The Ohio State is a pretty balanced team on offense, averaging 195 yards rushing and 215 yards passing per game, but they love to put pressure on a defense with their dual-threat quarterback, Troy Smith.
Smith's ability to run opens up a lot of opportunities for the Buckeye offense, and we expect them to try to take advantage of that in the Fiesta Bowl. Smith seems to drive the truck for Ohio State, and if he's hot, the Ohio State offense can do some damage.
Troy Smith has really grown over the season as the starter at quarterback for the Buckeyes. In the last four games Smith completed 68 percent of his passes, for 908 yards and seven touchdowns. His season stats consist of 62 percent passing, 1,940 yards and 14 touchdowns with only four interceptions, so most of his damage was done in the final four games.
Smith isn't Michael Vick running the football, but he is dangerous enough to change a defensive game plan. He's got deceptive speed, and at 225 pounds, he can move the pile.
But his running opens up so much for the Buckeye offense. Ohio State spent roughly half of their offensive plays in the shotgun when Smith was running the show at quarterback. They'll run some option out of this spread look, and that puts a lot of pressure on the defense. Purdue ran something similar when the Irish faced them earlier in the season, but Ohio State is much more effective out of this look than the Boilermakers.
Smith will pound you with the option and then drop back to pass out of the option look and hit you for a big play.
The good news for Irish fans is that Smith hasn't been known as an accurate passer throwing the ball deep down field—the Achilles heel for the Irish defense in giving up big plays.
But Smith brings leadership and that something special that sparks the Buckeye offense, and he's gaining confidence as a passer.
Backup Justin Zwick is certainly a capable backup, completing 72 percent of his passes in 2005, but the Buckeye offense doesn't have that extra dimension that Smith brings when Zwick is in the game.
The Buckeye running game mainly consists of running back Anontio Pittman and Smith. Pittman had an impressive 2005 season, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and amassed 1,195 yards on the ground. Smith also averages 4.4 yards per carry (an impressive number when considering sacks count against rushing stats), and picked up another 545 yards on the ground.
Pittman is close to 200 pounds and he just moves the chains. He's a durable back and has pretty good feet. He's not a blazer and won't have many runs 80 yards, but he keeps coming and coming. He's probably a little quicker than Notre Dame's Darius Walker, but they have similar abilities on the football field.
The Buckeyes don't use a "fullback" much. Stan White Jr. is more of an H-back and will most likely be in the game in that role when he's on the field.
Ohio State does have three talented wide receivers that have plenty of play-making ability.
Santonio Holmes is clearly their No. 1 target. Holmes is only 5-11, but he makes some spectacular catches in the passing game. Holmes has 48 receptions on the year, averages almost 18 yards per catch, and nabbed 10 touchdowns on the season. Holmes has plenty of speed to get deep, and he has the ability to make people miss that the great players have, but it's his knack for making the spectacular play, and his ability to go up and get the football that makes him so impressive.
Ted Ginn, Jr. is another speedy receiver for the Buckeyes. Ginn is starting to find his way as a receiver as well (had nine receptions against Michigan), and grabbed 43 catches on the season and three touchdowns. Ginn isn't as polished as Holmes, but he has blazing speed that can get deep.
Both Ginn and Holmes are also dangerous return men that can cause problems in the return game.
Sophomore Anthony Gonzalez also has made an impact as a receiver in the passing game. Gonzalez caught 27 passes on the season and three touchdowns. He's more known as a possession receiver, earning his yards in the middle of the field, but he does have play-making ability.
The Buckeyes are hoping tight end Ryan Hamby might be available for this game, but his status is uncertain at this time. Hamby suffered an injury earlier in the season, and the Buckeyes have had to make some changes at tight end.
Former defensive end Marcel Frost moved to tight end in the absence of Hamby, but the Buckeyes haven't had much production from the tight end position this season.
Ohio State did move offensive lineman Andree Tyree to the tight end position against Michigan in their final regular season game, and Tyree sparked the Buckeye rushing attack in the game, but Tyree has been suspended for violating team rules for the game and won't be playing.
The Buckeye offensive line is one of the strengths of this Ohio State team. Center Nick Mangold has started for three seasons for the Buckeyes and was a third-team All-American this season.
Senior Rob Simms has moved to left guard after playing left tackle his two previous seasons, which should tell you how athletic he is. He's also in his third season as a starter.
Sophomore Doug Datish starts at left tackle, junior T.J. Downing starts at right guard and Kirk Barton is back at right tackle after suffering an injury earlier in the season. In his absence, true freshman Alex Boone did an admirable job and should be considered a starter as well.
Probably one of their most impressive stats for this group is their 48 percent conversion rate on third down. Many times the offensive line is the key component in converting third downs, and they've done an outstanding job on third down this season.
The Irish offense has been as effective in third down situations this season as we can ever remember, converting 49 percent, so this should give you an idea of how effective Ohio State has been this season.
The key on stopping Ohio State is to slow down Troy Smith. If the Irish can do that, they'll have a good chance to win the game. If you can take Smith out of his game, keep him in the pocket, smack him around a bit, and make him one-dimensional as a passer, the Irish should have success slowing down the Buckeye offense. If they allow Smith to get comfortable and play his game of both running and throwing, this could be a difficult challenge for Notre Dame.
We'll take a look at the impressive Ohio State defense tomorrow.