How are the Buckeyes going to contain junior quarterback Vince Young and the Longhorn offense?
Ohio State's defense isn't giving away any secrets this week, but there are a few things we probably know.
The Buckeyes will look to stop the run first – and that likely means putting a "spy" on Young most plays. The 6-5, 233-pound Young is already the 12th leading rusher in school history with 2,126 yards (he's added 3,177 career passing yards).
Ohio State will also continue to play an aggressive style of defense. Instead of sitting back and reacting to Young – much like Michigan did in the Rose Bowl – OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock will likely blitz from all angles. Last week against Miami University, Ohio State unveiled several new looks, including safety and corner blitzes. Look for more of that this week as they try and confuse Young and attempt to wear him down as the game progresses.
Ohio State's players have never faced a player quite like Young. Kansas State's Ell Roberson and Bowling Green's Josh Harris were somewhat similar, but they weren't on Young's level.
One benefit for the Buckeyes is that they get to go up against Troy Smith in practice each day.
"Having Troy there, it helps, because once he gets in the open field he tries to make a move on you," OSU junior cornerback Ashton Youboty said. "So, it really helps with open field tackling and just competing. He's just like having a Vincent Young back there. Good arm and he can always take off with the ball."
Ohio State senior defensive end Mike Kudla thinks that Texas' offense might be the most impressive unit he has seen on film.
"They're a really high-powered offense," he said. "They've got a big offensive line and very physical. Vince Young is definitely the heartbeat of that team, so you definitely have to contain him and almost make him one-dimensional and make him throw the ball pretty much every down."
From watching a pair of the Longhorns' games from last year, Kudla thinks he has the blueprint of what to do, and what not to do.
"You look at the Michigan film and the Oklahoma film from last year, Oklahoma shut down the run and really made him one-dimensional and really made it tough on him," Kudla said. "Michigan did not contain him very well. They let him run and do what he does. He's a playmaker and he went out and was able to be in space. If he's in space, he's a lethal weapon, so you definitely need to contain him."
Senior linebacker Anthony Schlegel – a Texas native – agrees with Kudla.
"The challenge is that you have to get pressure on Young," Schlegel said. "You can't let him get his feet set, because he can throw the ball very effectively down the field. And then running-wise, when you're pass rushing, you just can't let him have those open lanes where he can just step up and run. I think what hurt Michigan a lot last year was that they were in man and they didn't have anybody in his face. Every time he rolled out, there was nobody on him and he just took off. We just need to get in his face and not let him sit back there because he can beat you with both (running and passing)."
Head coach Jim Tressel has already faced a lot of big-name players thus far in his OSU career. But Young might be at the top of the list.
"Vince Young has such tremendous balance in what he does that it's a great challenge," Tressel said. "There are a lot of guys that come in here with great challenges and some of them we did a good job and some of them maybe not as good as we'd like. This is a great one, and again, I think our guys are anxious to compete against the likes of Vince Young."
Tressel believes if the Buckeyes can make Texas one-dimensional, his team could roll.
"Defensively, our first thing is to stop the run, period, whether it's the quarterback or running backs," he said. "And if we have a chance to stop the run, we've got a chance to make someone only have one attack at you. You know, where it's tough is where a team becomes balanced and that's what Texas has done. That's the greatest challenge and that's the biggest thing that we've got to face is the fact that they'll be a balanced team. They'll run reverses. They'll throw. They'll run the quarterback. They'll run power. They'll do it all, and I think our guys enjoy challenges like that, but it's going to be a challenge."
In the Rose Bowl, Texas utilized a lot of shotgun-spread formations. But like Tressel mentioned, the Longhorns can go back to their traditional power-I look at any time.
They've had to replace former tailback Cedric Benson this season (the No. 4 overall pick of the NFL draft by the Chicago Bears). However, with juniors Selvin Young and Ramonce Taylor, as well as true freshmen Jamaal Charles and Henry Melton, the ‘Horns have plenty of talent in the stable.
In Texas' 60-3 romp over Louisiana-Lafayette in week one, Charles carried 14 times for 135 yards and one touchdown, Selvin Young rushed eight times for 67 yards and a score, Taylor carried five times for 65 yards and a touchdown, and the 270-pound Melton rushed six times for 65 yards and two touchdowns.
"Yeah, they have two or three guys they can put in there that can all play," OSU linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "So, I think we'll see a little piece of all of them at least. I think they have great team speed and if they get going, you get them in a rhythm, it's tough to stop them. So, I think we're going to have to come in and stop the run first."
Other than Young, the strength of Texas' offense is its offensive line. Including tight end, the Longhorns start three seniors and three juniors up front. Junior tackle Justin Blalock (6-4, 329) and senior guard Jonathan Scott (6-7, 315) were each first-team All-Big 12 selections last year.
"I think they have a great offensive line," Hawk said. "They're big, physical and they've been around a lot; they know what to do. I think it's definitely one of the best offensive lines I'm going to see in my career here and that makes it a good challenge for us. We'll see more Saturday night, but on film they look really good."
Kudla knows this will be the biggest O-line he's ever faced.
"It's a big challenge for us," he said. "It's going to be our biggest test so far. They're big, they're athletic, they've been together for a while so they know how to play well with each other."
Senior tight end David Thomas (6-3, 245) was also a first-team All-Big 12 selection last year.
"Their tight end is kind of a Jeremy Shockey-type," Schlegel said. "Tall, fast tight end/wide receiver."
One area where Texas' offense is not very strong is at the wide receiver position. The 'Horns top receiver is sophomore Limas Sweed (6-5, 219). They will also start senior Brian Carter (5-11, 190). Sweed started seven games last year and Carter started three.
"Just watching them, they're all fast, they run really good routes," Youboty said. "They have a couple double-move routes that I've noticed. Nothing that I haven't seen before, but I think if they get the ball to them, they can make plays."
Youboty is one of the top cover corners in the country, but he's also a solid tackler. He recorded eight stops against Miami last week.
"Yeah, I bothered Coach Heacock about that – I told him if he kept me on the field side, I would be bored," Youboty said. "So, we just pretty much played left and right and he kept us active. I had a couple chances to blitz and I told him I wanted to play nickelback sometime so I could make some more tackles. I've probably put on about five pounds since last season (up to 195) and I feel that I'm a physical corner."
Schlegel was asked why big-name players – such as Young – tend to struggle playing at Ohio Stadium.
"I would say that has a lot to do with the mentality of our defense," he said. "We're attacking people all the time and not letting them get the feet set. And also how crazy it is with our fans. It's hard to hear down there. Defensively, it's great. We just use hand signals and call it out right away. But it's hard to make checks and get the snap going when 105,000 crazy Buckeye fans are screaming in their face."
Schlegel was not recruited by Texas, despite growing up about an hour from Austin. No question about it, this game is extra special to him.
"It's going to be like Michigan game last year," Schlegel said. "It might even be bigger than that just because of the No. 2 vs. (No. 4) and all the coverage surrounding it. It's going to be absolutely crazy. I've talked to some people who said they're getting ready and they're going to be down there tailgating at 8 in the morning and I was like, ‘Wow, I hope you can make it to the game.' But it's going to be crazy like that. That's what makes it so exciting that the fans are really into it and we're really into it and it's going to be a great experience."
Youboty also played high school football in Texas, but he does not really consider himself a Texan. He was born in Liberia, Africa, and grew up in Philadelphia.
"For me, this is just another game," Youboty said. "We want to get to Pasadena and they are the second step to that."