Questions about SEC speed got old fast in New Orleans this week. As it turns out, size is likely to be a, well, bigger issue for Ohio State when the Buckeyes take on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day.
"They are very big, very physical up front," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "They've got defensive ends that are weighing in at 280, 290 pounds. They've got defensive tackles that are 320, 330 pounds. They have linebackers (weighing) 255, 260 pounds. So they're really big, really physical, very difficult to move. And it's not just one group that's going. They'll probably play nine to 10 defensive linemen and two sets of linebackers, so they're very deep up front and then good mix of speed and size in the back end."
Indeed, the smallest member of the starting front seven for the Crimson Tide is Trey DePriest, a senior linebacker from Springfield, Ohio, who is listed at 6-2, 250. Ends Jonathan Allen and Jarran Reed go 272 and 315 pounds, respectively, while nose guard A'Shawn Robinson is 320. "Jack" linebacker Xzavier Dickson is 268 pounds while Sam 'backer Denzel Devall is 254 and WLB Reggie Ragland is 254. Those guys can run, but their calling card is not speed -- it's power with some nastiness mixed in.
"It is without a doubt the best defensive line we will face all season," OSU left tackle Taylor Decker said. "It will probably be the best defense we will face. Incredible depth, they rotate all kinds of guys in there. On film, there are four defensive ends I will play against personally. They are really good athletes, big, strong guys that can move. They aren't just space fillers. That is going to be a challenge as far as the offensive line is concerned, because it is the best we have faced so far. I think practicing against our defensive line has kind of helped us throughout bowl practice, because I think without a doubt we have one of the best defensive lines in the country as well. So I think that has been good in our preparation."
As a matter of comparison with some of the better defenses Ohio State has already faced this season, Penn State's biggest starter up front is 312-pound Austin Johnson. Anthony Zettel, the Nittany Lions' star tackle, is listed at 276 while the ends average 255 pounds. Penn State's biggest starting linebacker is 238-pound Nyeem Wartman, and the other two (225-pound Mike Hull and 228-pound Brandon Bell) are barely bigger than Landon Collins, the 222-pound Alabama safety who garnered All-America honors this season.
The numbers are largely the same for Michigan State, though the Spartans are bigger than the Nittany Lions at linebacker, where Taiwan Jones and Ed Davis go 252 and 242 pounds, respectively, while the third linebacker spot is a hybrid linebacker/safety, either 231-pound Darien Harris or 197-pound Mylan Hicks. MSU's line is topped by 309-pound tackle Lawrence Thomas with 285-pound Joel Heath joining him at tackle and talented ends Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush checking in at 256 and 251 pounds, respectively.
Wisconsin starts a 290-pound nose guard with ends listed at 268 and 286, respectively, while the four Badger linebackers average 235.3 pounds. Vince Beigel tops the latter group at 244 pounds, six less than the lightest Alabama starter. The Crimson Tide's four linebackers average 254.5 pounds.
"They are a very big, physical team," OSU running back Ezekiel Elliott said. "Their d-line, their linebackers are just big guys and so they are a lot bigger than the guys we play. Their linebackers are all 250, interior d-linemen all 300 pounds, so getting some momentum early in the game, getting movement off the line of scrimmage is going to be important."
Whether the size of the Tide turns out to be a good thing or a bad thing for Ohio State, it will be a different look for the Buckeyes.
As for the whole SEC speed thing, that has probably been played out for quite a while -- if it ever even applied.
"I'm not sure what it means exactly," said tight end Jeff Heuerman, a Florida native. "We have quite a few fast guys on our team. I don't really pay a whole lot of attention to that or the talk about the SEC vs. Big Ten talk. All four teams (in the playoffs) are good football teams with strengths and weaknesses and anyone can be beat on any given day. You just have to come out and execute your game plan. Execution is the biggest thing."
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