Game Preview: No. 3 Texas

The 2008 season for the No. 10 Ohio State football team concludes where five of the last seven have: in the desert. The Buckeyes face No. 3 Texas in the Fiesta Bowl on Monday, and this is the preview including players to watch for the Longhorns and a look at how the teams compare heading into the contest.

No. 3 Texas (11-1, 7-1)
Monday, Jan. 5, 8 p.m.
University of Phoenix Stadium (73,000)
2007 Record: 10-3, 5-3 Big 12 Conference
Head Coach: Mack Brown, 114-26 at Texas (11th season)

Longhorn Players To Know
QB Colt McCoy: The junior completed 291 of 375 passes – an outlandish 77.6 percent – for 3,445 yards while tossing 32 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. He threw for 300 yards or more in four of the team's last six games and had multiple touchdown passes in all but one game. He tossed multiple interceptions just twice and had seven games without a pick.

In addition, he was the team's leading rusher, compiling 576 yards and 10 touchdowns on 128 tries.

"He's as good as there is," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "Ten years ago it probably would have been unheard of to have people completing 78, 80 percent of their passes in games and those types of things. He's just put up extraordinary numbers. He's the leading rusher on the football team and so that tells you what else that adds to the difficulty of trying to deal with him."

WR Jordan Shipley: Shipley, whose father Bob was a college roommate of McCoy's dad Brad, finished tops on the team in all three major receiving categories with 79 catches, 982 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is just one away from tying Texas' single-season record for scores, set in 2006 by Limas Sweed and in '02 by Roy Williams. Shipley's 20 career touchdowns are tied for second all-time in UT history with Sweed, and he's used his speed to score a touchdown on a punt and kick return this year.

DE Brian Orapko: A good combination of speed and strength at 6-4, 260 pounds, the senior hit the trifecta of postseason major awards when he won honors given to the nation's best end (Ted Hendricks Award), best lineman (Lombardi Award) and best defensive player (Nagurski Award). In addition, Orakpo was a consensus All-American.

To earn those laurels, Orakpo, who finished sixth in the nation in sacks per game and also led the Big 12 in tackles for loss, has totaled 40 tackles, 18 TFL and 10½ sacks while forcing four fumbles.

"It all starts up front with Orakpo," Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman said. "He won one of those awards but it all starts with him. He is tough to handle."

LB Sergio Kindle: A first-team All-Big 12, the strongside linebacker, who was the No. 1 linebacker recruit in the nation in 2005, notched 50 tackles, 13 TFL, nine sacks and two fumble recoveries on the year. The junior had 15 quarterback pressures, more than one per game.

Series Top OSU Returnees
A number of the current Buckeye stars were around when the teams clashed in 2005 in Columbus and 2006 in Austin. Chris Wells ran five times for 17 yards, while Maurice Wells earned a yard on his lone carry. Brian Robiskie had three catches for 28 yards, including a crucial late third-down conversion, while tight end Rory Nicol caught a pass for 2 yards.

A year after making four punts for an average of just under 40 yards, Trapasso had an excellent game in 2006, booting the ball six times for an average of 50.8 yards with two balls downed inside the 20. Aaron Pettrey made 1 of 2 field goals.

James Laurinaitis had a fantastic all-around day in the 2006 game, forcing two fumbles, making an interception and finishing with 13 tackles. Malcolm Jenkins and Donald Washington each had five tackles, and Washington recovered one of the fumbles Laurinaitis forced near the goal line and returned it 48 yards. Jenkins also had a pass breakup and a tackle for loss.

Game Breakdown
When Ohio State has the ball: In the Big 12 this year, the biggest question marks all surround the defenses in the league. Texas, in fact, was ranked as the best defense in the league despite placing 50th in the country in yardage allowed.

The Texas defense had three clearly defined segments to its season. During the first five games of the year, the Longhorns kept Florida Atlantic, UTEP, Rice, Arkansas and Colorado all at 14 points or below. During the next five weeks, facing four ranked teams and a resurgent Baylor offense, the Longhorns allowed more than 20 in each contest. Then, during the final two contests against Kansas and rival Texas A&M, the Longhorns allowed a total of 16 points. When those totals are added up, Texas is 20th in the nation in scoring defense (18.6), which also is best in the Big 12.

"I just think they are a great defense in all honesty," OSU fullback Brandon Smith said. "They throw the ball a lot more in the Big 12 than we do here. I don't know how much they run the ball out that way but it is a great defense when you try to size it up. It is going to be a tough task for us."

Many people have surmised that Ohio State would have to beat Texas through the air because the Longhorns have not had good numbers against the pass in the pass-happy Big 12. Texas is just 109th in the country in pass defense, allowing 266.3 yards per game, and the Longhorns made a grand total of six interceptions in 12 games.

Star conference signal callers Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Graham Harrell of Texas Tech combined for 861 yards passing, seven touchdowns and two interceptions against the Longhorns.

Texas has been handicapped by the youth of its defensive backfield, as cornerback Ryan Palmer is the only senior in the group and both safeties, Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon, are freshmen.

For Ohio State to move the ball through the air, it would require an improvement from quarterback Terrelle Pryor, whom the Buckeyes have been reticent to throw to the wolves in the passing game. Ohio State is 105th in the nation in passing yards per game and Pryor has thrown more than 20 passes or for more than 200 yards just once, that coming against Penn State.

One danger when throwing the ball comes from the fact that the Longhorns are tops in the nation with 3.67 sacks per game.

The front seven is undeniably talented and one of the main reasons Texas is second in the nation in rush defense, allowing 73.6 yards per game. One concern for the Longhorns is that they gave up more than 200 yards to the top-25 rushing attacks of Oklahoma State and Baylor, while OSU is 28th.

Opposite Orakpo is Henry Melton at the "power" spot. Melton, who started his UT career as a bruising running back before the move to end, has 26 tackles and four sacks this season. In the middle, nose tackle Roy Miller is a first-team All-Big 12 choice. The senior placed sixth on the team with 46 tackles and had 10 for loss.

Kindle has an excellent linebacker on the other side of him in junior Roddrick Muckelroy. The 6-2, 235-pounder has more than 40 more tackles than his nearest Longhorn, finishing the regular season with 106 on the year including four for loss and both a forced and recovered fumble. Muckelroy made 16 tackles against Oklahoma, the most for any Longhorn in one game this year.

When Texas has the ball: This has the potential to be a blockbuster showdown between two of the best units in the country. Ohio State enters as the eighth best total defense and seventh best scoring defense in the country, while Texas' average of 43.9 points per game places the Longhorns fifth in the nation.

Much of Texas' explosiveness is attributed to McCoy, who was named the Walter Camp national player of the year and a first-team All-American according to the Football Writers Association of America.

"As many points as they put up a game, and how explosive they are as an offense, it's always something that opens your eyes when you look at them on film," Jenkins said. "And it's not just Colt McCoy. There are so many threats on the field, and they can score so many ways, it's almost mind-boggling."

The Longhorns operate out of an offense that Ohio State defenders have described as having similar formations to that of Illinois but is in scheme unlike anything they've faced so far, even while playing in a Big Ten that has been taken over by the spread offense.

Texas gets much of its yardage through the air, as its 299.5 passing yards per game place 11th in the country. McCoy's incredible completion percentage is helped by outstanding receiving targets in Shipley and Quan Cosby.

"Whenever a quarterback is completing that many passes, it's hard to do something like that, even against air," Jenkins said. "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."

Cosby isn't far behind Shipley's stats, as the senior has snagged 78 passes for 952 yards and eight scores. Next up as far as the receivers go is Brandon Collins, who has 28 catches for 370 yards and three touchdowns.

Malcolm Williams leads the team in yards per catch, as the 6-3, 218-pound redshirt freshman has earned an average of 17.9 yards on his 17 catches.

The Longhorns also have an excellent receiving threat out of the backfield in Chris Ogbannaya, who is third on the team with 42 catches and is used on a lot of swing passes and wheel routes.

That passing game will have to match up against an Ohio State team that is seventh in the nation in pass defense and boasts the Thorpe Award winner in Jenkins. An onus will fall on cornerbacks Donald Washington and Chimdi Chekwa to keep tabs on whichever of Shipley and Cosby is not being covered by Jenkins.

On the ground, Texas boasts a ground game that doesn't have a standout No. 1 rusher but does have a number of players who have had success this season.

What the Longhorns' rushing attack lacks in a dominant running back, it makes up in quality with four running backs that posted similar stats on the year. That quartet, along with McCoy, has helped Texas place 34th in the nation in rushing with 176.9 yards per game.

"They're all good at what they do," Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "You got a couple guys bigger than the other ones but they're all fast and great at finding the hole."

Sophomore Vondrell McGee has the most yards out of that arrangement with 386 and has added four touchdowns on 88 carries.

Ogbannaya has started six games, the most of the group, and is an important piece of the Longhorns arsenal. The senior averages 5.3 yards per carry, the best of all the backs, and has 63 carries for 331 yards and four scores.

After returning from injury, redshirt freshman Fozzy Whittaker has been one of the team's best backs. He has earned 58 carries in just six games and has 261 yards while being kept out of the end zone.

The fourth piece of the puzzle is fullback Cody Johnson. A 5-11, 255-pound bruiser, the redshirt freshman leads the team with 12 touchdowns and has carried the ball 73 times overall for 336 yards.

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