When Ohio State takes on Arkansas in the 2011 Allstate Sugar Bowl, it will be only the sixth time in six seasons that the Buckeyes will face a team averaging at least 300 yards passing per game.
The Razorbacks enter the January 4th game averaging 338.4 passing YPG. Junior quarterback Ryan Mallett leads the prolific Arkansas passing attack throwing for 3,592 yards this season.
Tight end D.J. Williams might be Mallett’s favorite target with 49 receptions, but three Razorbacks receivers, including Williams, have 40 or more catches each and five have at least 500 receiving yards.
It’s not very often Ohio State faces such a high octane passing offense. This season, the Buckeyes did not face a 300-YPG-passing team and only Indiana even came remotely close, averaging 287.2 yards.
In fact, the last time Ohio State played a team averaging 300 yards passing per game was in the 2009 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Texas. The Longhorns averaged 308.3 YPG through the air in 2008, and quarterback Colt McCoy torched the Silver Bullet defense for 414 yards and two touchdowns in the January bowl game.
Since 2005, the only other teams the Buckeyes have played that averaged at least 300 yards passing are Northwestern in ’05 and ’07, Notre Dame in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl and Purdue in ’07.
Although McCoy and Texas lit up Ohio State in the ’09 Fiesta Bowl, in the four other instances where the Buckeyes went up against a team averaging more than 300 yards passing they were able to hold their opponent under that mark. Even Brady Quinn and Notre Dame, averaging 330.3 passing YPG, were able to only throw for 286 yards in the ’06 Fiesta Bowl.
Ohio State’s defense perennially ranks in the Top 5 of the country. This season, the Buckeyes are third in scoring defense (13.3 points per game), second in total defense (250.3 YPG) fourth in rushing defense (94.0 YPG) and fourth in passing defense (156.3 YPG).
Against Arkansas, it’s going to be the passing defense that’s going to be tested. The battle between Mallett and Ohio State’s defensive backs Chimdi Chekwa, Devon Torrence, Aaron Gant, Orhian Johnson and Jermale Hines will likely be what decides the game.
Mallett and the Razorbacks rank third in passing offense. The Buckeyes, as mentioned before, rank fourth in passing defense.
Mallett threw 30 touchdown passes this season. Ohio State has allowed only 29 touchdown passes over the last three seasons.
So, who is it going to be? Mallett or the Silver Bullets?
I think it will come down to whether the Buckeyes defense remembers what happened to them against Texas when they allowed McCoy and the Longhorns to throw for more than 400 yards and allowed a game-winning touchdown pass on the final drive.
Many of Ohio State’s 2010 defensive starters, especially the defensive backfield, played in that game. Chekwa actually started in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl along with defensive end Cameron Heyward, while Torrence, Hines, Gant, linebackers Brian Rolle, Andrew Sweat and Ross Homan, defensive end Nathan Williams and backup defensive back Nate Oliver all saw some game action.
Chekwa was a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist (nation’s top defensive back) and in the Sugar Bowl, he will be heavily relied upon.
Ultimately, I think Mallett will have his moments, and he may even approach 300 yards passing, but he will make a mistake or two that will cost the Razorbacks the game. He did throw 11 interceptions this season, and against such an opportunistic Buckeyes defense, averaging 2.4 turnovers per game, he’s good for one.
The Ohio State secondary will certainly be tested, but they’re experienced starting four seniors, and should be able to at least contain Mallett and Arkansas’ passing attack.