5 Questions: USC at Ohio State

Ohio State's chance at revenge on USC for the drubbing handed out by the Trojans last year in Los Angeles figures to hinge on how much Terrelle Pryor can do, how the Trojans' freshman quarterback handles Ohio Stadium, what happens in the trenches and more.

1. How much of the Ohio State offense will be put in Terrelle Pryor's hands?

Many have called for Ohio State to deploy Pryor in an offense similar to the one Texas used to dethrone the defending national champion Trojans at the conclusion of the 2005 season, but Tressel has seemed reluctant to do that up to this point, preferring a more balanced attack.

The Ohio State offense was roughly equal parts shotgun and I-formation in the first half against Navy then tended to be more spread oriented in the second half, when the Buckeyes had some success running on the edges. Could that be a harbinger of things to come this Saturday?

Jim Bollman, the Buckeyes' offensive coordinator, hopes not to see Pryor try to do too much.

"You've got to get ready to play and then just let yourself play," Bollman said. "If you try to press beyond that, you may negate your own ability."


2. Can the Buckeyes force USC to score with long, sustained drives?

Last year, USC did not waste much time when it wanted to score on the Ohio State defense. The Trojans' four scoring drives all involved seven plays or fewer and none took more than 3:46 off the clock. Much of that was thanks to consistently break off big chunks of yardage at a time, an ability Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel observed alive and well in USC's opener against San Jose State.

"They have an excellent knack of coming up with what we call explosive gains," Tressel said Tuesday. "They might go a couple plays and it's business as usual and then, boom, all of a sudden it's a 17-yarder."

With Mark Sanchez at quarterback last season, USC often pushed the issue down field. With him gone to the NFL, the game plan in the opener asked for true freshman starter Matt Barkley to throw more short passes and let his playmakers go to work, but there is no shortage of players able to turn simple plays into touchdowns.


3. And what about the Ohio State offense creating some explosive plays?

This will no doubt be essential as methodical drives figures to be at a premium against a rebuilt but talented USC defense.

Last season, the Buckeyes moved the ball more than 50 yards in a drive exactly one time, and their longest play from scrimmage all night was 16 yards.

Their most proven playmaker from last year - Chris "Beanie" Wells - was stuck on the sideline that night and the offense suffered. Wells is gone to the NFL now, and the next two biggest suppliers of big plays last season, receivers Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie, are, too, so Ohio State will need new playmakers to emerge.


4. Can a freshman quarterback handle Ohio Stadium?

Barkley received high marks across the board for his college football debut last Saturday, but the sun-splashed grass of the Los Angeles Coliseum figures to be a distant memory when he leads the Trojans out onto the FieldTurf of Ohio Stadium in front of more than 100,000 hostile Buckeye fans.

Conventional wisdom says a true freshman in his first start is likely to struggle, but his head coach has no lack of confidence in him.

"I would think he's going to have fun with it," USC head coach Pete Carroll told reporters earlier this week. "And he's going to be excited to see what it looks like to be in an on opponent's stadium of that stature and all. And then he's going to go play. I don't think it will matter to him at all. That's just the way he's been and how he's handled things and he has such confidence and such comfort in his own skin. That will be extended into the setting as well."


5. Can the Buckeye reverse their fortunes in the trenches?

As is the case with most football games, the battles closest to where the ball is snapped figure to have the most to do with which teams win.

Last year against USC and in seemingly every game the Buckeyes have lost in the past three-plus seasons, Ohio State has allowed its opponent to better it on one or both lines.

When USC has the ball, both lines will be talented and experienced, but the Trojans go into battle with the knowledge they handled the Buckeye up front the first time they tangled.

"We've got to ask our guys to go in there and play hard, play physical and play low," said Ohio State defensive coordinator and line coach Jim Heacock. "It's not going to be anything different than any other game. If you can win the battle in the trenches then you've got a chance. And the challenge is a little bit greater than usual just because they are good. They've got athletes who can play, and there are a number of them."

The combatants when Ohio State has the ball will not be so familiar. Half of the USC defensive line is gone, as are three seniors who started on the Buckeye offensive line.

The latter group is hoping to clean up some problems with technique and communication that hindered its effectiveness against Navy.


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