Ohio State hopes to keep up the pressure on Barkley throughout the night by winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and silencing the Trojans' running game. The Buckeyes did neither in last season's 35-3 rout at the hands of the Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez had plenty of time to throw and completed 17 of 28 passes for 172 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. The running game also excelled, more than doubling OSU's rushing total (164-71). Joe McKnight had 105 yards on 12 carries, an average of 8.8 yards per carry.
So while most people will be watching Barkley, it might be more advantageous to watch USC's talented offensive line and skilled running backs. If Ohio State is to defeat the Trojans, the Buckeyes will have to make Barkley try to beat them. By stopping USC's rushing attack, the defense can apply more pressure on the young signal caller.
USC certainly has plenty of offensive firepower, but the offensive line is what makes the Trojans go. The line is full of talent and experience. Seven of USC's offensive linemen started three games or more in 2008. The line did its job in the Trojans' season-opening 56-3 win over San Jose State last week and will get a boost from the return of first team All-Pac-10 center Kristofer O'Dowd. The 6-5, 300-pound sophomore missed the SJSU game while recovering from a dislocated kneecap. Senior left guard Jeff Byers, senior left tackle Charles Brown, senior right guard Alex Parsons and sophomore right tackle Tyron Smith make up the rest of the starting linemen.
"Their offensive line is very athletic," OSU co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Jim Heacock said. "They're an athletic as an offensive line as we've seen – maybe as good as we've seen since I've been here across the board."
That's high praise from Heacock, who has been on Ohio State's coaching staff since 1996. Nine times he has led an Ohio State defense against a team ranked either No. 1or No. 2, and Heacock has seemingly gotten the message passed to OSU's defensive linemen.
"It's going to be a battle," senior defensive tackle Doug Worthington said. "They're a great offensive line, and you know they'll have great technique. They're going to be eager to play us, and we have to make sure we play our game."
Barkley will also have the luxury of handing the ball off to several of talented rushers. Nine of USC's top 10 rushers from 2008 are back this season, led by McKnight. The No. 2 ranked player in the country according to Scout.com in 2007, the junior rushed for 145 yards against SJSU with two touchdowns. USC piled up 342 rushing yards, an average of 7.6 yards per carry, and scored six rushing touchdowns in its opener.
It will be a long night in the Horseshoe if Ohio State's defense cannot stand up to USC's offensive line and slow the rushing attack.
"I think we've got to ask our guys to go in there and play hard and play physical and play low," Heacock said. "It's not going to be anything different than any other game. If you can win the battle in the trenches, you've got a chance. The challenge is a little bit greater than it usually is just because they are good athletes and good players."
Barkley himself had an impressive debut after a sluggish start. San Jose State led 3-0 after the first quarter, but the USC offense took control from there. Barkley finished with an impressive 15-of-19 passing performance for 233 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. USC's coaching staff put the former Gatorade national high school player of the year in a good situation to succeed by rolling him out of the pocket and establishing the running game to open up the passing game.
That is a big reason why getting pressure on Barkley will be a key to victory for Ohio State. Even if the defense cannot get sacks, members of the OSU defensive line said they have to knock Barkley down early and often.
"The first play is the most important play, making sure that we come out strong," Worthington said. "If you give somebody any type of confidence at the beginning, the second or third or fourth play, that could just give him the things he needs for the rest of the game. We just have to make sure we get after it as soon as we step on the field."