Battle Of Big Plays Could Decide Rose Bowl

Friday's Rose Bowl will be a matchup of strength vs. strength, at least as far as big plays are concerned. Oregon is one of the best teams in the country in explosive plays, but the Buckeye defense rarely gives up big yardage in one fell swoop. Members of the Silver Bullets talked about what makes the Ducks so good and what OSU has done to stop attacks so far this year.

When Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli scampered into the end zone from 15 yards out to score a third-quarter touchdown against Purdue on Sept. 12, it did more than give the Ducks a 31-24 lead over the upset-minded Boilermakers.

It also happened to serve as a precursor of many scoring drives to come.

The scoring jaunt had the hallmarks of a typical scoring drive for the high-octane Ducks in 2009 – a few big plays and a quick tempo to keep the opposing defense off balance. Tailback LaMichael James broke off a 27-yard run to get the ball into the red zone, one of six plays of 20 or more yards in the game for Oregon. The entire six-play, 72-yard production lasted only 1:48 before Masoli's touchdown scamper.

The Ducks would go to a similar well time and time again throughout the year, and perhaps Ohio State's biggest challenge going into the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day will be keeping Oregon from breaking off the big gains that serve as the lifeblood of the Ducks' seventh-ranked scoring offense.

"As soon as they get the rhythm, we will see Oregon march down the field in a couple of plays," OSU captain and safety Kurt Coleman said. "Stopping the run is the focal point because that's what they are going to try and do and not allowing them to get the big plays because they are so explosive with James and Masoli. They are big play creators."

The Ducks big-play acumen was the driving force behind an offense that put up 37.7 points per game and topped 40 in seven of its last nine contests. Oregon averaged exactly six plays of 20 yards or more per game, breaking off 38 such runs and passing for 34 long gainers.

Oregon ended up turning those big plays into points quite often, as drives with a play of 20 yards or more ended in points 80.6 percent of the time. On top of that, 71.4 percent of the Ducks' scoring drives contained at least one big gainer.

Such explosiveness stems from Oregon's spread offense, which puts stress on defenders in many ways. The Ducks' running game is built on misdirection, deception and option plays, so one missed assignment by a defender can result in chunks of yards. Then there's a passing game that excels at play-action, which has allowed the Ducks to have 18 of 34 big-play passes occur on first down.

It helps that Masoli runs the entire show with the deft touch of a magician, often making the right read and also getting the Ducks to the line quickly to prevent opposing substitutions and keep the opposition guessing.

"With that type of offense it kind of presents mistakes," OSU defensive lineman Doug Worthington said. "There are times that you look at Masoli and you look at something and they put a lot of dressing on their plays where this guy is running behind something and this guy is doing this and you start looking at doing too much then you will get caught.

"It is going to be a tough game and a game where you have to buckle down and watch a lot of film and see what they do extra and see things that they do that may be unnecessary but they do it for reason as far as getting you confused is huge."

Oregon operates in a hurry-up tempo in which the team rushes to the line – particularly after long gains – before Masoli checks the sideline for any possible adjustments to the play call. As if teams didn't have enough to worry about, the speed of the attack helps keep opponents off balance and adds to the confusion that can lead to explosive plays.

"It definitely gets teams, because you'll see a lot of times on film even the camera guy sometimes missing it and they'll snap the ball and you'll see the middle of the play," OSU safety Anderson Russell said. "Or a lot of times you'll see defenses not completely lined up. So it throws off your rhythm, really, because you're just expecting to have time to get lined up, and they might call two plays and just snap the ball and get right back on the line and snap it again."

The good news for Ohio State fans, though, is that the Buckeyes are particularly adept at keeping teams from moving down the field quickly. The Silver Bullets allowed only 24 plays of 20 yards or more this season, an average of exactly two per game. Impressively, only five of those big plays were given up on the ground, and Ohio State's defense led the country in three-and-outs.

For that, Worthington credited the team's long-held defensive slogan of one-11th – meaning that every player needs to be doing his job and only his job on every play.

"That has been around since I was a little Buck," he said. "We all say one-11th, everybody, when you get personnel, when you put a new play in – it is always one-11th. Because when you have ten guys doing their 11th, that one guy (that's not) is probably is going to be the reason that guy goes 10 to 15 yards.

"We make sure that we do our job, and there are a lot of times you look at other teams and they are giving great effort but it looks like they are not in the right gap or doing the right technique and it bites them."

Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa had another answer as well – the Buckeyes are among the best defenses in the country when it comes to making tackles.

"We tackle," he said. "It comes down to tackling. You watch games, a lot of teams get there. They have guys around the ball, they have athletes, but what makes the big play is them missing a tackle.

"A lot of times, the defense (facing Oregon) will do a good job of execution and they'll miss tackles. You miss a tackle with Oregon and – we've all seen it, you miss a tackle on James and he takes off. You have to make sure you make the tackles that come to you and that you execute."

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