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Wednesday
Aug092006

Texas and Ohio State

I've been mulling over this game in my mind for a few days, figured I might as well write about some of those thoughts on here.

The rematch of last year's battle in Columbus (which Texas won 25-22) will be played in Austin on Sept. 9 at 8 p.m. Eastern in what could be a consensus No. 1 vs. No. 2 game. Hype worthiness TBD, but it's clearly a big intersectional game to rally around.

In assembling a game in one's mind, it helps to lay a foundation of facts, make some assumptions and then arrive at an outcome, hopefully more accurate ("Tennessee's vastly overrated in '05") than inaccurate ("Boise State over Georgia, wheeeeeeee").

The following are choppy but relevant facts about the proud combatants, typed up in scout-speak for rapid consumption:

Texas Longhorns

Defending national champions. Vince Young no longer at quarterback, replaced by completely untested R-FR Colt McCoy and true frosh Jevan Snead. Returns a good chunk of the roster. Will run the same offense and return for a second year of defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. Big, athletic defensive line. Three seniors return on a quality offensive line. Defense must replace veteran MLB Aaron Harris, DT Rodrique Wright, DT Larry Dibbles, SS Michael Huff and CB Cedric Griffin. Fast and shifty running backs in SO Jamaal Charles and SR Selvin Young, not much size in the unit except the overrated SO Henry Melton who may or may not be a tight end or defensive end this year. Like to run the ball. Major fumble issues although few fumble related turnovers.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Preseason No.1 team in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Return the majority of their offense, but will miss playmaking receiver Santonio Holmes, first-round center Nick Mangold and guard Rob Sims. However, they must replace nearly the entire starting defense from last year. Many good players return, however, and have experience everywhere except the secondary. Defense plays very physical football. Will likely have best offense in the coach Jim Tressel era (six seasons) with quarterback Troy Smith, backs Antonio Pittman and frosh Chris Wells, and receivers Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez and Roy Hall.

Last Year's Numbers

These help paint a picture of what both teams can do and what they emphasize based on the previous season

Texas-50.2 points/game, 275 rush (5.9 YPC), 64.9% completions, 237 yards /// 16.4 points allowed, 131 rush (3.7 YPC), 51.1% completions, 172 yards, +7 turnover margin

Ohio State-32.7 points/game, 197 rush (4.7 YPC), 64.9% completions, 226 yards /// 15.2 points allowed, 73 rush (2.2 YPC), 60.7% completions, 208 yards, -9 turnover margin

Last Year's Game

Texas won 25-22 at Ohio Stadium. The Longhorns had a good first quarter and established a 10-0 lead, but panicked a little after an Ohio State touchdown, committing a few turnovers in their side of the field before making the appropriate stops and only allowing a few gimme FG's to the Buckeyes. Texas took an interesting risk in committing to untested frosh back Jamaal Charles who ran ten times and caught six passes. Aside from a few long plays Texas' offense never really was a threat after the first quarter (game winning TD drive aside).

Ohio State's major flub was a tactical error in playing the shaky Justin Zwick. He wasn't a disaster, but struggled to inspire an already shaky offense. The bulk of the Buckeyes' offensive production came when Troy Smith was under center, generally running for haphazard gains and connecting on a few passes but doing enough to score when presented the opportunity. That all changed when Smith wasn't playing. Particularly woeful was the bungled last 2:37 of the game. After Texas scored to go ahead 23-22, Ohio State trotted out Zwick who proceeded to surrender a safety and fumble on another possession, effectively ending the game without any offensive threat.

Here's what I think happened:

Tactically, Texas played that game as well as they could. Much like last year's Rose Bowl, Texas gambled that its opponent would do some stupid things and give them a shot to win the game. Both times it worked against arguably superior foes. Texas also knew it had its best team in a long time and with a guy like Young at quarterback could emerge victorious in any game where they had the ball, were within a touchdown and the game clock was under 5:00 to go. The successful strategy has left a wake of such prominent victims as Michigan, Ohio State and USC.

What were those stupid things their opponents did? Well, for Ohio State they played the uninspiring Justin Zwick. To be fair Zwick was superb in his last start, the Alamo Bowl against Texas A&M. The thinking was that he would build on that momentum, which obviously didn't happen. The Buckeye offense clearly responded to Troy Smith both in the Texas game and throughout the 2005 season, but coming off his suspension I think politically the coaches had to be careful about his playing time in this game.

Compounding their mistakes, the Buckeye coaches let Zwick play on Ohio State's final two drives. Smith played a good chunk of the second and third quarters, when Ohio State scored all of its points and did the most offensive damage. Yet when the game called for a comeback, the coaches whiffed and let Zwick surrender two points and possession on a safety and then the game on another fumble. [Ed.-I stand corrected, it was Smith at quarterback on the safety.  Regardless, it was a huge mistake]

Texas' gamble clearly paid off in that game and similarly in the Rose Bowl. USC's stupidity was in Reggie Bush's first quarter lateral on what would have been a scoring drive, and then the 4th and two stop when they didn't even have Reggie Bush on the field despite Texas' having keyed All America safety Michael Huff on him all night. With Bush on the sideline, Huff was the Longhorn defender who helped bring down LenDale White short of a first down. The rest is history.

So, what to make of this year's game?

The two obvious things to know are that it's in Austin, which gives Texas some kind of an advantage, and that it's early in the year. Good teams take a while to "get going", and that was clearly the case for both these squads last year. Ohio State in particular caught fire midway through the season once they figured out Troy Smith was in a class with other very successful Buckeye QB's of late such as Bobby Hoying, Joe Germaine, Stanley Jackson and Craig Krenzel.  The early season date is a tipoff that things are likely to be pretty conservative: controlled passing game, ball control, an emphasis on the run and simplified schemes on both sides of the ball.

As far as tactics, I think Texas will be confident it can continue its policy of "let them make the mistakes" and keep this game close even if they have opportunities to pull ahead. They'll try and run the ball and protect their young QB's McCoy and Snead.

For Ohio State, they'll probably be conservative too. Although Ted Ginn is a great athlete, he's been a fairly average receiver to this point in his career. The real playmaker in their pass game was Santonio Holmes, and with his departure I anticipate a scaled-down passing game more concerned with small gains down the field instead of taking large chunks of yards at a time.

Both defenses are likely to make their stand against the run, and gamble that the opposing quarterback cannot make enough big plays against their secondaries and linebackers to put the game out of reach. This is where Ohio State actually gets a break, because their defensive weakness is the secondary and Texas' passing game is in the hands of very inexperienced young quarterbacks.  Mind you, that advantage can be neutralized if McCoy or Snead start making plays all over the field.

Of the two teams, I anticipate Ohio State will also be the better running team. I'm enamored of Texas' Jamaal Charles, and he played big role in Texas' offense last year against the Buckeyes, but ideally you want a bigger, more physical runner to bang into the Buckeye defense who can then soften things up for Charles. Texas does have big Henry Melton, but I'm not sold on him as a hammer.

Ohio State under Tressel consistently trots out a no-name defensive line that can stop the run. I think they've twice led the country in either run defense or defensive yards per carry. They like to maul up front and make things real messy and crowded, and this group should be one of their finest despite losing two of last year's starters. Last year Texas could muster only 2.9 YPC in this game, and 112 yards overall. I anticipate similar numbers, which means with a young quarterback their scoring should be fairly low.

For the Buckeyes, they'll be going up against a talented texas defensive line, but one that can be run on. For all the hype last year, Texas was vulnerable to the run, as Antonio Pittman had a fine day against them (17 carries, 75 yards, 4.4 YPC), as did Oklahoma State (250 yards, 5.4 YPC), Baylor (112/3.7), Kansas (119/5.4), Texas A&M (277/5.3) and USC (209/5.1). They're good, but not impregnable the way Ohio State tends to be. That's a sign of a soft underbelly that might be exploited given the right conditions. In addition, Pittman is just a fine runner with good speed and the size and strength to run inside. He'll be complimented by frosh Chris Wells, one of the nation's top recruits who is a big, physical runner at 6-1 and 225 pounds.

Here's what I think will happen:

In last year's game, Texas invested heavily in scoring early, exhausting a certain amount of their offensive capital in racing to a 10-0 first quarter lead. It was smart strategy and let them play keepaway for a good chunk of the game. Expect more of the same this year. They'll craft a game plan to score early and get fan and player faith in the new quarterback and some doubt in the hearts and minds of Buckeye players and fans.

But then things will bog down for the Horns' offense, much as happened last year. Meanwhile, Ohio State will find ways to move down the field but probably not score too much, tilting this towards being a low-scoring affair. They have a terrific offense but Texas has a fine defense as well and is at home and it's early which means offenses will take what they can get.

There will be a moment at some point in the third or fourth quarter when both teams get a little desperate and either do something great or make a mistake and put themselves in dire straits.  Who will flinch?  It's tough to tell.

Texas has conditioned itself not to panic in the last two years, but their main source of calm and sobriety, Vince Young, is gone.  Their resolve without him is unknown.

Meanwhile, Ohio State's always been a calm team under Tressel.  Think back to the amazing 2002 season where nearly every game was excruciatingly close and narrowly won.  They like playing that way and are probably a little more comfortable than Texas at such a battle, especially with Young gone.  Given the youthful realities of Texas' quarterback situation, I give the edge to Ohio State.

They have the more veteran offense led by Heisman Trophy candidate Troy Smith, they have what should be a great defensive line despire dire predictions to the countrary, and are arguably the superior team.  Despite playing this game on the road, they should be favored and it will be a disappointment if they don't come away with a victory whether it's one point or twenty-one points.

As I noted earlier, Ohio State is likely to gamble that it can stop the run and pray for sloppy quarterback play when Texas' young passers are asked to win the game for the Longhorns.  It's a smart gamble and the odds are on their side.  Texas can't be so cavalier knowing the athletic and passing abilities of Troy Smith.  To gain victory here, they'll have to find a solution to overcome this apparent disadvantage.  I'm not sure they will, but we'll see, maybe McCoy or Snead are better than anticipated and can handle a big game like this so early in their careers.  The fact that neither has emerged as "the" guy is concerning, however, and the same issues plagued Ohio State last year in this very game.  Again, advantage Buckeyes.

That's my call.

***
I'll try and provide another analysis like this of this year's other anticipated matchup between elite teams, USC and Notre Dame.  Stay tuned. 

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Reader Comments (35)

Let me put it this way. I wouldn't want to be Ohio State going into a very hot and humid Texas (aka Boise State in Athens) against a very talented team. The Texas D is FOR REAL! And, as all smart football people know, D wins championships. O for shOw, D for Dough.

IMO, Texas wins this game.
August 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDawgy1
Apparently, you neglected to read the boxscore from last years game. Texas dominated tOSU in almost every aspect of the game, so not only was the win legit, the score was probably closer than it should have been. Had they met later in the year, Texas would've won by a much larger margin.

Texas wins this year, hands down. tOSU has lost too much on defense to be able to stop the elite running game of Texas.
August 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMoLonghorn
I think most of your analysis is spot on, CFR, but there are a few inaccuracies/points I disagree with.

http://www.burntorangenation.com/story/2006/8/9/113428/2871
August 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Bean
Last year, Ohio State shut down Vince Young's running after Texas' second drive. After that, almost all of Texas' offense came from short and medium range passes (almost exclusively under 15 yards) that turned into big plays, specifically several from Jamaal Charles.

I agree with you that Texas will not have much success running the ball, especially with Young gone. The key will be how well McCoy or Snead can escape the rush and find his backs and tight ends. Expect the buckeyes to blitz like mad men like last year, and try to rattle the young QB.

I just can't see a new QB with a grand total of 1 college start moving the ball against the aggressive and talented defense OSU will bring.
August 9, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjj
texas is the stuff champs r made of, osu will b run over, on offense the osu line will b dominated by okam crowder and robison. horns repeat
August 9, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterhorns-fan
Revisionist history. Smith did worse than Zwick in that game - check the stats the stats before writting your article.

What do these statements mean:?
"Texas gambled that its opponent would do some stupid things and give them a shot to win the game." - huh? WTF does that mean?

"Tactically, Texas played that game as well as they could." How do you figure?

August 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMMHorns
Thanks for the analysis. I have a few comments. You present the rushing stats of Baylor and Kansas as evidence for Texas mediocre run defense. In each of those games, we had second and third teamers in the game for the entire second half.

I don't doubt that OSU's defensive front seven are strong. I believe, though, that the matchup between UT's running game and OSU's run defense is more of a wildcard than you've presented.

I believe this game comes down to QB play. We can count on both teams having strong defense, despite OSU's abundance of replacement starters. We can count on each team's three-headed running attack to provide solid play. I'm not really sold on Troy Smith. His biggest threat from last year now plays for Bill Cowher, and Texas has already shown the ability to neutralize Ginn as a receiver. Can Smith trip up the Longhorns with his feet? Will he be more consistent through the air against the Horns than he was last year? Will JeColt McSnead rise to the occasion and lead the Horns offense with competance and poise? If OSU gambles on stuffing the run, will the UT QB hook up with his badass receivers?

The answers to these questions will ultimately decide who wins in September.
August 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLucas
TX played good last year to win the game, and the championship. But look at this year compared to last shaky QB situation (sound familiar), supposed awesome D (sound familiar) and a home loss. OSU D will B good, the same was pretty much every year (how do you replace those starters). Freeman is a stud, and was to start in 05 until a knee injury. Kerr was All American as a freshman before transferring to OSU. Yes, the secondary is young, and so is the TX QB. TX D is good. I think it will all come down to how the new QB plays vs. the new DB's. I've been looking forward to this for a year. See you in austin
August 9, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterbhors
Only those who have been carefully following the Longhorns this summer are aware of the surprise in store for OSU. These young QB's are the best I've seen in 46 years wearing burnt orange. I watched them throw 60 to 70 passes against the first team secondary and backers in the first two practices, and they are incredibly accurate, make great reads (and adjustments), and had perfect timing with their receivers.

You are basing most of your analysis on these QB's being inexperienced. Watch for a surprise on 9/9!
August 9, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterrwood
Totally concur with the poster above, Zwick was the better of the two against Texas last year.

Virtually every college team makes stupid mistakes that can be counted on and seized upon by their opponents. I don't believe Texas relied on this more than any other school. It sort of seems like you are saying Texas didn't earn these victories, but were lucky to get some stupid mistakes by their opponents. Only in retrospect can you do the type of analysis you are doing and make some mistakes more critical than others. If Texas lost to OSU, you could of said Texas made the stupid mistakes with the many, many turnovers in OSU territory.

Finally, you seem to understate how much OSU has lost on defense and how much Texas returns on D. For example, Texas' LB corps is going be far better than last year. Aaron Harris was a leader, but a liability given his stature and speed (the reasons he was not drafted). DL Rod Wright and Larry Dibbles are similiarly being replaced by upgrades with experience. These guys going up against a line without Mangold will be fun to watch.

You should re-watch the Texas vs. Ohio State game again and edit your post accordingly. Honestly, the post is sort of sloppy in its reliance on some mischaracterizations.
August 9, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterchitown
In my humble opinion, using stats from one year to another year is meaningless, at least in the case of the Texas offense vs. the Ohio State defense. Texas is missing Young whose legs brought so much to the picture and the losses of Ohio State are well documented.

What holds is the comparison of the Ohio State offense vs. the Texas defense. That holds with most of those units intact minus a few players.

To me, quarterback play early in the year is a huge determinant. To that end, I think Ohio State pulls it out - launching their run to Glendale.
August 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHeath
How about Tennessee vs. Cal?
August 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commentercalbear
High comedy that you can tell exactly which school each commenter represents before you even get to their sig. CFR is fairly balanced for the most part, which most partisan supporters absolutely can't stand. Without a dog in this fight and having been elsewhere the night of the game last year, I'm just looking forward to a good, close game without having to thump my scarlet-and-grey or burnt orange chest.
August 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMark
Totally irrelevant, but I went back and read most of the Boise-UGA stuff from last year, and wow, was that ridiculous. Both sides were silly in their opinions and reasoning, including yourself. I'm not trying to reopen that can of worms, but you've come a long way since then, as has HP. It seems sophistication as a hot topic is dead. Now we have moved on to scheduling and whatnot. Sometimes looking back can show us some things about ourselves now. If you ever wonder about how the two of you got the label of "homers," go back and read some of that.

Seriously though, I think we've all grown up since then. Here's hoping it stays that way.
August 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCody
Funny to see the Longhorn fans rave away about how last year was dominating. Is that why OSU had the game in the bag and was up with 2 minuntes to go? Or that their tight end dropped a five yard pass when he was wide open in the end zone? Vince Young was beat to hell during that game and had little production on the ground. He showed his leadership and flexibility by adapting to what the OSU defense gave him. Texas was a great team last year. More importantly, Texas had a great leader. The Texas coach is a fumble fingers who tends to tighten up in big games. Vince Young was able to counter that nervous energy with his calm cool confidence and tremendous leadership.

Troy Smith and Jim Tressel have the same demeanor as Vince Young. Troy is a calm leader on the field and Tressel is near comatose in his ability to be shaken. That reflects on the team's confidence. Whether it was Moses leading his people on or General Patton's confidence or a football coach who is never rattled, unflappable leadership is very uncommon and a tremendously unappreciated asset. The prior OSU coach was a nervous nelly just like Mack Brown. He had the most talented teams in theh country four or five years and dumped more players in the first round of the draft during those times than any other coach. But, he was prone to choking just like Mack Brown. So, with an unknown QB who will surely be nervous, Mack "I exude nervous energy" Brown up against two proven and unflappable leaders, I see it as a game where confidence and leadership wins. It's never about talent in a game like this. Both teams are brimming with talent. It's leadership.
August 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterB
Mark

I am a Notre Dame fan. Please tell me what i get out of picking a winner in either case?
August 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHeath
You get to know that ass beating OSU put on you last year to the #1 team in the country if you pick OSU. If you pick Texas, well then, you were just beaten by another decent team. If that's the case, Notre Dame really sucks.
August 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterB
Some comments,

I remember from watching that Smith and Zwick were about equal, but the offense was more lively and scoring more with Smith. The gamecast I had been reading for reference backs that up, as does OSU's offense going crazy in the second half of last year under Smith, the first time in a long time OSU had a really powerful offense.

To answer this question:

""Texas gambled that its opponent would do some stupid things and give them a shot to win the game." - huh? WTF does that mean?

"Tactically, Texas played that game as well as they could."

Teams go into games with strategies in mind, it's not just helmets knocking. Not every game will the strategy be the same. Sometimes coaches take risks or think they're superior and can just play with abandon, othertimes they're tapping the brakes. Texas clearly decided to be very conservative here, despite having what would be considered one of the top 20 or so offenses in CFB history. That was a strategy, a tactic.

It was ultra-conservative but it paid off---barely. The turnovers in their own zone really hurt the Horns although Ohio State could do little to make them pay except kick the gimme field goals.

Texas could have played that game the complete opposite, being much more intentionally careless but also probably putting themselves in either a position to cough the game up or blow the Buckeyes away. The tactic they chose worked, however, and was the right decision given the personnel and the setting (Vince Young and on the road early in the year).

Tactically Ohio State had a different plan. They tried to make things happen, turned both quarterbacks into runners, tried to throw a little more downfield. But it wasn't working. They could have been more conservative but took a gamble and then decided to go with Zwick instead of Smith's hot hand and that basically killed their shot at winning.

Also, this:

"Thanks for the analysis. I have a few comments. You present the rushing stats of Baylor and Kansas as evidence for Texas mediocre run defense. In each of those games, we had second and third teamers in the game for the entire second half."

I watched all of those games last year, and in each game the teams named were having success running the ball in the first half. It wasn't something where they were doing it against the reserves, but also Texas' starters. It's obvious Texas has talent on D and is fairly stingy against the run, but they're not impregnable, either. Those games were proof of a mix of high and low talent teams finding some running success where we've been led to believe Texas' run D is better than it really is.

And in regards to this:

"In my humble opinion, using stats from one year to another year is meaningless"

In the abstract, yes. But I was using very specific examples to show what each team's emphasis was, what they did and what their opponent wouldn't let them do with the personnel from last year. etc. It helped paint some kind of a picture of what these teams can do against each other. So it's not completely meaningless, and I feel I did it in a very limited and specific and meaningful fashion to where the analysis had some relevance.

In re to this:

"How about Tennessee vs. Cal?"

GREAT idea. That one shouldn't take anywhere near as long as this, I'll try to get that off next week if I remember.

Finally, Cody,

Last year was what it was. As a "hot" topic, yes, sophistication is dead, but it's quite relevant in the shadows. The talk hasn't died down about Urban Meyer, about what West Virginia did to Georgia, what might happen at Colorado now, etc. Ivan Maisel's questions about "defense wins championships" etc. It's just told in a different, less-direct way. HP and I helped start that.

The "homers" charge is ridiculous. I don't have a dog in the Boise/UGA fight. Not an alum of either, no rooting interest, nothing. But that's what people say when they can't argue an argument at its face either because they're mentally ill-equipped or just shrill partisans incapable of looking at an argument and offering a legit rebuttal.

The scheduling stuff persists because it hasn't been fixed yet. Obviously that cannot be done in one year, but in the course of a few years hopefully we'll reach that point where almost no D-IA teams are taking on D-II, D-IAA etc. foes, aren't taking on doormats from other conferences if they're a contender, etc.

Anyway, thanks for all the comments everyone.

August 11, 2006 | Registered CommenterCFR
CFR, you may have taken that the wrong way. I was just pointing out how crazy those arguments were, on both sides. I agree with you on most of this stuff, like scheduling and the spread's effectiveness. I DO think that some of the stuff was a little out there, like comments from you saying "Louisville would smoke Georgia." You may believe it, but you are better than that, and now you don't make those statements without a lengthy explanation. Hopefully I'm a little more level-headed now as well.
August 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCody
Just as Texas offense will struggle without VY, OSU's d will suffer without their three linebackers. Carpenter, Schlegel, and Hawk were the reason Texas couldn't run. Guess what, Jamaal Charles is back and those guys aren't.

I've read too many publications say "Jim Tressel ALWAYS has a defense." That is their justification for picking OSU against Texas. I don't care how good a recruiter Tressel is, losing all of your linebacking corps and entire secondary hurts EVERY TEAM.

Last year, everyone picked OSU because they had a better defense (I seen to remember UT holding OSU's superior offense to several field goals when turnovers gave them great field position). Also, last years OSU offense wasn't particulary impressive after the UT Game (until the Notre Dame Fiesta Bowl). They didn't blow out sub par teams and their RB had like 1 rushing td and it came in week 10 or some ridiculous number.

There is no way to pick this game, but it's funny to see people who try fall into the same mistakes they did the year before.
August 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAdMac

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