The line opened at 8.5. And then quickly jumped to 10. Just a mere 27 days from our annual bowl drubbing, I guess.
I'm certainly not going to come anywhere close to predicting a Buckeye win. I think they can beat Texas, but it will take a perfect game and this Ohio State team has only been able to put those together against teams that haven't gone 11-1 with a win over the nation's top team. Can they do it? Who knows, but a closer look at the numbers gives me that glimmer of confidence.
The Education of Terrelle Pryor
After seeing limited action in the first three games of the season, Pryor got the keys for the start against Troy. Three hours and four touchdown passes later, jaws across Columbus were still being picked up from floors. After throwing for another touchdown and rushing 8 times for 97 yards and two touchdowns against Minnesota the next week, we're thinking the rest of this season is going to be cake.
Then came the proverbial midseason swoon. In his next four conference games, against Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State and Penn State, Pryor passed for just one touchdown while accounting for two on his feet. There was the game-winning option in Madison, but that came at the end of an average performance at best (15 rushes for 20 yards). And then, of course, there was the fumble against the Nittany Lions.
We took all of this in stride -- he was a freshman, learning on the job, after all. Maybe there would be further bumps in the road? Do the Illini have Ohio State's number?
But then a funny thing happened. Pryor and the team received a bye before traveling to Evanston and the staff spent considerable time tweaking his technique and mechanics. In a stiff wind, he responded with his best passing game of the season by going 9/14 for 197 yards and three touchdowns. Add another against the Illini the following week (which also featured his first 100-yard rushing game) and two more passing touchdowns against Michigan in the finale and you end up with post-footwork instruction numbers that look like this: 20/37 for 366 yards, 6 touchdowns and only one pick.
Tressel mentioned the fact that the bye provided the first real opportunity for Pryor to study his own film after being focused on opponent film for the previous nine weeks. Now just imagine how much of a step forward the Big Ten's top-rated passer will likely be making after more than a month of this work.
Richard Dent and Mike Singletary
Note quite. But the play of Texas end Brian Orakpo and linebacker Sergio Kindle have been nothing short of dominant this season. Orakpo, the 2008 Nagurski winner, is 2nd in the nation with 10 sacks. Kindle is 3rd, with 9.5 from his backer spot.
Those two have powered a Longhorn defense that's 1st in the nation in sacks (44) and 2nd in rushing defense, giving up just 73.6 yards per game on 2.79 per tote. When it comes to rushing the ball against this team, it looks like you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.
But if you take a closer look and realize that the NCAA counts sacks as rushing yards (and attempts), Muschamp's defense has allowed 1,237 yards on 273 true rushing attempts. That's a more pedestrian 103.1 rushing yards per game and an average of 4.53 per rush.
If you similarly back the sacks out of the Buckeyes' numbers (24 for 178), they have yielded 1,201 yards on 353 attempts, or a measly 3.40 yards per carry. And this is playing in a conference that features two of the top three backs in the nation and four of the top 25. Granted, Ohio State only had to face two of those top four rushers (Ringer and Royster), but that's twice as many elite backs as the Longhorns have faced this season.
The 317 pre-sack rushing attempts Texas faced was by far the fewest of any FBS team. This is a team that's not conditioned to face a pounding rushing attack and that's mostly a function of playing in a pass-happy Big 12. The conference's only elite back would be Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter and he's good, but when you stop to consider that Kory Sheets would be the Big 12's second most prolific back, it kind of puts things into perspective.
And how did Texas fare against Hunter? They snuck by 28-24 in their closest win of the season and Mr. Hunter racked up 161 yards on 18 carries. He's listed at a generous 5-8/190 -- Beanie Wells he is not.
Simply put, the running combo of Wells and Pryor has a real chance to do some damage against this defense. And most importantly, keep the Colt McCoy and that offense off the field.
Think Getting Pressure on McCoy Will be Important?
The Longhorns put up points at a Tecmo pace -- 11 games with at least 30 on the board. In fact, even when they drop a game, they're good enough for 33.
There's a good reason why and that reason goes by the name of Colt. He also may also be lugging a Heisman into the game if that matters (actually, we'll take any curse help we can get). But as any superstar quarterback will tell you, if you pressure them, they're not likely to light you up. Just ask the New York Giants.
The good news is that McCoy can be reached. Texas gave up 22 sacks on the year, which in itself is a low number, but when you compare it to similar conference teams with comparable offensive systems, looks high all of a sudden. Texas Tech gave up just 12 sacks, while the Sooners did even better, allowing only 11 sacks in 13 games.
Oklahoma and Tech have fantastic lines, but 22 sacks in a quick-release offense does give hope. For perspective, consider that Notre Dame's offensive line gave up two fewer sacks on the season and Penn State allowed just 12 (the Buckeyes got one of those).
Will it be easy? Of course not, but the emergence of Nathan Williams, Abdallah and Gibson is happening at the right time.
Putting it All Together
So what does this all mean? Well, the key to any type of victory hopes lies right in the middle of the trenches. If the Buckeyes come to play on both sides of the line and bring that clichéd Midwestern smash mouth football to the field, 10 point spreads get smaller quickly.
It won't be easy. Alabama, with better lines on both side of the ball tried to do that to Florida and things didn't exactly work out. But if the Ohio State defense can come up with some turnovers or get some key stops and the offensive line and running game dictate play on the ground, we could be in store for that old time feeling. You know, being in a good mood during the second week of January.