Fiesta Bowl Teams Favor Divergent Styles

Either the Buckeyes or Longhorns will earn for their school win No. 2 in the relatively new series between longtime powers, but will the game be won by land or by air? The regular season indicates both will try to take decidedly different routes to the Fiesta Bowl winner's circle.

Although it is the school of Heisman Trophy winning running backs Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams, not to mention the place coach Darrell Royal helped make the veer option running game famous, Texas has cast its lot with the arm of a quarterback this season.

Meanwhile, the only Big Ten school ever to produce a quarterback to win the Heisman spent 2008 getting back to its rushing roots to a greater extent than in all but one of Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel's eight seasons at the Buckeye helm.

Head coach Mack Brown's team maintained a 55-45 run-pass play ratio during the regular season, but the effectiveness of Texas' offense, which ranked fifth in the nation in scoring (43.9 points per game) and ninth in total yards per game (476.4), was based on quarterback Colt McCoy's arm. The Longhorns averaged 299.5 yards through the air and 176.9 on the ground.

Ohio State ran the ball a lopsided 67 percent of the time overall, a figure that jumps to 71 percent in the last three quarters of the season when the Buckeyes were breaking in true freshman Terrelle Pryor as their starting quarterback. The most Ohio State ran the ball in any season under Tressel is 69 percent in 2002.

Of course, the presence of a running back like Chris "Beanie" Wells can help motivate a team to run the ball more often, too.

Wells played in only one nonconference game but did not miss a contest in Big Ten play, when he ran for 980 yards (122.5 per game).

Those yards along with contributions from Pryor and backup running back Dan "Boom" Herron helped the Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in rushing during conference play with a smash-mouth attack that has Brown admittedly worried after his team spent the year in the pass-happy Big 12.

"We're really concerned," he told reporters Dec. 18. "We have great stats against the run, but not many people lined up and tried to run the ball against us."

Three of the Longhorns' 12 opponents finished in the nation's top 50 in team rushing, and two of the three had great success.

Texas shut down Oklahoma's 18th-ranked running game – allowing 48 yards in a 45-35 win – but was gashed for 201 yards by Baylor (ranked No. 23 in rushing) and 217 by Oklahoma State (No. 7).

"I think Oklahoma was probably one of the best rushing teams that we've faced, and they did not make many yards," Brown said. "Not many teams lined up and tried to run it."

Despite that fact, Tressel said he will have no trouble envisioning how Texas will look trying to stop his team, which ranked 28th in the nation in rushing.

While most of the Big 12 seems to have fallen in love with spreading the field with three or more receivers and putting the quarterback in the shotgun, this year Tressel's team spent much of its time in the I-formation or with a single back and two tight ends. The Buckeyes sprinkled in their share of shotgun spread, as well, but it was a smaller part of their identity.

"We'll be in the spread too some, and we'll also be in the ‘I' some, and we've seen them face teams in the ‘I,' and they've got good people," Tressel said. "They'll probably be in nickel and dime maybe less percent of the time against us than they were against others, but we're going to be spread out and all those kind of things as well."

"I think that's one of the biggest questions and one of the fun matchups to watch in this game," Brown said. "That's between their offensive line, Beanie Wells and Terrelle as compared to our defensive font, who's been really stout against the run. But, this is just a different type of team than what we have played."

On the other side of the coin, the Buckeyes have a talented, veteran secondary to put up against McCoy and his stable of receivers.

Safeties Donald Washington and Anderson Russell along with cornerback Malcolm Jenkins will not be seeing Texas for the first time. All three started, along with holdover linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, in the Buckeyes' 24-7 win in Austin in 2006, but they do not expect that to be much of an advantage because of the maturation of McCoy, who made his second college start back then.

With McCoy now a 77-percent passer, Jenkins said he is excited to get another shot at stopping him.

"You wonder if he would do the same thing versus you, and we get a chance to see," said the senior who won the Thorpe Award, symbolic of the nation's best defensive back. "Whenever a quarterback is completing that many passes, it's hard to do something like that, even against air. You look at it on film, it's kind of mind-boggling. Now we get to see it in person and see how we fare against it."

Ohio State finished No. 7 in the nation in yards allowed per game (164.3) and 11th in passing efficiency defense (100.2) but faced only one team apiece in the top 20 of either category.

USC, with the 11th-best passing game in the nation in terms of efficiency, beat the Buckeyes 35-3 in September as quarterback Mark Sanchez picked them apart for 184 yards and four touchdowns, numbers that helped translate to an efficiency rating of 152.3.

In the penultimate game of the regular season, Illinois and its 19th-ranked passing attack (269.3 yards per game for the entire 12-game regular season) tallied 241 yards through the air against the Buckeyes, a season-high for an OSU opponent.

While the Longhorns ranked in the top 10 in the nation in both total yards and scoring during the regular season, the Buckeyes did the same on the defensive side of the ledger.

"They make plays all over the field," Jenkins said. "Whenever you have a completion rate as high as Colt McCoy does, you can't really argue with that.

"He has a great arm. He's making throws all over the field. He's got receivers who are fast and can move, so it will just be interesting to see how it matches up."


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