Although the majority of selections won't be made until Sunday, it's officially bowl season on The Rivalry, Esq.
Let's inaugurate the fair-weather festivities with an introductory look at The Granddaddy of 'Em All, the 96th Rose Bowl Game. Having saved its best quarter of play for last, the Oregon Ducks captured the Pac 10 Conference Championship in the cold confines of Autzen Stadium last night, 37-33 over Oregon State. That means Eugene can finally take its seat at the table with Ohio State, who's been waiting patiently for almost three weeks to learn the name of its adversary.
Strength against Strength? Oregon's Offense versus Ohio State' Defense
I stayed late at a local Grandview pub to watch the game, and after three Bells winter white ales, my buddy turned to me and declared: "I like this matchup. It pits strength against strength." He's referring, of course, to Oregon's spectacular run-spread attack against Ohio State's rock solid 3-4 defense. I agreed, with slight reservation. The Buckeye's struggles against the spread offense are well documented. Oregon State, which boasted the best rushing defense in the Pac 10 coming into the Civil War, gave up 288 yards on the ground to the Ducks. (They gave up less to Stanford, and its almost-certain-to-be-a-Heisman-finalist tailback Toby Gerhart).
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The fact that Ohio State's defense, a unit that's adept at swallowing Big Ten power rushers, will be forced to de-stack the box, and dispatch into space to track a multifaceted (misdirectional) option attack should be cause for concern in Columbus. Last night, Oregon employed motion Pistol, two-back, and spread sweep sets, along with the bread-and-butter zone read to perfection against the Beavers.
But before you panic, remember, success begins and ends at the line of scrimmage. To compensate for the strength and depth of Ohio State's defensive line, Oregon will have to count numbers in the box, and hope for favorable blocking angles. When they get them, they can move on anyone like a hot knife through butter (see versus USC). When they can't, their attack is as flat as Kansas (see versus Boise State). If Ohio State's DT's can jam the middle and blow Oregon off the line early, they'll be sitting ducks.
But what about Oregon's lateral speed? Let me say this. While the Ducks appear to be sprightly at the receiver, and tailback positions, Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli isn't nearly the speedster that say, Terrelle Pryor is. Perhaps ironically, (like Oregon State did last night) Ohio State will try to force Masoli outside to limit the damage his powerful size can do north to south, while Oregon will try to force Terrelle Pryor inside to prevent him from skating to 12 yards a carry.
Thanks to the sideline-to-sideline speed injection we've received from Linebacker Brian Rolle, Ohio State is more than capable of keying Masoli and running him down on the edge. I'm more worried about bottling things up between the tackles.
How Bend But Not Break Comes into Play
Anyone who fears the return of Slow-Hi-O against the spread should remember the job Jim Heacock did against the Texas Longhorns in last year's Fiesta Bowl. A Longhorn team that was averaging some 43.9 points a game coming into Glendale was held to just 3 in the first half, and 24 overall. But the final total disguises the fact the Colt McCoy walked away from the game with his usual prodigious stats (41 of 59 for 414 yards).
Magic? Nope. Bend and not break.
Expect to see Oregon rack up a pile of yards on quick outs, and quick slants early on in drives as they march unimpeded down the field. But the closer they get to the goal, the tighter our corners cover, and a pass that Masoli could comfortably place three downs before, is suddenly jumped for a Pick 6. Ohio State has three players (Kurt Coleman, Ross Homan, and Anderson Russel) that rank in the Top 10 in conference for interceptions. Expect them to single-handedly mitigate big Oregon drives.
Thus, the early keys to the game:
Stunt to achieve favorable blocking angles.
Don't worry about going down the field early, keep the passing game short
Finish what you start.
Ohio State Defense
Win at the line.
Flush Masoil outside.
Bend, but don't break.