How to stop a Duck
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio State Buckeyes know Oregon tailback LaMichael James and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli headline one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, one that churns out 425 yards and 38 points a game.
They also know they've got to come up with a way to stop it on New Year's Day in the Rose Bowl.
"You've got to play confident yourself. You can't be so uptight about, 'Oh, they scored all these points all season, we can't let them do anything,'" safety Anderson Russell said. "Because that's when you let them make big plays, when you play tight like that."
It's not as if the Buckeyes take a back seat on defense. They've surrendered just 11 touchdowns over the last 43 quarters and rank among the top 10 in the nation in five defensive categories, including rushing defense (fifth at 83 yards a game) and scoring defense (fifth at 12 points a game). No rusher has gained 100 yards on them all season.
To limit the Ducks' hurry-up, anything-goes, spread attack, the Buckeyes have four major objectives:
—Stifle the run. James, a redshirt freshman scatback, is averaging 123 yards a game and Masoli another 60. LeGarrette Blount, the starter a year ago who was suspended for half the season for punching a Boise State player in the opener, adds an intriguing element because of his size and strength (6-foot-2, 246 pounds).
"That type of offense, it kind of presents mistakes," Ohio State defensive tackle Doug Worthington said. "There are times that ... you start looking at doing too much then you will get caught. They do it for a reason — getting you confused."
The Buckeyes likely will stack the line to cut down on the gaps for James and try to hem Masoli in. Plus, when they get a shot at a tackle, they can't afford to make a mistake.
"A lot of times, the (Oregon's opposing) defense will do a good job of execution and they'll miss tackles," Ohio State cornerback Chimdi Chekwa said. "You miss a tackle — we've all seen it — on James and he takes off. You have to make sure you make the tackles that come to you."
— Slow the pace. The Ducks frequently go no-huddle to pose personnel problems for a defense, or to simply wear it down.
"It's one thing to watch the film when the cameraman stops in between the plays," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "But when you watch them live and it's rolling, they have a heck of a tempo."
Ohio State, which alternates seven to nine players on its defensive line, has been speeding through plays in workouts to prepare for what it'll see in Pasadena.
"Fatigue makes cowards of us all," Worthington said, citing the old proverb. "We just want to go out there and make sure that we know what we need to do if it is going super, super fast."
— Pressure Masoli. A strength of the Buckeyes all year has been its active, aggressive front wall. It has posted 22 sacks, but more than that many of the game-turning plays of the season were initiated by a lineman getting in the face of the opposing quarterback.
Oregon's offensive line is about the same size as one in the Big Ten, averaging 6-foot-5 and 295 pounds. It has only permitted Masoli, who seldom stays in the pocket on passing downs, to be sacked 12 times.
The biggest test for Ohio State's defense is that Masoli is a master at avoiding the rush, skipping outside a collapsing pocket to either throw on the run or pick up big yards with his legs.
"He knows when to make the throws, he knows when to hand it off, he knows when to keep it," Tressel said. "When the play breaks down and all of a sudden you think you might tackle him, he's an elusive guy that keeps plays going."
— Play keepaway. Ohio State's offense has moved the ball in fits and starts most of the season, but it cannot afford to repeatedly give up the ball after short series.
"We can't have a three-and-out to put the defense right back on the field because they'll be tired," offensive lineman Jim Cordle said. "We have to manage the clock and run the ball and control the field and, obviously, we have to score."
The Buckeyes haven't not put together many time-consuming drives all season. They've hit double-figures on plays in a series just nine times. The average scoring drive is seven plays and takes up 3 minutes.
That won't cut it if Ohio State wants to keep the ball away from the high-flying Ducks' attack.
"That's definitely a big thing," tailback Dan "Boom" Herron said. "They definitely have a great offense, so we have to get the running game going and try to control the game with the running game, make first downs and get big plays."
There's also the viewpoint that the teams' strengths will negate each other.
"I've heard some people say our defense and their offense will cancel each other out and the battle of the game will be our offense against their defense," Cordle said.
It all comes down to turning a plan into plays. That starts with doing what you've been doing best.
"We've just got to go out there and play ball like we have been, make sure we're running around and communicating," Russell said. "And let the chips fall where they may."