Make no mistake about it, this is a do-or-die game for the #5 Buckeyes. Win and they hav..."/> Make no mistake about it, this is a do-or-die game for the #5 Buckeyes. Win and they hav..."/>

USC-Ohio State Preview: The Buck(eyes) Stop Here…


Make no mistake about it, this is a do-or-die game for the #5 Buckeyes. Win and they have at least saved some face from the embarrassment of two consecutive National Championship blowouts. In addition, they keep their hopes alive for a third appearance in the title game.

Lose and the Buckeyes stop here. There will not be a third consecutive appearance in College Football’s premier event even if they go on to win the Big Ten. But worse, should they lose big to the #1 Trojans, pundits will question whether they are really one of College Football’s premier teams like the Buckeyes of old.

Both of these teams take on the personalities of their head coaches. Nowhere is this more clearly contrasted than in their response to recent key injuries.

When USC’s quarterback Mark Sanchez dislocated his knee a few weeks ago, head coach Pete Carroll immediately called in his backups but openly expressed hope that Sanchez would return and kept the media up-to-date on his quarterback’s progress. When the team doctor finally cleared Sanchez, Carroll at once announced that Sanchez would start the opener against Virginia even though Sanchez had not had any contact work in nearly a month.

Contrast, on the other hand, Jim Tressel’s handling of the Chris “Beanie” Wells injury. It has been nine days now since the Heisman candidate incurred the injury against Youngstown State, and Tressel still has not announced the exact nature of the injury or its extent. In fact, he has forbidden Wells from speaking with the media.

This is the sign of man who keeps everything close to the sweater vest. It is also a sign of man who feels he needs to get every possible leg up that he can. Whether it’s Beanie Wells’ leg or his own.

On the gridiron, the contrast between the two is just as evident.

Pete Carroll runs open practices, not concerned that scouts will unravel USC’s tendanies. He even has his own website, Pete, that gives an insightful look into Trojan practices and game preparations.His theme throughout each and every season is competition. At USC, you are only as good as your last practice. Let up and you are liable to sit down come gameday. His entire scheme has been built on turnovers – protecting the ball on offense and taking it away on defense.

Unlike Carroll, Tressel’s philosophy is all about field position. His schemes combine a conservative offense with a tough defense and execution on special teams. The punt is Tressel’s idea of the most important play in football, whereas Carroll’s is the interception or fumble recovery.

How have the teams done so far this season? Ohio State beat Youngstown State 43-0 in its opener. Then last week they plodded their way to a 26-14 win over Ohio University. Both games were at the Horseshoe. How good were their opponents? Last last week Youngstown State lost to South Dakota State 40-7, and Ohio University lost their opener to Wyoming 21-20.

In contrast, USC traveled across the country to Charlottesville, where they routed Virginia, 52-7. The Trojans had a bye last weekiend while Virginia bounced back to shutout Richmond 16-0.


The Buckeye offense is led by senior quarterback Todd Boeckman. Last year, Boeckman connected on 191-of-299 passes with 25 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. So far this year, he is 30-of-45 for 297 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. He was 16-of-26 for 110 yards last week against the Bobcats.

But the real heart of the Buckeye offense is Heisman candidate, Chris “Beanie” Wells. Last year, the tailback, who runs with both speed and power, rushed for 1609 yards and 15 touchdowns. But injured in the third quarter of their opener against Youngstown State, Wells was sidelined for last week’s game against Ohio University.

While Tressel remains mum on his plans for Wells this week, without Wells, the Buckeyes relied on three different tailbacks last week. Senior Maurice Wells (no relation to Beanie), started and rushed nine times for 48 yards. Backing him up was redshirt freshman Dan Herron, who rushed 12 times for 50 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Saine, recovering from a hamstring injury suffered during Fall Camp, rushed five times for 16 yards and a TD.
The nation’s top high school recruit, quarterback Terrelle Pryor, had the Buckeyes’ longest rush of the day, a 23-yarder and posted 37 yards overall on five carries. Boeckman added six yards on a couple of scrambles.

Altogether the Buckeyes gained only 157 yards on 33 caries against the Bobcats. However, the Trojan defense led by linebackers, Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, held the Virginia Cavaliers to just 32 yards on 21 carries. Meanwhile the USC secondary, led by All-American candidates, Kevin Ellison and Taylor Mays, held the Cavaliers to just 155 yards passing.


The Buckeyes strong suit is Jim Heacock’s defense, where they return 9 starters from last year’s team that was ranked #1 in the nation in total defense giving up 233 yards per game. They were also first in scoring defense (12.8 points/game) and pass defense (150 yards/game).

Heacock’s unit, led by All-American linebackers, James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, was #3 in rush defense, #4 in pass efficiency defense, #6 in sacks, and #8 in tackles for a loss. Laurinaities led the team with 121 tackles including five sacks and had three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Freeman had 109 tackles Senior Curtis Terry is the other starting linebacker. They have plenty of experience up front, losing only Vernon Gholston, who is now playing for the New York Jets. 6-6, 290-pound Cameron Heyward replaces Gholston.

The secondary is led by All-American cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, one of the premier cover corners in College Football. Last year he had 47 tackles and intercepted four passes. Both safeties, Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman, are returning starters.

They will be asked to stop a Trojan offense that amassed 558 yards against Virginia, 350 in the air and 208 on the ground. Sanchez was 26-of-35 for 338 yards, spreading out his passes to 9 different receivers. Three of them for scores. He also handed the ball off to 8 different backs. C.J. Gable, Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson and Allan Bradford did most of the damage.

Special Teams

A key to any Tressel team is the kicking game. Place kicker Ryan Pretorius, an All-American canidate, hit on 18 of 23 field goals last year and is 6-for-7 so far this year. Punter A.J. Trapasso is one of the best in the Big Ten.

But USC has a couple of great kickers as well. David Buehler had a field goal against Virginia and has been hitting them consistently in practice from 50 yards. Punter Greg Woidneck usually has terrific hang time.

Ray Small, the OSU break-away punt returner, zigged and zagged 69 yards for a touchdown against Ohio University. Small was also the Buckeyes leading receiver with 5 catches for 27 yards. Maurice Wells, Saine and Herron split time returning kickoffs so far this year.
The Trojans also have a pretty shifty punt return by the name of Joe McKnight, and kickoff returner, Ronald Johnson, like the Buckeyes’ Small, is a real speedster and one of the Trojans leading receivers.

Current Odds

USC started off as a 7.5-point favorite. They have been bet up currently to an 11-point favorite. That’s a huge spread for a #1 vs. #5. Apparently the smart money doesn’t think the Buckeyes should be rated that high. I have to agree. I have them at #8 in my poll. All the signs point to a team that is regrouping. But is there enough time for the entire Buckeye team to regroup and mount a cohesive attack against the #1 Trojans?