BCS Rose Bowl Preview: Jim Tressel's Buckeyes Will Beat Oregon in the Trenches
One of those funny trends you notice when you follow college football writing long enough is the tendency for game predictions to be wrong, not only about the winner, but about the entire character of a game.
For instance, beware of any game slated to be a "defensive slugfest." More often than not, such games light the scoreboard on fire with points and will be decided in favor of whomever gets the ball last and can stage the winning drive.
The same goes for tentative "shootouts," like this year's "Red River Shootout" in the Cotton Bowl, which was supposed to feature dueling quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy in a Wild West free-for-all, but instead ended 16-13 and featured more big defensive plays than downfield strikes of any caliber.
Thus, I'm anxious to see how the Rose Bowl between Oregon and Ohio State gets slated by the BCS predictors. Do they think that Oregon's high-flying offense will run mad over the sluggish Ohio State defense? Will Terrelle Pryor show Jeremiah Masoli what being a dual-threat quarterback is all about? Or will it be a defensive struggle?
Naturally, a defensive game would favor the Buckeyes, and a shootout would favor the Ducks, who have won their fair share of offensive clinics on the year, and also lost a notable one to Stanford. The Buckeyes haven't been in an offensive shootout all year—hell, not since the Michigan game in 2006—and I'm not certain they'd be able to keep pace.
But keep in mind that the only team capable of sufficiently containing the Ducks' offensive attack (with Jeremiah Masoli, and not Nate Costa, at the helm) was Boise State, which held Oregon to 152 yards and eight points.
That Boise State team is a good comparison for these Buckeyes, at least as far as defensive lines are concerned. Recall just how bad the Oregon offensive line looked in attempting to replace four of its starters—All-PAC 10 center Max Unger, Fenuki Tupou, Mark Lewis, and Jeff Kendall—in their first game of the year. They absolutely bled Boise State defensive linemen en route to putting up 24 yards rushing, a practically inconceivable number these days.
The bad news for Duck fans is that Cameron Heyward, Thaddeus Gibson, Dexter Larimore, and Doug Worthington make up possibly the most dominant Buckeye defensive line since 2003, when the Bucks were starting Will Smith (future first-round pick) and Simon Fraser at defensive end, and Darrion Scott (future third-round pick) and Tim Anderson at tackle.
They're certainly one of the best in the nation. They ate Penn State's offensive line alive, got pressure on Matt Barkley in the USC game without need of a blitz, and, tellingly, shut down Michigan's running game, which is as close a facsimile to the Oregon offense as we're going to get.
Their penetrating ability, and their preparation in anticipating the read-fake and preventing Oregon from breaking to the outside, will mirror what Boise State did in getting in the backfield and shutting down the runs out of shotgun. Masoli, though a fine quarterback, is not fine-tuned enough to pick apart the Ohio State secondary, and will almost certainly face pressure from OSU's outstanding ends.
Yes, Bryan, but how will the Buckeyes score points? Ohio State can't just win by sacking Jeremiah Masoli and tackling LaMichael James in the backfield.
Recall again how Stanford found the end zone in beating Oregon in November. They passed outstandingly, but their ace in the hole was Toby Gerhart and the Cardinal's physical running game. Gerhart trucked Oregon's undersized defenders for 223 yards and three touchdowns, a performance that also bled the clock and kept the Oregon attack off the field as long as possible.
Tresselball fits that mold to a T. Though Ohio State lacks a Gerhart—which has really been the difference between an undefeated season and a handful of losses—Boom Herron, Brandon Saine, and freshman Jordan Hall can about equal Gerhart through combination. Tressel will pound the Power-O and look to win on the lines as usual.
I can't say this is an automatic win for Tressel and the Bucks even if this is how the Rose Bowl takes shape. In fact, this year, the Senator has shown a troubling compunction to lose games he's setting the tempo for. This sounds absurd, until you consider that the method of Tresselball is not to run up the score or blow the doors off the stadium, but merely to dominate slowly and profoundly, on the X's and O's.
Still, games are won or lost on the lines, and Ohio State looks to have Oregon beat at this most basic level. By penetrating with their defensive line and power-running at the line of scrimmage, the Buckeyes will utilize the only two methods by which teams have beaten Oregon all year.
I'm going to break my own rule here: You're looking at a defensive slugfest in the making. And as much as Kelly's zone-read, run-up-the-score style will attempt to neutralize that truth, we're in Tressel's territory now.
Ohio State 27, Oregon 24 OT
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