Ohio State’s Biggest Advantage Against USC

J.K. Dobbins Ohio State Football Buckeyes

The 2017 Cotton Bowl is set up to be a classic matchup between two of college football’s perennial powers. Both Ohio State and USC enter the game with powerful offenses, ranking among the nation’s best in both traditional metrics like points per game, as well as advanced ones like S&P+.

But while the Buckeyes’ defense also sits among the tops in FBS, the Trojans’ is decidedly not.

The raw numbers put them around the middle of the pack in FBS, ranking 62nd in the nation in scoring defense. The advanced numbers do the same. They’re 61st in defensive S&P+, and have been particularly vulnerable against the run.

For a team like Ohio State that leans on a power rushing attack to make its offense go, that’s good news. Still, the Buckeyes know that regardless of the numbers, they are about to face a very talented opponent.

“Don’t underestimate them because they’re a very athletic defense,” said freshman RB J.K. Dobbins.

“They’re fast on defense. They’ve got some great guys up front as well. They’re really active, the D-line,” said senior LT Jamarco Jones.

The Trojan defense features four first-team all-conference players including two linebackers, Cameron Smith and Kenny Young. But after studying film for weeks, two other names jumped out to Dobbins.

“The defensive end, No. 42 (Uchenna Nwosu). He’s long,” Dobbins said. “The safety, No. 7 (Marvell Tell), is pretty good. And, I mean, the whole defense is pretty athletic; but those two guys stand out.”

Nwosu is a huge asset against opposing passing attacks, with 7.5 sacks on the season. However, he can also stop the pass even without getting to the quarterback. He has knocked down a team-high 13 passes this season. For perspective, that’s more sacks than Nick Bosa has this season (7), and nearly as many passes broken up as Denzel Ward (15).

The Buckeyes’ concerns go beyond the talent on the other side of the field. Facing an unfamiliar opponent can present challenges for an offense.

“They bring everything to the table that you want in a defense. I would say they bring some exotic looks. They blitz from all different areas,” said Jones. “It’s going to be a challenge going into this game, executing when you don’t really know what’s going to happen, who’s going to be where and things like that.”

While the Buckeyes haven’t faced a defense quite like USC’s this season, the Trojans have gotten a taste of just about every style of offense there is during their Pac-12 schedule.

Sophomore RG Demetrius Knox and Fifth-year QB J.T. Barrett

They have played a number of teams that are run-oriented, whether it be a Stanford style of attack or Arizona style of attack or Notre Dame style of attack,” said OSU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. “They have also played teams that are very much pass oriented, like UCLA, Washington State, Cal.”

But in the cat-and-mouse game between the coaching staffs, that can turn back into an advantage for the Buckeyes, who now have an idea what USC might do in certain situations.

You see how they try to match up and attack,” Wilson said. “You can see each week how their defense has tried to evolve to go against great offenses.”

Fifth-year C Billy Price

The Buckeyes have a big advantage while trying to deal with all the chaos that USC can bring; a veteran quarterback in J.T. Barrett, and an offensive line that has played against just about every style of defense imaginable over the years.

“It’s very important. The experience we have is going to help Friday,” said Jones. “Seeing so much over the years and being multiple year starters, we know how to prepare for games. We know how to watch film and study the opponent. Things like that help along the way.”

2 Responses

  1. I’m a little concerned with the number of passes knocked down by the DE #42. So that will be something to watch for tomorrow night. As for our game plan, it would be a sign of growth if we get away from making JT run the ball so much.

    In fact, if you don’t do it on first and ten, or second and 7, then it would be more of a surprise when you do it on 4th and one. Just sayin’!

    With the nature of bowl games, I don’t have a feel for how this game will go. The only advantage I see is that three years ago we won the NC in that building. Is that a REAL advantage? Not sure.

    I’d like to see OSU 41, USC 20, something like that.

  2. Tom- Your usually lucid thinking is off base here. Any OSU talk about how tough USC’s defense is, is just talk. USC are a middling or even worse defense, a look at their season’s results show that they are borderline Big 12 in how poorly the perform. The true key to the game for OSU offensively is game planning. Will Meyer insist that JT get 20 carries for 60 yards like against UM, or actually let the running backs BE RUNNING BACKS (especially when they are averaging 7-10 ypc)? The only thing that stops OSU in this game is OSU.

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