When Texas has the ball:
Considered by just about everyone to be the most pressing question regarding this evening's game is, "Who will get the better of the battle between an inexperienced quarterback and a young defense?" It's been a water cooler discussion point ever since Vince Young declared his intentions to go pro. There isn't a lot of information to work with here, so there isn't much to talk about. Both sides have seen so little time that information is few and far between. McCoy looked stellar last week against a JV defense in North Texas, but most of those receiving yards came via Limas Sweed's athleticism. The coaches went relatively conservative on the pass calling plays, which is why McCoy only ended up with 178 yards through the air. I did see some throws that were a bit off target and would've left the Texas receivers out to dry against, say, Brandon Mitchell. Regardless though, McCoy was nothing short of impressive for his first career collegiate snaps, but there's a huge difference between playing a team that went 2-9 a season ago, and playing the top ranked team in the nation under the lights on national television. I don't think anybody should be too surprised if McCoy goes Justin Zwick on everyone. But then again, no one really knows anything about this guy, so you never know what to expect.
Defending McCoy will be an interesting array of defenses tonight. Tressel has come out and said that he wants to rotate as many as eight defensive linemen (The four starters, plus Alex Barrow, Lawrence Wilson, Joel Penton, and Robert Rose/Tod Denlinger I presume) in the first quarter. All eight of which are remarkably talented players, who showed flashes of brilliance, especially in pass rush, last week against Northern Illinois. Gholston was a force to be reckoned with all day, racking up three sacks (yet only being credited with 1.5). Pitcock did have some trouble handling the double teams, but as long as he continues to get the double teams, things will be easier on the rest of the line. Jay Richardson was the only linemen who showed any attempt at stopping the run, especially on the draws and sweeps. I guess that just comes with experience, but lets hope Texas didn't see any film of those short dumpoffs, because this line looked quite penetrable when caught off guard.
The linebackers, like McCoy, remain the biggest mystery on the Ohio State side of things. When the game actually mattered last week (I really can't use the final 2.5 quarters to judge the defense, considering the intensity level was down so much and everyone was relaxing more. Not to mention, Heacock was going relatively conservative against NIU), the defense forced three consecutive punts, all of which resulted in three Buckeye TD passes. Then, when NIU actually seemed to be going somewhere, the slower-than-expected Larry Grant made an interception which led to a fourth Buckeye TD. Freeman and Laurinaitis will start again this week, but at the #1 spot in the depth chart, the WLB is listed as "John Kerr OR Ross Homan." As you remember, Homan actually got off his blocks and got to where he needed to be last week, so if Kerr gets off to another slow start, I doubt there is any hesitation to keep Homan in. Kerr just isn't cut out to play outside linebacker. When Selvin Young is in the game, expect a lot more between the tackles running, which should result in increased activity out of JL. JL's biggest concern last week was that he wasn't getting very involved, but he's the middle linebacker for a reason, and that's not to defend Garrett Wolfe on sweeps.
The secondary is a pretty big unknown as well, but that's not because of inconsistent play last week, it's that Phil Horvath had more room to throw inside of a phone booth. Defensive pressure always makes things easier on everyone else, but it probably won't be as likely to happen against Texas' outstanding offensive line, and with blitzes more likely today, there will be a lot of pressure on the secondary to prevent guys like Limas Sweed and Billy Pittman busting one loose. Run support was a big problem last saturday, with guys like Jamario O'Neal and Brandon Mitchell missing multiple tackles. I wan't too concerned over the loss of Ashton Youboty in pass coverage, but his tackling sure was missed last week, and it's something that they better sure up because Limas Sweed won't be any easier to tackle. In coverage, however, the team looked good. Not great, but better than just okay. Malcolm Jenkins was making reads that true sophomores don't usually make, and he was involved all day. NIU tested Antonio Smith, the walkon redshirt senior who had only played special teams in the past, and Smith also seemed to be up to the challenge. Anderson Russell was an effective nickleback/free safety, but I didn't pay enough attention to him or Nick Patterson to really give a real judgement on them.
When Ohio State has the Ball:
Power vs Power. There's no other way to describe what will happen when the lightning fast, yet equally overpowering Ohio State offense takes the field against the hard-nosed, high flying Longhorn defense. As a starter, Troy Smith is 13-2 with his two losses coming by a combined 14 points. In his last three games dating back to last season, Smith is 54-90 for 939 yards for 6 TDs and no INTs. Add on another 102 yards rushing with a touchdown, and you've got a pretty good player. Add on top of that a 1,300 yard rusher, the nation's top ranked freshman, and some guy named Ginn and the offense should be alright. Well, in the words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend!" The Buckeye offense will have their hands full attacking one of the top defenses in the nation, led by the nation's best defensive coordinator in Gene Chizik. Chizik hasn't lost a game since before I was conceived, and that's because no one is better at preparing his players for the upcoming game than Chiz.
Don't be fooled by the suspension of Tarell Brown, Chizik runs primarily zone defenses, meaning that it wouldn't have been this one on one matchup that everyone thought. Honestly, what defensive coordinator in his right mind would just go tell their cornerback, "Okay, you go out there and go 1-on-1 on Ginn." It's completely ludicrous to even think that would be the case. Ginn has even come out and said that he would probably be covered by Aaron Ross if he were to matched up. But in saying that, this Texas team has now lost their top 3 cornerbacks from last season's national championship squad. You don't just replace that, just like how we don't replace our linebackers. I expect a big day through the air from -- if not Ginn -- almost definitely Gonzalez (which reminds me, Roy Hall is out again). Cedric Griffin will be all over the place, but one guy doesn't make a whole secondary, so someone else is going to have to step it up big time to keep this game within reach for the Texas running game.
As I mentioned earlier this week, this game will be won and lost in the trenches. Can our Big 5 stop Okam and the super quick ends Brian Robison and Tim Crowder? Kirk Barton is one of the best pass blockers in the Big 10, and Alex Boone is one of the most talented linemen in the country, albeit inexperienced. Doug Datish is a captain for a reason, and he will be leading the offensive line, and will probaby be assigned on Okam quite a bit. If Ohio State can jump out to an early lead, the rest of the game will be on the shoulders of the offensive line as Antonio Pittman and Chris Wells will get the bulk of the work. But then again, an early lead is unlikely, so I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.
This game is almost too close to call. Check that, it IS too close to call. The matchups are incredible even, the talent level is through the roof, and despite all the preseason talk of no proven top teams, I'm sure no one else could pick a better matchup. Don't be surprised if we see overtime, or even if the game is over by halftime. I'm picking Ohio State for now, but that's all due to my allegiances. I'm sure if I were a fan of any other team I'd give Texas a slight edge, but that's not the way it is, is it?