The Strong Must Protect the Sweet: Sugar Bowl Matchups

By Johnny Ginter on December 2, 2010 at 4:00p

Barring complete insanity (that of course we all will be rooting for) this upcoming weekend, all signs point to a trip to New Orleans for the Buckeyes to face one of two SEC opponents. Given Ohio State's recent history against both the SEC and in New Orleans, it would appear to be a worst case scenario for the Bucks, and that's to say nothing about Jim Tressel's well known inability to restrain himself in the Big Easy, stumbling about in a drunken haze, dressed in only boxers and dress socks, attempting to avoid an open warrant for arrest stemming from an incident at Big Ted's Oyster Shack. Shameful really.

Regardless, the most probable outcome as of now is for Ohio State to play against either the Arkansas Razorbacks (should Auburn win in the SEC Championship game), or the Gamecocks from the University of South Carolina (should USC upset the Tigers). Neither of these teams is what anyone would call a "sexy" opponent, but both of them will represent a tough test for the Buckeyes, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Let's start out by taking a look at OSU's most likely opponent, the Razorbacks.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Bobby Petrino is now in his third year as head coach at Arkansas, and his team (now ranked 7th in the BCS  at 10-2) has made steady improvement since going 5-7 in 2008. Though Arkansas still struggles somewhat on the defensive side of the ball, they have evolved into a spread offense juggernaut and are now ranked 9th in the nation in total offense, averaging 489 yards and 37 points per game.

All of that production starts with Ryan Mallett. I used to work at an auto supply store and I remember how one of my (very stupid) coworkers tried to convince me that Mr. Mallett would usher in a new era of Michigan dominance against Ohio State. Well obviously that didn't happen, as he wisely decided to opt out of the Rich Rodriguez era after his freshman year. At Arkansas, he has blossomed into a very confident and consistent pure pocket passer who finished his season with 3592 yards passing, 30 TDs, and only 11 INTs. He throws one hell of a deep ball, and Petrino will likely look to test OSU long early and often.

The Razorbacks also have a good running back in Knile Davis, whose evolution this season strongly mirrors that of Boom Herron. More or less an afterthought in the first four games of the season, in the last 8 games he has averaged 132 yards per game and really given their offense the extra dimension they needed to take their game to another level. OSU absolutely has to gameplan for him because if he is overlooked he could take over the game himself.

The defense is interesting. Poor against the run, and decent against the pass, they can run hot and cold. Against a good Texas A&M offense they only allowed 17 points. Against Auburn the next week, they gave up 65. Overall they aren't horrible, and do their job well enough as far as the offense is concerned.

Personally I think this is a tough matchup for Ohio State. Arkansas would welcome a shootout against OSU, and that is the last thing the Buckeyes want to get drawn into against these guys. With that said, OSU also has a history of doing very well against drop back QBs: Travis Howard (as pointed out by Alex yesterday) has been a huge boost in the secondary, and Chekwa roaming at the star position could be a very effective weapon against Mallett. If the Razorbacks are forced to rely on their running game to get first downs, they probably won't be able to put up points consistently enough to win. It will be interesting to see how Heacock and Fickell attack them.

South Carolina Gamecocks

If South Carolina can somehow pull off the upset of the year against Auburn in the SEC Championship game, they will likely be rewarded with a trip to the Sugar Bowl to face OSU. This is a really bipolar team that, earlier in the season, game Auburn a good game and beat (an admittedly overrated) Alabama team. This is also a team that got absolutely destroyed by the aforementioned Razorbacks.

Offensively they are led, in a sense, by Stephen Garcia, who is actually having a pretty decent season. He's only thrown 9 interceptions this year and is completing close to 66% of his passes, but for whatever reason still doesn't seem to have the full confidence of his head coach. In any event, he is not the kind of guy who really scares anyone. Alshon Jeffery, their star WR, does though, and has the ability to break a game open by himself. The USC rushing attack is led by Marcus Lattimore, who more or less epitomizes USC football. This guy has three games of 175 yards or more, and four games of 55 yards or less.

One area where USC is very consistent is their defensive line, which is possibly the best in the country. They get a ton of penetration (especially through the middle), and have four players with at least 4 sacks. They're actually better than OSU against the run, allowing only 93 yards per game. Which is good, because their secondary is a mess. They've given up 300+ yards five times this year, and part of their success against the run is a product of teams not really even bothering with the ground game and just shredding them through the air.

If I were Jim Tressel I would immediately go after these guys deep. Don't worry about setting up the run or hitting a bunch of short to medium passes to get TP's confidence up; if he can complete just one pass deep, that could totally take USC out of their game. When the Gamecocks put together a complete offensive performance they can be a very good team, but this has rarely happened. The most effective way to beat these guys is to minimize mistakes, and to keep their offense off balance.

Overall, whoever OSU faces in the bowl game should be a challenge simply by virtue of them being an SEC team playing in the south. But the key for both games will be to field a defense that can slow down a potentially dangerous passing game, and an offense that can eat up a ton of clock. Arkansas especially will be serious business, but OSU will rightly be favored in either game and if TP can be the TP he was against Oregon and Tressel can stay away from the French Quarter, we should do just fine.


Comments Show All Comments

rons z28's picture

who's worried ?

Roger's picture

"Against a good Texas A&M offense they only allowed 17 points." 

Not to be picky, but not only did Arkansas give up almost 500 yds of offense in this game, this was NOT when Texas A&M had a good offense. Jerrod Johnson lost his job a couple games later and only under Tannehill has the offense really clicked against good competition.

Johnny Ginter's picture


they only gave up 324 yards of offense against the aggies. i'll give you the QB situation, but they still put in a good performance against the rush. i'm not going to claim that arkansas has what anyone would call a "very good" defense, i'm just saying they arent outright horrible like some might assume.

btalbert25's picture

If TP shows the kind of growth and maturity that an extra 5 weeks of film study and practice brought him last year, No one will be able to beat the Buckeyes in a bowl game.  The D will be just fine.

Backup Placekick holder's picture

Isn't he the legend that is Ryan Mallett?


What a douche.

Matthew's picture

Arkansas is 0-3 against the Big 10 in bowl games.

Class of 2010

poguemahone's picture

Has roughly as much bearing on the outcome as our record vs. the SEC in bowl games.

Peter Pete Peterson's picture

I want to play the best team we can get! That is the best way to guage how good our team is. Either one of these teams will provide a good game. And just like last year, our detractors will say we haven't got a chance! Bring it on!!! I say the Bucks can beat both of these teams; I wonder what the Oregon players would say...

Peter "Pete" Peterson

"Recruiting is like shaving, if you don't do it everyday, you look like a bum!"  -Jim Tressel


Ultrabuckeyehomer's picture

They would say that we stole their signs.

Conroy's picture

While I would obviously much rather them playing the latter date out in Arizona if I could chose one other bowl for the Buckeyes to play in it was against an SEC team in the Sugar Bowl.  I wish we could be playing Florida (lol), but it would be nice to get the SEC monkey off our back.


Match up wise I don't think either of these are too bad because under Tressel I've always been much more paranoid about facing good defenses than good offenses.  Both of these teams can definitely move the ball, but as hard as it is to imagine in the SEC neither of these defenses have faced one of our caliber this year (LSU quit playing defense by the time they played Auburn).  Jeffery and Childs are both pretty scary though.  They're both big physical receivers with quarterbacks more than capable of attacking a defense down field.

OHIOST1087's picture

Arkansas as a BCS Bowl opponent would be interesting b/c I don't believe Arkansas has ever been to a BCS bowl, BUT Bobby Petrino has in 2007 (and he won). On that 2007 Louisville team you can make comparisons to Mallet and Brian Brohm (he was actually good at L-ville), and I don't believe L-ville had ever been to a BCS bowl before then. (please correct me if im wrong). However while it is easy to make comparisons with Arkansas 2010 and Louisville 2007, we all know that tOSU Buckeyes 2010 is NOT Wake Forest 2007 and we won't be so easy to handle like those Demon Deacons in the '07 Orange Bowl. But if Arkansas is selected to play tOSU down in New Orleans remember that "scenario/setup" of the grand stage of the BCS will NOT be new to coach Petrino.

ATL Buckeye's picture

I have been saying it all season..we NEED to beat an SEC team to finally silence the critics. I try not to listen to them, but they make compelling arguments that are hard to refute. This year with us, its this notion that we didn't play anybody with a particularly good record (except for Wiscy...and we got throttled in that one). Bring on whomever from the SEC. At least we don't get their BEST team. What gets lost in that talk is that we were playing their BEST team which everyone would take a loss to (still mad at that LSU game where we outgained them in all phases except for scoreboard and 15 yd penalties). I think we match up better with USC, but it matters not to me.

cronimi's picture

Even if we throttle Ark or USCe, it will do little/nothing to silence the ESS-EEE-SEE mouthbreathers who bloviate about the SPEED of their players and the slothiness of B10 players.  They'll just point back to the Bucks' collapses in the MNC games vs. Fla and LSU.  Granted, a win will give us a counterpoint, but there's no shutting up the idiots in the durty durty south (and I live among them, so I know of what I write). 

All that said, I agree we need to beat whichever SEC team we meet -- the bigger beatdown, the better.  We need Evil Tressel on the sideline for the game.

tomcollins's picture

You are worrying about beatdowns, I'm worrying about winning.

Arkansas has one of the best offenses in the land and a fairly decent defense.  Only 2 teams held them to under 30 points, Texas A&M and Alabama.  They also only let 1 team score more than 31 points (Auburn).  South Carolina is no slouch either.

We are in for a dogfight no matter who we get.  We need evil Tressel just to make sure Wisconsin doesn't happen again.  We will need to score 30 points to win.

gwalther's picture

I agree with Roger about the questionability of saying Arkansas' D held a "good Texas A&M offense" to 17 points.


Jerrod Johnson was still the QB that game, he wasn't moving the chains at all. He was 15-41! And although you may want to say that was because of Arkansas great was in big part because Jerrod was missing throws.


Additionally, Christine Michael (girl name, pronounced "Christian") was still the number 1 back for the Aggies; Cyrus Gray had 5 carries for 7 yards. Although Michael had 18 for 79, he wasn't running nearly as well as Gray was at the end of the year.


I'm a Buckeye Alum living in Houston, I watched these guys every week. There was a night and day difference between the Aggies the last 6 weeks, and the Aggies when they played and lost to Ok St., Arkansas, and 30-9 at home to Missouri.

Class of 2008

gwalther's picture

On another note, bring on either of those SEC teams.

Class of 2008

btalbert25's picture

I saw that someone says we won't play the best SEC team, but If South Carolina Wins the SEC championship, aren't they the best team? 

Buckeye Black's picture

Well, in reality Ohio State isn't the best Big Ten team.  So whether it is Auburn, So. Car., or Arkansas, you could make the argument they are the second best team.  So it would be Big Ten No. 2 versus SEC No. 2.

btalbert25's picture

I'm just saying no one can say well they only beat South Carolina, if South Carolina is the SEC champ. 

tomcollins's picture

A South Carolina team that is 10-3 and 1-1 against Auburn doesn't get to claim superiority just because of the variance of one game.  Championship games are incredibly dumb in these situations.  Auburn already won, and will finish with at worst an equal head-to-head record, and an better SEC and overall record.  Auburn is the best SEC team regardless of the results.  Screw rematches, this was already decided on the field.

Buckeye Black's picture

I agree, I'm just saying regardless of what happens in the SEC championship, the team in the Sugar Bowl at will be at worst the 2nd best SEC team.

tomcollins's picture

Alabama is probably a bit better than South Carolina if you are looking at just power rankings, but it's not a huge difference.  Alabama, Auburn, USCe, and Arkansas are all real close at the top.  LSU close behind.  Auburn was very, very lucky to come through their schedule undefeated.

Peter Pete Peterson's picture

But remember, this is a different OSU team than the last one to play an SEC team. Check me if I'm wrong, but isn't Heacock doing a much better job of adjusting his defense in the course of the game? Except for Wis. who just kept running over us, they have done a good job of adapting.

Peter "Pete" Peterson

"Recruiting is like shaving, if you don't do it everyday, you look like a bum!"  -Jim Tressel


tomcollins's picture

Defense has done better (besides injuries).  However it's the offense that scares me.  We started with 2 3 and outs against Michigan.  Playing any of the top SEC teams could get ugly.  Our defense can slow down a lot of those SEC offenses, but they aren't going to shut them down completely.

Peter Pete Peterson's picture

Wrong game plan? Switch to plan B?

Peter "Pete" Peterson

"Recruiting is like shaving, if you don't do it everyday, you look like a bum!"  -Jim Tressel