After a dominating win against the Washington Huskies, Ohio State hosts another left coast team this weekend in San Diego State. Led by Head Coach Tom Craft, the Aztecs hope to pull a stunning upset at the Horseshoe.
Don't hold your breath.
Despite their 4-3 record in the Mountain West Conference in 2002 and the worthy efforts of the coaching staff, the Aztecs do not have the horses to stick with Ohio State for four quarters.
Here is what you can expect offensively from San Diego State.
The Aztecs are a team that likes to pass the football. In 2002, Adam Hall attempted 452 passes and completed 272 for a 60.2 percent completion ratio, 3,253 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. However, in case you have not heard, Hall will not play in this game due to a severely sprained ankle. This is a major blow. Hall is considered one of the better college quarterbacks in the country, is on the Davey O'Brien watch list for senior quarterbacks, and is one of the top five returning players in the nation in total offense from 2002.
The Buckeyes believe San Diego State will run their typical offense even without Hall. Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter commented, "We know they are going to spread it out and run four-receiver sets."
Indeed, despite Hall's exit in the second quarter, against Division I-AA Eastern Washington, seven different Aztecs were on the receiving end of the football.
Starting in his place will be sophomore Matt Dlugolecki. It will be his second game as a collegiate and his first ever start. Filling in for Hall, Matt finished 11 of 19 for 97 yards and one interception. Dlugolecki believes he is ready for the challenge and is quoted in this week's San Diego Union Tribune as saying, "I'm not saying that Adam (Hall) is not the best, but I'm not going to be a guy who is afraid to step in there and get the job done."
Expect the Ohio State defensive staff to test Matt early and often to see if his statement is accurate or merely bravado.
In addition to the passing game they are seeking to perfect, Aztec fans and coaches are excited about a new dimension that has seemingly been added to their football team. True freshman running back Lynell Hamilton opened the season with a 113-yard, 23 carry performance last week. More important is that 93 of those yards came in the second half on just 17 carries, indicating that as the game wore on, Lynell improved. Hamilton appears to offer the offense of San Diego State a chance at greater offensive balance, something that was sorely lacking in 2002 (the ratio of pass to run was almost 2:1 last season).
The Buckeye defenders have taken notice. Will Allen's comments are telling.
"Basically what I've seen is their running backs are really explosive. They're going to be better than Washington's running backs, and we have to be ready to tackle," he said.
Backing up Hamilton will be Sophomore Michael Franklin (5'7", 180). The heir apparent before the arrival of Hamilton, Franklin rushed the ball 62 times for 368 yards and a 5.6 average per carry in 2002.
Alternately trying to open holes for Hamilton and protect Dlugolecki will be the Aztec offensive line. A veteran group, they return four of five starters from the previous season, losing only their center. Coach Craft is quoted in the Daily Aztec; "We've got four returning offensive linemen that were starters at one time or another. It gives us the feeling that we can do some things up front that we couldn't do last year." That actually might be the case even against Ohio State. Not only does this unit outweigh that of the Huskies, but they also are expecting them to be a more physical group. In particular, the Buckeyes are wary of the San Diego State tackles, Mike Kracalick, Jr. and Brendan Darby. Players of this size present a serious challenge given their size (6'9", 340 and 6'7" 300 respectively), and their wingspans will allow them the chance to get their hands on any players rushing the quarterback.
Lining up to catch balls out of the backfield will be a number of young but talented wide receivers. Sophomore Jeff Webb (6'2", 200) led his team in receptions and yards last week with ten catches for 71 yards. Devin Pitts (6'3", 195) caught two passes for 38 yards. All told, four of the six players listed in the Aztec two-deep at the wide receiver position caught passes against Eastern Washington.
Yes, San Diego State has some decent athletes. Yes, they are building a program under Craft. Yes, the Aztecs gave the Buckeyes a scare in 2001. Yes, the Ohio State coaches are complimenting San Diego State on their progress.
However, this game will be over by halftime or shortly thereafter. The Aztec offense will find it incredibly difficult to score in the face of the pass rush mounted by the Buckeye front four. More size along the offensive line is all good and well, but the level of talent that a San Diego State attracts versus the level of talent Rick Neuheisel recruited at Washington is not even in the same solar system.
The Buckeyes will sack or pressure the quarterback early and often. This will result either in negative plays or incomplete passes. When Hamilton and Franklin are called upon to rush the football, they will discover that 30 rushes for 136 yards against Eastern Washington is a different matter entirely than even gaining 30 yards against Ohio State.
The talent disparity is too great. Furthermore, if this team could manage only 19 points against a Division I-AA squad, it is doubtful that they will score more than 14 against the Buckeyes.
Ohio State will crush the Aztec offense and steam toward their much-anticipated game with North Carolina State next weekend.
The Aztecs will regroup, learn from this game, and Craft will use it to show his players what he would like them to be.