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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive Preview: OSU at USC
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar
Ever since USC thrashed Illinois in the Rose Bowl in January, and the Buckeyes made it to the BCS Championship Game, both teams knew their 2008 editions would be loaded, September 13th was circled on the calendar, and the game would be promoted as the most compelling non-conference game on the 2008 slate, if not the game of the year in the entire regular season.  Well, it's here.  And Buckeye Dan has all the latest on The Game, the Trojans, and Beanie in his preview of this battle of the titans. September 13, 2008

The Coliseum, Los Angeles, California

Ohio State vs. USC

8:00 p.m. (ET)



So you've heard there's a big college football game this Saturday. And since you clicked on this article knowing full well it purports to be a preview of the game, you  a) must have missed the other 93 game previews in the media in the last couple weeks... b) must have hoped there might still be something original or insightful to say about the game... c) must have been frantically looking for
the latest news on Beanie's big toe, or d) must have ten minutes to kill before lunch.

Ever since
USC thrashed Illinois in the Rose Bowl in January, and the Buckeyes made it to the BCS Championship Game, both teams knew their 2008 editions would be loaded, September 13th was circled on the calendar, and the game would be promoted as the most compelling non-conference game on the 2008 slate, if not the game of the year in the entire regular season.

We took
a look at the game in this space months ago, and Wells' injury aside, not a lot has changed in terms of the match-ups in personnel, or in the importance of the outcome for regional bragging rights, conference reputations and coaches' resumés.

What has changed is the perception of the two teams nationally after their first games. USC
blew out Virginia 52-7, in their opener, an impressive road win, albeit over a weak team in a conference that is decidedly down in 2008. But as tame as the ACC may be this year, their stature still dwarfs that of the MAC, home to Ohio University, the team the Buckeyes squeaked by on Saturday, 26-14, with two big fourth-quarter special teams plays. 

As a result, the Trojans cemented the top spot in the polls, while the Bucks dropped from No. 3 to No. 5. The betting line for the game has soared in the past week, from somewhere near three points to something north of ten, last time I looked. Small wonder.

As the No. 1 ranked team in the land, USC would seem to be the team playing under pressure. But Pete Carroll's team appears to reflect his loose, carefree personality, and they'll have the friendly confines of their home field to put them at ease. OSU is 1-5 lifetime at the L.A. Coliseum.

The Buckeyes too are the reflection of their coach, the quiet, serious, conservative dude in the sweater-vest. It is the Buckeyes who have the bigger monkey on their backs coming into this game. They admit to be itching to put to rest the talk that they beat up on lesser opponents while flopping on the big stage. And nothing will scratch that itch except taking down one of the big boys with the whole country watching.

So the timing is perfect in terms of the opportunity, but the circumstances make it an uphill battle for the Bucks to pull it off. The Trojans are extremely tough to beat at home, and even tougher to beat when they have more than a week to prepare (they had an open date last week). They have beaten their last six Big Ten opponents by an average of over 27 points, and they boast a team as talented and deep as any in recent memory in college football. Then there's the big toe thing.

Can we please just kick it off right now? I think I've got them overconfident.

Looking at the game four months ago, I wrote that the two excellent defenses would cancel each other out, and the experience and depth of the OSU offensive line would combine with Chris Wells to give the Bucks a slight edge...enough at least to pull out a win. USC returns only two of last year's starters on the offensive line, and their QB Mark Sanchez is in his first full year as the starter. While that now looks a tad optimistic, I still think there's a strong performance in these Buckeyes waiting to come out, if they can accomplish a few key things in this game.

For what it's worth, my keys to a Buckeye victory:

Hit 'em in the mouth early:

I don't mean necessarily scoring a big TD early. (In fact, if we run the kickoff back, or have a long TD dash for an early 7-0 lead, Buckeye fans everywhere will swear it's "deja vu all over again.") I'm talking about seriously hitting them in the mouth early. Not taking cheap shots out of frustration, like what happened late in the LSU game last year, when a couple guys surprisingly lost their composure...but getting physical with them from the opening kickoff, and letting them know they're going to be in a rugged, hard-hitting game for 60 minutes. Their tailbacks are talented, but they're not big. Their QB is a good passer, but he's not particularly mobile, and he's got a bad knee. Hit them early and often, and see how they hold up.

Establish the short passing game:

I think this is absolutely necessary, not just because there will be five and six guys coming after the quarterback on every play, and the time for Boeckman will be limited, but also because it's unlikely the Buckeyes will be able to run the ball successfully unless they can make the Trojan defense respect what they can do through the air. If the disadvantage to Hartline and Robiskie is their lack of top-end speed (and it is), their advantage is their size and hands, and their potential to break a tackle or two and get some yards after the catch...or at least to move the chains with some consistency. If the Bucks aren't involving the backs and tight ends in the passing attack, forcing USC to deal with five or six potential receivers, it could be a long night trying to generate offense, especially with Wells at less than 100%.

Send the house at Sanchez:

Please learn something from the lessons Pete Carroll has been teaching Big Ten teams for several years now. The college game is won by disruption of the play in the backfield, whether it's a run or a pass, by sending more rushers than there are blockers. Don't try to get pressure on the passer with just four guys. It won't be enough. Ask Chad Henne and John Navarre and Juice Williams for starters. And hit Sanchez, whether you sack him or not. Every time. If  you get a late hit call, so be it. You're forgiven in advance for at least one. If I see Thaddeus Gibson dropping into zone pass coverage I will spit nachos into the salsa bowl.

Spend some quality time with The Kid:

Play Pryor...when it counts. Get wide. Make them play defense sideline to sideline. Pryor is the guy who will make them do that. Make use of the speed of Small, Posey and Washington as a way to force USC to defend the whole field. Can you say reverse?

Boeckman must provide leadership and decision-making:

This is almost too obvious to merit mention, but let's face it...your 6th-year senior has to have the game of his life. He needs to see the middle of the field, and be able to pull the trigger to secondary targets, instead of having the QB scramble as the second option, as has been his tendency to date. I like the fact that he is big enough and athletic enough to run when he has to, without constant risk of injury (like on 4th and 1, maybe?) but it can't be a substitute for checking down (quickly) to a third or even a fourth receiver option. On top of that, OSU could use some intangibles from this guy, whatever they may be...something a little Krenzelesque maybe.

Stuff the run:

Again, not an original thought...but the OSU defense has the capability to shut down the Trojan running game. The USC line is relatively green, and if the Bucks defensive line can win that battle, holding the Trojans under say, 120 yards rushing for the game, and forcing Sanchez to pass on 3rd downs, the odds get better for the Buckeyes.

Score a special teams TD:

This could be asking too much, but it could put the Bucks over the top. Tell Austin Spitler all is forgiven for the flag at the worst possible moment in the LSU game. Go for the blocked punt. Try a fake field goal. Do whatever it takes to win the special teams battle. Nothing rattles an opponent's psyche like a blocked kick. Leave it all out there.

Did I mention...leave it all out there?

Now, please, can we kick the damn thing off?



OSU Athletic Dept. Game Notes - (.pdf)   All you can eat, and more.

Stewart Mandel - Sports Illustrated

Collision in the Coliseum - picks OSU to win - simulated OSU-USC Game

Before you watch the game...learn the rules. An
entertaining and informative column by our colleague Jesse Lamovsky.

The TCF Forums