Trench Battle Pits Strength Vs. Strength

Oregon might be a team that likes to spread the field, but the Ducks primarily get the job done on the ground. That pits their team against what has proven to be the teeth of Ohio State's defense: its ability to stop the run. takes a look at what could be a key matchup in this year's Rose Bowl.

He might not play on the defensive side of the ball, but Ray Small feels his Ohio State team has an advantage against its Rose Bowl opponent in Oregon.

"They're a pretty good team, but they haven't seen a defense like ours yet," the senior wideout/kick returner said Dec. 6.

Statistically, he is right. As a team, the Buckeyes rank among the national leaders in defense in a number of categories. OSU sits fifth in total defense (262.5 yards per game) and rush defense (83.42) and 17th in pass defense (179.08).

But the Ducks did not finish the regular season with a 10-2 record by going against teams that could not play much defense. The average total defense for an Oregon opponent this season was 359.49 yards, a figure that would place 57th in the nation behind Virginia and ahead of North Carolina State.

Opposing defenses allowed an average of 141.55 yards rushing and 217.89 yards passing, good for 58th-best and 60th-best, respectively.

For the season, the Ducks finished 25th in the nation in total offense with 424.67 yards per game. The path to that total was largely paved on the ground, where Oregon finished sixth nationally with an average of 236.08 rushing yards per game. Lagging behind was the passing attack, which sits 91st overall with 188.58 yards.

What does it mean for the Rose Bowl? It means a matchup of strength against strength when it comes to controlling the game in the trenches. The top-ranked rushing defense Oregon faced this season was Arizona State, which was gashed Nov. 14 for a season-high 268 rushing yards in a 44-21 victory for the Ducks. For the season, the Sun Devils finished 18th with an allowance of 108.58 rushing yards per game.

Leading the way is redshirt freshman tailback LaMichael James, who carried the ball 215 times for 1,476 yards – an average of 6.9 yards per carry – and 14 touchdowns. Right behind him is junior dual-threat quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who picked up 659 yards and 12 touchdowns on 115 carries.

OSU senior linebacker Austin Spitler said his team's defensive plan of attack starts with trying to disrupt Masoli.

"That's always our goal," he said. "We're going to have to affect the quarterback if we want to be successful. He's like a running back when he pulls down the ball. They have so much talent out there, it will be difficult but I think our coaches and our team are up for the challenge."

That challenge will start up front. The most yardage OSU allowed on the ground all season came in the season opener against Navy, whose triple option attack produced 186 rushing yards.

Oregon has been held to less than that total only twice this season. The Ducks could muster up only 31 rushing yards in a season-opening loss to Boise State, and they finished with 175 yards double-overtime victory Nov. 21 against Arizona State.

Head coach Chip Kelly cited a few reasons for that rough performance to kick off the year.

"We got a little bit older and we gained experience," he said. "We were breaking in a new offensive line with guys who hadn't played a lot for us. We were a young football team.

"We also played against a very, very good Boise State team that I don't think gets enough credit for what they've done."

Kelly said the team has not changed its approach during the season as a result of the first game.

The Ducks also present a different type of challenge than teams the Buckeyes have faced this season. Although OSU had not spent much time breaking down tape, several players mentioned the fact that Oregon simply has plenty of speed at a number of positions across the field.

"They're just so explosive as a unit and I don't think we've faced anything like we're going to face out there," Spitler said. "Two plays and they're in the end zone. They have so much talent out there, and with a dual-threat quarterback it makes it that much more difficult on our defense."

Senior defensive lineman Doug Worthington said he expects to see the Buckeyes rotate linemen throughout the game as much as they have all season. He added that the rotation should be boosted by a now-healthy Dexter Larimore lining up at tackle.

However, OSU head coach Jim Tressel cautioned against painting this game as strictly a contest between his team's rush defense and Oregon's rushing attack.

"To me the beauty of it is you can't talk about it just in terms of our defense against their offense because that's not how games work," he said. "Games are an integration of their offense and our offense and their special teams and ours. (But) when those two groups take the field, they're good. It will be a one-play-at-a-time kind of thing."

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