Location: Los Angeles Coliseum (Los Angeles, CA)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
USC Players Who Were Recruited By Ohio State: OL Jeff Byers, C Kristofer O’Dowd, QB Mark Sanchez, RB Broderick Green, FL Ronald Johnson, TE Blake Ayles, LB Brian Cushing
USC Rushing Offense vs Ohio State Defense: USC has an abundance of running backs who were high school All-Americans. While USC has players who are versatile as both runners and receivers (Joe McKnight, Marc Tyler), USC also has players who can pound the ball between the tackles (Stafon Johnson, CJ Gable). It will be imperative that Ohio State’s defensive line and the linebackers shut down the USC running game, or it will truly be a long day for Ohio State. A critical area to see is if USC tries to isolate RB Joe McKnight on LBs Marcus Freeman or Ross Homan as a receiver out of the backfield. Considering the speed advantage USC has in this area, Ohio State may try to play a nickel defense with LB Jermale Hines as a coverage linebacker more than a traditional 4-3 look.
USC Passing Offense vs Ohio State Defense: USC QB Mark Sanchez is a former high school All-American who has more mobility than other USC quarterbacks from the recent past, such as Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, or John David Booty. Despite Sanchez’s dislocated kneecap in the summer, Sanchez showed no ill effects in the USC’s opening victory over Virginia. This will be Sanchez’s fifth career start for USC. WRs Ronald Johnson, Patrick Turner, Vidal Hazelton, and Damian Williams all have good speed and size and should have an advantage compared to the Ohio State secondary. Ohio State welcomes back CB Donald Washington and S Jamario O’Neal from suspension, but how ready are they to play in a game of this magnitude? CB Malcolm Jenkins can play opposite off one of the receivers, but CB Chimdi Chekwa will need some assistance from either S Anderson Russell or S Kurt Coleman. Will Mark Sanchez be able to isolate or find the one on one matchups? Another key area to see is how well the relatively inexperienced USC offensive line (one returning starter) protects Mark Sanchez from the Ohio State defensive line, especially DE Lawrence Wilson. In order for Ohio State to stay in this game, Ohio State will need to get good pressure on Mark Sanchez, and that will mean more blitzing than Ohio State has shown in the first two games this season. USC likes to roll out Sanchez, so Ohio State needs to get pressure on Sanchez quickly.
Ohio State Rushing Offense vs USC Defense: All Ohio State fans could think of when Chris Wells went down in game one versus Youngstown State was, “Will Chris Wells be ready and able to play against USC?!?”. After the horrific rushing performance Ohio State had against Ohio University in game two, Ohio State fans can only hope that Chris Wells will be able to go against USC. With the news that Chris Wells is listed as doubtful, I believe Daniel “Boom” Herron will become the primary ball carrier for Ohio State. The USC defensive strategy will be very simple, regardless of whether Chris Wells plays or not – continually blitz and rush upfield to disrupt the Ohio State offense. Besides Chris Wells, it will be important for the other Ohio State RBs, especially Daniel “Boom” Herron, to be used in the running game on screen passes, traps, and other quick hitting plays that will hopefully slow down the USC defensive front. The Ohio State offensive line has to play immensely better than they did against Ohio University. A possible look for QB Terrelle Pryor is to run the option, something Pryor did a little against Youngstown State. Pryor’s speed getting to the outside will be needed against USC. USC DL Fili Moala is projected as a top NFL draft choice and will be very difficult to move off the line of scrimmage at 295 lbs. LB Rey Maualuga is an explosive hitter and Brian Cushing plays a hybrid DE/OLB position for USC. Both will be blitzing a lot for USC and are projected as high NFL draft choices next spring.
Big Edge: USC
Ohio State Passing Offense vs USC Defense: If Ohio State fans felt that Florida’s defense was fast in the 2007 BCS Championship Game, they better be prepared for what USC will be showing against Ohio State. USC DE Everson Griffen versus OT Alex Boone will be one of the key matchups of the game. If Boone is struggling against Griffin, it will require Ohio State leaving RB Chris Wells in to help with blitz pickups to give QB Todd Boeckman time to throw. USC S Taylor Mays has linebacker size and is extremely fast. The USC secondary is the fastest in the country and will be able to lock up WRs Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. Both Hartline and Robiskie played poorly against Ohio University with dropped passes and have a chance to redeem themselves with this game against USC. Todd Boeckman has shown a tendency to get happy feet in the pocket when teams apply pressure. To counter the USC defensive speed, Ohio State should go to a four or five wideout front, with Boom Herron in the backfield, splitting out RB Brandon Saine, who has exceptional speed, as a receiver out of the backfield. This will open up the Ohio State running game, while also giving Todd Boeckman opportunities to quickly use the passing game. USC is too good for Ohio State to continually line up in their traditional power I-Formation; Ohio State will not be able to consistently get something generated offensively if they stay in traditional formations. WR Ray Small will be critical as an extra wide receiver for Ohio State, as he has the best speed of the experienced Ohio State wide receivers.
Special Teams: Ohio State’s special teams were instrumental in the victory over Ohio University. CB Shaun Lane recovered a fumbled punt that led to a go-ahead Ohio State touchdown in the fourth quarter, and WR Ray Small returned a punt for a touchdown to seal the victory over Ohio University, despite a block in the back by LB Austin Spitler during the return that was not called. In the first two games, both Ryan Pretorious and Aaron Pettrey have been successful with long field goals. It will be important for Ohio State to score when they have the ball – while Ohio State needs to score touchdowns, it will also be important for Ohio State to put at least three points on the board when they can.
USC’s return game is very dangerous, with Joe McKnight and Ronald Johnson back as return options for the Trojans. Considering the emphasis and affinity Coach Tressel has for special teams, I would not be surprised if P A.J. Trapasso is instructed to kick the ball out of bounds to eliminate any possible threats of good punt returns by USC.
Slight Edge: Ohio State
Intangibles: Ohio State has not played a regular season game against USC since 1990 (a 35-26 USC win in a driving rainstorm in Ohio Stadium) and has not met USC in The Rose Bowl since after the 1984 season. The last time Ohio State went into the Los Angeles Coliseum to play USC was 1989, and they were absolutely demolished by USC, 42-3. Ohio State has lost the last five times they have played USC.
In the Pete Carroll era, USC has not lost a regular season game to a high profile ranked opponent. Considering USC has played series with teams such as Arkansas, Nebraska, and their usual non-conference rivalry game with Notre Dame, USC will not be intimidated with Ohio State coming into their stadium.
While Ohio State fans are proud of the accomplishments of Jim Tressel, USC fans can legitimately argue that Pete Carroll is the best college football coach in the nation. Want facts? Here are some facts – USC’s record over the last six years is 71-8. They have won 38 of their last 39 at home. They have beaten 12 top 20 teams by at least three touchdowns. They have finished in the top 4 rankings every season since 2002.
In previous years, usually against Michigan, Coach Jim Tressel has shown a willingness to unveil different offensive formations or plays that have not been seen. One can only hope that Ohio State has deliberately held back offensively during the first two games and has developed some new ideas for this big game against USC. The player I believe will be critical in this game for Ohio State is RB Brandon Saine. Saine has battled a hamstring injury, and has not shown much in the first two games, but Saine could be used extensively as a receiver out of the backfield in this game. Even though QB Terrelle Pryor is a true freshman, I have a suspicion that Pryor is going to be used more in this game than most people are expecting.
Ohio State cannot win the national championship with this game against USC, but they can certainly lose it with a loss to the Trojans. The college football world is not so secretly wishing for USC to defeat Ohio State, thus eliminating Ohio State from any consideration for the BCS Championship Game in January 2009.
For the Ohio State players, this is a “Us Against The World” opportunity. Ohio State can either rise to the occasion, showing their performance against Ohio University last week was merely Ohio State looking past Ohio University for USC, or Ohio State will succumb to the pressure of this big game and prove their numerous critics right with a loss to USC.
The first quarter is the key for Ohio State’s success. If Ohio State can keep the game close, keeping USC’s offense on the sideline while maintaining time-consuming drives that end in points, Ohio State can win this game. If USC jumps out to a quick lead, as they did against Virginia in their first game, forcing Ohio State to throw the ball more than they want to, it could open up the floodgates for a USC rout of Ohio State.
While I believe Ohio State’s talent can and will keep them in the game, I also believe that USC’s traditional home dominance and exceptional defensive speed will be the difference in a closely fought, low-scoring battle. I am going to predict the final will be USC 24, Ohio State 10, with USC scoring a touchdown in the 4th quarter to put this one away.