The wait to one of the most anticipated games of this regular season is almost over, and I like so many pundits don't like the chances of the home town Buckeyes against the visiting Trojans of USC.
Much has been made of USC's speed and their dominance on the lines and it's true that they are talented and fast and strong. The fact is it's been a long time since USC has lost a big time national spotlight game. USC simply doesn't loose on the biggest stages very often.
One such loss that comes to mind happened in 2006 when the men of Troy clashed with the Horns of Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl. Much like Ohio State, the Longhorns had with them a Quarterback who was big and fast and very hard to defend. Much has been made since that day about the nightmares Pete Carroll must have of one Vince Young.
Many bloggers and analysts have gone so far as to say that the possibility of an OSU win lays squarely on the shoulders of one Terrelle Pryor. While I don't debate the legitimacy of that claim, I thought it wise to conjure up that 2006 game and have a look at how it all played out on the field.
I came up with two words to describe what Ohio State needs to compete with USC on Saturday night in Columbus:
I get the feeling from the past few games against top foes—Texas last year aside, more on that later—that the players are putting too much faith in the game plan and less in the killer instinct.
In the 2006 rose bowl Texas came out with the idea that USC was going to move the ball and they were going to score but when they did they were going to pay the price.
You aren't going to stop USC from scoring but what you have to do is remind them on every play that number one you are there and number two you aren't going away and number three you aren't pulling any punches—you are not afraid.
It didn't matter that USC lead much of the game. They could never feel comfortable that Texas had gone away.
Lately, Ohio State has gone away. We saw it in 2006 when the game plan went south the players checked out and it was party time for Florida. We saw it again in 2007 against LSU. When things started to settle the Buckeys folded up camp. We saw it again last year against the Trojans.
Football is a war. It's a game of man versus man and army versus army. USC embraces this mentality. You can win a lot of games with conservatism. You can best a host of opponents by having better athletes. You can not beat USC without relentless aggression.
Ask yourself for a moment about the one or two games USC loses to PAC-10 foes each year. It can be argued they are not able to get hyped for them or they are playing lazy or any number of things. But the fact is in the PAC-10 they know USC and they hate them.
Much like Ohio State is maligned by their Big-10(11) foes. In every PAC-10 game, USC is going to play a team that brings it for 60 minutes.
Last year versus Texas things got dodgy for Ohio State but they didn't go away. They didn't fold the tents and abandon the encampment. Instead they harnessed their pride and their desire to conquer and stormed back playing to the last second of the game.
This game is less about Terrelle Pryor Channeling Vince Young and more about Ohio State Channeling the attitude that Texas had in the 2006 Rose Bowl. That attitude was one of "we will not be conquered".
Another thing to note about playing USC is that you can not win unless you score. If Ohio State can't put up 28 at least they can't win this game. USC will likely hang 35 points or more on this defense. They play with speed and aggression and swagger.
Ohio State's struggles stem not so much from them having less talent than other teams which have beaten them, but rather from a lack of that confident swagger which gives their stars the ability to be themselves between the lines.
A team develops an identity based around letting players do what it is they do. Look at Coach Tressels 2002 national championship team. It arguably had fewer star players than any recent buckeye team but what it had was an identity. That team would fight and kick and claw and scratch you until they prevailed. It didn't mater what or who they would simply not be dominated even by one of the most prolific teams in recent history.
This Saturday night under the lights the game won't be won or lost based upon one scheme versus another. It won't be won or lost on Terrelle Pryor becoming Vince Young. It will be decided by whether or not a team much debated in the public eye steps out onto their home turf with a spirit of going through the motions or an indomitable attitude of conquest.
If Jim Tressel can loosen up and remind his guys that there are 60 minutes of football to be played in the horseshoe and USC need to regret every minute of it; if the guy in the o-line and d-line can play nasty every snap and realize that this is not a skirmish but this is the war for their season, if Terrelle Pryor can be himself and not be afraid to do what it is he does, and if the Ohio State University can play every down to win that down with urgency for sixty minutes, then I like their chances.
If not, I suspect another long night in Columbus.