The biggest key to this game does not involve any one player. It involves them all. Especially on Ohio State’s side.
This is a big game – no THE big game. Big hype. Big press. Big spotlight.
Ohio State and USC have both been here before, in the big game. But while USC often succeeds on the big stage, OSU has dropped the ball in two straight National Championship games, getting completely blown out against Florida in 2007 and being soundly beaten by LSU last year.
Does that mean OSU cannot win? No, not by any means. In fact, this is a huge statement game for OSU. Coming into this season, many pundits believed OSU was coming of age. This was the year that their experience caught up with their talent – and they have tons of talent returning (19 starters returned). But after a perfect win against Youngstown State, they stumbled badly against the University of Ohio without Wells.
And as if things weren’t tough enough? OSU Coach Jim Tressel broke the news that Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells is out. Now considering how they did when Beanie-less against U of O, this could be very, very bad.
But if they can pull together – this could make their season.
Without Wells, the Buckeyes will need stellar play from several offensive players.
Ohio State quarterback Todd Boekman needs to step up at QB. He hasn’t thrown a ton in part because Wells played the first game and he didn’t have to. Last week Wells was out and the 16/26 for 110 yds and no TDs was nearly not enough. It won’t be enough against USC, and neither will the 187 yds vs Youngstown . No Wells means the QB needs to step up in a way he hasn’t this season.
Terelle Pryor is a combination quarterback/running back with exceptional size and speed who USC probably hasn’t seen all that much of. He’s an explosive player but only saw a little action last week. They will need more from him, as well as Maurice Wells and Brandon Saine. But Pryor brings a whole different dimension.
The defense will need to lock it down harder than they did last week. Against U of O, they allowed 9 of 17 3rd downs to be converted, and against USC that will hurt the team badly. They are an incredibly solid group of veterans and one assumes they will review the tape and make their adjustments. James Laurinaitis brings a huge amount of energy and excitement to the middle linebacker position and is the rock this defense is built on. He and Marcus Freeman at the weakside linebacker position will make USC earn every inch on the ground. Malcolm Jenkins is a big, athletic corner who will make the USC receivers work. But much of the rest of the secondary is mismatched in size and USC could take advantage of this to loosen the defense up for the run game. But overall it’s a very good veteran defensive squad that can play and play hard.
Problem is, where do they start with USC?
Trojan quarterback Mark Sanchez will need to continue his solid play and limit mistakes. OSU is not Virginia. They are a team with more experience and will make it harder on Sanchez, as well as wide receivers Ronald Johnson and Damian Williams. But even when flushed from the pocket, Sanchez showed great poise against Virginia and proved to be just as dangerous.
Unlike the perceived drop off on OSU from Wells to the #2 back, USC’s running backs roll deep. If CJ Gable and Joe McKnight don’t repeat their week 1 stats, Stafon Johnson or Allen Bradford will step up. But no one back seems to have that game changing WOW factor Wells has. The squad as a whole can be productive, but none of the backs have taken over a game the way a Wells or departed SC running back Reggie Bush could. In a pinch, there is no home run hitter to dig them out of a hole and automatically spark the offense.
The Buckeyes will have to tie down the run game and keep Sanchez pressured to keep things close.
The USC defense touts some fantastic players as well, like Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing. It will be up to them to contain the OSU run game and pressure Boekman into making mistakes. If he does – or if a running back breaks past the linebackers and defensive line, USC’s secondary will make them pay. Josh Pinkard has moved to Safety and joined Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison to form a huge, intimidating corner group.
Ohio State will be hard pressed to make too much headway unless they can get both the run and pass games rolling and rolling strong.