Indeed, this match-up between two of the nation's finest is reminiscent of the 1998 Rose Bowl showdown between WSU QB Ryan Leaf and Michigan DB Charles Woodson.
Like Woodson, Doss is the very definition of "big play," but without the gimmicky circus hype that garnered the Heisman for the Wolverine (although Doss now returns punts and may get a turn or two as a wide-receiver). No, Doss has earned his rightful place as one of -- if not the -- premier defenders in the country the old fashioned way: With consistent play, hard hits (some liken his tackling prowess to Buckeye alum Jack Tatum), and keen ball awareness.
The senior was named All-American the past two seasons after leading Ohio State in tackles and -- barring injury or a meltdown of cosmic proportions -- should again be a lock for the honor this season.
Doss registered 87 stops least season, 10 of those lost yards for the opposition. During his career he has thrice scored on fumble recoveries, has blocked punts, led the Big 10 in fumble recoveries (last season), had multiple interception games, and --just last weekend -- ran an interception to pay dirt from 45 yards out.
In short, Doss is the player to beat for the Thorpe award, the honor given to the best DB in the land, and the Buckeye player WSU is most concerned about.
Chances are, however, that not since Drew Brees left Purdue has Doss faced such a dangerous, playmaking QB -- or a monstrously potent receiving arsenal -- as he will when he lines up opposite Gesser and "The Trio."
Gesser is coming off a 3,000 passing yards 2001 campaign, tossing 26 TDs with just half that amount being intercepted. He is on track to leave Wazzu as the school's most prolific QB, surpassing the likes of Leaf, Drew Bledsoe, Jack Thompson, and Mark Rypien.
The Trio --- Mike Bush, Devard Darling, and Jerome Riley --- have combined for 21 catches, 343 yards, and 4 TDs so far this season. But Riley, arguably the most dangerous of the three, is questionable for the game with a bum hamstring. He joins receiving mate Trandon Harvey, who is out for another one to 3 weeks, on the disabled list, leaving perhaps just Bush, Darling, and veteran possession receiver Collin Henderson as only originals of the Cougar five-receiver set.
It's likely Gesser (29 of 45 for 462 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT this season) will avoid Doss and safety mate Donnie Nickey, himself a four-year starter, as much as possible and concentrate on the Bucks' rookie cornerbacks.
But Ohio State has done more than watch film of the vaunted Cougar spread offense in preparation for Saturday. Texas Tech, the Buckeyes' first opponent this season, runs a spread offense akin to WSU's. The Buckeyes, 45-21 victors, shut the Red Raiders O down by using a variety of zone blitzes. Tech did tally 341 air-yards, but that was due more to them playing catch up and having an anemic running game. Ohio State registered three interceptions and seven sacks.
X's and O's aside, this much is certain: When Gesser and Doss lineup against each other on Saturday, privileged football fans will be witnessing two of the very best.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Cougars need to cut down on penalties, establish the run, give Gesser time to throw, and tighten up their pass coverages. Buckeye faithful know their team can be prone to fumbles, so more than anything they need to protect the ball while keeping the Cougars guessing on their run/pass mix. On defense, the Buckeyes' line is formidable and will need to pressure Gesser so he doesn't eat up their corners. Plain and simple, if Gesser is forced to scramble early and often, the Buckeyes will blow the doors off WSU.
GAME TIME: 12:30 pm, PT.
THE LINE: Buckeyes by 8.
AIRING OUT THE CLOUD OF DUST: The days of Ohio State being an all-ground, all-of-the-time offense is long gone. The Buckeyes are tossing the ball 50 percent of the time. Ohio State QB Craig Krenzel completed 12-of-14 passes for 190 yards and a TD last week's 51-17 drubbing of Kent State, tying a school record at one point with 12 straight completions over a two-game span. Krenzel hit on 11 of his 14 tosses against Texas Tech, totaling 118 hashes. Michael Jenkins and Chris Gamble can be dangerous receivers when given the chance.
HOWEVER: That's not to say Ohio State isn't still enamored with the run or, more specifically, freshman swine-hauling sensation Maurice Clarett. Clarett, the USA Today High-school offensive player of the year last season, had Buckfans gushing by running for 175 yards at 8 yards per carry and 3 TDS in the opener. He followed it up with 66 yards on 11 carries against the Golden Flashes, scoring once by land and once by air.
OVERNIGHT SENSATION, PART II: Making just as big a splash for the Crimson and Gray as Clarett did for the Scarlet and Gray, was linebacker Will Derting. The redshirt freshman interested three passes --- returning one 98 yards to the Promised Land --- in the Cougar 31-7 opening win over Nevada. Derting continued his thieving ways against Idaho, setting up the first score with a fumble recovery. But he left early with a bum ankle and was joined on the DL later by LB mate Donnie Jackson; leaving defensive coordinator Bill Doba pretty bummed himself. The pair's status is questionable for Saturday and should they not heal in a hurry, would leave the middle of the defense mighty thin.
TUNE UP: Difficult to get a proper bead on either of these teams with the season just two weeks old and opponents sporting the names Wolf Pack, Red Raiders, Vandals, and Golden Flashes. And no one is saying outright, but you can almost bank that --- in anticipation of this game --- both coaching staffs have left a lot of their playbook off the field so far. One stat may or may not be telling, however. The Cougs have outscored their two opponents, 80-21; the Buckeyes have a 96-38 edge over their opponents; nearly identical numbers separate their points scored/points against margin.
KEEP AN EYE ON: It's certain Cougar All-American candidate, guard Derrick Roche, and his hossmates have watched more than their share of film of Ohio State defenders. Here are a few Buckeyes that might make 'em toss and turn a bit at night. LB Matt Wilhelm: the senior is a hitter and, despite missing Spring ball following ankle surgery, looks to be in his usual prime form thus far. DT Tim Anderson: a junior, Anderson came from out of nowhere last year and shone against both the run and pass. DE Darrion Scott: the junior is wicked good against the run and has the speed to catch up with anyone who happene