5 Questions: The Fiesta Bowl

Field position, penalties, poise and Pryor (Terrelle, that is) are among the issues we have dubbed the most important this week as Ohio State makes final preparations to tangle with Texas. And keep an eye on the second quarter, one that has hurt the Buckeyes in previous big games in recent seasons.

1. Irresistible force or immovable object?

The Ohio State defense and the Texas offense both finished the regular season in the nation's top 10 in terms of scoring and total yards, but it is doubtful either has seen a unit as formidable as the one it will oppose tonight.

Here we have the rubber match in a trilogy of battles between Big Ten defenses and Big 12 offenses. Units from both conferences put up gaudy numbers on one side of the ball or other, and so far Texas' Big 12 brethren have come away with a pair of bowl victories over Big Ten teams, but Ohio State faithful can take some solace in having seen Northwestern mostly stymie a high-powered Missouri team before succumbing in overtime.

They'll be most interested in what happens in the desert tonight, though.

2. Who will win the field position battle?

Although much has been made of the manner in which the Buckeyes were dominated on the scoreboard by Florida, USC and to a lesser extent LSU in recent high-profile out-of-conference games, a hidden statistic that has cost Ohio State dearly is field position.

Never was that more true than the first half of the 2006 BCS National Championship game, when the Gators put an astonishing 34 points on the board against what had been a stingy defense, their average starting position on offense was the Ohio State 47. Meanwhile, the OSU offense began at its own 35. In the second half, the numbers evened out, but by then it was too late. Arguably, Ohio State's football reputation has never been the same since that first half.

A year later, the field position battle tilted only slightly toward LSU, but USC had an average starting spot nearly twice as desirable (the Trojan 38 as opposed to the OSU 19) this past September.

3. Can the Buckeyes keep their poise?

The Gators had some Ohio State mental mistakes to thank for their great field position as a Buckeye was guilty of a personal foul at the end of the returns that set up both of the first two Florida drives. With the help of those free 30 yards, the Gators capitalized with touchdown drives of 46 and 34 yards.

Against LSU, personal fouls again reared their ugly heads, and at most inopportune times that allowed the Tigers to continue to build momentum during a stretch in which they scored 31 straight points.

In those two games, 12 penalties for a total of 133 yards were marked off against the Buckeyes, but the worst was yet to come as they saw 10 penalties for 78 yards accepted against them in the 35-3 loss at USC.

4. Will Ohio State survive the second quarter?

The numbers pretty much speak for themselves in this area. Florida, LSU and USC outscored Ohio State by a combined 55-7 in the second quarter, leaving little drama for the second half in any of those contests.

It is not likely they can afford such a hiccup tonight against Texas. The Longhorns boast a higher scoring offense than any of the three teams already mentioned, and their highest-scoring quarter this season was the second (173 of 527 points).

Ohio State outscored opponents 87-57 in the second quarter this season. The Buckeyes' highest-scoring quarter was the fourth (110 of 338).

5. What has the youngster learned?

We saved the wildest of cards for last.

Terrelle Pryor has been under wraps since the he threw for 120 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan at Ohio Stadium on Nov. 22, and his progression as a quarterback since then figures to have a lot to do with how much challenge the Buckeyes can offer the Longhorns.

During the season, both Pryor and OSU quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels assured reporters that the youngster will be able to hurt teams with both his arm and his legs when the time comes, and he will probably need to do both tonight after more than a month to work on fundamentals and absorbing more of the offense.

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