Reading the Buckeye Leaves: Cotton Bowl

Ohio State Football Helmet


When USC Has the Ball

The offense of USC moves with Sam Darnold and his ability to throw short and intermediate passes, but this success comes from their ability to run screens and bubble screens to the boundary. The empty backfield will usually involve the RB as the recipient of the screen or as a lead blocker. Either way, the Buckeyes can use their speed at linebacker to disrupt these plays.

USC counters with a 2-back look and motions on RB into the screen action. The remaining RB helps to keep the LB engaged in run support, leaving him a step late to the ball. Tackling will be key in this contest, predominately on the outside, to limit the yards after catch and contact.

Finally, the Trojans bait the defense into supporting the screen while the receivers sneak past the defenders for an easy score. Ohio State has been burned by these before but hopefully have corrected those mental mistakes during bowl prep.

The offensive line of the Trojans has allowed 22 sacks on the season despite a quarterback that can create on the run and mobile enough to extend plays. With the Buckeyes becoming more and more exotic on defense of late, especially on 3rd downs, Zone Blitz concepts have proved to be difficult for the Trojans, so expect to see some variations of this out of Schiano’s scheme. The key will be to collapse the pocket to suffocate Darnold, something they could not do against Baker Mayfield.

As previously mentioned, Sam Darnold has an incredible ability to not only extend plays, but is also creative and strong enough to do what only Aaron Rodgers would attempt.

When Ohio State Has the Ball

Buckeye fans have seen a pass or twenty batted down out of the hand of J.T. Barrett over the course of his career, and that will likely continue in his last game as a Buckeye. Outside LB Uchenna Nwosu has an insane ability to time the passes as he is ranked 3rd in Passes Defended in the Pac-12 and 27th nationally. In fact, he is the highest ranked non-defensive back on the national rankings in this category.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the Trojans have very similar issues in terms of eye discipline on defense. The linebackers and secondary like to make plays, so they can be manipulated by misdirection to spring a big gain. This game will hinge on the team that makes the least mistakes, or else the team that has the ball last will likely win.

USC struggles to stop the Inside Zone, especially with John Houston Jr. (#10) in the middle. While he is athletic and can run sideline to sideline, he struggles filling gaps at the point of attack. Look for the Buckeyes to target him in the run game with the interior linemen climbing to the second level.

On a final note, enjoy the game. The Buckeyes beat Penn State, beat Michigan, and won the Big Ten Championship, once again making 2017 a great season. Be safe and have a Happy New Year!

Go Bucks