Rose Bowl 2022: Individual Matchups to Watch in Utah vs. Ohio State
The Rose Bowl is one of the most prestigious college football games of the year. And although the event isn't serving as a College Football Playoff semifinal this season (which it does once every three years), it's still a marquee contest that provides plenty of motivation for the participating teams.
On Saturday, Ohio State and Utah will face off in this season's Rose Bowl in what could be one of the most exciting games of the bowl season. The Buckeyes are 10-2 and didn't reach the Big Ten Championship Game this year, while the Utes are 10-3 after winning the Pac-12 Championship Game earlier this month.
While Ohio State has played in the Rose Bowl 15 previous times, Utah will be making its debut at the prestigious event in Pasadena, California. And it's a game that could go either way.
Here's a look at some of the key matchups that could decide the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
Ohio State WRs vs. Utah Secondary
Ohio State has an elite receiving corps, which has been a primary reason for its offensive success in 2021. However, it's going to be missing some key members for the Rose Bowl, as junior Garrett Wilson and senior Chris Olave opted out of the game to prepare for the 2022 NFL draft.
The Buckeyes will still have their leading receiver in sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njigba (80 catches for 1,259 yards and six touchdowns). But they're going to have to rely on less experienced receivers to make up for the absences of Wilson and Olave, and it's unknown how that is going to go.
Utah has a solid pass defense, as it ranks 24th in the country in passing yards allowed per game (195.3). And the Utes' secondary is excited for the opportunity to go up against the Buckeyes.
"When we found out we were going to be facing Ohio State, everybody in the room got excited," Utah cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah said, per Josh Newman of The Salt Lake Tribune. "To play good receivers is what we do all year long."
Even though Ohio State will be missing two key receivers, it could still be a challenge for Utah. The matchup could also be one that determines the outcome of the game.
Utah RB Tavion Thomas vs. Ohio State Defensive Front
Redshirt sophomore running back Tavion Thomas is having an impressive season leading Utah's rushing attack, and he's been particularly effective late in the year. He's scored a touchdown in each of his past eight games, and he's gotten into the end zone multiple times in five of his past six contests.
Ohio State ranks 19th in the country in run defense (118.5 yards allowed per game), so Thomas is going to face a bit of a challenge in the Rose Bowl. However, he's excited for the test, especially because he's a native of Dayton, Ohio, who had once hoped to play for the Buckeyes.
According to Jeff Call of the Deseret News, Thomas said he's eager "just to show them what they missed out on" in the Rose Bowl. So Thomas has some extra motivation to excel against the Buckeyes' defensive front.
If Thomas can help get Utah's running game going, he could keep his touchdown streak going and lead the Utes' offense to success. And that could be a key to them finding a way to beat Ohio State.
Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud vs. Utah Pass Rush
C.J. Stroud was one of four players who were named finalists for the Heisman Trophy, and the Ohio State redshirt freshman quarterback will be one of the most exciting players on the field during the Rose Bowl. He's capable of putting up big numbers that could lead the Buckeyes to victory.
But Stroud will be without some key players around him on Ohio State's offense. Not only will Wilson and Olave be missing from the receiving corps, but junior left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere also opted out of the game. So Stroud will be without one of his top offensive linemen who have protected him this season.
Utah has a strong pass rush, as it ranks sixth in the nation with 42 sacks this year. So the Utes may put a lot of pressure on Stroud, who may need to rely on his mobility to help him avoid getting hit and could need to get rid of the ball quickly throughout the game.
If Ohio State's offensive line can fend off Utah's defensive front and give Stroud enough time to make throws, that could lead to trouble for the Utes' defense. That's because Stroud has been one of the top players in the country this season, and he can be quite difficult to stop.