TEXAS LONGHORNS v. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Happy New Year, Longhorn fans!
My question this week: do y’all like sweaters? I like certain kinds of sweaters. Maybe argyle, because that’s kind of the “in” thing right now. Perhaps a v-neck, or maybe just a classic pullover. Maybe a nice sweater that I can wear to work or have my girlfriend say, “You like nice today.” No matter the sweater, I like it better than “The Sweater,” a.k.a. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. You see, he always wears a sweater vest and tie on the field for games. While he is a good coach, and has led a good, clean program at Ohio State, I don’t like him. Or, his sweater vests. I think The Sweater’s teams, despite their consistency in the regular season, always fall flat in their BCS games. Pundits would argue two of those BCS games were national championship games against great competition, and at least his team got in to the championship games. I’d argue that you should not continue to reward a team for poor post-season performance (see also: oklahoma, who is 1-4 in BCS games to-date). So, in a sense, I feel as though The Sweater’s team don’t necessarily deserve all the credit they may get in the football world. Regardless, they’ve earned this bowl berth, but that doesn’t mean I have to like The Sweater any more. As for me, this holiday season, I’ll go back to donning a crazy sweater that has flashing lights, or one that has stitching of little elves or some reindeer than cheer for Ohio’s version of The Sweater. Even better, actually, would be a hand-knit, burnt orange Longhorn sweater. That sounds perfect for this time of season – bowl season.
A few pre-game thoughts, before I jump in to Ohio State:
This was the most boring college football bowl season in recent memory. While there were a number of upsets (16 favorites won, while 14 underdogs won), and still could be more, none of the match-ups really intrigued me. And, if they did, the games turned out to be busts (see also: USC v. Penn State).
Up until the Sugar Bowl, I was disappointed Texas was playing Ohio State. Why wouldn’t the BCS pit the best two next teams together in a bowl game? I thought the ‘Horns should have played Alabama. But, had Texas or Alabama won that match-up, the BCS would have created more havoc than it has already – who would really be #1? After watching the Sugar Bowl, however, I think I’ll be satisfied with The Sweater. The Tide forgot to Roll.
As of Sunday night, Texas was an 8.5-point favorite against The Sweater according to Vegas odds.
Eyes of TX’s Prediction
Texas 28, Ohio State 17
Ohio State (10-2)
In the Big 10 conference, there are no Heisman-caliber QBs. In fact, they don’t really throw the ball a lot in the Big 10. In the Big 10, they play hard-nosed football. In other words, they’re going to line up and run it right at you, right up the gut, and you’d better hope you can stop it. For one half. For 60 minutes. For a season. This isn’t a Big 12 conference backyard pass-slinging team that The Sweater is bringing to Phoenix. It’s going to be a whole different ball game than we’re used to, that’s for sure. The Texas defense better get ready for some big RBs to come charging their way. And, McCoy and the offense better be ready for The Sweater’s defense – it’ll be the best they’ve seen all year.
On offense, I will start with running back instead of quarterback, because The Sweater loves to establish and control the game with the run. The starting RB is Chris “Beanie” Wells. The 6’1”, 237-pound junior is an absolute beast, and he was a leading Heisman candidate until some injuries sidelined him earlier this season. Nonetheless, when healthy, he ran for 1,091 yards and eight TDs this season. Wells will line up and run straight at a defense, and he is big enough to create his own holes. Should he get past the first layer of the defense, he is quick enough to run with anyone in the secondary as well. The Sweater will, undoubtedly, key his entire offense around Wells in the Fiesta Bowl. Freshman QB Terrelle Pryor, at 6’6” and 235-pounds, is the next biggest threat on offense. Those that don’t recognize his name should know that he was the nation’s best player in high school football last year, and was USA Today’s “Player of the Year” as a senior. Despite his youth, he’s started nine games for The Sweater and has improved every week. He is 8-1 as a starter, and has thrown for 1,245 yards and 12 TDs with only four INTs in that span including a 63.5% completion rate (which is top 10 in the country). Folks, he’s also going to remind you of former Texas QB Vince Young, because he’s just as lethal with his legs, as he’s the second leading rusher on the team and has run for 553 yards and six TDs. He has elusive speed, and if he can get around the corner of the defensive line, he can be downfield in flash. While his stats are good, his biggest weakness will be his youth – if the Texas defense can put pressure on him, force him to make quick decisions and contain him if he does decide to run, it will be a field day for the Texas defense. One final note, The Sweater has also noted that he will plan to use his second-string QB (and former starter), Todd Boeckman. The 6’4”, 244-pound senior is not as elusive with his feet, but has a good arm and is consistent and productive. In essence, I expect Wells will try to establish the running game, with a few glimpses of Pryor on QB draws and in a “Q”-type package with both QBs on the field, all to set up play-action and the passing game. The Sweater is notoriously conservative, but his game plan is like Novocain…he wins game after game with this style of offense. They won’t score a lot of points, but they’ll try to control the clock and win one down the stretch.
The supporting cast on offense includes a less-than-stellar wide receiver corps, but they get the job done. Senior Brian Robiskie, at 6’3” and 199-pounds, is the top receiver having contributed 419 yards and a team-leading eight TDs on the season. He has good size, good hands and good speed that have helped him account for 11.3 yards per catch. He is also the key receiver that Texas can expect to see going over the middle and putting his body at risk to make a catch. When looking deep, The Sweater will look to flanker Brian Hartline, who is a 6’2”, 186-pound junior with really good speed. I would compare him to Texas’ Jordan Shipley in that he’ll go deep, or run the crossing routes to create openings to get him yards-after-the-catch. He has a team-high 479 yards receiving to complement his four TDs this season. Their other WRs include Devier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher (say that five times fast). I expect to see them rarely in this game, as The Sweater typically doesn’t run three- or four-wide offensive sets. Although the running game focuses on Wells, expect to see him spelled by Maurice Wells and Dan Herron, who combine for about 53 yards per game – again, not a major factor, but since they’re smaller and quicker than Wells it will throw some curves at the Texas defensive front. On the line, The Sweater has some big boys, and they are excellent at run blocking, but only mediocre in pass protection. I expect Texas will be able to get some pressure on Pryor on passing downs, and must contain him if they flush him out of the pocket, and they can’t over pursue on running plays or Wells will be laughing at them from the end zone.
The defense is, by far, The Sweater’s pride and joy. Every year we expect to hear about an Ohio State linebacker and how incredible they are – I truly believe The Sweater has a laboratory under his house that he creates the perfect linebacker year-after-year. This year is no different, as senior James Laurinaitis returns to anchor the linebacker core. The 6’3”, 240-pound Laurinaitis leads the team with 121 tackles, and has four sacks. He is quick, can play sideline to sideline and is equally good in coverage. Many Texas fans might remember that he was the first opposing player to intercept Texas QB Colt McCoy (back in the 2006 game in Austin). I’m sure he reminded McCoy of that many times during the college football awards-season banquets. Laurinaitis is flanked by Marcus Freeman and Ross Hoffman, both of who run clean-up duty compared to Laurinaitis, but who have totaled 140 tackles between them. Freeman leads the team with nine tackles for a loss, and has three-and-a-half sacks. Hoffman is quick, but the smaller of the three, and has one sack this season – he will inevitably be the linebacker the Texas offense will look to exploit. On the defensive line, there are no playmakers, but they are solid at funneling everything to the linebackers and consuming enough of the offensive line’s attention to let the linebackers make plays. The two best lineman are 6’6”, 287-pound defensive end Thomas Gibson (a former linebacker), who has four sacks, and Cameron Heyward at tackle. As I said, they’ll clear the ways for the linebackers, but can more than hold their own in the trenches. The secondary sports the nation’s best cornerback in Malcolm Jenkins, who at 6’1”, 201-pounds, won the Jim Thorpe Award this offseason. He has broken up nine passes this year, and has three INTs. He is absolutely lightning quick, and he will be the lock-down corner for The Sweater, likely covering Texas’ Quan Cosby on the outside. On the other side, we’ll see sophomore Chimidi Chekwa, who is a very raw 6’0”, 188-pound former safety. The more experienced Texas receivers should be able to exploit Chekwa, and I expect McCoy to throw away from Jenkins, if he has the option, which means Chekwa will have a busy night. Supporting the corners are safeties Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell. Both are small, but Coleman leads the team in run support where he is third on the team in tackles (67) and has four INTs on the season. If Ohio State blitzes, expect to see Coleman be the guy giving McCoy fits. Russell is fifth on the team in tackles (58) and is slightly bigger than Coleman. While he comes up to defend against the run as well, his coverage skills will need to improve against the potent ‘Horns passing attack.
My final thoughts are simple. The Sweater will remain conservative – he’ll run the ball and hope to control the clock and keep Texas’ potent offense off the field. We’ll see a few gadget plays from The Sweater, and we need to be ready for that. No surprises, ‘Horns. Special teams could give them a lift, as their returners are very good, but so could ours – Texas will have to batten down the hatches on kick coverage and let’s work to get Shipley free on a kick return. From a Texas perspective, The Sweater’s defense ranks 57th in the country in total sacks, about two per game, and without any consistent pressure on McCoy, I think Texas will pick apart the Buckeye’s defense all day long – The Sweater has to find a way to disrupt the Texas passing attack to have any chance in this game. Texas is the better team, and they need to come out and prove it on Monday night in front of a national audience. Set the tone early. Put pressure on Pryor, and get a helmet on “Beanie” Wells early and often.
Oh, and I predict we’ll see a solid gray sweater vest with a red tie patrolling the Buckeye’s sideline in Phoenix.
Fiesta Bowl Game Links:
Trey McLean’s “From The Stands” Newsletter
ESPN: “Ohio State, Texas Still With Plenty To Prove In Fiesta Bowl”
ESPN: “Texas QB Has Grown Up Since Last Time Buckeyes Saw Him”
ESPN: “Buckeyes Ready To Contend With ‘Horns Orakpo”
Texas Exes Alumni Association Web site: http://www.texasexes.org/
Texas Exes Membership Department: 1-800-369-0023 (for membership card requests)
Texas Exes Puget Sound Chapter Web site: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/texas_exes_puget_sound/