Preview: #9 Ohio State vs. #3 Texas

By Jason Priestas on January 5, 2009 at 7:00a
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Texas fansThe Johnson family: Brenda, Steve,
Colt, Coltie and Coltson
Ohio State Buckeyes #9 Ohio State 10-2, 7-1 Big Ten Roster | Schedule 8:00 PM ET - FOX —— Univ. of Phoenix Stadium Glendale, AZ Texas Longhorns #3 Texas 11-1, 7-1 Big 12 Roster | Schedule

After nearly a century without playing each other, Ohio State and Texas, two of the bluebloods of the college football world, will meet tonight for the third time in the past four years. Vince Young and the Longhorns won an instant classic in 2005 and the Buckeyes led by Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. returned the favor in Austin the next year. Now, a neutral field of the Fiesta Bowl will be the site of the rubber match.

The 15 seniors on the Buckeye two-deep will be playing not only for the victory, but for a chance to end their careers, which can only be described as bittersweet, on a good note. Many were freshman the last time the team closed the season with a victory and the last time they played in this state-of-the-art spaceship of a stadium was a nightmare on all accounts and was the start of this malaise the program has found itself in the last few years.

The following year, when Laurinaitis, Boone, Jenkins and company were juniors, they had an overachieving season and wound up back in the national championship game before they were dispatched by a gorilla with a chainsaw for a penis.

2008 was supposed to be the year, but instead, the new primate with dangerous objects swinging from its groin proceeded to beat the championship thoughts out of this team in early September. Yet here they are again, with a chance to face another elite opponent and by extension another chance to salvage the program's reputation (somewhat).

A win tonight would also mean a lot to the legacy of this senior class. We all remember the last one, after all, and whenever you go a combined 6-1 against the Longhorns and Wolverines, you've had a great career. If Texas runs away with this one, then no amount of gold pants will cover the scars of the way they ended seasons.

When the Longhorns Have the Ball

Let's just get this out of the way: Texas is going to move the ball through the air. McCoy is just that good -- he can read his receivers' minds and word on the street is that he can levitate for up to two seconds when needed. So the first time you see them moving the chains and picking up third downs on that soft, soft zone, take a deep breath and realize that adjustments will be made and the teams will settle into the flow of the game, just like they did after Vince ripped off chunks of yards on the Longhorn's first drive in the Shoe.

Texas will come out and spread the field and McCoy will distribute the ball making smart decisions and gladly taking seven, eight or 19 yard chunks. Once the defense commits to shutting off the underneath stuff, they won't hesitate to go over the top. They will run when they need to or to otherwise set up another throw and won't shy away from trickery if it suits the situation.

They're saying the Buckeye secondary will be the best they've faced, and Ohio State has seen this scheme before a few times, but never with anything approximating the talent plugged into it tonight. And for added stomach pain, the last time OSU squared off with an elite passing unit, Mark Sanchez dropped four touchdowns on them. Granted, Greg Davis is no Steve Sarkisian, but McCoy could pile up yards without a coach.

You don't have to be a Michigan grad to realize that getting pressure on Colt would go a long way towards the Buckeyes actually ending this one with more points than the Longhorns and I'm guessing Heacock will dial the blitzes up a bit. The Texas offensive line is solid, but not excellent and they've given up their share of sacks on the year. Tech was able to score the upset in part by getting after McCoy and by also stopping the Longhorn rushing attack.

Mack Brown and Jim Tressel

This will leave the backs in a lot of man coverage situations and while I don't exactly fear the homerun threat out of Shipley or Cosby, sure tackling will be huge. Without it, 12 yard patterns become 45 yard gains -- or worse. The state of the field could have an impact as it was trampled pretty good by the Cardinals and Falcons Saturday, so Jenkins, Chekwa and Washington will have to be careful with their footing as well.

If the Longhorns are able to compliment their passing attack with a productive ground game, the Buckeyes could be in for a long night. McCoy is the team's leading rusher, but other options exist in the form of running back-by-committee. Freshman Foswhitt Whittacker got a lot of the late season love, but Crhis Ogbonnaya had a 100 yard game against the Sooners and Cody Johnson, with 12 touchdowns, is the short-yardage/goal line guy. Simple put, Ohio State must bottle-up the run.

Having a healthy Jermale Hines back along with an emerging Moeller should help to keep the Texas rushing game from picking up too much steam and with the Buckeyes likely to run nickel most of the night, they will both get plenty of pass defense opportunities as well. It's the safeties that I'm a little worried about and if Texas has done their film work (which they have), they will figure out a way to attack that tandem.

When the Buckeyes have the Ball

While most think the Buckeyes have to run the ball well to have any chance in this game, I think the opposite is true. They certainly must run the ball, but if Pryor does not come out, make the correct reads and get things going with his arm, then we'll have the luxury of watching Texas stack the line to stop Beanie and harassing Pryor on 3rd and longs.

We'll see a heavy dose of Beanie, but I think the team will come out in passing formations in an attempt to set up the run by throwing the ball, especially considering Muschamp has likely spent the better part of the past six weeks working on stopping Wells. Getting out ahead on the early downs will limit the upfield rushing that Orakpo, Melton and Kindle will be able to do as will the read option, employed at the right times.

Robiskie and Hartline had trouble getting open against the LSU secondary last year, but Pryor's feet will buy some openness and this Longhorn secondary isn't quite as good as the one the Tigers had last year. As Blake Gideon can attest to, there have also been some tackling problems back there, so the potential to turn something underneath into something bigger exists.

Will Muschamp, American badassMuschamp, American Badass

If the Buckeyes can get any type of traction throwing the ball, then it's Beanie time. Texas hasn't played a back like him before and if he gets going, that will enable the team to put together time-consuming drives that keep Colt McCoy and that explosive offense on the sidelines. This would be a good thing.

Ultimately, the play of the Ohio State offensive line will determine how the team fares in this outing. Boone and Orakpo will be the featured matchup, but Browning will be busy on his side as well. The Person-Rehring flip experiment will be interesting to watch, and one of them or Brewster will need to get out and get a hat on Muckleroy. If things start slow and Texas is able to get consistent pressure into the Buckeye backfield, especially from the edges, draws may be needed in large amounts.

From a personnel standpoint, Cordle is available to play but will not start. Brandon Saine is likely out for the game and Hartline may or may not have a curfew problem giving either Posey or the Ghost a chance to get see the field earlier than planned.

Prediction

I've been optimistic since this game was announced, based mostly on the assumption that Pryor would be taking a huge step in his Buckeye career. He struggled a bit early against Michigan, but has had a great rookie year. If he can take some of the pressure off of Wells with either his arm or his feet, I'm liking Ohio State's chances.

I think at this point, most fans would be happy for a competitive game, but the Buckeyes will have a chance to win this one late before the experience of McCoy comes through late for Texas.


Texas 23, Ohio State 17

Etc.

FOX will carry the game nationally with Matt Vasgersian, Tim Ryan, Laura Okmin and Chris Myers describing the action... Ohio State will be wearing white jerseys tonight -- they are 9-1 wearing the whites the last two years... The love affair with In-N-Out Burger endures... Tressel snuck in the news that Willie Mobley suffered a season-ending injury at his press conference Sunday.

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