This Ohio State offense is no stranger to talented and versatile defenses — they have played three of the top 10 total defenses in college football this season.
Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State all allow fewer than 300 yards of total offense per game, and the Buckeyes averaged 441 yards against them.
On Friday, they will take on a USC team that is No. 77 in total defense, allowing 404.8 yards per game.
The numbers are not great, but don’t let that fool you.
“Some of their defensive stat numbers, I think those numbers can be skewed because of the style of the offenses on the west coast,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “Having coached in the Big XII a number of years, the offensive stats can be skewed because it’s a little bit more wide open, which causes a little bit more stress on the defense.”
In order to deal with wide-open offenses, the USC defense has had to combat fire with fire. They have faced many different offensive styles, so they employ a defense that will give several different looks, and all with the goal of disruption in mind.
Some of the time it works, as their 43 sacks — which is No. 2 in the nation — will attest. Other times, however, it doesn’t, as shown by their 34 plays allowed of at least 30 yards. That number is 107th in the nation.
Buckeye quarterback J.T. Barrett is going to get a variety of looks from USC, and he knows it.
“I think their defensive coordinator does a good job of changing up the looks,” he said. “He’s not really a guy that’s going to be the same each and every game. He has different coverages. He likes to throw a lot of looks at you in order for the quarterback to make a mistake and be able to create turnovers and make big plays. He brings quite a bit of pressure too. So with that, you just have to be on top of your game. Can’t get relaxed as far as the course of the game because he definitely will catch you sleeping if you’re not ready.”
The USC defense has used that aggression to force 24 turnovers this season, which still puts them behind past Ohio State opponents Wisconsin and Penn State in that category.
The Buckeyes have faced tricky defenses before — Michigan’s defense comes from more angles than a Picasso painting.
J.T. Barrett knows this is going to be far from an easy test, no matter how many yards USC has allowed this season. That is why the best way to be successful on offense is by not limiting themselves. While they will want to establish the run, Barrett knows they will have to move the ball in a number of different ways.
“Each game can be so different because teams can try to attack you in different ways on defense,” he said. “Being on offense, you have to be able to adjust. So that’s why it’s not like you just get one consistent thing. If you do, it’s almost like you limit yourself on offense. Because then it’s just like, ‘as a defense we only need to stop the short passing game’ or something like that and you’d be able to win the game.
“Whereas I think this year, we’ve been able to do a good job adjusting to how a defense is trying to defend us. I think we had some success with it. To say one thing of who we are, this past year I don’t know. But as Ohio State, we run the ball. We have power run and then we play-action pass. That’s what we do.”