The final game of the 2018 season — and the Urban Meyer era — is upon on us. One of the most prolific coaches in college football history will take to the sideline for the final time in the Scarlet and Gray on Tuesday as he leads his Big Ten Champion, No. 6-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes against Chris Petersen’s Pac-12 Champions and ninth-ranked Washington Huskies in the 105th playing of the Granddaddy of Them All.
Many have boiled this traditional Rose Bowl matchup down to a battle between Ohio State’s prolific passing attack (second best nationally) against Washington’s stout passing defense (18th nationally). However, UW is led by two veterans on offense and the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year in the middle of its linebacking corps. So, there is much more to Tuesday’s contest than just what the Buckeyes are, and are not, able to do through the air.
To get an idea as to what exactly the Buckeyes are going to be up against, we talked to John Sayler from SB Nation’s Washington blog UW Dawg Pound about what Ohio State fans should expect from the Huskies on Saturday afternoon.
Land-Grant Holy Land: The Rose Bowl will pit Ohio State’s strength vs. Washington’s strength as an offense averaging 373 yards per game through the air goes against a defense that only allows 185.4 passing yards per contest.
The Huskies started half of the Pac-12 first-team secondary this season, so they clearly have athletes in the back of their defense, but what does defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski do with that talent that has allowed them to be so dominate against the pass this season?
John Sayler: What Washington does is dare its opponents to run the football. Quarterbacks are trained to assess the number of defenders near the line of scrimmage, and make the run/pass decision based on what they see. It’s always going to look like a defensive alignment susceptible to the run. But it’s not. Teams eventually throw the ball regardless of what the defense looks like, and Washington is ready to defend the pass with between five and seven DBs on the field at all times. A big key to being so good against the pass is how well they stop the run with only six “in the box.”
Ohio State poses a significant challenge with their level of talent at the WR position and obviously with Haskins pulling the trigger. UW will cover well, but getting to Haskins and not allowing him to move freely in the pocket will be a huge key in this game. The Huskies don’t have a particularly great pass rush.
Land-Grant Holy Land: While the story of this game will likely be about how Washington defends Dwayne Haskins and the OSU passing attack, UW is also excellent against the run with Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Ben Burr-Kirven in the middle.
With Washington allowing only 116.38 rushing yards per game (OSU averages 175.77 ypg), the Huskies are very well-rounded on defense. If the Buckeyes are going to score, is there a particular weakness that they can/should attack?
John Sayler: Balance is the key to beating Washington’s defense. Any team that has had success against Washington has been able to run the football effectively, and strike downfield in the passing game. The Huskies play very sound team defense and tackle really well, forcing teams to sustain drives with short passes and modest runs.
Burr-Kirven is certainly one of the leaders of the defense, and he will be all over the field making tackles. UW has very good speed on defense, and doesn’t make many mistakes. If you don’t hit a big play or two, it’s really hard to maintain a 3-5 yard-per-crack drive without a negative play or penalty. Ohio State will surely try to hit some big plays, and whether or not they succeed on those will go a long way in deciding the outcome of the Rose Bowl.
Land-Grant Holy Land: This will be quarterback Jake Browning’s final game for the Huskies, after a record-setting collegiate career. However, despite his historic success, UW has struggled to move the ball through the air this season, ranking 66th nationally with 232.5 yards per game.
Is that a product of Browning not having a great year, or the balance that the offense has with Myles Gaskin in the backfield?
John Sayler: Washington’s passing game has been just OK this season, and at times the running game has struggled as well. When Gaskin was down with a shoulder injury for a few games, the offense as a whole was quite meager. Browning has struggled under pressure at times this season, making some rookie mistakes that have caused some to say he has regressed as a whole. Regardless, he’s a veteran with a really high football IQ and great timing and accuracy. People tend to take for granted how easy he makes some things look on the football field.
A Chris Petersen offense will always use the passing game to setup the run, but running the football is what they ultimately want to do. You just don’t see QBs under Petersen put up huge yardage numbers. Even in 2016 when Browning was Pac-12 Offensive Player of the year, UW ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game. It’s about being efficient, not so much about being prolific.
Land-Grant Holy Land: Speaking of Gaskin, it will be his final game for Washington as well. He is on the verge of becoming only the second player in Division I history to run for 1,200 yards in four seasons.
Knowing how prone Ohio State is to allowing big plays, how do you expect the UW offense to use Browning and Gaskin in order to outscore OSU?
John Sayler: It’s going to depend a lot on what they are being given by the Ohio State defense. You can be pretty sure that UW will throw the ball early in the game, but what you see them lean toward is what they think they can make work against OSU. They’ll have an idea of what they want to do, but a Petersen offensive game plan is quite fluid.
If one approach is not getting good results, adjustments will be made. On the other hand, if the Buckeyes are having trouble with the stretch play, expect to see more and more stretch plays.
If the wide receiver screen is working, look for that to continue. If tight end Hunter Bryant is posing matchup problems, expect Browning to look to him over and over. The Husky offense is quite balanced and can hurt you a number of ways, but giving the opponent a heavy does of Gaskin — particularly in the second half — is where they want to be.
Land-Grant Holy Land: Washington head coach Chris Petersen is no stranger to trick plays. If the Huskies pull some razzle-dazzle on Tuesday, what do you expect that to look like?
John Sayler: Well, I know for a fact that there are going to be three Double-Flea-Flicker-Tight-End-Option-Passes, a pair of Fumble-Rooskies, and a new play where a UW receiver pops up from underground in the endzone (à la the Gopher in Caddyshack) and catches a pass while dancing to Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright”
The thing is, a trick play is supposed to catch a defense off guard. With everyone always on the lookout for Petersen to resort to trickery, it’s amazing they ever do them. I don’t really think the Huskies do that many “trick plays.” They have two staples of their offense which are kind of razzle dazzle: The double pass, and the toss-reverse. The toss-reverse is sure to be used at least once, and that is where they pitch it to the running back who then flips it back to a receiver coming the other way.
The double pass is usually a wide receiver screen that goes backwards, and then a pass to the tight end down the sideline. As opposed to most double passes that look for a receiver to get behind the safeties, UW uses it to hit a 20-40 yard play in the open area vacated when the linebackers and corners race up to the line of scrimmage.
Land-Grant Holy Land: What’s your score prediction for the Rose Bowl and why?
John Sayler: Chris Petersen and Jake Browning have had a terrific run for four years, rolling up 39 wins and achieving the first three 10-win seasons Washington has enjoyed since 2000. That said, where they have struggled is against teams with greater overall talent on their roster, and that is what they will face on New Year’s Day.
I certainly think the Huskies can win this game, but Haskins is an excellent QB with mobility, accuracy, and some really talented targets. UW should be able to slow the Buckeyes’ offense somewhat, but there is no way they shut them down.
Offensively, I think UW will be able to make some big plays, especially in the running game. I think these teams are pretty evenly matched, but Ohio State is just a notch better.
Ohio State 28, Washington 24
The No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes will face the No. 9 Washington Huskies in the 105th edition of the Rose Bowl on Tuesday, Jan. 1. The game will be broadcast on ESPN from Pasadena, Calif. with kickoff scheduled for somewhere in the vicinity of 5 p.m. ET.