When a college football team gets left out of the playoffs, there are always questions about their desire to play in whatever bowl game they get assigned to. There is a let down at play that can affect preparation and determination.
For the Ohio State defense, those feelings went away pretty quickly after finding out they would be playing USC.
After all, if they don’t take the Trojan offense seriously, then they are liable to get embarrassed on a national stage.
According to starting safety Jordan Fuller, the USC offense is more than enough to get them focused and ready.
“Yeah, knowing their skill and the type of guy they have at quarterback and their team as a whole really just elevates our game and makes us stay on our toes for sure,” he said.
And it is USC’s quarterback Sam Darnold that everybody is talking about. A possible top five pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, you don’t have to watch much Trojans football to know who Darnold is.
Now in preparation for the Cotton Bowl, the Buckeyes have seen him plenty. What do they see?
“Great arm, he can make all the throws. He can run a little bit too,” Fuller said. “He does it all. I know he has had like a 50-yard run before. Yeah, we have got to be on our stuff.”
So much of this game will depend on the Ohio State secondary defending a passing game that averages nearly 300 yards per game through the air. Three USC receivers have over 600 receiving yards this season, which will put OSU’s secondary in difficult coverage situations.
One of the ways to help those guys out is with a dominating pass rush.
“We’re going to have to help our DBs and our linebackers because they have a really good running back, definitely one of the best we’ve played, right up there with [Penn State running back] Saquon [Barkley],” defensive end Nick Bosa said. “We’re not taking any of them lightly, obviously, the quarterback is going to be a top pick, so we just have to help those guys out because their skill positions are really good. It will be some of the best we’ve seen.”
What makes those skill players even more dangerous is the fact that Sam Darnold can keep a play alive much longer than a defense would like. Even when guys like Nick Bosa get pressure, Darnold can get out of trouble and connect with receivers or running backs who can’t possibly be covered as long Darnold is forcing OSU to defend.
The Ohio State defense has faced a similar quarterback this year in Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, and things didn’t go so well for the Buckeyes in that game. Mayfield completed 77% of his passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns against OSU in September. The Buckeye defense is adamant that they have learned from those lessons, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.
“It’s going to be pretty difficult because when he scrambles we still have to be on our man until he passes the line of scrimmage,” said safety Damon Webb. “We’re going to be ready for it. We’ve got Tate Martell as a good scout team quarterback. He’s been doing that all year, so I feel like we’re going to be really ready for it.”
It hasn’t just been the Ohio State scout team that has been preparing the OSU defense for this game — it has been several other games the Buckeyes have played as well.
In other words, USC’s offense has plenty of talent, but the style of play isn’t unfamiliar to the Buckeyes.
“To be honest, I feel like they play a regular college football offense to me,” Fuller said. “There is nothing that we really have not seen before, it is just a matter of us doing our stuff.”