Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's Sugar, and nothing's sweeter than defense

Finally, after the yearly six week layoff between games, Ohio State takes the field again tonight, returning  to the Superdome for the first time since LSU beat the Bucks 38-24 in a virtual home game in the BCS Championship three years ago. The Buckeyes seem to have considerable motivation here, as LB Brian Rolle has said this win would be “even bigger” than last year’s Rose Bowl.

Basically, it’s because of the big bad wolf. The boogieman.  The monster under the bed.  Yes, it’s the SEC all over again.  Now, of course this is not Florida or LSU, it’s Arkansas.  And not Corliss Williamson and the Razorbacks.  An Arkansas football team, and it’s got a very good offense, which seems to consume much of the chatter before the game.  The Razorbacks have former Michigan quarterback Ryan Mallett, who is as high-profile as any quarterback in all of college football. In fact, Arkansas passed for over 335 yards per game this year.

However, it should be noted that the Buckeyes are no slouches on offense either.  They average 219.7 yards on the ground, which is nearly 70 yards more per game than Arkansas.  And they score 2 more points per game than Arkansas.  They don't have the pure passer that Arkansas does at QB1, but Terrelle Pryor has his well-documented strengths as well.

Obviously, Ohio State could easily have been thrown off track by the considerable distraction of several players being caught selling memorabilia, and being suspended for the start of next season.  I’m a bit surprised, however, that the outcry that some had predicted from the fans—perhaps furious over the sale of the Gold Pants and other treasured Buckeye treasure—never really materialized.  I think there is a solid bloc of fans who are saddened by the entire system, and do at least sympathize a little with players who sell some things (that are theirs) for a couple thousand dollars.  Regardless, the team seems to be focused, and could easily rally around the besieged players—several who are team leaders.

I think it’s going to come down to defense.  Yes, offense of course, but more how the Ohio State and Arkansas defenses combat said offense.  There is considerable pressure on both sides.  This is Arkansas’ first BCS game.  They don’t want to be the SEC team who falls to Ohio State.  And at this point in the disastrous Big Ten bowl season, fans of every team in the Midwest are looking to Ohio State for redemption.  (Okay, not every team.  Most fans will still hate Ohio State.  When the hell did OSU become the Yankees?)

Pic by Marvin Fong, Plain Dealer
My take:  Arkansas has played some very tough teams, and won some big games.  But also lost to two other top 10 teams before upsetting LSU the last week of the season.  In their last 6 wins, they’ve given up 23, 31, 21, 20, 14, and 24 points.  And gave up 65 before that in a loss to Auburn.  Ohio State has given up 7, 17, 14, 10, and 0 points since their only loss, to a very tough Wisconsin team on the road.  (Not tough enough to beat TCU, apparently.)  While Ohio State hasn't beaten any top 25 teams, I just can't see the Ohio State defense caving to the speed of Arkansas, and on the other side of the ball, I can't see the Ohio State line caving to the smaller Arkansas defenders.

Ohio State has much to prove, and seems to want it.  With Terrelle Pryor’s legs getting him away from any Arkansas pressure, and his receivers running wild should the Razorbacks blitz, it could be a long day for Arkansas’ defense in New Orleans.