In the days and weeks leading up to Ohio State's showdown with LSU in the BCS National Championship Game it was near impossible to turn on a TV or read a report of the game without hearing or reading some pundit talking about the SEC team's speed advantage promising to give the Buckeyes fits.
But after OSU absorbed its second consecutive loss in the biggest game on the college football landscape, the talk in the locker room was not about how much faster the Tigers appeared to be than the Buckeyes. Parallels were not drawn to how Florida seemed so much faster than OSU in last season's title game this time.
Instead, the talk was how the Tigers controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and proved to be the more physical team.
Needless to say, that was tough to stomach for a Big Ten team that typically prides itself on being able to win battles in the trenches.
"The thing is, there's no real reason why they beat us except that they just beat us (physically)," OSU sophomore defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said. "You can't point the finger at anybody: They just flat-out beat our butts. Shoot. That's what hurts the most. They beat us in the run game, they beat us in the pass game, they did everything right and we did everything wrong. That's what hurts the most for me."
When the Tigers had the ball, the Buckeyes found themselves largely unable to get pressure on LSU quarterback Matt Flynn. However, the final statistics do not completely tell the final story.
On paper, the Buckeyes outgained LSU by a 353-326 margin in total offense, averaging 6.3 yards per play compared to 4.3 for the Tigers. OSU had three plays go for a combined 130 yards – take them out, and the Buckeyes' average drops to 4.2 yards per play.
It all began at the point of attack, where the Tigers had six tackles for loss and five sacks against the OSU offensive line.
"We were ready to come out there, come off the ball at full speed, be aggressive," said LSU sophomore defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois, who was named the game's top defensive player. "The coaches told us just to slow down for a minute. Coach (Les) Miles and (defensive coordinator Bo) Pelini just told us to slow down for a minute, just look at what we were doing, what was the mistake from the last play. And we just corrected from there."
For the game, the Tigers had six tackles for loss. Five of those tackles were sacks of OSU quarterback Todd Boeckman, who was hit on the first play of the game. Last year, it was Troy Smith facing constant pressure from around the ends.
This year, it came straight up the gut against Boeckman and the Buckeyes.
"They just got us a couple of times," a subdued OSU sophomore center Jim Cordle said. "Then they started blitzing more when it's a passing situation. You've got to avoid long down and distance, and when you've got a guy like Glen Dorsey and their D-line, you've got to play as good as you can. That didn't happen."
Despite LSU's defensive pressure, the Buckeyes were able to rush the ball effectively at times and especially early. OSU sophomore tailback Chris Wells averaged 7.3 yards per carry, toting the ball 20 times for 146 yards and a touchdowns. Some of LSU's ability to get to Boeckman came from the fact that, as the Buckeyes found themselves trailing by three touchdowns in the in the third quarter, the Tigers knew OSU was going to throw and could simply pin their ears back and blitz.
On offense, LSU quarterback Matt Flynn said he was able to recognize when OSU was going to blitz and where it was going to come from – something OSU senior linebacker Larry Grant said was the sign of a great quarterback simply doing his job.
As a whole, the Buckeyes did nothing unexpected on defense. They began the game in their base, 4-3 defense and seldom deviated from it. However, the team's defensive tackles were frequently getting beaten at the point of attack, leading to more frequent substitutions. Sophomore Doug Worthington and junior Nader Abdallah earned the starting nods, but they were rotated liberally with redshirt freshman Dexter Larimore and sophomore Todd Denlinger.
Regardless of who was in the game for the Buckeyes, though, they could get little pressure.
"We obviously weren't getting the job done so we wanted fresh guys in there, and that's why we rotated a little bit more," Larimore said. "I think this kind of game is won in the trenches and if we would've got a little more pressure maybe it could have changed the outcome of the game. We just didn't get it done."
For one night, then, the supposed quicker team instead used physical play to take over the national championship game.
"There were times that they were just beating us, beating us up front, and when that happens they're going to get yards," Larimore said. "Obviously if you're two yards back they're going to get at least two yards. I would say we matched up with their speed, but we couldn't get them down and we couldn't establish the line of scrimmage."