Alright Longhorn fans, it's time to -really- look into the eye of Saturday's enemy. There's simply no better way to do that than a chat with the author of the excellent Buckeye Commentary, which brings us to today's Q&A. Let's get right to it.
Burnt Orange Nation: Thanks for chatting with us today, Keith. I know your plans to attend this game changed at the last minute, but can you talk to us for a minute about the anticipation for this matchup among the Buckeye faithful? How big is this in Columbus?
Buckeye Commentary: My pleasure, thanks for the invite. The anticipation for this game is off the charts. It dominates Columbus media outlets and it is, without question, the talk of the city. The Columbus Dispatch newspaper, for instance, has 8 pieces on the game in today's paper alone. There are an estimated 40,000 Ohio State fans making the trip to Austin (though obviously most do not have tickets). People simply can't wait for the game, and I assume it's very similar for Texas fans. It doesn't get much bigger than two historic teams in an historic venue.
Burnt Orange Nation: Let's start with the Buckeyes strengths on offense and the man that makes it all go - Troy Smith. How good has he become since the last time Texas saw him? What's he doing really well right now? What weaknesses remain in his game?
Buckeye Commentary: Troy has really matured as a player and quarterback. He spent a great deal of time in the offseason learning and improving his understanding of reading defenses. This allows him to check into a better play at the line of scrimmage but also helps him make quicker decisions in the pocket. He manages the offense much better than we when played last September.
However, like with any player, weaknesses remain. He is guilty of trying to do too much which sometimes ends up hurting the team or the drive. Last year, while he had a very good TD-INT ratio, he had some issues with ball security while he bought time in the pocket or scrambled for yardage. It wasn't that big an issue because a lot of the time he recovered his own fumble, but it's still something to watch out for.
Burnt Orange Nation: There aren't many teams that can match the Longhorns at tailback talent, but Ohio State appears to be one of them. Antonio Pittman had a terrific sophomore season, and super recruit Chris Wells is already being broken in. That's before we even get to Maurice Wells. Talk about these three and each of their strengths and weaknesses.
Buckeye Commentary: Yes, we definitely feel good about our running back corps. As Coach Tressel would say, every team needs a "pair and a spare" and we have that this year. If I were to breakdown their strengths and weakness, my thoughts would be as follows:
Antonio Pittman: The leader, and had the quietist 1330 yards in Ohio State history, in my opinion. He brings really good vision and decent top end speed. Antonio is surprisingly efficient running in between the Tackles even though he's less than 200lbs. Effective receiver from the backfield as well. Although he can carry games, he isn't truly an every down back and, as such, needs to be spelled on occasion.
Pittman rushed for an amazingly quiet 1,300 yards as a sophomore.
Chris Wells: Probably the best blend of power and speed since Eddie George. He's borderline freakish though he has a lot of improvement ahead in terms of pass pro and knowing the full playbook. He's a very good compliment to Antonio Pittman - both of whom are Akron natives.
Maurice Wells: Very good speed and jitterbug ability. Coaches expect good things this year because of his solid spring and fall practices. Knows his assignments but can be a liability in pass protection because of his diminutive size.
Burnt Orange Nation: Only a fool would deny the depth and quality of talent on offense. But skeptics' concerns about the defense demand some thorough answers. We'll start with the defensive line, the unit that returns some talent, including potential All American Quinn Pitcock.
Buckeye Commentary: The defensive line is really the bright spot of the defense. Inside Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson anchor the line. Quinn is very good at winning his battle or commanding a double team but while he gets a lot of the notoriety, Patterson is very good in his own right. On the edges, Vernon Gholston is finally healthy and playing very well - 2 sacks v. Northern Illinois. On the opposite site, senior Jay Richardson is handling the duties and looking to have a breakout year. In fact, the defensive end spot is really split amongst Ghloston, Richardson and Lawrence Wilson. Wilson was thought to be the inked in starter heading into fall camp until Gholston edged him out.
Burnt Orange Nation: It's the back seven, though, that have many wondering whether this can be the defense of a championship team. All three linebackers and the secondary headed to the NFL. Who are the Buckeyes sliding in to replace that ridiculous talent? How good are they right now?
Buckeye Commentary: Clearly, the back seven are a work in progress. I would term them "okay" at this point - predictably better than most teams but not as good as one would like for a team in the Top 5. And, the coaches know this as well since they are trying a lot of combinations to find the magic elixir. However, some players are locked in such as LB Marcus Freeman and CB Malcolm Jenkins. Freeman would have played considerably last year - even with Hawk, Carpenter and Schegel - but he was injured all year. Jenkins played in the Texas game a year ago and has really blossomed into a fierce competitor. I think it's a given that Texas will move the ball and hit some big plays. We'll just have to try to keep them to a minimum. I'd be very happy with a 38-37 win, even if we gave up 530 yards of offense.
Burnt Orange Nation: Any thoughts on the Buckeye special teams?
Buckeye Commentary: For the first time in eons, the kicker position is shaky. Both Ryan Pretorius and Aaron Pettrey are inexperienced. Pettrey has a gigantic leg but he missed his only attempt v. NIU as did Pretorius.
Punting is solid and still being handled by AJ Trapasso. Coverage teams have been good to this point as well. Return teams are dynamic as are yours. Since we last played, we now use a diamond formation on kick-off returns because so many teams pooch kick it to the 20 or so in an effort to keep it away from Ginn. The diamond formation allows a pooch to still be fielded by a dangerous returner, if not Ginn himself.
Burnt Orange Nation: We'll let you out of here after we get your thoughts on the good guys. What concerns you most about Texas' squad this year?
Buckeye Commentary: Even with a new, young QB, I am concerned about your offense and our ability to stop it. Will our defense be disciplined enough with say, the read-option? How will our corners hold up to bevy of talented Texas receivers like Limas Sweed? Plus, it obviously does not help our cause that we'll be playing in front of 85,000 loud fans...at night.
Burnt Orange Nation: Many thanks for your thoughts, Keith. I'd wish you and your team good luck this Saturday, but I'm trying to horde it all for our own kids. Have a great weekend, regardless of the outcome! We appreciate you chatting with us.