The Big Ten took an absolute whoopin' this weekend, losing five games on January 1 after Iowa and Illinois did the conference proud to kick things off this bowl season. To make things worse, three of the five losses were against the SEC, Wisconsin lost in a BCS game against a "little sister of the poor", and at a 2-5 mark, the conference has clinched a losing record when the 2010 college football season concludes a week from today.
The Buckeyes have a shot tomorrow to at least bring a little respect back to the Big Ten by beating Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, but that feat will not be easy. Arkansas is a much better team than many Buckeye fans are giving them credit for. The Hogs have a very good offensive line, stellar running game, and quarterback who is a sure-fire first round pick in April's NFL Draft. Their defense gets at it all game long, having a non-stop motor, and likes to attack the opposition's offensive front with a multitude of formations that include various blitz and rush schemes. Most importantly, like most SEC teams, the Razorbacks beat teams by dominating the game in the trenches, and if OSU wants to get off the 0-9 schneid, they are going to have to do something their Big Ten brethren failed to do Saturday and beat Arkansas up front.
Looking at Bobby Petrino's offensive line, they are first and foremost a big and powerful group. At an average size of 6-5/315, they are going to give the Buckeye defensive line plenty of problems in both the running and passing game. This group is the key to Ryan Mallet doing his thing through the air, and also have been the main cause for Knile Davis's emergence as a budding star in college football at the running back position.
The Buckeyes defensive line technique is very simple. Stay low, stick to your gap, and leverage your man so you can get off a block and make a tackle or allow linebackers to roam free to clean up the play. Without an elite pass rusher in this year's group, it is essential that the Bucks stick to their guns and wear down the Arkansas front five throughout the game. If they can do this they will be able to shutdown the Razorbacks' running game early, forcing Petrino's team to become one-dimensional through the air, and thus allowing for Jim Heacock to give Cameron Heyward and Nathan Williams a little more slack in the pass rush. The Arkansas offense is extremely explosive when they are balanced, so it is pertinent that the OSU defensive line at least hold even with Razorbacks', something they could not do in their only loss of the season at Wisconsin earlier this year.
Like most SEC defenses, the Arkansas defensive linemen and linebackers are very quick getting off the blocks and getting to the ball carrier. While Jim Tressel's use of Terrelle Pryor as both a runner and passer can help off-set any size or speed mismatches with any team in the nation, it will ultimately be up to the offensive line to set the tone early on the ground so that the Buckeye passing game can be effective as well.
This could be the o-line's biggest challenge of the season though, as Arkansas doesn't have one elite star, but rather a group of very good players that feed well off each other's successes. The defensive line had 19 total sacks as a unit, lead by DE Jake Bequette's 7 in that category. The linebackers combined to bring down the quarterback another 16.5 times, and the star of that group was Jerry Franklin who had 6.5 sacks to go a long with a team-leading 93 tackles. In summary, this group does pass rushing well, allowing just 182.3 yards per game through the air. If the Bucks want to be successful in executing a balanced offensive game plan, "Block O" is going to have to step up and give Pryor time in the pocket to make some plays.
Against the rush, the Hogs' defense is allowing 157.4 yards per contest. That's not an eye-popping number, but it's not a self-damaging figure either. The Buckeyes have averaged 219.7 yards on the ground during this season, so this may have to be the area to establish early tomorrow evening. The bread and butter of OSU's offense can always go back to the old reliable "Dave" running play, and in 2010, running it behind Justin Boren and Mike Adams has brought Boom Herron plenty of success. That should not change no matter who the opponent is, so despite the stellar front seven of Arkansas, expect to see the line trying to pave the road for Boom and maybe some Zoom in the opening possessions.
Owning the game in the trenches will always be something important in trying to win a football game. Look at Ohio State's season. The one game they didn't win upfront was Wisconsin and we all know how that game turned out. In their 11 victories, the defensive line was able to shut down the running game and get some pressure on the quarterback, while the offensive line was able to give Terrelle Pryor plenty of time to throw and also created big lanes for the running backs to move through. The Sugar Bowl will be no different. Yes, the opponent may be a little different compared to what they've faced before, but if Ohio State's big men up front can do their jobs on both sides of the ball, I really like the chances of the Buckeyes coming out winners tomorrow night.