FanPost

Very long and rambling Fiesta Bowl preview

Are we still mad at that we aren't going to the national title game?  Of course.  Then again, it is beyond time to move on, and lately I've just tried to focus on our next opponent, the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Perish any thought about a split national championship; unless Florida and OU turn in the most horrific championship game imaginable, it ain't happening, especially with USC and Utah both likely taking a handful of #1 votes in the AP.  However, there's still much to play for.

So with all that, let's look at the Ohio State Buckeyes.  I will say this as a sort of disclaimer:  Since I obviously did not pay as much attention to Big 10 football than I did our own conference, my knowledge of Ohio State is fairly sketchy.  I wish I had the opportunity to download some of their games to get a better idea of how they're like, but no can do.  I did, however, watch a few games of theirs this year:  I watched them get trounced by the Trojans, I watched their close game against Penn State, and I watched much of their game against Wisconsin.  I also tried to keep marginal track of them on games that I didn't get to watch because I was fascinated by Pryor.  Still, I will readily admit that I can have a lot of misconceptions of them, so I will welcome any corrections.

Ohio State's Jim Tressell may draw a lot of comparisons with our very own Mack Brown, good and bad.  Tressell is seen as a very polite and well-mannered coach who has a conservative style, and so does Mack.  In fact, one particular Buckeye fan I know is very worried that Tressell would hold Pryor back in this game and thinks he has for much of the season (sound familiar, Horns fans?).  True?  I don't know, though granted, I thought his gameplan against USC was a bit on the unimaginative side.  Overly conservative or not, he has a lot of good players at his disposal, and I'll compare them to ours below:

Quarterbacks

Since we all know about McCoy's abilities, I'll say this:  I couldn't be prouder of Colt McCoy.  I am actually from Abilene, Texas, and I went to the same school as Shipley as a kid.  McCoy I've never met, but his cousin was friends with my sister, he went to church with another good friend of my sister, and he knows one of my best friend's grandparents fairly well (in fact, he was in Abilene during the holiday season and talked to my friend a bit, and signed his hat for him).  How's that for the whole "degrees of separation" crap?  In any case, I obviously have always been a staunch Colt McCoy supporter and argued vigorously against those who thought he should be benched in favor of Chiles, and I'm more than happy that he had a season that surprised even supporters like me.  Not only is he passing like a machine, he has enormous poise and heart and he's making great plays with his legs.  You can make a good argument that he means more to our team than any other player to his team in the entire country.  He needs to continue that for this game; Ohio State knows full well that if they stop McCoy, they stop the Texas offense, and they've been studying him for a month.  He's done a great job limiting turnovers this year and this would be a bad time to revert to his sophomore year.  Ohio State's defense can be opportunistic and they'll be trying to read his eyes on the short passes and they'll try mightily to knock the ball loose if he runs.  He can still be a bit sloppy with ball protection when he takes off, so he needs to be extra careful.

I won't say much about Terrelle Pryor since PB has already done a great job previewing him here and here.  I'll just reiterate that while he is not the runner like Vince Young was, he's still an elite running threat that is strong, fast, and elusive.  With Beanie Wells back there, that's the best running tandem that we've seen all year, better than Robinson and Hunter.  Furthermore, Pryor is more developed as a passer than VY was at this stage.  While his numbers are nothing snazzy (1245 yds, 62.5%, 12 TD, 4 Int),they are efficient, and he leads the Big 10 in passing efficiency.  His 8.19 yards per attempt is pretty good, and the fact that he can avoid our vaunted pressure with his legs is a big concern.  Our elite pass rush is a perfect matchup against the likes of Oklahoma, for instance, as well as other spread teams in the Big 12 that don't sport a mobile QB, but against Pryor, it can spell trouble if we simply shoot up field and he sidesteps the pressure and takes off.  I don't think it's a big secret to either team that Terrelle Pryor is the single most important piece for Ohio State this game.  If he plays well, they have a chance.  If he craps the bed, they're done, and it might even be a blowout.  Will we see a freshman QB absolutely unnerved by the best pass rush he has seen all season, getting blasted repeatedly by the likes of Kindle and Orakpo?  Or will we see a prodigy that punishes the zeal of our pass rush with cool and fluid movements?

Both QB's mean a lot to their teams, and both need to play well.  Terrelle Pryor is a beast, but McCoy is simply a better quarterback right now.  His rushing stats are nearly identical to Pryor's and he's easily a better passer.  The edge here goes to Texas, and it's up to Pryor to close the gap in this department as much as he can.

Edge:  Texas

Runningbacks

We allegedly have "Cerberus," or since we like to throw in Cody Johnson, we have some sort of multi-headed monster of your choosing (Hydra, perhaps?).  In any case, while our individual rushing numbers might be considered embarrassing for such a top-flight program like Texas, especially since we have had players in recent memory like Ricky, Cedric, and Jamaal, the multi-headed approach that we have has more or less gotten us by the season with some flashes of cool things here and there.  Ogbonnaya had a great start to the season but has slowed down, and McGee started to run well enough at the end to regain some carries.  Whittaker came back healthy and did some good things, but he is clearly not the macho savior of the running game that many people thought he was as he slowly became a mythical creature of superhuman powers during his injury.  Cody Johnson has remained a great short-yardage option and he certainly was a blast to watch against A&M, and many have called for him to get carries beyond short-yardage situations.  I like this group of guys and they all bring good things to the table (Chris O. is still one of my favorite Longhorns of this season), but run blocking has been a problem and it may be partly due to the fact that we use several different backs.  Furthermore, it has hurt us this season when we haven't had a "go-to" runningback to help us regain rhythm or balance in our offense.  I'll call our runningbacks effective:  They're good enough to help move the chains, they're good enough to torch you if you get lazy or tired (ie: Chris O's jaunt against OU), and they can help us fill multiple roles, ranging from short-yardage, third down blocking, and receiving.  However, if we have a Hydra here, it's probably not as big and scary as that Godzilla-looking monster over there...

...which is Beanie Wells.  Wells would not have helped Ohio State beat USC, but his return coupled with Pryor earning the starting spot really helped the Buckeyes turn their season around.  Even before USC, I thought Ohio State looked awful against Ohio, so much so that I predicted that they had a better chance winning the lottery than beating USC at the Coliseum.  Right after the USC game, I didn't think Ohio State looked particularly great either.  However, they really did improve as the season progressed, and Wells is a huge reason why.  He's averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has over 1000 yards on the season despite missing three games.  Not only is he big and powerful, he's more than capable of ripping off a long run.  He torched LSU early in last year's MNC game (even though they still got owned), and EVERY SINGLE GAME he's played in, with the exception of Penn State, he's taken a carry for 24 yards or more.  He has three runs over fifty, with his longest at 59.  Clearly, he's not just a bruiser that only picks up tough 5-8 yard chunks.  Where he's weak is that he's simply not a good receiver.in the passing game.  However, that's not too much of a knock, since after all, his main job is to run the ball, and he does it very well, and it's not like the Ohio State offense is designed to lob balls his direction anyway.  I'm comfortable in saying that this is the best, single runningback we have seen this season, and our staunch run defense will have a great challenge.

I like our backs, but I have to give the runningback edge to Ohio State.

Edge:  Ohio State

Receivers/TE

Shipley and Cosby are both closing in on 1000 yard, 10 touchdown seasons.  Shipley only needs 18 yards and Cosby needs 48 and two touchdowns.  Neither is as gifted as the likes of Roy Williams and Limas Sweed, but it’s hard to think of a pair of receivers in recent Texas memory delivering the way they both have this season and exceeding expectations.  Throw in two special teams touchdowns by Shipley, and I think it’s an understatement to say that Horns fans will be happy to have him back next season.  These two have been awesome in our short passing game and they’re both capable of going deep at times as well.  I am very interested to see how the quick and shifty Jordan Shipley matches up against Laurinaitis in the middle of the field.  The Buckeyes do have Malcom Jenkins, but I think they’ll have a tough time covering these two as they also worry about our other, younger receivers.  Brandon Collins has played well most of the season, and Malcolm Williams has shown flashes of greatness, making us dream of having another unstoppable big target like Limas in the near future.  Kirkendoll has also done some good things, and the contributions of these young guys will go a long way in giving Ohio State headaches.  It won’t even take much; a handful of passes to this group to move the chains will be enough to frustrate the Buckeye defense and create more opportunities for Shipley and Cosby.

If Beanie Wells is the best runningback we’ve seen all season, well, the Buckeye receivers are among the most unimpressive.  I’m not saying they suck; they just don’t measure up to the receiving threats that we’ve seen this year.  Some receivers we’ve seen:  Jarrett Dillard, Michael Crabtree, Dez Bryant, Jeremy Maclin, Manuel Johnson, just to name a few.  We also faced some of the best TE’s in the country in Gresham, Pettigrew, and Coffman.  Hopefully, our young secondary will remember all the harsh lessons playing against the many potent offenses we faced and will be more than ready for this group.  Ohio State’s leading pass-catcher is Brian Robiskie with 37 receptions, and their leading receiver in terms of yards is Brian Hartline with 479 yards.  Their entire team has 150 receptions for 1777 yards and 16 TD, which is less than the combined numbers of Cosby and Shipley.  Much of the preseason and the season, we worried that our young secondary would be assailed by relentless passing offenses, so it is a change to shift our focus elsewhere.  Nonetheless, this is still Ohio State, so it’s not like they have scrubs playing for them.  I think Robiskie is an intelligent player, from what I’ve seen, and Hartline has an impressive 22.8 yards per catch, showing some semblance of a deep passing threat.  However, while I have no doubt that their receivers are competent, they will be far from our biggest worry.  I think the only way they can do serious damage to us is if we let Pryor freelance around and buy time to wait for coverage to break.

I think we’ve got the big edge here.  I really hope Cosby gets his two TDs to get him to ten.

Edge:  Texas

Offensive line:

Ours has both received great praise and some bitter criticism.  They have normally received praise for their pass protection this year, which has been pretty good for the most part.  Ulatoski in particular has played well, and I do like Chris Hall at center.  However, fair or not, they’ve gotten some heat for not run-blocking that well.  Some blame scheme, some blame our mult-headed run game, some simply just blame the offensive linemen… whatever the case, it hasn’t always been very pleasant to watch.  It’s certainly not anything like our 2005 line, but they’ve been serviceable for the most part this season.  At the very least, I expect our pass protection to be good enough to allow Colt to do his thing, but I’m not expecting 300 yards rushing or anything.

I don’t know a whole lot about Ohio State’s line.  I will say that they didn’t look particularly good at all early in the season against teams like Ohio and USC, and they didn’t look that good against Penn State, who was the only team who stuffed Beanie Wells.  I know they have suffered some injuries; one of their senior starting guards had to leave the USC game (forgot his name but I looked it up:  Rehring), and while they got him back, they lost another senior guard for the season later on.  They have depth but they’re pretty young across the board, they’ve had to make do with some make-shift lines, similar to what we had to do last year.  After the Penn State game, it seems they’ve been a lot more successful springing Wells free, but it’s questionable how good the opponents’ defenses were after that game.

I do know they have a four year starter in tackle Alex Boone, who was a preseason All-American, and he will do battle against Brian Orakpo.  Boone is a big fella and from what I’ve seen, he fits the stereotypical “big and physical” type of Big 10 football, but I have doubts he has the feet and quickness to handle Orakpo.  Even USC’s vaunted defense is not terribly impressive up front (their strength is in their back seven), so Boone hasn’t seen anyone quite like Rak.  The guy will probably get drafted by somebody, so unfortunately, Orakpo will have to cost him some money as he did Loadholt J.

Like I said, I’m not very familiar with Ohio State’s line besides the few times I saw them play this year, which, fair or not, were mostly games that didn’t necessarily make them look good.  I’ll just go with this:  While we haven’t faced a defense like USC’s, I think our line performed better in our big games, with the exception of that horrendous first half in Lubbock.  Besides, I think OU has a better D-line than the Trojans, although USC unquestionably has a much stronger back seven.  So there.

Edge:  Texas

Defensive line

Brian Orakpo raked in several defensive awards this year, and it is well deserved.  I walked by him once on campus this year and it was just amazing how beastly he is.  I’m sure it’s not fun as a QB getting smacked by that guy, who has piled up 10.5 sacks, 15 hurries, 4 forced fumbles, and 15.5 TFL.  He is without question the best defensive end in the country, and he’s helped by several other capable guys.  Roy Miller (9.5 TFL, 7 QB hurries, 4.5 sacks) is just a monster up the middle, demanding double teams and still getting penetration, and Lamarr Houston, while undersized, has been pretty solid this year.  Melton had a great year opposite Orakpo, making us wonder how good he could have been if he was a DE to start his college career.  Eddie Jones, Aaron Williams, and Acho are all very capable of giving us good snaps.  With the physical running attack of Ohio State, our lack of depth up the middle may be a concern.  Our offense can help alleviate this problem by putting points on the board and pressuring Ohio State to throw the ball with us.

Again, my lack of knowledge of the Big 10 kicks in.  They obviously lost Vernon Gholston, it looks like they struggled quite a bit to replace his production.  They certainly don’t have our sack production, with their top lineman, Gibson, only netting four sacks.  Their LB’s also dominate their TFL stats, with the three of the top four leaders being linebackers, and they haven’t done much as far as forcing fumbles or hurrying the quarterback.  They do, however, rank 12th in rush defense, giving up only 3.66 yards per carry and surrendering only six rushing touchdowns all season.  Big 10 people may argue this is more impressive than our own #2 ranking because the Big 10 is more of a running league than our own, but in any case, I don’t know how having a mediocre pass rush but solid run D will help a whole lot against Texas.  Considering that our main attack is through the passing game, their lack of pass rush from their front four should be a big concern for them as they will be forced to send extra guys to get pressure on Colt.  Obviously, I can’t say I was impressed when I saw them get manhandled by USC, but they did play well against Purdue.  Against Penn State, they did okay despite surrendering 160 yards on the ground since it was more or less a defensive slugfest.

It’s not close here.  When you talk about the top defensive lines in the country, ours is easily in the conversation.

Edge:  Texas

Linebackers

Sergio Kindle will make many a Longhorn happy if he returns.  He certainly remains raw in many areas, but he’s a playmaker who has netted 9 sacks, 11.5 TFL, a forced fumble, and 5 QB hurries to go with 43 total tackles.  He’s a prototypical 3-4 linebacker and he’s a great weapon to hurl at opposing QB’s.  Muckelroy has had a solid season with 96 tackles, and he’s often been our clean-up guy.  As far as Norton and Bobino, while they certainly haven’t drawn the ire quite like last year’s group did, they haven’t made the plays middle linebackers should.  I think they both have done well at times, so I don’t think they suck, but we would have liked to see more from Norton in particular.  All of our linebackers still struggle in coverage, but at least Ohio State doesn’t have the passing game that other opponents have had.  Overall, we have a raw beast in Kindle, a steady player in Muckelroy, and solid but sometimes disappointing players in Bobino and Norton.  Keenan Robinson has been interesting this year, but I don’t know if we’ll see much of him this game.

Let’s state the obvious:  They have James Laurinaitis.  I think he’s a great player, but truth be told, I don’t see him as an elite athlete.  The times I’ve watched him play, I see a very smart player who knows where to be and knows how to seize opportunity, but I don’t see a freak who can cover sideline to sideline with ease.  While his awareness will certainly make him look fast on the field, I think smart, shifty players (like Jordan Shipley) can have success against him.  I just don’t think he has great speed and quickness for his position; I would take A.J. Hawk over him in a heartbeat.  Nonetheless, he’s certainly going to be one of the best, if not the best, linebacker we’ve seen all year.  Marcus Freeman is their other senior LB, and he’s a fine player as well.  He leads the team in TFL and he’s second in total tackles.  Ross Homan has six TFL and is fourth in tackles.

I hate to do it, but I’ll give the edge to Ohio State and the much ballyhooed James Laurinaitis.  Hopefully, however, Pryor gets many uncomfortable greetings from Kindle.

Edge:  Ohio State

Secondary

It’s been a pleasure watching this group grow up in front of our very eyes.  They’ve had their high moments (against Oklahoma and Mizzou in the first half) and extremely low moments (final moments against Tech).  I think we have ourselves a pretty good secondary now.  Blake Gideon, bless his heart, has probably spent the last month replaying his dropped interception over and over in his head as he watched his team get left out of the national championship, but the kid has played pretty well all season and I expect him to continue on.  Earl Thomas is less disciplined than Gideon but also has a much higher potential to make plays.  Christian Scott has also looked very impressive when he has come in, and I expect Scott to battle for a starting position this offseason.

As for our corners, we’ve had both pleasant surprises and disappointments.  Chykie and Curtis Brown have developed very well while Deon Beasley may be the most disappointing player this season.  I don’t think Beasley sucks or anything, but he just seemed to regress from last season, and his poor tackling can spell huge trouble if he’s faced against Pryor or Wells.  Palmer is a solid corner but lacks the physical tools of other, younger corners.  Aaron Williams has also played well and had a pretty good interception return for a TD this season.  I think this group should be able to handle the receivers of Ohio State, all things being equal.  The problems will come if Pryor is allowed to run around, which will in turn allow receivers to spring free or otherwise leave us with an unappetizing prospect of watching Palmer or Beasley take a stab at bringing Pryor down.

Another obvious for Ohio State:  They have the Thorpe Award winner, Malcolm Jenkins.  He has only 3 picks, but he does have 9 passes broken up and three forced fumbles to go along with two blocked kicks.  Pretty impressive.  Then there’s Kurt Coleman, who leads the team with four picks, and thus him and Jenkins together have more interceptions than our entire team.  Coleman also is their third leading tackler.  Their other corner is Chimdi Chekwa (cool name alert) and their other starting safety is Anderson Russell.   Russell is fifth in tackles for them and Chekwa, for what it’s worth, has a pick.  Jenkins isn’t the strongest Thorpe Award winner there ever was, but he is very good and he’s obviously a corner who isn’t afraid to tackle and knock the ball loose.  It’s worth mentioning that they got torn to shreds by the best passing offense they saw all year (USC), but that was early in the season.

Again, my knowledge on Ohio State is a bit sketchy.  They limited a Penn State team that doesn’t have a strong passing offense anyway, but it certainly isn’t fair to just judge them by how bad they looked in Los Angeles.  I’m just going to wear my burnt orange glasses and also point out that we’ve faced some of the best passing offenses in the country.  Besides, it’s really late, and I need to get to bed, so I’ll let the hard thinking pass while I just pick Texas, regardless of the Thorpe Award.

Edge:  Texas

Special teams

I like our kickers, and so long as Shipley sticks to returning, I like our return game.  However, our kickoff coverage remains a concern.  I want Pryor and Wells to be forced to earn every yard; I hate giving up cheap crap on returns.

I don’t remember much about the Buckeye special teams game.  I don’t remember their kickoff returners being all that dangerous, but I do know that Ray Small takes back punts and he’s pretty darn good at it.  He has one return TD and averages 15 yards per return.  As far as place kickers, they have a senior who’s 14/18.

I’ll give them the edge at punt returning, but I think overall, our kicking game is stronger.

Edge:  Texas

So there we have it:  Texas has the edge in all areas except for two, which would be at linebacker and at runningback.  This is a game we should win as long as we don’t come out flat and stupid.  I have confidence in our coaching staff that the guys will be properly motivated this game to prove something.  Ohio State will certainly be motivated to help salvage not only their image but the entire Big 10’s.  Muschamp, you’ve earned your money for the most part this season.  Cooking up something nice for Pryor will be an exclamation point on a very successful season for you.

I am slightly afraid that Davis and Mack will come out very predictable and very vanilla like we did against A&M (whom we killed anyway since they’re bad), but I hope they relax a bit and allow our players to play in our last game.  

Ohio State is not an elite team this year, but they aren’t a chump team.  They can beat us if we don’t respect them.  I will expect nothing less from the Horns.

And with that, I’ll give my biased and meaningless prediction:  Horns win, 41-17.

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