These two teams could not possibly be more different, in scheme and in personnel. And both teams mirror the personality of their respective head coaches, Chip Kelley and Jim Tressel.
How does this game actually break down on both sides of the football for each team, and how does each team want to see the game played?
OREGON OFFENSE vs. OHIO STATE DEFENSE
Jeremiah Masoli: Masoli is the perfect quarterback to run Kelly's spread option attack. Masoli is great at reading defenses, and consistently attacks defenses at their weakest point. Masoli has been well-schooled to know where to go with the football, and his running is the key to Oregon's offense, not super freshman LaMichael James. Oregon will look to force the defense out of position, and attack the vulnerable areas, inside or out. Masoli's passing is good, but it's a lot of play-action, looking to catch people out of position. Oregon will look to go deep on Ohio State, seeking the quick strike, as they are the opposite of the Buckeyes offensively. This offense tests the defense all over the field, and they force you to defend a ton of players in space. Ohio State will have to avoid being overly aggressive, and must be disciplined in their reads. Make a mistake, or miss a tackle, and it's 60 yards to the house.
Oregon Offensive Line: The offensive line of Oregon is sound and quick, but they aren't big, nor do they look to blow people off the ball. They can be a liability in pass protection and the Ducks aren't usually in third and long, obvious passing downs. I don't see the Oregon offensive line carrying the burden the Ohio State line will, simply because they look to exploit one-on-one match-ups, not move people off the ball to create space. If Ohio State can put Masoli in third and long, it could be a long day for the Oregon linemen.
LaMichael James: Stud, pure and simple. And a threat to go the distance from anywhere on the field. Ohio State cannot let him turn the corner, and he must be met on the edge and forced back to the middle. Miss a tackle on James, and it's BEEP-BEEP, to the house. Conversely, James needs to be hit, early and often. Ohio State is a fast, physical defense, one that causes turnovers. James needs to be stopped early in the game, to set the tone, and not let him loose to gain confidence. If he can establish the outside as his territory, it could be a long day for the Buckeyes.
Chip Kelly: Kelly is an offensive mastermind and an excellent play-caller. He will get his team to the line of scrimmage quickly, and be ready to go with plenty of time on the play clock. He will try to limit Ohio State's defensive substitutions by snapping the ball as they try to sub, or going on a no-huddle to force Ohio State to stay base. Kelly is a genius at establishing the pace of the game, and this might be Ohio State's biggest challenge defensively. Controlling first and second down enables the Buckeyes to control the game defensively. Giving Chip Kelly a month to prepare for a defense is a scary thought.
OHIO STATE DEFENSE vs. OREGON OFFENSE
Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock: Heacock is one of the best in the business, and he gets a huge challenge with Kelly's offense. Points of emphasis will be winning on first and second down, and I think he will use the safety's in an aggressive manner on the early downs. Kurt Coleman and Jermale Hines will need to be closer to the line of scrimmage to help contain the Oregon running game. This means Anderson Russell, Devon Torrence and Chimdi Chekwa will each be out on an island, and they must be aware of play-action. The key is to limit the big plays out of the Oregon offense, and make them drive the length of the field to beat you. There is always a worry about poor tackling coming off a layoff and this had better not occur, or Oregon will ring the bell often. Solid tackling and a disciplined defense that causes turnovers is the winning recipe for Heacock.
Ohio State defensive front: This game is still won in the trenches and people like Cam Heyward, Thad Gibson and all their friends MUST control the line of scrimmage. They cannot be expecting help in passing situations, and must get pressure on Masoli with four, or even three. They cannot give up the cutback lanes, and must stay disciplined at the point of attack. The Ohio State defensive line can determine how the game will be played from the Oregon offensive view point by controlling the line of scrimmage, especially in the early downs. I expect to see Ohio State play the 3-4 a lot, giving help on the edges, and Dexter Larimore, Johnny Simon and Todd Denlinger all need to come up big.
OHIO STATE OFFENSE vs. OREGON DEFENSE
Terrelle Pryor: Pryor must have a good game for Ohio State to win, simply put. Ohio State will not win this game if they lose the turnover battle, and winning that battle is Pryor's responsibility. Everyone expects Oregon to load the line of scrimmage and force Ohio State to pass, and everyone is correct. Pryor will have many opportunities to make plays, both throwing and running the football. The key for Ohio State will be first downs, and long, time consuming drives, or the exact opposite of what Oregon wants.
Ohio State Offensive Line: Ohio State "should" have a huge advantage going against the smaller Oregon front seven. This offensive line should relish the chance to mash and pound this Oregon defense, and if they cannot run the ball consistently, the Buckeyes will not win. They need to keep pounding away and let it take it's toll as the game rolls on. This is the way Ohio State made it to the Rose Bowl, and don't look for any change in strategy, although if they can establish the run there will be big plays available through the air. Ohio State will depend on this group to set the tone, keep the football all day long, and make Masoli and James wear baseball caps for long periods of time.
Jim Tressel: Tressel was once known as a master play-caller, but that seems to have been lost in the past few years. That trait needs to return. It's no secret that Ohio State will run the football 65-70% of the time, but it's when he calls passing plays, not just on third and long, that can hurt Oregon. Ohio State needs to throw effectively on the early downs, even 5-8 yard plays, and not be so predictable slamming Brandon Saine and Boom Herron into the middle of the line. There is no doubt Ohio State wants to run the football, and they NEED to run effectively to win, but how Tressel uses the passing game could be just as important. Run first, run second, throw third cannot be the order time after time. Running 70% of the time is great, it's when you call the other 30% of the passing plays that can make a difference.
OREGON DEFENSE vs. OHIO STATE OFFENSE
Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti: Aliotti knows he will not be able to consistently stop the Ohio State running game, but he needs to be able to win on third down, again the opposite of his Buckeye counterpart, who needs early down success. Oregon needs to get the Ohio State offense off the field, by blitzing Pryor in passing situations, and committing too many players to be blocked in running situations. They must take chances and gamble defensively, because this defense is simply not designed to bang heads for 60 minutes. They need to take the ball away from Ohio State and win the majority of third downs. They also must make Ohio State kick field goals in the red zone, and not allow easy touchdowns.
OREGON vs. OHIO STATE. Who wins?
This is the game I wanted to see once Ohio State secured the Rose Bowl, even though Oregon is the best team in their conference by far. In football, as in boxing, the styles make the fight, and the contrast in styles will be fascinating to watch.
I think this game could be decided early, simply by seeing which team has control of the pace and tempo of the game. If Oregon gets out quick and jumps to a 21-3 lead, they might never look back. We could see Ohio State playing on their heels defensively, and watch Pryor turn the ball over in comeback-mode, and that wouldn't be pretty. Ohio State is not built to come back from a large early deficit.
Conversely, if Ohio State is running the football consistently, and completing passes to move the chains, it could be a long, long day for the Ducks. Ohio State wants to limit possessions and limit big plays out of the Oregon offense. The best way to do this is to not let Masoli and James step onto the field.
In the end, I see it as a classic power against quickness match-up, more in style than in personnel. Oregon wants to play fast, like UNLV basketball under Jerry Tarkanian. Ohio State prefers to chew clock, grind the football, and slow the game to a crawl.
At the end of the day, I see smaller, quicker players getting slowed down by fast, physical, powerful players. LaMichael James gets slower after several hard hits, while three hours into a game the big monsters are still just as big. Final score?
OHIO STATE 31 OREGON 28. In a classic game.