The Great Speed Debate

It is a question that has haunted the program since last season's drubbing at the hands of the Florida Gators: How can Ohio State hope to handle superior Southeastern Conference speed? As it turns out, that sentiment might be misguided, as both the Buckeyes and Tigers have noted.

One season ago, Ted Ginn Jr. sat at a table on the indoor practice field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. As part of the team's bowl media day, Ginn fielded questions on a variety of topics but seemed flummoxed on one topic: Southeastern Conference speed.

A veritable speedster himself, Ginn was asked how Ohio State's speed could match up with that possessed by Florida.

"As I was running track, it was all about the Californias, the Floridas, the Texas', the Mississippi teams, then the Ohio and New York guys come in and we run the shop sometimes," he said. "I know they probably think we're Big Ten, big and slow. We've just got to go out and just play the game."

The Buckeyes did go out and play the game, and when the dust settled the diagnosis was made from coast to coast: Florida was superior to OSU in nearly every category, but perhaps most glaringly in speed. In the months that followed, the sentiment was there that the Buckeyes could not hope to hold up, speed-wise, against the quicker SEC teams.

"You get tired of it but it is going to happen and that's just the sentiment around the nation so we try not to pay attention to it," OSU cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said this year.

Whether that statement is true or not, it has become the prevailing sentiment when discussing not only the Buckeyes, but the Big Ten in general. And it is a sentiment that has come into play as OSU and Louisiana State prepare to square off in the BCS National Championship Game.

All of this comes despite the fact that there was more to OSU's loss to Florida than simply speed. The Buckeyes lost the turnover battle 2-0 and frequently gave their defense a short field to work with.

As Buckeye defensive tackle Doug Worthington put it, "They out-toughened us. They got off the football harder than we did."

Trying to compare two teams based on speed is tricky, but in watching film LSU head coach Les Miles said he has seen little difference between the two teams.

"I've watched that team and there's no appreciable difference," he said. "They're as quality and capable and talented as any."

When asked about his team's speed, Miles will point to one player with game-changing speed. Sophomore Trindon Holliday also doubles as a runner on the school's track team, where he has been timed at 10.02 seconds in the 100-meter dash. In 12 games this season, Holliday has carried the ball 50 times for 368 yards and two touchdowns and also broken a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

On a conference call with OSU head coach Jim Tressel, Miles warned Tressel that Holliday could be a game-changer for the Tigers.

Tressel's response?

"Don't play him," he said with a laugh.

However, Miles will be the first to admit that there is a difference between track speed and football speed.

"If we were racing, I would bet that I've got one guy that would be faster than any of their guys but we're not racing," he said. "I promise you, If anybody wants to race 60 yards, my entry will be Trindon Holliday, and if it's worth points we'd like to do it a lot."

Although the Buckeyes possess a lot of team speed, they do not have a clear-cut burner like Holliday. However, sophomore safety Kurt Coleman said they are not worried about finding themselves at a speed disadvantage.

"Speed is everywhere," he said. "There is not a big difference in speed because we all come from the same spot, we all get recruited from the same teams. People want to make it what they want so we're going to go out there and show what we can do."

To remind players of the perception of their speed, the coaching staff has tweaked one part of practice. Before players take off to run sprints, they shout "SEC speed."

"We hear it enough where it is in the back of your head," said Jenkins, adding that the one question he has been asked the most about leading up to the game was how OSU could hope to match up with LSU's superior speed. "There is no way you can ignore it as much as it's being thrown around so I think everybody is emphasizing that and we will be ready for it."

Echoing his teammate, junior linebacker Marcus Freeman expressed his confidence in his charges.

"I think we match up well against speed or a spread offense," he said. "Spread offenses have had some success against us, but I don't think it truly matters if you're in the spread or if you're in a power offense. I have full confidence in this defense and what we're going to be able to do."

This year, like the last, the Buckeyes have to simply go out and play the game as Ginn suggested. A change in the outcome this time around could go a long way toward settling some debate, however.


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