“Rain Man, let’s play some cards…”
In the aftermath of Ohio State’s 42-28 victory in THE GAME, the
speculation among Ohio State fans, as well as the national media, was
this burning question – how could Ohio State possibly expect to win the
2014 B1G Championship without star quarterback J.T. Barrett?
The speculation is not without merit. After all, Barrett was the
leader of the Ohio State offense, and a possible Heisman Trophy
candidate. Backup quarterback Cardale Jones has played sparingly
throughout his Ohio State career, and will be making his first career
start against one of the top defenses in college football when the
Buckeyes face the Wisconsin Badgers.
More importantly, Ohio State’s defense has not played well down the
November stretch run. Against Michigan State, Minnesota, and Indiana,
all with talented running backs, Ohio State gave up substantial yardage
on the ground. But against Michigan’s Drake Johnson, the Wolverines’
third-string running back, giving up 74 yards, only added fuel to the
fire of concern. Now Ohio State will be facing Wisconsin’s Melvin
Gordon (2230 yards) and Corey Clement (830 yards). Oof.
Here are the three areas I will be focused upon as Ohio State and Wisconsin kick it off at 8pm EST on FOX…
1. The Ohio State Rush Defense Against The Wisconsin Offense: If
Ohio State cannot slow down Wisconsin’s running game, it will be all
over for the Buckeyes. Co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Chris
Ash must figure out a way to slow down Wisconsin’s Gordon and Clement.
Look for Ohio State to put eight men in the box, leaving the
cornerbacks on an island with Wisconsin’s receivers one on one. It is a
daring and risky strategy, but it may need to be done to keep Ohio
State in the game defensively. Rotating interior defensive linemen will
be critical to keep Ohio State’s defensive linemen from tiring out. A
cause for concern will be if Wisconsin can continually line up on first
down, then on second down hear, “2nd and 3.”. That could spell doom for
the Buckeyes if Wisconsin is in perpetual short yardage plays
throughout most of the night.
2. Ohio State Cannot Be Conservative On Offense: Ohio State Head
Coach Urban Meyer made a statement about new starter Cardale Jones – “It’s his show, he’s got the keys to the car,”…
Coach Meyer and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman will be
working overtime on how to best tweak the offense for Jones heading into
this game, focusing upon the areas and plays that Jones handles best.
If Ohio State tries to simply run the ball, down after down, predictably
and conservatively, Ohio State will lose this game. A possible
strategy with Jones on passing plays could involve a moving pocket,
using quarterback waggles and bootlegs that will allow Jones to get out
of the pocket and hit an open man, or simply run for positive yardage if
nothing is open. Again, Ohio State needs to focus upon what the
offense can do with Jones at the helm, and emphasize that getting the
ball into the various Buckeye playmakers is the way to win this game
offensively. Letting Jones play with no holds barred can only boost
Jones, and the team’s, collective confidence. And that leads me to…
3. Winning The Psychological Battle: Ohio State is in great shape
here. At his customary press conference on December 1st, Coach Meyer
was audibly surprised that Ohio State was the listed underdog to
Wisconsin. For a master motivator such as Coach Meyer, the media simply
gave Coach Meyer one more button to push on his team. Coach Meyer can
truly play up the disrespect angle of the national media, and should
have his team ready to go at a fevered pitch when the game begins. And
if Ohio State wins over Wisconsin, my guess is Coach Meyer will look
into the television cameras, pointing out how Jones did what was needed
in only six days of preparation; how much better would Jones be able to
play with nearly a month’s worth of preparation, as in preparation for
The College Football Playoff?
Prediction: Up above, I used a blackjack reference, as I believe
this game will be relatively low-scoring, as well as I believe the first
team to hit 21 points will win. It won’t come easy, and it may not be
enough to impress The College Football Playoff committee, but I see it Ohio State 21, Wisconsin 17.