Before a breakdown of Ohio State vs. Arkansas and getting into some observations that lead me to believe OSU will its first bowl game against the SEC, let’s take a short walk down memory lane.
I’d like to start off with a philosophical take on recent OSU bowl games.
Let’s rewind for a second back to the 2007 BCS National Championship: OSU came in as the undefeated, seemingly unbeatable favorite; Florida was the one-loss SEC champion, who many thought didn’t stand a chance.
Think back to about the days and weeks leading up to that game. It was sort of odd that OSU loomed as THAT big of a favorite. Sure, they torched virtually everyone on their schedule, scoring fewer than 28 points just twice in their 12 regular season games and posting dominating road wins at Texas and Iowa.
As it turns out, the offense shrouded the defense’s weaknesses.
Although statistically impressive, the Buckeye defense was very young after losing so many players from the year before. A.J. Hawk, Donte Whitner, Bobby Carpenter, Ashton Youboty, Anthony Schlegel and Nate Salley were all drafted following the 2005-06 season.
The unproven defense would be exposed by Florida to the tune of 41 points.
Florida had a star-studded defense led by Associated Press All-Americans in safety Reggie Nelson (first team), cornerback Ryan Smith (second team) and linebacker Brandon Siler (third team), as well as future first round picks in defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss.
The following year was a curious one: OSU’s schedule was weak and included no real road tests. They found their way back into the BCS Championship game against LSU. The offense (ninth in the Big Ten in scoring offense) was inconsistent and relied heavily on running back Beanie Wells.
The defense was a year older, with many of the same players who performed well during the regular season the previous year, and took their lumps against Florida.
Again, I personally didn’t have much confidence that OSU could matchup with LSU because of talent disparities.
Statistically, LSU didn’t boast a great defense, but they were hampered by injuries to key players during the regular season.
Led by defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (winner of the Outland, Lombardi and Nagurski Trophies), linebackers Darry Beckwith (first-team All-SEC) and Ali Highsmith (second-team AP All-American) as well as defensive backs Craig Steltz and Chevis Jackson (first-team All-SEC), the Tigers suffocated the Buckeye offense.
Last year’s squad was most balanced of OSU in the last three BCS squads. It may not show up in the stats, especially given the Buckeyes archaic offense in the second half of 2009 season, but showed in the Rose Bowl against Oregon.
Terrelle Pryor delivered a virtuoso performance and the OSU defense held the Pac-10's highest scoring offense (nearly 38 points a game) to 17 points.
Which brings me back to my original point of intuition.
Again, OSU has a balanced team. Coach Tressel has an offense averaging nearly 40 points a game. The “Silver Bullet” defense ranks second nationally in total defense, as well as fourth in rushing defense and pass efficiency defense.
We all know about the Razorbacks pass-happy offense. The nation’s third-ranked passing offense is spearheaded by former Michigan quarterback Ryan Mallett, who likes to spread the ball around (no receiver has more than 49 receptions).
However, Arkansas does not sport an elite defense. They are 34th in the country in total defense and gave up 23 points a game.
The game boils down to the battle between the big boys along the line of scrimmage, one of which pits the Arkansas offensive line against the OSU front seven. If Mallett has all day to throw (OSU ranks 88th in the country in sacks), this game has all the makings of a shootout.
Then again, the Razorbacks give up 157 yards on the ground per game, which probably has Dan “Boom” Herron, who has rushed for over 1,100 yards this year, licking his chops.
Prediction: Ohio State 31 Arkansas 27