Rose Bowl Storylines: Oregon Offense vs. Ohio State Defense

Fletcher JohnsonCorrespondent IDecember 9, 2009

EUGENE,OR - DECEMBER 03: Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli #8 of the Oregon Ducks passes the ball during the game against Oregon State Beavers at Autzen Stadium on December 3, 2009 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)
Tom Hauck/Getty Images

Oregon knocked off the Oregon State Beavers 37-33, in a thrilling Civil War last Thursday night, setting up an intriguing battle in the Rose Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes.

This game has many different storylines, but the most intriguing might be the Oregon spread against the Ohio State defense.  Ohio State has looked overmatched in their three previous BCS bowls and was outscored 103-59.  The Buckeyes have played some talented football teams, but the problem for Ohio State was the same throughout these games.  The Buckeyes were slow in all facets of the game.

Speed is something Jim Tressel and Ohio State have worked to improve and they have definitely gotten better in the past couple years. 

Ohio State’s defense is ranked fifth nationally in rushing defense. This season, teams that have had great success against the run before playing the Ducks took a major hit after playing the Ducks.

The way Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly uses the speed of his players on both sides of the ball makes them very tough to stop.  On offense, the Ducks have a dual-threat quarterback in Jeremiah Masoli who can do this and this.  After basically a 10-game suspension, Oregon has LaGarrette Blount back, the thunder to LaMichael James’ lightning.  Buckeye fans will say that Oregon has not faced a defense like the one Ohio State is bringing to Pasadena, but Duck fans can flip that back on Ohio State, because the Buckeyes haven’t faced an offense remotely as potent as the offense of Oregon. 

This is one of those traditional battles between the Big-10 and the Pac-10.  The Buckeyes methodical and bruising, against the Ducks' style and rhythm.

If you look at the Buckeyes' schedule, the only team they have played that runs the ball near the level of the Ducks is Navy.  Now Navy runs a completely different style of offense, but the 4.5 yards per rush that Navy averaged was because of solid blocking and deception, both characteristics of Oregon’s offense. 

The big plays in Oregon’s offense are dependent on lapses by the defense mentally.  I don’t expect Ohio State to really give up any big plays in the run game, but the pace and rhythm of the Ducks might cause Ohio State problems. 

Tackling is the other key here for the Buckeye defense.  They have always been a solid tackling unit from what I have seen.  But in my opinion, they are stronger on the interior of their defense (tackles and inside linebackers) than on the outside. 

Oregon’s offense will test the Ohio State corners and outside linebackers with their quickness of the snap.  If Tight End Ed Dickson and the other receivers as well as the Oregon offensive tackles can seal the outside linebackers and kick out the corners, the Ducks could run all over the Buckeye defense.  

There will be numerous plays in this game where if one defender doesn’t make the tackle, the Ducks will have a 10-15 yard gain instead of a two-to-five yard gain.  The question here is whether the Ducks can wear them down as the game goes along, like they did to Oregon State.

Ohio State has slowed talented offense in past years.  Take, for example, Texas in the Fiesta Bowl last year.

Ohio State held Texas in check the majority of the game, but Colt McCoy threw the ball 58 times and the Longhorns gained over 450 yards in total offense. 

The Ducks prefer to run the ball as opposed to pass, but when quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is on target with his passes, he can be deadly. 

If you tell me that Oregon averages over five yards a carry in this game, I would probably say the Ducks win by two touchdowns.  If Ohio State can contain James, Blount, and Masoli, the Buckeyes will be in it right to the end. 

This is just one storyline of many to watch heading into Jan. 1.  Check back next week for the next Rose Bowl storyline, Terrelle Pryor against Oregon, a team that was recruiting him hard only to see him go to the Buckeyes.