weapons and plays a soft cover two all game only to be picked apart. Hell, Chris Leak and co. were not totally stacked on offense and they looked the Bill Walsh 49ers. We all want more aggressive defensive schemes at least part of the time and understand that the Buckeyes are not going to blitz every down.
Beyond McCoy, Texas does not have one player that is going to shred an offense (see running game analysis above). McCoy’s unceasing accuracy and a consistent deployment of above-average skill position players is what makes them dangerous. Raise your hand if you would like to see Jenkins, Chekwa, and Washington man up on many downs in an effort to allow the front seven to get after the quarterback. Yeah, me too.
Ohio State’s Wide Receivers: Ohio State’s starting wide receivers – Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline – are tremendously disappointing. You could claim the quarterback situation dragged them down, but good receivers elevate the play of new quarterbacks. Instead, these two combined for 113 yards against the only decent competition they saw this season, USC and Penn State. Those are the two best opponents they faced all year, easily, and those two were nowhere to be found. It is not a stretch to say that Ray Small was the best WR on the team against USC and Sanzenbacher had the best performance against PSU.
Texas faced Michael Crabtree, Dez Bryant, Jeremy Maclin, and Juaquin Iglesias this season. And, they went against Quan Crosby and Jordan Shipley every day in practice – each guy had more than twice as many catches and yards than Robiskie, OSU’s leading receiver.
Unless, the Longhorns’ secondary gets cocky and lazy, I do not see how Ohio State’s receivers are going to get separation and make plays after the catch. I really hope I am wrong, but I cannot imagine it happening.