Culpepper's Commentary: Ohio State Preview

Yes, this is B-I-G big. This Saturday in Royal-Memorial Stadium will be college football at its very best.

No doubt all the D-I schools play the North Texas- and Northern Illinois-type games to fatten their records and give their players winning confidence, but judgment day will again come early for Texas and Ohio State.

It will all be tested when Round Two in the series officially kicks off at 7:00 p.m. deep in the heart of Texas.

The Ohio State offensive line (Jim Tressel's best) that measures from left offensive tackle to tight end 6-8, 315, 6-8, 329, 6-5, 296, 6-5, 305, 6-7, 325, and 6-5, 260 will go against a Texas defensive front (Mack Brown's very best) that measures from end to end 6-4, 270, 6-2, 275, 6-5, 315 and 6-3, 267. Don't worry about the size disadvantage; those Longhorn defensive linemen can move with incredible ferocity and they also have solid substitutes.

Backing up that Texas front are the most talented and biggest crew of linebackers since Tommy Nobis played as the only linebacker in a 7-1 look on short yardage in 1964. (The Horns need Drew Kelson back for this unit to operate at that high level.) But there's also new uncertainty in the secondary with cornerback Tarell Brown's status in limbo.

Ohio State, meanwhile, graduated all three starting linebackers, all first round choices, mind you (plus six other defensive starters) to NFL training camps. To their credit, the Buckeye defense shut down Vince Young better than anybody in 2005 -- except for the last and winning Longhorn drive. But most of them are gone.

Heading into that '05 game, Troy Smith had missed both the '04 Alamo Bowl and the Miami of Ohio '05 opener because of an NCAA violation before splitting time with Justin Zwick versus Texas. Smith couldn't earn the win for the Buckeyes, but he earned the starting job with his play that night. Months later in the BCS Fiesta Bowl, after a run of winning regular season games, Smith passed for 342 yards and ran for 66 in guiding the Buckeyes to a 34-20 win over Notre Dame. With Smith's return, there's no doubt that QB play will be a strength of Ohio State

The early question about OSU's 2005 team is the biggest early question that dogs this '06 version of the Horns: quarterback play.

As is the norm in college football, neither Colt McCoy nor Jevan Snead were hit this spring (or in the North Texas game, for that matter). No doubt there are other first-time starters in a big game, but they don't have to touch the football on every snap of the game. McCoy and Snead do and that could be a problem.

Let's say OSU defensive end Jay Richardson, at 6-6, 276, eludes Texas offensive tackle Adam Ulatoski and gets a clear, dead-level shot at McCoy. You know what Vince Young would have done, but you don't know for sure what McCoy or Snead will do.

Not that both green-behind-both-ears Texas QBs haven't been knocked down in a football game, but it wasn't by The Ohio State University, under the lights in front of 85,000-plus and an ABC national television audience.

To mitigate the situation, I'd depend on the running backs Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young running behind one of the country's best and experienced offensive lines and throw either quick timed passed to the Big 12's best group of wide receivers or play action strikes to redshirt freshman Jermichael Finley, the 6-5, 242-pound rocket lined up at tight end.

To set either quarterback back in the pocket is asking for trouble, in my opinion as a former coach.

The only National Championship team in BCS history I know of led by such an inexperienced quarterback was Tennessee in 1998. Tee Martin followed Peyton Manning's departure to the NFL and was a complete surprise for most football experts. But Martin wasn't a freshman and he was like a running back when he ran the Tennessee option attack.

But Troy Smith's high school teammate, Ted Ginn, could be the difference in this ball game. He is the fastest athlete at Ohio State and only Longhorn Jamaal Charles, who ran a 10.27 100-meter race at the NCAA Outdoor Championship, could catch him should Ginn get loose. Problem is Charles doesn't play defense. The same could be said the other way around, if Charles gets loose in the Buckeye secondary.

Make no mistake, these will be thoroughbreds from Ohio State. The boys from the Midwest have national championship on their minds and their mission is clear: Beat Texas.

I know what's facing the Longhorn football players. They will defend their teammates, school, family and state against the state of Ohio. That's what I used to believe when we played Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama or Ole Miss.

It would be good on good and whoever wanted it the most and fought the hardest could win.

Last year, that team was Texas (barely), and the win in Columbus gave the Horns the confidence to go at a national championship. It could happen again for whichever team wins. From what I saw Saturday in person in Austin and on television as Ohio State played Northern Illinois, I call it Ohio State 27, Texas 24.

Pat Culpepper played for The University from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.


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