Sunday, January 07, 2007

My 5 Keys to the game

5. Don't make Florida a pass-first team
Make them a pass-first, pass-second, and pass-third team. The one thing Florida has drawn the most criticism about over the season is that they don't have much of a run game whatsoever. Their leading rusher, running back DeShawn Wynn, only has a grand total of 630 yards rushing this season. However, he's only had one game this season in which he has carried to football more than 15 times. In fact, the Gators as a whole only average roughly 33 rushing attempts per game. This is compared to the Buckeyes, another "pass first" team, who have almost 40 more total carries in one less game this season.

Don't be fooled by the stats, however. Ohio State may be ranked 16th in the nation in rush defense, but you have to remember that this is a team that has showed they are vulnerable against the run. Mike Hart had 142 yards and three touchdowns against us. Garrett Wolfe had 171 yards against us (and that's not even getting into the screen passes). Texas abandoned the run early, but Selvin Young still averaged 8.55 yards per carry in that game. Now, fortunately for us, Wynn isn't in the same tier of ability as those guys, so the chances of him going ballistic are minimal. However, the majority of the Ohio State defenders have no experience facing an offense designed to spread out defenses and create mismatches, so there's always that chance that the defense falls flat on its face when trying to defend the run.

4. Use your head!
We're playing against Urban Meyer, and he has had a month to prepare for the biggest game of his professional life. You think we're going to see some trickery? The last thing any fan wants to see in any game is a big play where the defense made some sort of elementary mistake such as a defensive end losing backside contain or a cornerback running in the wrong direction. This is where the issue of the 51 day layoff really comes into play. Guys are going to be a bit raw, especially as fatigue sets in and the game wears on. It won’t be a surprise to see players fall into the most basic of traps, and then BAM! Before you know it, Percy Harvin is throwing a deep route to Dallas Baker with no one around, and Florida gets seven points, just like that. That's why this falls completely on how Tressel and the assistants treated their players after the Michigan game. Were they soft on the guys? It's doubtful, but if they were, then you're going to see a lot of mentally-weak players out there not finishing plays and not defending their assignments.

3. Pull out all the stops
In his tenure as head coach, especially in the post-Krenzel era, Jim Tressel has become known for opening up the playbook and doing a lot of non-Tresselesque things in the bowl games. Whether it's lining up Ted Ginn at quarterback, running option reverses, or just simply being more vertical in the passing game, there's no question that the play-calling becomes much more aggressive as the season wears on. My biggest concern at this moment is that Tressel opened up too much of the playbook one game too early, and perhaps gave the Florida scouts a bit more information than one would be comfortable with. ESPN addressed the issue somewhat earlier in the week when they attempted to breakdown our 5-wide set which was used 24 times with great success against Michigan. I'm sure that this set is going to get its fair share of looks as the game wears on, but to say that it will be the primary offense like it was back in November is highly irrational. Remember, for each of the "big" games this season (at Texas, at Iowa, and Michigan), the offense went through vast changes from the prior week. Against Texas, we saw a multitude of what appeared to be pre-determined shifts at the line of scrimmage, especially early on, which clearly confused the Texas defense and allowed for some big plays (most notably the pass to Ginn over the middle which went for a big gain). Against Iowa we implemented a motion out of the backfield which resulted in either Antonio Pittman or Beanie split wide right. Although neither of the backs were huge factors in the passing game, they opened up the middle of the field for Gonzo to have a huge game. Against Michigan, of course, were the aforementioned 5-wide sets.

So what does this game hold for the offense? Only time will tell, but if I had to guess, I would have to assume that it would have quite a bit to do with implementing Ted Ginn into all aspects of the game. Catching, running, returning, and dare I say throwing?

2. Win in the trenches
Sound familiar? I listed this as my #1 key to beating Texas, and as the biggest reason why Ohio State would defeat Iowa back in September. In fact, both times, I gave it the same title as the one here. The fact of the matter is that in any football game, when the talent level is so equal, the deciding factor is always on the lines. Just take a look at the three games this season where the offensive line has had the biggest impact on the outcome. Against Texas, Troy Smith had all day and then some to throw the ball, and the result was a complete thumping of the Longhorns in their own home stadium. The reason the Iowa game was so one-sided was for the same exact reasons. Iowa was incapable of creating an effective pass rush without blitzing, so when they did blitz, the big passes came much easier. How about Michigan? LaMarr Woodley and Alan Branch are both All-American-caliber players, yet in that game they totaled six tackles, zero sacks, and one fluke interception combined. It's no coincidence that in all three games, the offensive line dominated for the majority of the game and that the Buckeyes came out victorious pretty easily (yes, Michigan game included) each time.

I'm pretty content with the situation for tomorrow. One of Florida's glaring weaknesses is that they have unable to create a pass-rush this season. The one question mark that remains is Alex Boone's ability to create backside protection, as he has been inconsistent with it all season long. In fact, the reason as to why he remains a starter over Tim Schafer is his ability to absolutely dominate in the running game with his ability to get to the second level. The latest depth chart reveals Steve Rehring as the starting left guard, which is something I have been supporting for quite some time now. He's one of the biggest lineman we have, as opposed to Schafer, who is relatively undersized for his position (a converted defensive lineman, he is only listed at a somewhat generous 290). One would argue that it may create vision issues for the already vertically-challenged Troy Smith, but when he’s spending the majority of the game out of shotgun, I don’t see cut-off passing lanes being an issue. On the other side of the ball, things should also weigh in our favor. The defensive line is extraordinarily deep, and this extra time off should only help to get everyone healthy. In fact, Tressel recently stated that the entire team is at 100%, with the exception of linebacker John Kerr, who is battling an undisclosed injury.

1. Troy Story, a happy ending?

Since the BCS's inception, the Heisman trophy winner has played in a BCS bowl game every season except for 1998. Only three times has the winner of the Heisman won that bowl game, and only once was that in a National Championship game (Matt Leinart in 2004). History is against Troy Smith tomorrow night, but looking back on his life, when have the odds not been against him? We've all heard it a million times before, but why not bring it up one more time? Here is a kid that was orphaned at a young age when his mom had drug issues, he was the final scholarship offer from the 2002 class, was brought in as an athlete, spending time at kick returner and running back, then was moved to quarterback before the 2004 season. In that season, the man he was battling for the quarterback spot, Justin Zwick, was repeatedly chosen over him, and Troy never got a real shot at it until Zwick went down with an injury. Then, as it looked like things were finally turning in Smith's favor, leading the Buckeyes to a victory over the heavily favored Wolverines, the infamous $500 dollar handshake occurred, and he was suspended for the Alamo Bowl and the season opener the next season. Yet, with all of that against him, he was able to rise up to the top and has forever cemented himself in Buckeye eminence. Now, he has one final game. A last hurrah, if you will. Will he do as so many other past Heisman winners have done and drifted into invisibility when it matters most, or will he rise to the occasion one last time? It all depends on Troy's state of mind. Is he content with all he has accomplished, has he let the accolades get to his head, or does he want a National title to call his own? I think I speak for everyone here when I say that we're all hoping and praying for the latter, because we know that without Troy, we don't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning this game. But I and the rest of the Buckeyes have seen the man that Troy has become since 2004, and I'm confident in knowing which Troy will show up tomorrow.

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