Continuing with position breakdowns, today I’ll go over the defensive lines. If you missed yesterday’s, you can read about the offensive line here.
Ohio State fans got passionately heated when the totals from the offensive side of the ball came out to Oregon 41.5, Ohio State 35.
Was this a surprise to you?
The Buckeyes averaged almost nine points per game fewer than the Ducks, and that’s without factoring in strength of schedule (Oregon #4, tOSU #59).
USC looked like a tough team at the time, so I’ll give them credit for that one, but Navy, Toledo, and New Mexico State? I’m surprised they couldn’t find a way to squeeze a junior college onto their schedule as well.
And I’m not even counting Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota or Michigan.
So for them to only come out six and a half points behind the Ducks on offense, I think is generous. Honestly, I’m surprised it wasn’t by more.
But be that as it may, tOSU has a chance to gain some ground on the defensive side of the ball, where the numbers say they are much better.
Here is the Buckeyes first chance: the defensive line.
Before the season, defensive line coach Jim Heacock said this year’s group was his best since 2003. No small statement, considering that line had four future NFL players (Will Smith, Simon Fraser, Darrion Scott and Tim Anderson. For those of you counting at home, that’s a first rounder, two third rounders, and an undrafted free agent).
Not too shabby.
On paper, this year’s defense put up better overall numbers than the 2003 contingent, at least points and yardage-wise, but you have to take that with a grain of salt, as Big Ten offenses were much more prolific back in the day.
Like Heacock said before the season to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he didn't think this line "would" dominate. He said it "needs to" dominate.
And he’s dead on. If Ohio State has any chance of winning this game, they will need to disrupt the Oregon offense.
But lucky for them, if there’s a team that could do it, it might as well be the Buckeyes.
With eight guys in the defensive line rotation, Ohio State has the depth to keep up their aggressive style of play against the fast-paced Oregon offense for more than just the first half.
As the AP wrote, Thaddeus Gibson and Heyward, the son of the late former NFL running back Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, have been outstanding as rush ends. Todd Denlinger and Doug Worthington are the starting tackles, with substantial contributions from Nathan Williams, Lawrence Wilson, Dexter Larimore and others.
Asked how good the down linemen have been, safety Kurt Coleman grinned.
“Oh, my goodness. The front four, or front eight—how many ever they rotate in—they’re absolutely unreal,” he said. “It’s made my life back there so much easier.”
Pundits are saying that the only way the Buckeyes can disrupt Jeremiah Masoli and Co. is to bring constant pressure, but that plays right into Oregon’s strength as a spread-option team. The more aggressive tOSU plays, the more opportunities Masoli and Lamichael James have to beat them.
Since the Utah game, LMJ has rushed for less than 100 yards just once (88 in only 13 carries against WSU) and over 150 yards six times.
On the contrary, the Buckeyes haven’t allowed a lone rusher to reach the century mark in a single game this season.
This matchup will go a long way in deciding which teams' fans leave happy on New Year’s Day.
For as many headlines as the Oregon offense vs. the Ohio State defense has grabbed, I think the real story will be Oregon’s defense against tOSU’s offense.
The Duck defense has actually been a strong point this year, and more importantly, it matches up well with the Buckeye offense.
Oregon has done a great job stopping the run this season, giving up just 3.4 ypc to opponents, despite the Toby Gerhart spectacular, which I have been vehemently trying to forget since November.
The defensive backfield however, has been plagued by injuries to Walter Thurmond and Willie Glasper, leaving Talmadge “why do I keep getting these P.I. calls” Jackson as the lone veteran to freshmen Cliff Harris and John Boyett.
Fortunately, 6-7 Brandon Bair has emerged as a clog in the middle, while Kenny Rowe and Will Tukuafu have brought excellent pressure from the outside all season.
If Oregon can stuff eight men in the box and eliminate the run, forcing Terrelle Pryor to play like Vince Young (something I, and Jim Tressel are not sure he can do), Oregon should come out victorious.
On paper, the Buckeyes look golden, but in the national college football landscape, Big Ten paper isn’t worth nearly as much Pac-10 paper.
At least for the moment.
Rating: Ohio State 9, Oregon 7.5.
Totals: Oregon 49, Ohio State 44.