In my SportsCenter nightmare, Texas dictates the tempo on both sides of the LOS but loses late on a special teams miscue.
I feel like I've talked about Ted Ginn ad nauseam this week. He's the closest thing the Buckeyes have to an omni-talented athlete of Vince Young's ilk. Holmes is the deep ball threat while Buckeye coaches will try to get yards-after-catch from Ginn on hitches and flares. I'm excited to see him in person, but I am even more excited at Co-DC Duane Akina's desire to try to constrict the passing lanes inward so that guys like Rod Wright, Frank Okam and Larry Dibbles can get a shot at him.
A subscriber asked me this week if Texas should try to mitigate either Holmes or Ginn. My response was that you try to take away the QB. The injury-prone Justin Zwick won't be hooking up with either receiver if he's running for his life. Troy Smith is an X-factor: he'll play, and may even start, but how polished can the junior be after not seeing action since before Thanksgiving? Texas' defensive front has made bold predictions all spring and summer about an upgraded pass rush. They won't need it against ground-bound Rice next week; they need to bring it Saturday. Guys like Gene Chilton and Oscar Giles were hired for this game. Texas' D-line is its strength. I can't wait to see Chizik turn 'em loose.
Does anyone really think Ohio State can run the ball down Texas' throat? Sophomore RB Antonio Pittman has but two career 100-yard games and is hardly the second-coming of Archie Griffin. The Buckeyes will try to spread the field early and often. They'll try spring Ginn on a couple of reverses (you should see at least two) and use him on some option plays. About the only rub on Ginn is that he tries for the home run on every play so that much of his moves are lateral. That is, he shows a lot of shake-and-bake and when the dust settles, he's run 10 yards to get three. (Meanwhile, Wright, Dibbles and Okam are closing fast.)
WLB A.J. Hawk could be playing this Sunday had the All-American not returned for his senior season. He'll have at least a dozen stops Saturday. Texas' outside linebackers (Rashad Bobino, Drew Kelson) are raw as dirt but innately bring the kind of swagger that was missing from this unit two years ago. They are future studs who will grow up in a hurry Saturday, and I applaud Chizik's moxie for trusting young talent.
As far as the pass-catchers: coaches want to distribute the ball but Texas will undoubtedly lean heavily on Ramonce Taylor and David Thomas. FL Brian Carter could be the leading receiver by game's end. Quan Cosby's career couldn't be brighter and the wideouts will get a lift by seeing FL Jordan Shipley on the field. This is Sweed's third year in the system and has shown signs of focus and sheer want-to. It's time for him to make his move or step aside.
I am making two huge assumptions here:
1) the turnover ratio between the two teams will be about even
2) Texas does not shoot itself in its Achilles Heel with poor special teams play.
Otherwise, I think the difference in this game will be:
1) Texas' team speed on defense
2) Vince Young
After so much hype and hyperbole, I think Akina said it best: "We've got good athletes and they've got good athletes. Let's just deal the cards and go play."
It's in the cards. Texas 27, Ohio State 24.
Pearle -- Here's why Texas should beat Ohio State Saturday -- Texas has Vince Young and Ohio State doesn't.
Young demonstrated against Michigan last year that he can become almost super-human at times on the football field, especially in big games under pressure. Much has been made of the fact that the game will be played at night in a huge stadium packed with hostile fans making an ear-splitting racket. Guess what -- Vince Young and his Horn teammates thrive under these conditions.
Playing at Arkansas and Texas Tech last year, Young led Texas to victories under the lights in two places where, to say the least, the fans ain't real friendly to guys wearing orange. In Lubbock, a place where the Horns have struggled mightily over the years, Young and Co. exploded, taking the crowd out of it early. The year before, in a night game in Stillwater, Young led the Horns to an easy blowout of a Cotton Bowl-bound Okie State team. And speaking of the Cowboys, last year's 56-35 shellacking by Texas over OSU, which included 49 unanswered Texas points, came under the stars at Royal-Memorial.
As for ear-splitting, well, let me tell you: I have been on the sidelines at Kyle Field when Texas has played A&M and you could barely hear the guy next to you shouting in your face.
Bottom line: the game Saturday night on national television provides a stage that Vince Young and the rest of the Horns simply crave. A big crowd and screaming fans ain't nothin' new to a Texas football player. Note to Ohio State fans: you are playing Texas Saturday, not Toledo. Texas is a marquee program, like Ohio State. Wherever the Horns go on the road, including the Cotton Bowl to face Oklahoma each year, the stadium is loud, raucous and hostile. Been there, done that, and left the homeboys a pile of charred rubble in front of their own fans.
The fact that it is a night game I actually think may give Texas an advantage. Browsing the official Ohio State site and reading quotes from players, I was a bit amazed that the Buckeyes were asked specifically about playing at night in their own stadium; many, like superstar Ted Ginn, Jr., never have had the experience. For Texas, playing at night is commonplace; for the Buckeyes, it sounds like a Haley's Comet-type deal. Six night games in the history of Ohio Stadium? The pressure on Ohio State from their own fans Saturday night will be tremendous. Sure, by game's end, the Texas players' eardrums will feel like they just sat front row to hear AC/DC, but the team perhaps more likely to be unnerved by the noise and pressure, at least early on, will be Ohio State.
As for what takes place on the field, I am starting to buy into the fact that Texas will be superior to Ohio State on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Buckeyes are talented on the offensive and defensive lines; Texas, though, is exceptionally talented. As Keith Moreland pointed out on 1300 AM on Thursday, OU had better skill players than TCU last Saturday, but the Frogs dominated the line of scrimmage and won the game. Texas has the ability to control the line both offensively and defensively this weekend. If they take care of business and do it, they should win.
As for skill positions, in Ted Ginn, Ohio State has one of the most scary players I can remember seeing in college football. The guy is light-speed fast. Ginn is the one player on the Buckeyes I fear could almost beat the Horns single-handedly if they are not effective in kicking it away from him on special teams and limiting his YAC on passes. The fact that Ginn is going to be seeing plenty of Michael Huff, though, makes me feel better. Huff, who'll be playing in the NFL next season, can run with Ginn. Ginn will bust some big plays no doubt, but if Texas can limit his special teams touches and then swarm to him on defense, the Horns can keep him from beating them.
So much for why I think Texas should win. What may keep the 'W' from being notched is the play of the Horns' special teams. In close games like this one where the teams are so evenly matched, the outcome often comes down to the kicking game. A shanked punt here, a missed extra point there, a long kickoff return against your coverage guys -- any one of these can cost a team a close contest. And the play of the Horns' special teams has been pretty spotty under Mack Brown.
As we all painfully remember, Texas' kick coverage against Michigan was atrocious, almost costing the Horns the ballgame. Has that coverage improved? We still don't really know, given the caliber of last week's opposition. As noted above, Ted Ginn is super dangerous. If Texas covers kicks against the Buckeyes like it did against Michigan, Ginn will take it to the house on them, maybe more than once.
As for placekicking, man, I don't even want to think about it. Richmond McGee's three missed PATs last weekend give me the shakes. This is one area where I figure the hostile crowd could hurt the Horns. Neither David Pino or McGee have much experience kicking field goals, much less under the conditions that will prevail Saturday. If the game comes down to a late kick like the Rose Bowl did...
But I don't think it will. In a great football game that seesaws for 60 minutes (and maybe more), Texas will outlast Ohio State, with Vince Young emerging the front-runner for the Heisman. Texas 28, Ohio State 24.
Ross -- Texas wins Saturday in the 'Shoe. Why? I've got nine reasons for you: Jonathan Scott, Justin Blalock, Lyle Sendlein, Will Allen, Kasey Studdard, Tim Crowder, Rod Wright, Frank Okam and Brian Robison. For the uninitiated, those are UT's starters on the offensive and defensive lines, and I believe they are the key to a Longhorn win in Columbus. Texas has other strengths -- a strong running game (led by but not limited to one Vince Young), perhaps the top pass-catching TE in the nation in David Thomas, and a shut-down DB in Michael Huff -- but I'm a firm believer that, 90-percent of the time, the team that is strongest in the trenches wins, and that's exactly where I believe Texas will win this game. I don't predict a dominating performance from the lines (Ohio State's line aren't remotely pushovers), but rather a controlling effort that will leave the Longhorn offense largely ahead of the chains and Buckeye offense struggling to mount sustained drives.
That doesn't mean Texas will not have its offensive struggles or that Ohio State will not have its offensive successes.
The Buckeye defense, particularly a linebacking corps and secondary combo that may be unmatched in college football, is capable of game-changing plays and Vince Young, love him, has been known to throw a few to the guys in the wrong-colored jerseys. But knowing UT's coaches and their big game philosophy, ball control and sustained drives (even without scores) and thus field position (allowing Richmond McGee to punt out of bounds rather than to a certain Mr. Ginn) will be the focus. I don't think that necessarily means the Horns will be conservative per se -- although I think the extent of the trickery will be a lot of Ramonce Taylor from many difference positions and formations -- but rather controlling (a heavy dose of the running game with chain-moving underneath passing, particularly to David Thomas), which, given this team's offensive line, is a winning formula.
Ohio State, of course, has explosive ability at WR, including but not limited to Ted Ginn, Jr. and Santonio Holmes, a strength which runs smack into the biggest question I see on the Texas defense (although an opinion not widely shared, it seems, given the high positional ranking the Longhorn secondary received in preseason publications): whether this defensive backfield can stop a solid passing attack. I don't see Ohio State, or any other team for that matter, having much success against Gene Chizik's defense which is specifically geared to stop opposing rushing attacks. And the question mark in pass coverage vs. talented QB-WRs combos can, and I believe will be, mitigated by a pin-your-ears-back pass rush, particularly from 'quick' DE Tim Crowder and freakishly quick and athletic 315-pound NT Frank Okam.
Am I concerned about the Horns' special teams? Absolutely. Mack Brown's reassurances that the field goal kickers made everything in practice this week does nothing to alleviate the concern borne out of August struggles and early September shanks (and blocks), and anytime Texas, with kickers incapable of consistently putting kickoffs into the endzone, faces a talent like Ginn (and Holmes), my heart will be pounding as the ball floats into his arms. For the Horns to lose, I believe it would have to come from breakdowns in special teams or turnovers. Because UT will control the line of scrimmage. And that almost always wins ballgames. Texas 24, Ohio State 17.