Countdown To THE GAME 2015

Friday, December 5, 2014

The 2014 B1G Championship: A Game Of Blackjack?

“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.

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