Five Questions: Ohio State at USC

With a Top-5 matchup on tap on the West Coast between No. 5 Ohio State and No. 1 USC, we consider the potential for new attacks we might not have seen yet, consider who can react more quickly to a surprise or two, the state of the Ohio State passing game and more.

1. What new wrinkles are in store?

Ohio State coaches and players were relatively coy when asked about how much of their offense has been revealed in wins over Youngstown State and Ohio University. Ohio State has unveiled the pistol formation but not run many plays out of it. The backs have been more involved in the passing game, but just a hint here and there. Screen passes seem to be a more viable option thus far as well.

Then of course there is freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who threw a pass on his first play as a Buckeye but has been asked to run most often when in the game. That is despite promises from Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel that he has been fully immersed in the offense from the start of his time on campus (if not before).

Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman laughed out loud at the question of what new things could be in store for Saturday night, while wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell gave reporters a little more with which to work Wednesday evening.

"I think we did what we had to do to win the first two games, and this is obviously a different football team, so we've got to do some things a little bit different," Hazell said.

USC has played only one game, a laugher over Virginia, so it stands to reason there is plenty left in head coach Pete Carroll's bag of tricks.

2. Which team will adjust quicker (and better)?

With surprises bound to be in store, adjusting quickly will be critical. In what figures to be a tightly contested game, any space created by something new could swing the outcome.

Beyond strategy, there is also the issue of personnel. Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock told reporters his game plan will not come together completely until the game is underway and he finds out, both with feedback from his players and his own observations, who matches up well with whom.

"We're going to zone pressure. We're going to blitz. We're going to play zone," Heacock said. "What's going to be best Saturday night? I don't know. As you go through the game, I think we'll get an idea and try to make some adjustments and try to get a feel for what we can do. You've got to find out how you match up up front, how you match up on the back end. The corners come off and you say, ‘Can you hook up with that guy? Can you play with him?' If he says no, you better play some three-deep zone."

3. What of Beanie?

Chris Wells' status is such an obvious question we nearly left it out, but there is no denying that game-day condition of his right foot will go a long way to deciding the outcome.

Ohio State has plenty of players capable of hurting opposing defenses, but none in Wells' category. Few teams do. He not only can do more with less help than anyone else in scarlet and gray, his presence makes everyone else's life easier by drawing extra attention.

Expect USC to load the box to take away Ohio State's running game whether Wells is dotting the ‘I' or not, but the surest way to beat such a strategy is to have a running back who can account for the extra defender with his own skills. Of Ohio State's backs, Wells is the only one who can do that at this point in his career.

4. Can the Ohio State passing game get in sync?

With or without Wells, Ohio State must throw the ball with more success Saturday night than it did against Ohio.

That means better pass protection from the offensive line and improved chemistry between Todd Boeckman and his receivers, who uncharacteristically dropped several passes.

"I didn't think we were as sharp, crisp, nor did I think we were as patient from the quarterback position, and you have just a little inch off here and an inch off there and all of a sudden, you don't do it," Tressel said of the passing game against OU. "I didn't think the protection was the issue as much as the execution from the people outside of the protection, and usually, if you have the protection you need, the easier part in my mind is the outside part, but it wasn't as crisp."

Hazell said starters Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline bounced back with great weeks of practice. Looking on the plus side, the Ohio contest provided an opportunity for backup receivers Ray Small and Dane Sanzenbacher to contribute when the starters struggled.

5. Will an unknown star emerge?

Ohio State has been in its share of big games in recent years, and many have seen a player who did not receive top billing beforehand emerge with a game-changing performance.

Making his third college start, James Laurinaitis had 13 tackles, forced two fumbles and made an interception at Texas in 2006.

Troy Smith's first real glimpse at being a future Heisman Trophy winner coincided with a shellacking of No. 7 Michigan in 2004.

In the aforementioned Texas game, Smith's favorite target was then-unheralded Anthony Gonzalez, who had game highs of eight catches for 142 yards and a touchdown.

Could an under-the-radar Buckeye (or Trojan) provide a similar lift in the Coliseum under the lights in prime time Saturday?


Buckeye Sports Top Stories