In 2010, Ohio State met Oregon in the Rose Bowl. An Oregon offense, renown for their speed and hurry-up tempo squared off against a tough, defensively minded Ohio State team with a lanky, strong, mobile QB and a few freak athletes on offense. Sound familiar?
Jim Tressel, who coached the 2010 Buckeyes to their 26-17 Rose Bowl victory, thinks that it's power football that will win this game. In an interview last week on cleveland.com Tressel said:
I don't think power will ever go out of fashion in football. Not at the highest level. There'll be a lot of statistics made without it, but there won't be too many championships made without it.
Here's a few things that stuck out to me on re-watching the game's highlights.
First, even though it was just a few years ago, revisiting this cast of characters was a very pleasant walk down memory lane. Boom Herron, Dane Sanzenbacher, DeVier Posey, Jake Ballard, Brandon Saine, Kurt Coleman, Terrelle Pryor. There was a lot of NFL talent on this team.
Oregon allowed Terrelle Pryor to go wild
Terrelle Pryor had a big day against Oregon. He was the MVP of the game, and it's easy to see why. Pryor was Ohio State's leading runner for the game, piling up 72 yards with his easy gliding running style (on 20 carries though...). The Ducks got to him occasionally, particularly with back side pressure, but late in the fourth the Oregon defense began fading, allowing Pryor to lower his shoulder, run through tackles, and pick up valuable yards. These late runs were critical to Ohio State being able to outlast Oregon with clock management in the fourth quarter.
The biggest surprise of the game was Pryor passing success, though. Pryor was 23 for 37 on the day passing, good for 266 yards, 2 TDs and an interception. Short passes, long bombs, broken plays that miraculously paid off, Pryor had it all going on. The offensive line was just OK in this game - the pressure got to Pryor quite a bit, but in the limited time he had, Pryor made Oregon pay.
Pryor's success should be a good sign for Cardale Jones, another strong, tall, fast QB. Jones is probably a better passer (particularly when going long), a better game manager, and will be operating behind a better offensive line. Plus Jones doesn't have a season of miles on him already. If Cardale keeps it together mentally and physically, this could be a fun day for him.
Quick passes led to quick runs for Oregon. Lots of swing passes, pitches, reverses, screens, read options, etc. allowed Oregon to get the ball to its playmakers quickly, and they capitalized. Oregon had a mobile QB in Jeremiah Masoli, a big back in LaGarrette Blount, a speedster in LaMichael James, and Chip Kelly at the helm. Everyone expected offensive fireworks from the Ducks and they delivered.
Consistently, Oregon's athletes would dink and dunk their way in 12-14 yard spurts down the field, moving quickly and looking like they were headed for the end zone, but as the field compressed, the Buckeye defense would hold strong to force a field goal.
I'd expect a similar style of play on Monday. The Buckeyes' only hope is to contain and slow down this Oregon offense in the red zone - stifling it is probably too much to ask. This is a defense, however, that ruined Melvin Gordon's Heisman campaign and kept Amari Cooper as in check as possible. They're experienced at damaged control, and that'll be the name of the game come Monday.
In-game defensive improvements were key
I said above that the Oregon offense was able to move the ball down the field pretty effectively, but Ohio State's defense got better and better as the game went on. Oregon's yards per drive declined in the second half, they scored just once, and Ohio State forced two punts and fumble. The speed started to wear down and the Silver Bullets became more comfortable with the Oregon style of play.
Ohio State will no doubt have to adapt again on Monday, but the Alabama game showed they're up to the task.
Special teams gaffes can kill you
Uncharacteristic of a Jim Tressel team, Ohio State had some trouble on punt and kick returns in this game. DeVier Posey stood in for the suspended Ray Small on Ohio State's return team and did basically nothing all day. Dan Herron managed 44 yards on his two returns, but other than that, no one was able to do anything on special teams.
Tressel acknowledged these special team problems this week and warned against allowing them again.
"Terrelle Pryor had a big day running and throwing, just like Cardale Jones did against Alabama," Tressel said of the Rose Bowl win. "If we hadn't fouled up in the special teams, if we didn't allow all those returns, we could have won more decisively than we did."
Ohio State had similar issues last week against Alabama, and it very nearly cost the Buckeyes when they had to start from within the 5-yard line on two separate drives. Let's not tempt fate this week.
Oregon, on the other hand, nearly broke the game open with their return successes. The team combined for 199 yards of returns, on just seven tries. Nothing went back for a score, but it's issues like this that can creep in and ruin an otherwise solid performance.
Ohio State must be solid in all aspects of the game Monday as well - turnovers, blocked punts, long returns, etc. could be the difference maker in this game. Turnovers made the first half of the Sugar Bowl look a little ugly. Those mistakes can't happen again.
Tressel again, warning against sloppy play:
"You can't turn it over against Oregon," he said. "Florida State will tell you that. Because if you give them too many possessions, they're just too talented. Marcus Mariota (the Ducks' quarterback) is a special kid. He can look like -- you say, 'Oh, well, maybe he's not good' – and all of a sudden he has three straight scoring drives."
The Big Plays
DeVier Posey and Brandon Saine recorded some huge receptions. Saine was a jet when lined up as a receiver, catching a 10 or 12 yard pass and adding 25 yards after the catch. DeVier Posey made the Oregon secondary look positively sluggish when he ran under a Pryor long bomb for a 36 yard catch early in the second half. It may have been that Oregon was cheating up to stop running juggernaut Boom Herron that allowed Ohio State such passing success, but Posey and Saine were both athletic freaks, probably among the fastest Oregon had faced that year.
This Ohio State team is no stranger to the Big Play either, and I'd look for Devin Smith, Evan Spencer early and often. If this Oregon team tries to stack the box to stop Ezekiel Elliott, Urban Meyer, Tom Herman and Cardale Jones are well equipped to make them pay.