SvoNotebook: Final Preparations

Ohio State and Oregon are in the midst of their final preparations for today's Rose Bowl, and so is with this pregame notebook. Check out anecdotes on Jim Heacock's prep, Casey Matthews thoughts on Ohio, and the two head coaches' biggest worries heading into the game is oh-so-close now.

LOS ANGELES Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock went on a two-minute soliloquy when discussing No. 7 Oregon's quick-strike offense in the lead-up to today's Rose Bowl.

First there's the tempo at which Oregon operates. Then there's the tricky spread option scheme from which the Ducks will call plays, which leads to misdirection and deception. In addition, the Ducks have excellent running backs in LaMichael James and LaGarrette Blount and a dual-threat QB in Jeremiah Masoli, and then there's first-team All-Pac-10 tight end Ed Dickson, and don't forget the wide receivers, and …

"I wish I wasn't talking about all this," Heacock said with a laugh. "I'm starting to sweat."

That wasn't all. When asked if turnovers – Oregon's 15 fumbles lost are second-most in the NCAA – were Oregon's Achilles heel, Heacock cracked, "I hope they have an Achilles heel."

You also wouldn't be surprised to find out Heacock has been getting up at 4 a.m. to watch film of the Ducks heading into the Rose Bowl matchup. And while Heacock is known as a notorious worrywart on the Buckeye staff, his charges agree the Ducks have a pretty darn fun offense – unless you're trying to stop it.

"It blows my mind sometimes just watching these guys," said senior linebacker Austin Spitler, who agreed the Ducks look like they're playing a video game sometimes. "It's fun to watch, but it's a nightmare for a defense. We're up for a challenge."

Oregon enters sixth in the nation in rushing yards per game with 236.1 and seventh in scoring at 37.7 points, so the Buckeyes do have reason to fuss. On the other hand, Ohio State finished fifth in rushing defense (83.4 yards) and fifth in scoring D (12.2 points), and Oregon head man Chip Kelly said he knows he has as much to game plan for as Heacock does.

"I think it's the best defense that we're going to face, and we're excited about that challenge," the first-year boss said. "They're underrated. They have the fifth-ranked defense in the country, and they've got on players on the outside that are very, very impressive. That front of Gibson, Heyward, Worthington and the linebackers, they can really run; they're athletic, they're big, they're tall. It's going to be a challenge."

Don't expect Kelly to be worried, though.

"That's what you look forward to," he said. "If you're worried about your opponent – we respect all but we fear none."

Matthews Knows Ohio
The Matthews name is known by many Ohio football fans, and the feeling is mutual.

Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews is the son of Clay Matthews, a former NFL Pro Bowler who spent 16 seasons of his 19-year professional career with the Cleveland Browns.

As a result, Casey lived in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville growing up, and he has fond memories of his time in the Forest City and Buckeye State.

"I loved it out there, and I still do," Matthews said. "I enjoy going back to Cleveland games when I get the chance."

Growing up in Ohio, Matthews also had an appreciation for Ohio State football, so much so that he wishes he had sent a recruiting tape to the school when he was coming out of high school as a three-star linebacker in Westlake Village, Calif.

"I actually wanted to give them a look," he said. "I had my head coach at my high school do the videos, but I never sent one out. I wish I would have as I look back on it. Growing up in Ohio, you know what Ohio State is all about."

What, Me Worry?
With the Rose Bowl drawing near, both coaches were asked Thursday morning about their biggest worry in the moments before the game.

Each gave quite a different response, perhaps showing a bit of their personalities as well.

First there was Kelly, ever the practical thinker.

"Sunlight," he said, drawing laughter from the assembled media. "See how that affects our players' eyes. We haven't seen a lot of that in a little bit. We'll get used to it. We'll get a chance to practice in it a little bit today and actually how will the sun affect the ball, especially depending on when we kick off and where the sun is in the sky about 2:00 o'clock."

A few minutes later, Tressel was on a different wavelength.

"A concern? It's probably that hour before the game where you feel a little bit helpless," Tressel said. "There's no more meetings, no more practice. And us coaches, we're always feeling like we can do one more thing. So if I can just get through that hour before the game, then just let it rip."

They Have Options
College football fans are no doubt familiar with the zone-read option play, a now-prevalent call in which the quarterback reads an unblocked defensive end and then decides whether to keep the football or hand it to the tailback based on the way the end reacts to the play.

Almost every team in the sport now runs some variation of this play, including Ohio State and Oregon. But the Ducks also have an interesting twist on the play fans might see a few times today.

Kelly's offense includes some situations in which a defensive tackle is the one who isn't blocked, with the quarterback still possessing the option of handing off or keeping the ball based on what the near 300-pounder chooses to do. Suffice it to say, it's an awkward situation for such a big guy, and many tackles have looked silly when Oregon has run the play this year.

"You see it on film, definitely – a little stutter, like, ‘Where am I going?'" Oregon offensive lineman Bo Thran said.

Heacock said the Buckeyes have worked the tackles in drills in which they are forced to read the option in preparation.

"When you have a 300-pounder out there doing option reads, it's a little bit different," Heacock said. "They start to think they're athletic a little bit. They feel good about themselves that somebody is actually optioning them."

Still, 300-pound OSU nose tackle Dexter Larimore scoffed when asked if he feels like a linebacker on such plays.

"I wouldn't say a linebacker," he said with a laugh. "I would say I'm just trying to do my job and do what I can do."

Back From Disaster
For many, the first glance at college football this year included Oregon – and it wasn't pretty for the Ducks.

On the opening night of the college football season Sept. 3, then-No. 16 Oregon traveled to No. 14 Boise State and left on the end of a 19-8 whupping in which its trademark offense struggled mightily. Afterward, Blount punched a taunting Bronco player and nearly went into the stands to engage with fans, resulting in a near-season-long suspension.

Suffice it to say, it wasn't a shining way to start the Kelly era, but UO regrouped and went on to win 10 of the next 11.

"You know, I don't really look at it as a comeback," Kelly said. "I think Mark Twain once said, ‘The news of our death is greatly exaggerated.' We got beat by a really, really good team, and we also didn't get beat 50-0. When everybody else reported that we were down and out, the only thing that happened to us, we had a really young football team that got thrown in the deep end, and we had to either swim or sink, and they've been swimming ever since."

Defensive tackle Brandon Bair said that the team's turnaround was a direct result of that game.

"That was probably the best character builder of the year," Bair said. "That helped us more than anything. We had to see how a team would react in such controversy, and we did excellent."

Blount returned to rush for a touchdown in Oregon's season-ending Civil War win against Oregon State to clinch the Rose Bowl berth, but Kelly said he will begin the Rose Bowl as the No. 3 back behind James and Kenjon Barner. Blount is still expected to play, though, Kelly said.

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