Monday, January 5, 2009

A Few Quick Observations From a Big XII Fan

I’m sure the newspapers, ESPN,, etc. have broken down this game ad nauseum, but here are two brief observations from a Big XII fan about tonight’s matchup:

1) For Ohio State to take advantage of UT’s weakness—its pass defense—the offensive line is really going to have to step up. I know this “observation” sounds patently obvious, but it important to focus on how pivotal the OL play tonight is. Texas has faced four premier passing offenses this year: OU, Texas Tech, Kansas, and Missouri. The distinguishing factor between these fours teams is the offensive line play. Texas Tech and OU have really good offensive lines; Kansas and Missouri do not. Texas gave up 22 first half points to Tech and 21 to OU; Kansas and Missouri combined to score 3 first half points against Texas. And Kansas and Missouri have two pretty good offenses. Thus, while some analysts may expect OSU to take advantage of Texas pass defense, it is important to note that the Texas secondary is susceptible only if Boone and Browning can keep Texas’ perimeter speed rushers from quickly getting to Pryor. I do no predict OSU to have much success in the air tonight.

2) Ohio State should be able to run the ball against UT tonight. Texas has played two teams with talented dual threat QBs this year: Oklahoma State and Baylor. In both of those games, UT struggled against the run. On October 25, Texas played Oklahoma State in Austin. For those unfamiliar with Big XII football, Oklahoma State’s QB, Zach Robinson, is a dual threat QB who is a better passer than Pryor but an inferior running threat. While Robinson was limited to 26 yards on 13 carries, the Cowboys running backs gained 191 yards on the ground. OSU racked up 217 rushing yards in the game, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Kendall Hunter, the Cowboys’ premier running, is a talented runner, but Beanie Wells is the better back. Similarly, Texas struggled against the run when they faced Baylor and the Bear’s Freshman All-American QB Robert Griffin. Griffin’s not as strong as Pryor, but he’s faster and a bit better throwing the ball. In that game, Griffin ran for over a hundred yards as the Bears gained 201 yards on the ground (averaging 6.9 yards per carry). However, it’s worth pointing out that Robert Griffin had his worst game of the season through the air against UT.

While Kansas and Missouri combined to score 3 first half points against UT, Oklahoma State and Baylor put up a combined 28 first half points on Texas’ defense.

An additional, non Big XII-centric observations:

3) OSU’s defense may actually hold UT. First, let’s look at what the Buckeye’s have actually done against quality opponents this year. (This is not earth shattering analysis, I know, but I think people forget how good this defense is.) OSU played two good offenses this year: Penn St. and USC. Despite the score, USC’s offense was not really all that dominant against OSU. Yes, USC’s offense scored four touchdowns – three coming on legitimate drives, but the ineptitude of the Buckeye offense gave USC eleven possessions to muster those three legitimate drives. As I’m sure everyone remembers, Penn St.’s respectable offense couldn’t come up with anything until Pryor’s 4th quarter gift.

Also, Texas has a pedestrian running game. OSU will be able to limit Texas’ effectiveness on the ground without bringing 8 to the box. Thus, the Buckeyes can commit four to stopping UT’s pass game. Ohio State has the secondary talent to really challenge Colt McCoy and the Texas passing attack. If Heacock insists on running the cover-two defense, McCoy will probably eat Ohio State alive. But if Heacock puts Jenkins on Jordan Shipley and rolls double coverage towards Quan Cosby, Ohio State should give Texas fits. Shipley is at his best against zone defenses and on timing routes, and he’s great at getting open after McCoy has extended the play with his feet. Having Jenkins jam Shipley at the line and man-up on Shipley across the field would limit his effectiveness. Jenkins is superior athletically to Shipley in every way, and Shipley’s effectiveness against zone defenses makes man-to-man a must.


Biff said...

Great insights Tex. I agree with you that the OSU defense has a fighting chance in this one given Texas' inability to run the football consistently. People forget that for all the big plays OSU has given up in big games over the last couple of years, perhaps the biggest problem has been weak DTs causing linebackers to get swallowed up against the run. If McCoy has to beat OSU by himself, he's certainly capable but it's a lot better than getting gashed by the run all night.

Ultimately, however, I'm not confident that Boone and Browning can keep the hounds at bay. Pryor is shaky enough as thrower without guys breathing down his neck all night. I would be very surprised if he throws for more than 150 yards or so tonight. I think OSU grind it out on the ground as long as they are still in the football game.

Texas Transplant said...

Yea, I just can't come up with any scenario in which OSU is able to consistently throw the ball against UT. But I do think the game will be close, and I'm betting the under in this game.