The countdown is on for the big game. Two great coaches and two great programs. On paper, you can usually spin these games either way, Ohio State with this advantage and ND with that advantage. On the chalkboard, these coaches can cancel each other out. When they see package A from that defense, they will respond with a check to play B. The players will be prepared. The crowd will be electric. The television sets will be turned on.
I can't help but focus on what everyone is focusing on for this game - the Buckeye defense against the Irish offense. Charlie Weis is a great coach, but keep in mind – he has very coachable players. The Irish will complete passes and they will move the ball. However, the OSU defense has great defensive backs that are great tacklers.
I really see that as being the key to this game. The Buckeyes need to hit the receivers, knock them down, and then do it again the next play. They will not put you on the field at Ohio State in the defensive backfield if you cannot tackle. OSU tackles better than anyone in the country when you look at the past 10 years of defensive back play. This year is no exception: Donte Whitner is off the charts, Nate Salley is a big, strong asset to the defense, and Malcolm Jenkins, Tyler Everett, and Ashton Youboty would have my full trust if I were their coach.
Yes, you need to cover and make plays on the ball, but the fact that the defensive backs are so physical allows the Buckeyes to shut down opposing offenses. The safeties stick their nose in there if you run inside. The corners shed blocks and explode on people on the perimeter. Which is better – a 12-yard catch for a first down, or a 12-yard catch for a first down with a missed tackle that led to a 25-yard scamper by the receiver which just changed momentum and field position?
We don't track that statistic, but that is a key reason why the defense is so good. Those defensive backs at Ohio State police themselves. They know they have a physical reputation to uphold. If you don't hit people, you will hear about it from your coaches as well as your defensive back teammates. There is an "all for one" attitude within that position group.
Coverage will be key, and I don't mean to downplay the coverage aspect. OSU can't have many mental mistakes against Charlie Weis. Do I leak over and help my buddy playing centerfield or do I stay home where it appears Brady will not throw the ball? You are wrong if you blow your specific assignment, but you are also wrong if you don't provide help in other areas where we need help. There is more gray than what many people might think.
I have been yelled out for not staying home on a play. I have been yelled out for not making a quick enough read and leaving home. Attempting to make plays and hustle are often what lead to a blown assignment and players saying, "But coach, I thought he was going here with the ball." Decision-making will be a very important element of this big game. The coaches will try to disguise coverages to make Brady Quinn think for that extra split second. Maybe he will pull down the ball? Maybe he will throw one to the OSU defense? With Bobby Carpenter banged up, the Bucks will take all the coverage sacks they can get.
OSU's defense has proven they can stop the run. They are nothing short of ferocious when teams attempt to punch them in the gut. This game will be a challenge though because what Notre Dame can do on the backside of OSU's defense. The Buckeyes can run step-for-step with the offense, but I believe the physical play in the defensive backfield will make the difference.