Racing Pace Key To Ducks Attack

The Ohio State football team has faced some hurry-up offenses like Troy, Toledo and Purdue during the past two seasons, but the eighth-ranked Buckeyes are likely to see something new against Oregon on Friday in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks pushing of the game's pace is central to their attack, leading to a hot topic of conversation Tuesday.

If those fans watching the 96th Rose Bowl Game on Friday notice that the Ohio State defenders are showing the telltale signs of weariness – hands on their hips, obvious deep breaths – the Buckeyes could be in trouble.

Rest assured, the Oregon offense will already be aware of such weaknesses.

"Absolutely," Ducks' offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said Tuesday. "If we think we've got somebody starting to stand up and huff and puff, we'll try to attack. And we'll talk about, ‘Hey did you see No. so-and-so?' and, ‘That guy (looks tired).' Absolutely."

That vigilance is a key component of the attack the No. 7 Ducks have put together on the way to having the seventh-best scoring offense in the country. Oregon will rush up to the line of scrimmage after each play, dictating the tempo of the game to opposing defenses throughout.

As a result, the Ducks have put together an explosive attack despite a lack of possession. Oregon has only 26:58 of possession per game this year, but 25 of the team's 65 timed offensive scoring drives this year have taken two minutes or less and an additional 19 scoring drives have been between two and three minutes on the clock.

"It's a huge challenge," senior linebacker Austin Spitler said. "We're never going to be able to replicate their exact offense and their tempo. The first quarter of the game, we're going to have to get out there the first few minutes and calm everybody down because it's going to be fast. They're going to throw things at us that we haven't seen yet."

Spitler added that the Buckeyes did get tired last year at the end of the loss to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl, but Ohio State defense looked in fine shape during this year's win against Wisconsin. Though the Badgers ran 89 plays and held the ball for more than 42 minutes, they were unable to score during the final 25 minutes of the contest.

The game against the Ducks should provide the ultimate test, however. To that end, the Buckeye offense has spent time since early bowl practices showing the defense a hurry-up look. Just how much that will help is up in the air, however, said OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock.

"Our offense has done a good job of trying to give us a little bit of a look, but I don't think you ever know how fast it is until you get in the game," Heacock said. "The tough part is getting the defense called, getting lined up and making your adjustments. There's a lot of things in a short period of time."

The in-series substitutions the Buckeyes have used for much of the season might go by the wayside, with the team having to swap players on a series-by-series basis. Heacock said the Buckeyes also have put in a few plays that can be called by the team's linebackers, rather than from the sideline, should the Ducks' offense hit warp speed.

And if all else fails, the goal simply will be to line up and hope the Buckeyes' talent takes over.

"If you're lined up, you're at least sound – you're gap sound and you're sound in the back end," Heacock said. "If you're not lined up, you're running around like crazy and you lose your poise a little bit. That's when it gets ugly."

It's gotten ugly for a number of the Ducks' opponents this year. Oregon passed 40 points in seven of its last nine contests and led the Pacific-10 in 11 of 23 team offensive categories during league games only. Oregon's rushing attack averages 236.8 yards per game, tops in the Pac-10 and sixth in the country, thanks to the skills of excellent decision-making quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and the Pac-10 Offensive Freshman of the Year, tailback LaMichael James.

And the Ducks say that rushing attack gets more and more potent as the game goes on thanks to the hurry-up tempo. It seemed to work at the end of the season, as Oregon scored 31 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to come from behind to beat what James called a tiring Arizona squad Nov. 21. The Ducks then clinched their Rose Bowl berth with a game-ending six-minute, 12-play drive in the season finale with a win against Oregon State.

"It can wear out a D-line and you get cheap pancake blocks," offensive lineman Bo Thran said. "Guys get tired and they're late lining up or something like that. It's an opportunity to gash big runs."

James – who said the team went faster than ever before in practice yesterday, prompting him to go to bed at 7:30 – said he'll even tell Masoli to speed things up if he notices defenders reeling.

"Sometimes it gets too fast for me," the redshirt freshman said. "You have to be in shape if you're going to play us."

Helfrich said the team uses a huddle only in practice when trying to simulate an opponent for the Ducks' defense. At all other times, the team rushes immediately to the line after each play, prompting tight end Ed Dickson to quip, "I don't remember how it is to have a huddle anymore." Instead, Dickson and the Oregon wide receivers receive the play by receiving hand signals from either Masoli or the sideline.

But that doesn't mean the snap always comes immediately. At times, Masoli will race to the line before settling things down and looking to the sideline for an adjustment on the play call.

If it sounds confusing, imagine how the Buckeyes feel.

"There's a multitude of things you have to prepare for," Heacock said. "That's the challenge we've had ever since we started preparing for them."

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