Keys to the game
I'll keep the introduction short. Here are my keys to the game, counting down from 6 to 1. No, not the Cincinnati game, this weeks game! Jeez, quit looking ahead already.
6. Slow down the running game
If this were last year, I probably would have titled that "Shut Down the running game," but with the way things went with the defense in week 1, and considering that Marcus Freeman, James Laurinaitis, and John Kerr/Ross Homan are no Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Schlegel, and AJ Hawk, I doubt this defense is capable of completely shutting down the run game. However, if the defensive line can prevent themselves from getting sucked in every other play, it will work wonders for the linebackers. If the line can increase their tackle totals on run plays, or at least slow down Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young, the linebackers should find that their tackle totals will be much higher. The biggest problem for Kerr, JL, and Freeman last week was that they were often taking false steps and finding themselves out of position. When they did finally get into position, they ran right into pulling NIU linemen. Texas doesn't pull nearly as often as NIU, which will also help. All season long, this defense will follow that, "bend, but don't break" pattern. The defense will give up yards and big plays on Saturday, don't be mistaken, but if we can do as well on third down as we did against Northern Illinois (something like 2-12), then the defense did their job.
5. Be the better (special) team.
Last season, Josh Huston went 5-6 on field goal attempts, and accounted for roughly 2/3 of the teams points. However, the difference on the scoreboard was three points, which left many thinking "what if he had made that final kick?" Texas has one of the best all-around special teams units in the entire nation, and if Ohio State hopes to win this game, they will have to be nearly perfect. That means no missed field goals, no muffed returns, no shanked punts, and most importantly, win the field position battle. As all Ohio State fans know by now, field position is critical to winning any big game. This came could come down to a play on special teams, whether it be something big like a returned kick for a touchdown, or a blocked kick, but it may also be something that doesn't quite show up right away. A kickoff out of bounds would kill (Just ask the Carolina Panthers), as would consistently poor return coverage.
4. Get out to an early lead
Now, I'm not saying that we need to do what we did against NIU last week, because that's just unrealistic to expect when we play a defense of Texas' caliber. But if this team can put up points on their first couple of posessions, and force one or two Texas punts, then things will be much easier on us the rest of the way. Antonio Pittman isn't capable of running out the clock on his own, but Antonio Pittman and Chris Wells will absolutely kill defenses. If we can get up 10-0 or 14-0 by the end of the first three offensive posessions of the game, then all the pressure will be on Texas to make plays and throw the ball. Last week, Colt McCoy wasn't expected expected to do all that much of anything, but if he gets behind, he will probably be pressing and will force balls into areas that he can't fit them, and will more than likely be turnover prone. There's a reason that a freshman quarterback will almost always play second-bidding to a senior or an experienced junior, and that's because the likelihood of dumb mistakes is much less with the older player.
3. Get to McCoy often and early
Just like with falling into an early lead, pressure from the defense will also force a young quarterback to make throws that he will end up regretting. Another reason that Colt McCoy was so successful on Saturday was because he had enough time to cook a thanksgiving dinner back in the pocket. He was fortunate to be on the right end of having a great offensive line going up against a junior varsity defensive line. This Saturday will be a bit different, however. He will still have a fantastic offensive line, but he will be going up against a much more talented defensive line, and will be facing a defensive coordinator that loves to blitz, so McCoy could be in for some unwanted grass stains unless he steps up to the challenge. Nothing damages a quarterback's confidence more than the constant feeling of being run down by this guy.
2. Ball Control is Key
Don't be fooled by the playmakers all over the offensive side of the ball for the Buckeyes, this is still a team that will value holding onto the ball. For this year's version of the Buckeyes, the best defense will be a defense that's resting on the sidelines. If the offense is on the field for the majority of the game, that means that we are being opprotunistic to Texas' mistakes and that Troy Smith is making smart decisions when he is passing and when he is running. The more drives the team gets, the more chances they get to score. One team will get more drives than the other one, which will leave one team with less chances to tie the score. It's as simple as that. I'd be much happier with a low scoring tight game that we won because we won the time of posession, rather than a "whoever has the ball last wins," kind of shootout. Then again, I;d be happy with a win any way we can get it, because it looks like it will be an uphill climb all game long to get the W.
1. Win in the trenches
If the Buckeye offensive line can get a consistent push on the Longhorn defensive line, and keep Troy Smith from having to run for his life, then they more than did their job. If the defensive line can force McCoy to make plays with his feet and force unwanted throws, but can also be a consistent factor in the running game at the same time, then you can notch up a Buckeye victory. A good push on offense means an effective running game. An effective running game means controlling the clock. Controlling the clock means more opprotunities to score. Do the math. A D-Line that can force McCoy to make throws means things are easier on the Back 7. Things being easier on the Back Seven a higher likelihood of turnovers. More turnovers mean more points. More points mean less involvement with Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young. Granted, neither of these are simple tasks. The Texas offensive line is the best in college football, but if we can catch them off guard with some stunts/blitzes, then you never know what will happen.
When I picked us to defeat Texas in my season preview, it was really a choice I made out of being a fan of the team. The more I analyze it, the more worried I get. I'm starting to think that Texas really deserves the number 1 ranking rather than us. But then again, no one will know for sure until about midnight on Saturday.