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Baver’s Buckeye Bag 12/31/14

Baver’s Buckeye Bag 12/31/14

Sugar Bowl (Playoff Semi-Final) Preview

Game on - it's here - the first College Football Playoff.  It seemed highly improbable at several points this season, but the Buckeyes earned the playoff berth and this is exactly why they hired Urban Meyer.  Big underdog?  Urban has thrived on the underdog roll throughout his coaching career.  He’s 4-0 as an underdog at Ohio State and one would have to think his team will be ready tomorrow night in New Orleans.  

That’s the good news.  The bad news is, for the first time in his Ohio State coaching career, Meyer is facing a team that has more talent than his.  I think most Buckeye fans will tell you that this Bama team is not on par with any of Nick Saban’s three recent national championship teams.  While I would tend to agree, I still think Saban has the best team in the country.  No one in Big Ten country wants to hear this, but the SEC West is better than any other division in any other conference, and it’s not close.  And Bama is class of the division and the conference, period.

But favorites lose all the time….just ask former Wisconsin coach Gary Anderson.  There is a reason you play the games, and like any other game Ohio State has played during my lifetime, tomorrow’s game against Alabama is a winnable one.

The Matchup:

The Bama Offense vs. the Buckeye Defense

The biggest task for Ohio State will be containing Amari Cooper.  Cooper has the entire package and can beat you in a variety of different ways.  The only real way to contain him is to put pressure on Bama QB Blake Sims.  If Sims consistently finds time to throw, he is going to find Amari Cooper, and Cooper is likely going to walk away with game-MVP honors, while Alabama advances to the title game.  But to protect Sims, Bama stud freshman LT Cameron Robinson and veteran RT Austin Shepherd are going to have to deal with Joey Bosa.  The Alabama O-line was tops in the SEC giving up only 13 sacks on the year, so you have a strength vs. strength matchup here.  The Buckeyes D-line will simply have to get to Sims if the Buckeyes are going to pull the upset, and I think this is the #1 key to the game.

Although new OC Lane Kiffin has made the Alabama offense much more diverse with their expanded air game, the Tide can obviously still run the football.  The Bucks did a great job holding Melvin Gordon in check, but the Badgers had no passing game to take pressure off Gordon.  With the Buckeye D having to focus on Amari Cooper, the Bama running back combo of TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry are going to be tough to handle.  The Buckeye tackling was strong early in the year, but not as much in the latter half of the season.  The OSU defenders will have to do a good job wrapping up tomorrow or it will be a long night.

The Buckeye Offense vs. the Bama Defense

You have to feel better about Cardale Jones after seeing his effort against the Badgers.  The kid was much more prepared than anyone thought he would be and now appears to have his head where it needs to be.  The best chance of success for the Buckeye offense is going to be through the air.  Devin Smith emerged big time late in the year, and the Jones-to-Smith hookup was of course deadly against Wisconsin.  I guess you can argue that the Bucks would have beaten the Badgers handedly without Smith, but Ohio State will not beat Alabama without a strong effort from Devin Smith.  Also, I wouldn’t be surprised to see OSU utilize TE Jeff Heuerman more as a pass catcher tomorrow night.  And it goes without saying that Buckeye OT's Taylor Decker and Daryl Baldwin need to protect Jones, who will be starting only his 2nd game in college football. 

It will be interesting to see how much Ohio State tries to establish the run with Ezekiel Elliott, who has now hit the big time.  The Bama rush defense is as good as it gets, giving up only 2.8 yards per carry and 3 rushing TD's all season, tops in the nation in both categories.  The Bucks may not need Zeke to hit the century mark in rushing yards, but they have to at least find some success on the ground to take some pressure off Cardale.  I don't see Jones having much success running with the ball against Alabama, as the Tide defense is too talented and disciplined to let Jones beat them in that manner.

The Call

Like I said in the beginning of the piece, I expect Ohio State to be ready to play.  Jumping out to an early 10-point lead, a la the 2007 title game, would not surprise me.  But an early deficit won’t faze Alabama and I think the Tide offense eventually puts 30+ points on the board.  Will Ohio State be able to score that many?  Probably not without some breaks in special teams and/or getting a defensive score.  Hope I am wrong, but the call here is Alabama 35 Ohio State 27.