"The Tide are the only FBS team that has not allowed a player to run for more than 90 yards this season, and Elliott has eclipsed that mark eight times."
-Jungkyu Lee, ESPN.com
This week, ESPN profiled some of the key matchups to watch for when Ohio State takes on Alabama next month. One of the most intriguing is do-it-all Buckeye tailback Ezekiel Elliott against the most stout rush defense in the country. Alabama ranks second in rushing yards allowed per game in 2014 (88.7) and first in rushing touchdowns allowed (3). Elliott has been Ohio State's most consistent weapon for the last four or five weeks, and the Buckeyes will need that kind of sustained production from him to have a shot against the Tide.
Another area where the Buckeyes might find some hidden production is the deep ball. Cardale Jones aired it out early and often against Wisconsin, hitting Devin Smith with three separate deep balls for touchdowns on his way to 257 yards. Alabama's defense has actually not looked great against the long bomb this year -- in Alabama's last two games, against Auburn and Missouri, the defense gave up nine completions of over 30 yards and two scores on those same throws.
The final key matchup is Alabama's offensive line against Ohio State's pass rush. Between Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, and Adolphus Washington, the Buckeyes wreak plenty of havoc against opposing quarterbacks. But they'll have their work cut out for them in a game against one of the best offensive lines in the country, a unit that has allowed just 13 sacks all year and only puts quarterback Blake Sims under duress on 17 percent of his dropbacks (national average is 20).
"We had a contingency plan. That was Jalin. He got reps at that position all week, but thankfully we didn't have to use him."
-Tom Herman, via Cleveland.com's Ari Wasserman
Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman spoke this week about Ohio State's quarterback situation, which has gotten much thinner in light of the injury to J.T. Barrett. While the next quarterback on the depth chart is ostensibly Stephen Collier, Herman has made it pretty clear that starting H-back Jalin Marshall -- a former high school quarterback -- would be the next option on the roster should something happen to new starter Cardale Jones.
We saw a brief look at what that offensive gameplan might look like last Saturday. With the game against Wisconsin locked up, Marshall took a handoff from Jones, then dropped back to pass. The attempt (a heave back to Jones into double coverage) failed, but Herman has no plans to shake up the pecking order just yet. "It would have taken a bomb to go off in terms of both Cardale and Jalin to go out permanently and the game still be in balance for Stephen to have gone in the game," said Herman.
Still, it's a sobering thought to consider -- the Buckeyes are an injury to Cardale Jones away from rolling out completely unknown options at quarterback. If that's the case, it's a long shot to imagine that Urban Meyer can continue his quarterback magic streak and upset Alabama.
"Meyer and the Buckeyes [have] three weeks to settle into their role as underdogs. That should worry Saban and the Tide."
-David Regimbal, Bleacher Report
One bright spot for Ohio State heading into their New Year's tilt with Alabama, a game in which they're nine point underdogs? Urban Meyer has some experience playing spoiler to the heavy favorites. Of course, the most dramatic example of this in Meyer's career came at the Buckeyes' expense: his Florida team soundly beat Ohio State in the 2006 season's title game, a contest in which the Gators were expected to get run off the field.
Meyer has used the underdog mentality as a motivational tool in the past. The Buckeyes will need a good deal of that against Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama has looked nigh-unstoppable since his team's only stumble this season, an upset at the hands of Ole Miss. Ohio State's defense will have its hands full between Heisman finalist wideout Amari Cooper and wrecking ball running back Derrick Henry, and its offense will be tasked with moving the ball against one of the best defensive fronts in the country.
Since Urban Meyer took over in Columbus, the Buckeyes have been projected to lose four times. They're 4-0 in those contests. They've already proved critics wrong twice this season, upsetting Michigan State and Wisconsin in their two biggest games of the year. Here's hoping they can make it look just as easy the third time around.
"Herman won the Broyles Award this season, given to the nation's top assistant coach. That puts a trophy on the mantle but doesn't say as much as his work with the quarterbacks and offense at Ohio State has."
-Zac Jackson, Fox Sports Ohio
With all of the high-profile coaching vacancies opening in college football after this roller coaster of a season, teams are looking for the best candidates to overhaul their programs. One of those candidates could very well be Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman.
Herman has been a wizard this year, helping Urban Meyer mold both J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones into viable, game-ready quarterbacks on extremely short notice. The offense hasn't missed a beat without Braxton Miller this season, and in fact has reached new heights in his absence. A good deal of the credit for that has to go to Herman.
Herman has never worked as a head coach before. That shouldn't (and won't) stop a program or two from making him an offer to take over the reins. The two most likely candidates heading into Friday are Houston and Pitt, though FS Ohio's Jackson thinks Michigan shouldn't ignore Herman, either. Stay tuned, as Land-Grant Holy Land will have you covered when Herman's decision about his future becomes final.
STICK TO SPORTS:
- Shelley Meyer's hair caught on fire during her own birthday celebration this week.
- Genesee Brewing Co., home of the cheap beer that Upstate NY kids drank in high school, made a Christmas tree out of 300 kegs.
- Cool story about a group of friends ditching NYC to build a cabin in the woods.
- Looking for holiday gift ideas? Columbus Underground's "Gifts that Give Twice" list has you covered.