Preview: #6 Ohio State at #1 Southern Cal

By Jason Priestas on September 12, 2008 at 7:00a
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To the victor, the spoils, right?
Ohio State Buckeyes #2 Ohio State 2-0, 0-0 Big Ten Roster | Schedule 8:00 PM ET - ABC —— The Coliseum Los Angeles, CA Southern Cal Trojans #3 Southern Cal 1-0, 0-0 Pac-10 Roster | Schedule

The wait is finally over. After months of anticipation, the Buckeyes will get their second prime chance at redemption in 8 months when they invade the Coliseum to take on USC. And what a shot it is. The Trojans have been nothing short of dominant this decade and are virtually unbeatable at home.

The Buckeyes, thought to be Tressel's best team in Columbus are absolutely loaded with NFL talent to match the Trojans at nearly every position. And then, in the opener against a hapless Youngstown State, the unthinkable happened.

Now, instead of a matchup of two elite teams, slugging it out in front of a national television audience, the Buckeyes enter the game as double-digit dogs and even the most partisan amongst the faithful is having serious doubts. There's a large contingent now predicting a USC blowout -- something that would have been completely unimaginable just a year and a half ago. But that's where a couple of lopsided MNC losses will leave you.

Wells' status is still very much up in the air and seemed to change with the wind this week. If he is able to go, even at reduced strength, the Buckeyes will have to play an incredible game to hand the Trojans a rare defeat at home. If he's not able to go, the rest of the team must play the game of their lives.

Opponent

You've probably been boning-up on the Trojans since, oh, January 8th or so, so we won't bore you too much with further minutia. You're well aware that they have the scariest defensive player in college football, a stable of great running backs including potentially the next Reggie Bush and a safety that is built like a lineman.

Their quarterback, once the top prep prospect in the land, is hitting his groove after playing in only a handful of games last season and their coach simply does not lose big games.

The other players? They're not too shabby either. Year-in and year-out, the Trojans capitalize on their geography and coach Pete Carroll's Facebook page to haul in just about anyone they want. Even Ohio kids are not safe from his clutches -- Fred Davis, USC's leading receiver last season (and thankfully now playing in the NFL), hails from Toledo.

It's pretty cliche to say that a team's second stringers could start just about anywhere else in the country, but USC is one of the few schools where that's actually true.

So, are they invincible? Close, but not quite. The offensive line is breaking in four new starters and just like any other quarterback, Sanchez is prone to make mistakes when he's pressured. The line did in fact have trouble picking up blitz packages during fall camp, so if there is a weakness on offense, it's the front five.

On defense, the holes and weaknesses are even fewer, though Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga, two Trojan linebackers vying for All-American honors are both playing with a cast. Sure it can be a club at times, but casts also hinder your ability to clutch and make tackles. Otherwise, everyone would be wearing casts.

Additionally, elite running quarterbacks like Locker, Dixon and Vince Young have given USC fits the last few years and the Buckeyes do happen to have an exceptionally gifted running quarterback. Trojan defensive tackle Fili Moala has already seen glimpses of Vince in Pryor, so if you're on the ledge over the status of Beanie, that should be worth a step or two back at the very least.

NOTES: Wide receiver Vidal Hazelon is still recovering from an ankle injury he suffered during the 2nd half of the Virginia game and may not play... Gameday will be held in Los Angeles this weekend and ABC's #1 crew of Musberger, Herbstreit, Lisa Salters and Erin Andrews will be covering the game.

Buckeye Breakdown

So what must Ohio State do to win the game. For starters, they can dial it up significantly on defense. There's been a steady stream of questions regarding Heacock's defensive strategy ever since the Florida deacle two years ago, but if he must be wiling to turn the talent loose and let them do what they're at Ohio State to do -- make plays.

The defensive line was one of the few bright spots in the victory over Ohio last weekend and if it weren't for Boo Jackson's amazingly magic feed, they may have doubled their sack total. This must continue against USC. Sure, the line will be of better quality, but it's still a green line and Lawrence Wilson, Heyward and Gibson must apply constant pressure to Sanchez, forcing him into bad decisions. It was pointed out that if you take away the shellacking of Notre Dame last season, his numbers begin to look downright pedestrian. He lit the Cavaliers up in week one, but he didn't see the type of pressure that he'll see on Saturday.

If Beanis is able to go, even if only at 75%, that will be a huge boost to the team. His 75% is better than 99% of other running backs' 100% and his leadership cannot be measured. He'll also be used to chew up first downs and keep the ball out of the hands of the USC offense, which can score in bunches -- even against elite defenses.

Hartline and Robiskie must do a better job of getting open and when thrown to, must hold on to the ball. It seems like the Minnesota game last season was the last time Robo turned in a highlight reel snare and he's due. If the starters aren't getting the job done and are unable to get open in space, Tressel can't be afraid to go to Posey, Washington, Thomas and some of the other young burners. I do imagine we'll see several plays from the 5-wide set, something we didn't see at all last weekend.

The defensive secondary will be bolstered by the return of Washington and O'Neal, though Chekwa and Jermale Hines have played well enough in the first two games to prevent those two from jumping right back into the fray and getting serious minutes. Still, the depth will help, especially considering the number of gazelles the Trojans can put on the field for a single play.

I am somewhat worried about McKnight catching balls out of the backfield, but I imagine Tressel and Heacock have the same fear and have put things into place to address that threat.

After the embarrassing losses in each of the last two MNC games, this team needs this win perhaps more so than any other team in America. We think they'll come out on fire and match up well against USC's talent, but the x-factor is obviously Beanie. If he's unable to go or can only contribute on a couple of plays, the odds don't favor the Buckeyes -- thought it certainly won't be the blowout some are forecasting.


PREDICTION: USC 17, OSU 13*

* This prediction almost lead to the break-up of this blog. Naturally, we all think the Buckeyes can win the game, but the bottom line is that given the circumstances surrounding Wells, we're not as certain of a victory as we'd like to be. Even heading into the LSU game last year, we thought the Buckeyes would pull though, but perhaps because of that game and the one the year before, our expectations are dampened a bit.

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