Ohio State Preview

The No.1 USC Trojans and No.5 Ohio State Buckeyes will square off in the biggest game of the early season on Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum. SCPlaybook's Lyle Everett takes an in-depth look at the Buckeyes.

Coaching

Jim Tressel leads the #5 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum this weekend to face the USC Trojans in the most anticipated game of the early season.

Upon winning the 2003 Fiesta Bowl against the heavily favored Miami Hurricanes, Tressel burst through the door of coaching lore and earned himself national respect and acclaim. His penchant for beating rival Michigan is almost as common as the


Jim Tressel
sweater vest he wears on the sidelines every week. His conservative offensive schemes combined with stout defense and execution on special teams encompass what fans in Columbus refer to as "Tresselball".

Winning the battle for field position is to Tressel what the weekly battle for turnovers is for Pete Carroll. In fact, Tressel commonly refers to the punt as being the most important play in football. Ohio State teams are defined by scoring just enough to win and backing it up with hard-nosed defenses that love to get physical. Tressel is 212-73-2 as a head football coach, 77-16 at Ohio State. During his tenure, Ohio State has won the 2002 BCS Championship, four Big Ten Championships, and perhaps more importantly to Buckeye fans, has posted a 6-1 record against archrival Michigan.

Returning for his 13th season on the sidelines for the Buckeyes, Jim Heacock serves as Tressel's defensive coordinator. His 2007 unit ranked first nationally in total defense (233 yds/ gm), scoring defense (127.7 pts/gm) and pass defense (150.1 yds/gm). The Buckeyes were also among the NCAA Top 10 in rush defense (3), pass efficiency defense (4), sacks (6) and tackles for loss (8). As recognition for that effort, Heacock was selected as the 2007 winner of the Frank Broyles Award, presented to the nation's most outstanding assistant coach.

Jim Bollman returns as offensive coordinator under Tressel and doubles as offensive line coach, having tutored 16 Ohio State linemen currently playing in the NFL. Bollman's resume includes time spent coaching tight ends for the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears in the NFL and collegiate experience in running the offense at North Carolina State. He has also coached the offensive lines at Michigan State and Virginia.

Offense

Heading into the 2007 season, the position of quarterback was a major question mark for Ohio State, but those questions were answered quickly by the breakout play of Todd Boeckman.

In his junior season, Boeckman threw for 2,379 yards while completing 191 of 299 passes (64%) with 25 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. Boeckman started the season very strong, but appeared to labor down the stretch, culminated by throwing for 50 yards on 7-13 passing with an interception in the win against archrival Michigan. Overall, Boeckman has made the case for being one of the better QB's in the nation heading into this monster game in his senior year. Through two games in 2008, he is 30-45 (66.7%) for 297 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions.


Chris "Beanie" Wells
The major knock on Boeckman is that he lacks mobility, something that is unquestionably made up for with the arrival of blue chipper Terrelle Pryor, arguably the top QB prospect to enter the collegiate ranks in over a decade.

A three year starter at Jeannette HS in Pennsylvania, he posted video game-type numbers of 4,238 career rushing yards and 4,340 career passing yards. In his senior season alone, Pryor accounted for 58 touchdowns! Pryor (6'6", 235 lbs) will spell Boeckman as a "changeup" quarterback, coming in every few series to keep defenses off balance and constantly guessing. His outstanding ability outside of the pocket has been witnessed in Ohio State's first two contests, rushing for 89 yards on 14 attempts (6.4 yards/carry) and a touchdown. Look for Pryor to log some time against the Trojans this week, as all eyes will be on him when he enters the game. He is electric.

The Ohio State running game took a perceived devastating blow when Chris "Beanie" Wells fell to the ground while taking a routine handoff in week one against Youngstown State. Wells is considered a legit Heisman candidate after rushing for 1,609 yards and 15 TDs while averaging a shade under six yards per carry last season. He was looking to bolster his campaign with a second half touchdown against YSU when he dropped to the turf holding his right lower leg. The coaching staff has kept the exact injury a secret, with rumors of injury ranging from his big toe, to the arch of his foot, to even a high ankle sprain all having flown across the nation this past week. Tressel has refused to allow Wells to speak with the media since the injury so don't look for Ohio State to clear up the situation until their opening offensive series in the Coliseum.

Whether he goes or not, Ohio State's backups could start for just about any other school in the nation. Maurice Wells (no relation to Beanie) and Brandon Saine combined for 634 yards rushing last season. Throw in heralded freshman Dan "Boom" Herron and this triplet will fill the void of Chris Wells appropriately if called upon. Each of these talented RBs are competitively viewing the injury to Wells as the opportunity they need to showcase their skills.

The Buckeyes are absolutely loaded with talent and experience at wide receiver, where returning veterans Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline fill starting roles. Robiskie led last year's team with 55 catches for 935 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Hartline was not far behind with 52 catches for 696 and six scores. Junior Ray Small is the slot receiver, catching 20 balls last year for three TDs. Look for talented true freshman DeVier Posey to make an impact when you see him enter the contest Saturday night. Coaches have been raving about the pre-season play of Posey (6'2", 195 lbs), specifically his ability to break press coverage and run after the catch. Senior Rory Nichol (6'5", 255 lbs) and junior Jake Ballard (6'6", 260 lbs) return to split time at the tight end position. The duo combined for 29 receptions and three TDs in 2007 and both are considered to be outstanding blockers.

All-American left tackle Alex Boone returns along with four of last year's regulars on the Buckeye offensive line. Boone is flat out nasty in the trenches. He is physical, mean and plays to the whistle, if not a little longer. Solid seniors Steve Rehring and Ben Person will man the guard positions with junior Jim Cordle back to handle the center duties. The lone "newbie" to this group is sophomore right tackle Bryant Browning (6'4", 320 lbs), who beat out talented RS freshman Evan Blankenship for the vacant position during spring ball. Ohio State added two of the top five true frosh OTs in the nation in last year's recruiting class, so depth here is not a concern.

Defense

Nine starters are back from a unit that ranked first in the nation in total defense last year. The front four lost All-American Vernon Gholston to the NY Jets in the first round of the NFL draft, but replace him with someone they feel will be their next big star: Cameron Heyward. Heyward (6'6", 290 lbs) had 33 tackles and three sacks as a freshman defensive end in 2007. He was thrusted into the starting role last fall when DE regular Lawrence Wilson was lost to season-ending injury, but now Wilson is back to claim the opposite post from Heyward.


James Laurinaitis
Look for these two to rack up some big numbers in 2008. Juniors Doug Worthington and Todd Denlinger return to start at defensive tackle. Senior Nadar Abdullah and sophomore Dexter Larimore provide excellent depth for the Buckeyes at tackle. Tressel loves to rotate his interior D-Linemen, so expect to see all four of these DT's log time against the Trojans on Saturday.

Having been named All-American in each of the past two seasons, LB James Laurinaitis decided to return to Columbus for his senior season, stunning NFL experts who thought he would be a high first day pick in last April's draft. Laurinaitis (6'3", 245 lbs) led the team last year with 121 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He is in on every tackle and has spent the off-season working on dropping back in coverage, the only relative "flaw" in his game.

Senior Marcus Freeman recorded 109 tackles from his OLB slot next to Laurinaitis. Senior vet Curtis Terry starts on the other side in the Buckeyes' 4-3 attack. Once again, depth is of no concern to Tressel at LB, as Austin Spitler and Tyler Moeller should see some time on the field having both lettered in 2007. Also keep an eye on blue chip true freshmen Etienne Sabino and Andrew Sweat. While figuring to be special teams players on Saturday, they may very well be the starters for Ohio State when they host the Trojans at the Horseshoe in 2009.

As for the secondary, All-American cornerback Malcolm Jenkins ranks as top dog. He too shocked draft experts by returning to Ohio State rather than going pro after last season. He is routinely thought of as the best cover corner in the nation, intercepting four passes last year to go along with 47 tackles. Unheralded Donald Washington is rock solid at the other corner, plus the Bucks have rising Chimdi Chekwa at the nickel, a future star once Jenkins vacates his post. Both safeties return from last year's defense as well. Anderson Russell (FS) and Kurt Coleman (SS) man the back-middle of the field and their experience as lettermen is invaluable.

Special Teams

The kicking game is a major strength for the Buckeyes. Kicker Ryan Pretorius is a pre-season All-America candidate, having made 18 of 23 field goals last year, and is off to a good start this year (6 of 7). Punter A.J. Trapasso is among the Big Ten's best. Ray Small returned a punt for a 69-yard touchdown against Ohio University last week and has break-away speed once he makes the first man miss. Maurice Wells, Saine and Herron have split time returning kickoffs this season.

Notes

The Ohio State University, founded in 1870, is currently the largest university in the United States with 52,586 students enrolled…The Ohio State University Marching Band is one of the most famous bands in the nation, generally due to the marching of "Script Ohio" during which the band marches single-file through the curves of the word "Ohio" and at the end of the performance, the "i" in "Ohio" is "dotted" by a high-stepping senior sousaphone player… Ohio State is one of only three universities (the University of Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley being the others) to have won national championships in baseball, men's basketball, and football… Ohio State football players have combined for seven Heisman Awards including the only two-time winner Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975, Eddie George in 1995, and most recently Troy Smith in 2006… Outstanding sports figures that were student athletes at Ohio State include 1936 Olympics gold medalist Jesse Owens, Boston Celtics great John Havlicek, "The General" Bobby Knight and golfer Jack Nicklaus…Vegas opened the line at 7.5 points tailored towards the Trojans, however oddsmakers have bumped that number up to 10 points currently, likely due to a combination of the injury sustained by Beanie Wells and a lackluster performance last week against Ohio University…


Jim Tressel and the Ohio State Buckeyes will face USC on Sept. 13th

Stay tuned to SCPlaybook.com for news and updates on the top-ranked USC Trojans.


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