OSU Defense Preps For Irish, Quinn

On Jan. 2, Ohio State will put its top-10 ranked defense up against Notre Dame's top-10 ranked offense in the Fiesta Bowl (5 p.m., ABC). We have comments from OSU coach Jim Tressel and several of the veterans on defense as they describe the ND attack and comment on the play of Irish record-setting quarterback Brady Quinn. Click here for more.

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel readily admits that he spends the majority of his time working in concert with his team's offensive coaching staff in preparing game plans and play calls.

But don't blame Tressel if he noses in just a little bit on the defensive staff's game plan for stopping – or, better yet, simply containing – the high powered Notre Dame offense in the Fiesta Bowl, set for Jan. 2 in Tempe, Ariz. (5 p.m., ABC).

"I'm sure our guys on defense like the challenge," Tressel said. "Notre Dame has one of the best offenses in the country. Our offense loves the challenge of going against their defense. It will probably still come down to special teams and turnovers."

Notre Dame finished in the top 10 nationally in three key offensive categories – passing (fourth at 334.3 yards per game), scoring (sixth at 38.2 points per game) and total offense (10th at 489.1 ypg). The Irish scored 38 or more points seven times in 11 games as they built their 9-2 record.

It was an impressive first year for ND head coach Charlie Weis, who took over the reins at his alma mater after winning three Super Bowl rings as the offensive coordinator with the NFL's New England Patriots.

"They have such a broad spectrum of what they can attack you with," Tressel said. "I don't know that they will do anything different than what he has done before. But, remember, he has coached 23 or 24 games each of the last four or five years. That's a lot of different things you can throw at people. He may come up with something different he's never done before. I imagine he will utilize what he thinks will be best against what we do."

Tressel has been impressed with how Weis has gone in and gotten immediate results at the college level.

"They seem to really understand how they're trying to attack," Tressel said. "I think when Charlie went in he inherited an experienced group of guys. It was a good time for Charlie to go in and lead them to the next level. Most important to me is their balance. You can't say, ‘If you stop the run, you're fine,' and you can't say, ‘If you stop the pass, you're fine.'

"They're going to throw on you. They're going to screen on you. They're going to run the draw on you. They're going to throw deep. They're going to throw under. You see an expansive offense, probably in part of Charlie's background but also because of the guys he inherited."

OSU safety and co-captain Nate Salley will make his final appearance as a Buckeye against Notre Dame. He wants to make it a winning one, although he knows how tough the Irish offense figures to be.

"It's a great challenge for us," Salley said. "We have been challenged a lot this year by some great offenses and some great quarterbacks. This is another challenge for us. We have to step up to it and be prepared. It will be fun for us, being in a BCS bowl and playing against another storied school with a lot of tradition."

This figures to be one of the great unit match-ups of the bowl season, as the OSU defense also boasts top-10 rankings against the run (first, 74.5 ypg), total defense (fourth, 275.3 ypg) and scoring defense (seventh, 14.8 ppg).

Cornerback Ashton Youboty gave Notre Dame some props.

"They're 9-2 for a reason," Youboty said. "They have a Heisman runner-up quarterback (Brady Quinn) and two really big receivers. We believe in our defense. It will be a lot for us to prove with our scheme against his offense. Our defense did a good job in the Big Ten. Hopefully it will show in this game."

Safety Donte Whitner said the Buckeyes will need to be on their toes.

"We have to constantly adjust against this team," he said. "We know they will come out with some new wrinkles. We just have to be prepared for them and play sound football.

"They have weapons, but it's the scheme and the coaching. They do things that other teams do. They just do them better. They will give you the same look, but they'll do different things out of it.

"They have a great emphasis on the screen play. They run that scheme very well. They've got the double screen going on. You don't see that much. That little play is very effective for them."

The Irish will try and pound 208-pound tailback Darius Walker, who rushed for 1,106 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season.

"From the beginning, we have realized that you can't win a game without stopping the run," Whitner said. "We have a strong emphasis on it. We've been hurt by the pass, but you can always react to that. You stop the run, react to the pass and go from there.

"But the one guy I don't think you can forget about is the tailback. We recruited him here. He's good and if you forget about him he'll make you pay."

OSU middle linebacker Anthony Schlegel said his film study showed that ND will vary its attack based on the opponent.

"(Weis) is a guy that really likes to exploit what people don't do well," Schlegel said. "Our grad assistants and coaches really go over the mistakes and problem areas they think they can really exploit. If they see a certain coverage, they know what you give up and how you play it and they'll work patterns to affect you."

Schlegel said the Irish do a good job of hiding their play calls by using varied formations as well as shifts and motion men.

"That's why it's football and you have to play with your eyes," Schlegel said. "All the window dressing (motion and different formations), they're going to run the same basic stuff. They can run it out of different things, but you still have to play with your eyes."

The Mighty Quinn

Notre Dame has pinned many of its hopes on Quinn, its junior quarterback from Dublin (Ohio) Coffman High School. He owns all of ND's significant passing records, including career and single-season yardage, career and single-season attempts and completions and career and single-season touchdown passes.

On the year, Quinn completed 263 of 405 passes (64.9 percent) for 3,633 yards with 32 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

"Brady has done a great job," said Tressel, who tried to recruit Quinn out of high school. "I have watched their offense. Offensively, Brady makes good decisions. He has thrown it away when he needs to and steps up and runs when he needs to. He understands their offense and knows what Charlie wants them to evolve into.

"What I'm really impressed with is that tight end (Anthony Fasani) is a player and those two wideouts are difference makers. Darius Walker is special not only as a runner, but also as a pass catcher."

Defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock shared his view on Quinn.

"He's a great quarterback," Pitcock said. "He sits back. He is very poised. He lets plays develop. He has a lot of confidence in the play calls. He has his go-to guys. The offensive line is great and they work well together.

"I've seen him get away from some pressure. I have seen some sacks on him. But he has a great offensive line that gives him time to throw the ball. If you keep the pressure on them, they are going to crack eventually you hope. If we can keep the pressure on, maybe he will make a mistake here or there."

Salley said Quinn's ability to read defenses makes him special.

"That's key in every game," Salley said. "That is like (Michigan State's Drew) Stanton and (Northwestern's Brett) Basanez. You have to be bluffing, moving around and disguising your coverages all the time. You can't just sit back there and let him get a read. That's why affecting the quarterback is so key.

"You can't let him stand back there and make the long pass to (Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija) and making it a jump ball. They're both 6-3, 225, and most of the time they're going to come down with that."

Whitner also talked about what sets Quinn apart.

"His determination to win," he said. "He's a winner. When he first got there, they didn't do so well. They have a new coach now and that determination is shining out right now. His determination to win is great. He plays to the last second."

The 6-5, 216-pound Samardzija enjoyed a big first season as a starter, collecting 71 passes for 1,190 yards and 15 touchdowns. At the same time, the 6-5, 222-pound Stovall, a senior, had 60 catches for 1,023 yards and 11 TDs.

"Those wide receivers are good," Whitner said. "They are big wide receivers who go up and attack the ball. They are big guys and you have to make sure you wrap them up or they'll shake the hit off. You have to tackle well against Notre Dame. A lot of teams they played did not tackle well and that hurt them. That results in big plays."

Youboty added, "I know they are making plays for them. Brady Quinn has time and he sits back there and finds open receivers. With their scheme, he's not under pressure too much. Hopefully, we can put some pressure on them and make him get the ball out faster."

And Schlegel said it would be foolish to also overlook the 6-5, 255-pound Fasani, who logged 45 catches for 564 yards and two touchdowns from his tight end spot.

"He's very important," Schlegel said. "He's like a safety valve. He sees something he can go right over the middle and dump to him. They run a lot of slants inside and drag him across the field and run digs behind him. They'll be in a three-wide receiver, one-tight and one back set, it will really be two back because they'll move him around as lead blocker."

Pressure Necessary

It remains to be seen whether OSU outside linebacker Bobby Carpenter will be able to go for the Fiesta Bowl. He suffered a broken leg in the season-ending win against Michigan.

Speaking earlier in December, Carpenter was holding out hope that he would have a chance to play against Notre Dame.

"I want to play," he said. "Someone said we have a chance to go out as the winningest class in Ohio State history. That's something that factors into it. The fact it is Notre Dame and the Fiesta Bowl. That's huge. I'd say that factors into it somewhat.

"Those guys are anxious to play against Brady Quinn and against a great coach like Charlie Weis. Really, just to play with my teammates one more time. These guys are special and we have a special relationship with one another. That's something you can't explain."

Pitcock said he is sure Carpenter will be there if he can be.

"I was in there talking to him and it's tough because he loves working out," Pitcock said. "He can't do some of the things he's used to doing. He just gets mad at himself. I know he is going to do everything possible to get ready for this game. Even if he can't be 100 percent, he's going to play his heart out.

"It just shows them he's that kind of guy you can trust. He's going to do what needs to be done at all times."

If Carpenter can't go, the Buckeyes may need to scheme a way to get pressure on Quinn. Carpenter, who moved to the rush end spot in nickel situations during the second half of the year, led the Buckeyes with eight sacks. Linebacker A.J. Hawk was next with 7-1/2. Defensive end Mike Kudla was next with 6-1/2 sacks.

"We're still doing what we've always done and we're moving forward without (Carpenter)," Pitcock said. "We'll do everything we can. He's one of those guys, like almost anybody. If you can get a little pressure and get a little jumpy, they may make some mistakes. That's what we need to do."

Of course, getting there is easier said than done. ND's opponents tallied just 16 sacks all season. (OSU had 39 sacks on defense, while its offense surrendered just 17.)

The Notre Dame offensive line is a veteran group with a combined tally of 105 starts, led by senior right tackle Mark LeVoir (6-7, 311), senior right guard Dan Stevenson (6-6, 292) and junior left tackle Ryan Harris (6-5, 288).

"If you watch the film, you see they like to get to that second level quick," Schlegel said.

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