You've read a lot and heard even more about tonight's BCS National Championship Game. Most of what you have heard and read says Ohio State cannot possibly win this game. The Buckeyes are too slow to stay on the same field with LSU and being that Les Miles is a Michigan man at heart, he is going to keep his foot on the gas pedal from the opening kickoff to the final gun.
Let me be among the first to tell you that Ohio State is going to win tonight. Not only that, I'm going to tell you how the Buckeyes will do it.
1. Neutralize Dorsey & Co.
First and foremost, they have to neutralize LSU's defensive front. I cannot remember a player who swept more postseason awards than DT Glenn Dorsey, and he did it mostly on reputation. After sustained an illegal cut block against Auburn in late October, Dorsey was not what he had been. After a month off to heal, he should be near full strength again.
For Ohio State to win, the offensive line simply has to play better than it did last January against Florida. But I think it will and here's why: The Buckeyes are not going to rely on just the center this time to call the line signals. They have devised a set of hand signals that will come from a variety of players, not just center Jim Cordle. That keeps everyone in the game and also helps with communication, especially early in what is expected to be a loud and decidedly pro-LSU Superdome.
Look for the Buckeyes to mix up their pass protection packages unlike they did against Florida when they simply stood up and tried to take on the hard-charging Gators one-on-one. This time, OSU will try to create some help – especially on Dorsey – and double-team at the points they think pressure is liable to come.
Senior right end Kirston Pittman is an extremely active player, much in the same mold as Florida DE Derrick Harvey, and if the Buckeyes pay too much attention to Dorsey, Pittman will be in the OSU backfield in an eyelash. He, not Dorsey, was the Tigers' team leader in sacks (7.0) and tackles for loss (12½).
2. Use The Tigers' Speed Against Them
Everyone knows how important pass protection will be and Todd Boeckman must understand that he will not be afforded the luxury of very much time in the pocket. For that reason, I look for Boeckman to run the ball much more than he ever has before.
Remember the 2002 national championship game against Miami? Craig Krenzel ran the ball 19 times for 81 yards and two touchdowns. How did he do that? The Hurricanes were so hell-bent on showcasing their defensive speed that they ran past Krenzel nearly every time he faded back to throw.
But Boeckman has to run the quarterback draw to perfection. If there is any hesitation on the QB's part, or if he tips his hand and starts toward the line too early, it won't work. But if you send out a pack of receivers and get the LSU defensive linemen to pin their ears back on the rush, Boeckman could hurt the Tigers by tucking and running.
Look also for Ohio State to run Beanie Wells right into the teeth of the LSU defense. I never quite understood why the Buckeyes went away from that mentality last year when it was working early against Florida. But you know if I picked up on that, the coaching staff has, too.
3. Be Committed
On passing plays, when Boeckman fades in the pocket, he must be decisive. He will probably only have time enough to make one of three choices – deliver to the primary target, dump off to the hot-route receiver or throw the ball away.
Too many times during this bowl season have quarterback stood in the pocket like the Statue of Liberty only to be swallowed up by the oncoming rush. Boeckman has to remember that second-and-10 is a whole lot better than second-and-18.
4. Watch And Learn
Everyone in the national media got caught up in what a great guy Lloyd Carr is and how wonderful it was that his team could send him out on a winning note. Blah, blah, blah. What I noticed most about Michigan's borderline inexplicable victory over Florida in the Capital One Bowl was how much pressure the Wolverines were able to exert on defense against Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
Regardless of your feelings toward the Gators or the Wolverines, former U-M defensive coordinator Ron English may have given the Big Ten a farewell present before he assumed a similar role at Louisville. Michigan rushed Tebow relentlessly, content to allow its cornerbacks to guard those speedy Florida receivers one-on-one.
It is a decided gamble. If you don't get to the quarterback, you leave your cornerbacks exposed for potential disaster. But if you do get to the QB, your corners don't have to worry.
I'm thinking that Jim Heacock watched the Capital One Bowl and saw the same thing I did. I'm also thinking Heacock believes he can pressure Matt Flynn or Ryan Perrilloux and allow Malcolm Jenkins and Donald Washington to man-up against LSU receivers like Early Doucet and Brandon LaFell. Sure, the Tigers are bound to pile up some yards like that. But the Buckeyes are bound to get some sacks as well.
5. Trio To Watch
Anyone can predict that Wells or James Laurinaitis will be the difference-maker for Ohio State. That's not much of a limb to climb out on. It goes without saying that both players must have outstanding games for the Buckeyes to go home victorious.
But there will be some unsung heroes in this game for OSU, guys that are not being talked about by anyone. Here is a list of three.
I look for Brandon Saine to get some meaningful carries. He has not been the same kind of running back since undergoing minor knee surgery after the Washington game. But while most point to the 51-day layoff as a problem, Saine has used it to get back to basics and he may be ready to bust out. If Ohio State can get him in the flat somewhere, either on a quick pass, screen or sweep, no one will be criticizing the Buckeyes for a lack of speed anymore.
I also look for Ray Small to play a bigger role than he did much of the season. There is no doubt that LSU is keying on Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. There is no way the Tigers are going to let Robo run free down the middle of the field like many Big Ten teams did. And they think they can put a linebacker on the 6-3, 180-pound Hartline and knock him off his route at the line of scrimmage.
That's where Small enters the picture. He can be valuable as Boeckman's hot read, he can swim underneath any zone the Tigers may play and he can fly once he gets into space. Don't be surprised if the Buckeyes don't try to get him the ball on a bubble screen and also – gasp! – a double reverse, another way of using the Tigers' speed against them.
Finally, keep your eyes peeled for Antonio Henton in short-yardage situations. There is only one reason why second-stringer Robby Schoenhoft was shuttled out to tight end for bowl preparations and it wasn't because the Buckeyes had a sudden problem with tight end depth.
Just as Florida head coach Urban Meyer utilized Tebow last year, and several other coaches around the country have done this season, I think Tressel may change things up by bringing Henton into the game in short-yardage situations to take snaps in shotgun formations. Only don't just look for Henton to run the ball. I think Tressel will put his own variation on that strategy and allow the redshirt freshman to throw the ball.
Using Henton in the national championship game serves a myriad of purposes but here are two of the most important: (1) It gives the Buckeyes a new dimension that LSU has never seen on film; (2) It shows Terrelle Pryor just how he would be utilized by Tressel should the All-America prepster decide he'd look good in scarlet and gray.
With all of the above in mind, here is how I think tonight's BCS National Championship Game unfolds:
Ohio State sets the tempo right off the bat by taking the opening kickoff and marching down the field for a touchdown. The big play in the drive – maybe even the score itself – will be a pass play in excess of 20 yards to Small.
LSU will be able to answer that touchdown with one of its own off its first possession, but the Buckeyes will score again before the first quarter is over for a 14-7 lead. The Tigers will make the only scoring threats in the second period, but OSU's defense will hold inside the red zone twice, forcing LSU to settle for field goals and a 14-13 score at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Buckeyes will force a turnover on LSU's first possession and turn it into a touchdown. Here is when Henton enters the game, both in a third-and-short situation around the 30-yard line and again when Ohio State gets a first-and-goal inside the 5. A touchdown there gives the Buckeyes a 21-13 lead and they push it to 24-13 when Pretorius kicks a field goal on the final play of the third period.
But the Tigers come back. They score a long touchdown early in the fourth quarter to narrow their deficit to 24-20 and then score again with about four minutes to go to take a 27-24 lead.
But with time running out, Wells runs straight at a tiring LSU defense and gets Ohio State into field goal range in the final seconds. Pretorius makes it from about 30 yards out to tie the score at 27 – and yes, it's going to overtime.
Both teams score touchdowns in the opening overtime period to make it 34-34, and then after LSU has been forced to kick a field goal in the second OT, Boeckman sneaks into the end zone from the 1.
Final score: Ohio State 40, LSU 37.
Rea's Say: Here's How It Goes Down Tonight
Buckeye Sports Top Stories
Meyer Among Highest Paid NCAA CoachesThe USA Today recently compiled a list of the highest paid football coaches in the NCAA. Let's take a look at the highest paid coaches in college football.
Scout CFBYesterday at 4:18 AM
Urban Meyer Updates: Offense Is Main FocusFollowing practice Wednesday, Urban Meyer met with the media to look forward to Saturday's game against Northwestern.
Buckeye SportsWednesday at 3:21 PM
Urban Meyer: No Personnel Changes YetOhio State head coach Urban Meyer joined the Big Ten Teleconference to look ahead to Saturday's game against Northwestern.
Buckeye SportsTuesday at 10:29 AM
Urban Meyer: We Have To Put This One To BedUrban Meyer met with the media Monday following a 24-21 loss to Penn State on Oct. 22.
Buckeye SportsMonday at 8:36 AM