Dave and Drew Thurman (9:56 pm)
Drew: Many times my father and I have discussions (like this one) about Ohio State football, and we would like to start offering these to our readers. We both have much different opinions and views on what is going on, but that should be expected from two generations of Buckeye fans. The issue that obviously seems to be on our minds the most is about the game looming in Glendale on January 5th.
So anyways, dad, I am interested to hear your opinion about the Texas defense. In your preview of the coaches a few days back, you were very complimentary of Will Muschamp and what he is doing. I personally am not sure how much respect I have for their defense at this point, and I know that many fans have very poor opinions of the Big 12 defensively. Thoughts?
Dave: I agree that the Big 12 is an offense first conference, but I think the Texas defense is for real. They improved by about 7 points a game from last year, finishing 20th in the nation at 18.6 ppg. I think when you realize that they played explosive offenses like Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Missouri, and Oklahoma State, those numbers are very impressive. Obviously they didn't play anyone who has the running threat that Beanie and Pryor pose, but the scary thing is that they were 2nd in the NCAA in rush defense, surrendering only 73.6 ypg. The Buckeyes need to establish the run and try to keep the Texas offense off the field, but I don't think it will be easy. Texas may not be as good defensively as USC or Penn State, but I think they are very solid, and that's good enough when you average 44 points a game.
Drew: I think the Texas defense is the beneficiary of the offense jumping out on teams, and they have forced teams to get into a throwing shoot out with them, which has ended ugly. So I agree the Buckeye offense working to keep the Longhorn offense off the field is the best defense. By far the best running attack they saw all year was Oklahoma with Brown and Murray, but the Sooners abandoned the run in that game. They fell into the trap of throwing too much, and those two only rushed the ball 14 times together. The Buckeyes offense will not do this, because they aren't set up to do this. Texas' opponents have averaged 26 carries a game, whereas the Buckeyes average 42 carries a game. More than even Beanie, I think Pryor's rushing ability could hurt the Longhorns. If you watch their defensive ends, they over pursue a lot, and this will give Pryor the green light to run all day. Speaking of Pryor, a lot rests on his shoulders in this game. There are a lot of questions on how he will perform after a month of preparation. What do you think?
Dave: It concerns me that so much is being placed on the back of a freshman, going up against what may well be the most complete team in the nation. But you are right, Pryor needs to be able to run the ball effectively and make good decisions. Turnovers will spell disaster for the Buckeyes. Obviously Pryor is not your average freshman, and the 6 weeks between the last game and the Fiesta Bowl gives him lots of opportunity to watch film and improve upon his weaknesses. I think he will have a good game, but I'm not sure that will be enough. My biggest fear is the OSU coaches panicking if Texas scores some early points. It is imperative that we stick with the game plan of running the ball, picking our spots to throw, and taking time off the clock. If we get in a shootout with Texas it will spell our doom.
Drew: Well first off, I don't think there is anymore pressure on Pryor than there is any other OSU quarterback that has played in a BCS game like this. Quarterback play has haunted the Buckeyes in the last two big games (against LSU and USC), and I think the public knows the importance of that position for the Buckeyes. On top of that his play could determine what the Longhorn defense throws at the Buckeyes. For example, if you remember last year's game against LSU, a lot of things turned when the Buckeyes decided to air it out only. The Tigers finally committed to the blitz, and Boeckman and the Buckeyes didn't do anything to burn that blitz. Pryor has to keep the defense honest with his running ability and the extending of plays. Now unlike LSU, Texas rarely blitzes a corner or saftey; they count on strong defensive end and linebacker play. This is very similar to what Heacock does with the Buckeye defense, so Pryor should be ready for it. So it is imperative that Pryor commits to either getting rid of the ball or running, because holding on to it will allow the DE's and LB's to pin their ears back; the Bucks have to keep them honest.
Dave: Good point on the fact that all OSU QB's face pressue - it goes with the territory. But if a couple of 5th year guys (Smith and Boeckman) couldn't handle it against Flordia and LSU, how well will a first year player deal with it? I guess we'll see if Pryor really does have an "S" on his chest. Texas led the nation in sacks with 44, so Terrelle will have his hands full. I think he could exploit their quick pursuing ends with some QB draws, but he's got to be careful to not hold onto the ball too long or get blindsided by Orakpo. Turnovers killed the Buckeyes against USC and LSU, and they have to take care of the football. The one positive I keep telling myself is that it wasn't until the end of the year that Beanie, Boom, and Pryor were all able to play together, and when they did the Bucks ran the ball exceptionally well. If Beanie is close to healthy that will help, and ball control is definitely the key in this game. It would also be a bonus if Ray Small or Lamaar Thomas could break one on a punt or kickoff. Speaking of that, what's your take on OSU-Texas special teams units?
Drew: To be honest, the Buckeyes have to keep an eye on Jordan Shipley. He has to be the fastest white boy I have ever seen, and has a punt and kick return touchdown on the year. The Buckeyes have been good in coverage all season long, and that needs to continue. On the other hand, Texas is weaker in kick return coverage than punt coverage (giving up 23.4 yards a return). Hopefully this is Lamaar's breakout game, because the Buckeyes have not blown me away in kick returns for the majority of the year. But enough from me on special teams; I think the side of the ball that will have my attention the most will be the Ohio State defense vs. the Texas offense. The Buckeyes have been pretty weak on D in the big games, do you think that continues? Can the Buckeyes handle the spread?
Dave: You just had to mention the spread, didn't you? Nothing strikes fear into me more than a team that can run the spread effectively with good athletes. Heacock has never figured out how to account for every skill position player in this set, and our linebackers who are so good against a more traditional offense, often seem lost when they face the spread. I think we have to do things to be effective: 1) Bring pressure, even though it is frightening to blitz a team sending out a posse of receivers; and 2) Spy on Colt McCoy who actually was the leading rusher for the Longhorns. Texas runs multiple sets and sometimes features two receivers, other times three, and on occasion four. Becuase they hit you with so many looks, and don't always run the spread, it is difficult to game plan for them. I think Heacock has his hands full, and I fear that the Bucks give up a ton of yardage in this game.
Drew: I was originally a little more optimistic about stopping their spread, due to the fact that the Longhorns do not feature a premiere running back, but I have more and more doubts as I watch additional film. McGee, Johnson, and Ogbonnaya all run the ball better that we might give them credit for, and could give the Buckeyes trouble when trying to handle multiple receiver sets. If you remember, Illinois' Jason Ford and Daniel Dufrene ate the Buckeyes up in the same sort of look, and that was with Juice Williams at quarterback, not Colt McCoy.
I say all of this to agree with your statement, we must blitz. If there is anything Heacock should have learned by now, it is that sitting back against the spread is deadly. On the other hand, if the defense comes out with a similar game plan as they did against Penn State, the Buckeyes have a real shot at winning this game. That entire game the defensive line was stellar, the safeties actually had a handle on multiple receiver sets, and the linebackers blitzed a lot. McCoy has too good of an arm to just blitz the down lineman, he needs to have a lot of different blitz packages thrown at him. The defense is the best he will see all year, and I hope they come out looking for blood!