Game Two: Ohio State vs. USC
Location: Ohio Stadium (Columbus, OH). 8pm EST kickoff, ESPN
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
USC Players Who Were Recruited By Ohio State: OL Jeff Byers, C Kristofer O’Dowd, FL Ronald Johnson, TE Blake Ayles, WR David Ausberry, and LB Frankie Telfort. Ronald Johnson is out for the season after sustaining a broken collarbone in a preseason scrimmage. Frankie Telfort's career ended due to a heart condition that was diagnosed in the preseason.
USC Rushing Offense vs Ohio State Defense: Behind a veteran offensive line, USC rushed for 342 yards last week versus San Jose State. USC has the luxury of running backs such as Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson, Allen Bradford, Marc Tyler, and C.J. Gable - any one of these players could be the premier running back for virtually any program across the country. None of them averaged worse than 4.5 yards per carry last week versus San Jose State. Joe McKnight is listed as the starter, but it would not surprise me if Pete Carroll substituted as many of them throughout the game as he possibly can.
Ohio State gave up 186 yards rushing to Navy's triple option attack last week in their 31-27 victory. While giving up 186 yards is never a good thing, it helps to remember that Navy led the country in rushing in 2008 and averaged 292 yards per game last season - Ohio State was able to hold them to 100 yards less.
Look for USC to run early and often to help out true freshman QB Matt Barkley, who is making his second career start. The key for Ohio State is how well the Ohio State defense is able to slow down the USC rushing attack. If USC is able to take a 1st and 10 and make it into a 2nd and 5 or better, it could be a long night for Ohio State, as it will open up Ohio State to play-action passing by USC. This one crucial area is where the game will be won or lost by Ohio State.
USC Passing Offense vs Ohio State Defense: USC's Matt Barkley had a very impressive debut against San Jose State, going 15 of 19 for 233 yards and 1 touchdown. While those statistics are impressive, it is also worth noting that USC's first four series led to two fumbles as well as two punts; San Jose State actually led USC 3-0 at the end of the first quarter. Barkley later admitted he had a case of butterflies while coming out for his first game in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
No disrespect to Matt Barkley, but the crowd at Ohio Stadium he will be facing will be intimidating to even the most seasoned of players. 102, 329 people who have been waiting to extract revenge for a year will be in their most raucous and rowdiest moods after a whole day of tailgating festivities.
Even with the loss of WR Ronald Johnson, USC's starting wide receiver tandem of Damian Williams and David Ausberry are both very good players. I would look for Ohio State to match up CB Chimdi Chekwa on Damian Williams, leaving either Andre Amos or Devon Torrence to cover David Ausberry. USC has two very good tight ends in Blake Ayles and Anthony McCoy, who could present match-up problems for Ohio State's linebacker corps. Speculation around Columbus is senior FS Anderson Russell will not start, with senior captain Kurt Coleman moving over to free safety and junior Jermale Hines getting the start at strong safety.
I would look for USC to present Barkley with as many safe passing options as possible - throwing to the backs out of the backfield, looking for a tight end isolated on a linebacker, short to intermediate passes to the wideouts. If Ohio State's crowd can assist with causing false starts or delay of game penalties, putting USC into long yardage situations, it can only help. Ohio State will need to blitz in an effort to disrupt Barkley and hopefully cause a turnover. A key player to watch will be Ohio State DE Thaddeus Gibson, who is Ohio State's best pass rusher.
Ohio State Rushing Offense vs USC Defense: Ohio State has taken a running back by committee approach so far this season, alternating Daniel "Boom" Herron and Brandon Saine. Neither possess the size and strength of a stereotypical Big Ten back such as Chris Wells, but both have good quickness and are good receivers out of the backfield.
Ohio State's offensive line has drawn criticism for its performance last week against Navy. USC was able to limit San Jose State to only 9 yards rushing last week. Despite heavy graduation losses, Pete Carroll has stated this new group of linebackers is even faster than last year's stellar group.
The biggest "X" factor in this equation is QB Terrelle Pryor. Pryor played last season against USC, but was only in his third game as a college player and truly was not supposed to be a major factor of the offense. This year, the entire offense is designed around Terrelle Pryor. Pryor is a legitimate 6'6", 235 lbs quarterback with timed 4.3 speed in the 40 yard dash. It will not surprise me if Pryor is used not only on quarterback draws, but also on option plays to try and slow down the typical aggressiveness of the USC defense.
Slight Edge: Ohio State
Ohio State Passing Offense vs USC Defense: Ohio State's passing attack will never resemble USC's in terms of complexity. Ohio State has a good group of wide receivers (DeVier Posey, Dane Sanzenbacher, Ray Small, Duron Carter, and Taurian Washington), as well as two underrated and typically underutilized tight ends in Jake Ballard and Jake Stoneburner. Patrolling the USC secondary is FS Taylor Mays, who can hit like a freight train and run like the bullet train.
The perceived Achilles' heel of the Ohio State offense is the offensive line, which has been the target of both Ohio State fans and critics since Ohio State was defeated by Florida in the 2007 BCS Championship Game. A crucial match-up will be Ohio State OLT Andy Miller versus USC DE Everson Griffin.
If I was coaching Ohio State, I would present USC with a four or five wideout look often. This would isolate USC's defenders in one on one coverage scenarios, while also allowing for Terrelle Pryor to attempt quarterback keepers for positive yardage. This would help to slow down the USC pass rush, so as to not be burned by Pryor getting by the line of scrimmage.
Special Teams: As you might expect, USC is dangerous with players such as Joe McKnight or C.J. Gable involved in punt and kickoff returns. With a relatively inexperienced punter in Jon Thoma, I would look for Ohio State to possibly punt out of bounds to negate any possible long returns.
Ohio State's Brandon Saine had an impressive opening kickoff last weekend versus Navy, and is complimented by WR Lamaar Thomas on returns as well. Both have outstanding speed, so USC may look to employ a similar strategy against the Buckeyes of kicking out of bounds on punts.
PK Aaron Pettrey kicked a 52 yard field goal last week against Navy. Pettrey also hit an extra point off the crossbar, but Ohio State fans may feel better knowing that Pettrey can hit a long field goal if he is needed.
Slight Edge: Ohio State
Intangibles: Last season, Ohio State went into the Los Angeles Coliseum to play USC and they were absolutely demolished by USC, 35-3. Ohio State has lost the last six times they have played USC.
In the Pete Carroll era, USC has not lost a non-conference regular season game since September 21, 2002, when USC lost at Kansas State 27-20. Critics can point out how USC has lost to unranked conference opponents throughout the years, but one thing is for certain - USC will not be intimidated coming into Ohio Stadium on Saturday night. USC walks, talks, and acts with a confidence and swagger because they do not believe they will lose.
The crucial part for Ohio State will be the participation of the fans. If Ohio State's fans are into this game throughout, it could be the difference between an Ohio State victory or defeat. If Ohio State suffers some adversity early on, a mindset of "Here we go again" can quickly take the crowd out of it.
Typically, Jim Tressel will unveil some new plays or formations for the Michigan game. No disrespect to Michigan, but the importance of this game cannot be underestimated. Ohio State's reputation has taken a beating, fair or unfair, ever since the 2007 BCS Championship Game. Three high profile losses, combined with The Big Ten's less than stellar performances last season in the bowl games as well as this past weekend, have created an atmosphere of "must win" around Columbus. Will Ohio State fold under this pressure? It remains to be seen, but I have to give the edge to USC for their impressive track record in non-conference games.
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. More importantly, Ohio State needs to culminate drives with touchdowns, not field goals. Points are points, but Ohio State far too frequently winds up kicking field goals instead of cashing in on touchdowns in the red zone.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of the crowd in this one. Ohio State's defense needs to rattle Matt Barkley, but the home crowd can contribute by making it so loud and noisy that it is virtually impossible for the USC offense to hear. Ohio State needs to win the turnover battle against USC.
I do not believe this will be a high-scoring affair. I believe USC will rely on its strong running game, and a strong defense, to eke out a close one. Ohio State may gain a small measure of national respect with a strong showing in this one, but Ohio State's offensive line concerns have me thinking it will wind up USC 17, Ohio State 13.