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The BCS National Championship Game

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Hey guys. First I wanted to say thank you to everyone for your positive feedback over Twitter, Facebook and right here on this blog in response to my first post. I’ll do my best to keep up the in-depth analysis of all the games that I look at. I’ve decided to run through the BCS games in order of their importance to me, so I started with my boys at Ohio State and their opponent, Arkansas, in this year’s Sugar Bowl.

This time, I’m going to take a look at the big one: the BCS National Championship Game Presented by Tostitos (Dear Tostitos, send $ to my house, care of me). Spoiler alert: Auburn is going to win this game. This is another situation where I’m pretty much in line with the beat of the nation, so I’m going to try to talk about some of the things that you won’t see 37 writers from TheBleacherReport talking about. Rather, I’m going to try to talk about some of the things that might be considered under-stories by many people. And, of course, I will be making some wild and reckless predictions including point totals.

Oregon Offense v. Auburn Defense

The nation and the “experts” will be calling for a high scoring game from both offenses. They’re right. The Oregon offense is going to put up some serious numbers against the Auburn defense. That said, they’re not gong to do it all on the ground with LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. I think that you should expect people in the media to start making hay out of the fact that Oregon is only averaging about 234 passing yards per game and that puts them at 48th in the nation in passing. It’s true that Oregon has no breakout stars at receiver, and Darron Thomas is a bigger threat with his feet and concealed distribution talents than he is with his arm, but it’s not like the cupboard is bare in the passing attack.

There are five different receivers in the Oregon passing attack with receptions of more than 45 yards. This is an important statistic. It’s not that I think five different guys are going to make long receptions against Auburn. Let’s not forget that Auburn has, by far, the best defense that Oregon has seen since last year’s Rose Bowl. That statistic is important because it’s illustrative of Oregon’s ability to spread the ball around to multiple receivers and utilize options over the entire breadth of the field. Oregon is going to make some receptions and move the ball against the Auburn defense.

The Tigers have a better front four than any team the Ducks have faced. The Oregon run game is going to suffer because of this. Expect Nick Fairly to have a big game in terms of tackles for a loss and tackles for short gain. Oregon loves backside misdirection and designed cutbacks, which tend to work extremely well where you have an undisciplined defensive line. Over pursuit by the defensive line will cause a one-on-one match-up between the running back and backside linebacker after a cutback. This is generally a great match-up for Oregon because LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner are fantastic running backs and they can usually make at least one man miss before a tackle is made in space by a cornerback or safety coming up to help. In the National Championship, I expect those match-ups won’t play out that way. I expect the Auburn defensive line to shed their blocks and stay home long enough to guard against the cutbacks. But, that is only half of the zone read running attack that Oregon brings to the table. Darron Thomas can make moves with his feet too. Expect the Nation’s top scoring offense to use the multi-headed monster of the zone read to effectively confuse the Auburn defense at least a few times because of the sheer number of weapons available to the Ducks. This is going to lead to some scoring. The reason that I think the Ducks will fall short of their usual scoring bonanza is that the Oregon offense is built to make defenses tackle in space. For the most part, Oregon’s athletes are so fast and agile that they are able to make defenses miss to open up big plays and fast scoring drives. Auburn has the athletes to make the tackles in space. The number I expect to see at the end of the game for the “home” team is somewhere around 35.

Auburn Offense v. Oregon Defense

No big secrets to this one. Cameron Newton is the most outstanding football player this year and Oregon won’t be able to stop him. Casey Mathews is a great linebacker and he may be able to put pressure on Cameron Newton to throw early, but if Oregon takes him out of the zone coverage that they’ll run in most situations, it will leave a big hole in the five to fifteen yards off the line region. This is where Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb will likely reap the benefit of a relatively weak Oregon linebacking crew outside of Casey Mathews. Oregon doesn’t suffer from a lack of speed at any position, but it would be ridiculous to believe that any of them can hang with Cameron Newton or Onterio McCalebb in the open field.

Gus Malzahn will know this. He is Auburn’s Offensive Coordinator and he has been great for the Tigers this year. He has found a way to utilize the exceptional talents of Cameron Newton in a similar way that Urban Meyer did with Tim Tebow. Michael Dyer is Auburn’s number one back, but I expect Onterio McCalebb to step up and have an even bigger game than Dyer because of his speed and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. The Tigers generally do not like to throw to their backs, but McCalebb has shown that he has the ability and there will be little reason not to give it a try against the Ducks who do not have an SEC defense.
The Ducks will try to combat these short passes and release passes from the Tigers by alternating into man coverage in third down situations. I don’t think that this approach will work because Auburn is simply too fast and we haven’t even talked about Cam Newton’s ability to scramble yet.

When Auburn looks to throw the ball down field, it will be Darvin Adams, Terrell Zachery and Emory Blake that will get the bulk of the attempts. Together these three have caught 114 passes this year with Adams leading the way with 48. I expect Auburn to call throwing plays at least 40 times in this game and it will work, a lot.

The running game will be a different story. Cameron Newton will be able to scramble on broken plays, as he always does, and Michael Dyer will pick up some yards, but I don’t think that Auburn will attempt to run more than maybe 20 times. And why would they? They’ll be able to throw effectively for all of the reasons previously stated and Auburn’s philosophy will be to score early and score often. Auburn will strive for long sustained drives through short passing.

We will see more running than that if Auburn finds themselves in a lot of second and short situations. The reason for this is that Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn will want to eat up as much of the clock as possible when they have the ball so the Ducks can spend less time executing their offensive attack against Auburn.

Now, to be clear, Newton is going to record something like 20 carries by himself but only about 8 – 10 of those will be designed runs. The rest will come from roll out passes, coverage runs and broken plays. I know that there will be those of you out there who will say, “Hey! Auburn has an extremely effective zone read attack that accounts for almost half of their total run yardage!” (I know you were thinking it.) Well, that’s true, but the Tigers won’t be up against an SEC defense. They won’t have to try to trick anybody. Gus Malzahn is likely to rely on the athletic superiority of his team to control the tempo and clock when he has the ball rather than risk the shaky exchanges that go along with the zone read plays. This isn’t to say that we won’t see the zone read at all from the Tigers. It will come up in short yardage situations (usually close to the goal line). It just won’t be a staple of the Tiger offensive attack the way that they used it throughout the year.

The other 10ish designed runs will come from power runs to Michael Dyer and speed sweeps to Onterio McCalebb in equal share just to keep Oregon honest and remind them that the Tigers can run the ball when they want to. Bottom line here, I’d be surprised if Auburn has to punt the ball more than four times the entire game. Expect the Tiger to hang close to a half-a-hundred on the Ducks and expect them to do it with as many as five guys scoring for Auburn.

Thanks for reading about my predictions and thoughts on the major matchups of the BCS National Championship Game Presented by Tostitos. You can follow my other thoughts and pointless rants on Twitter @BuckeyeGuy79.


Written by ryanandjocelyn

December 7, 2010 at 11:35 PM

My First Blog Post

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This will be my first, ever, blog post.  My girlfriend is the driving force behind most of this, so you should all expect to read many more of her posts than mine.  Usually, I will be writing on topics like College Football, restaurants that I’ve recently tried and my general impressions/rants/neuroses.  Since the bowl selections were made yesterday, I’ll start off by talking about my favorite team, the Ohio State Buckeyes.  That’s right, I’m a member of the Buckeye Nation.  A few hours ago, it became official that my boys are going to head down south to the Sugar Bowl and face off against the Razorbacks of Arkansas.  Now, without hearing too many predictions about this game yet, there are at least some people who will just hear Ohio State v. SEC and their minds will be made up.  Ohio State will be the favorite, but there will be doubters.  Here’s why those doubters are wrong.  This is a football post for football fans, so I apologize to everyone who doesn’t follow the game closely enough to understand all of the terminology.   I’m happy to answer any of your questions in the comment section that follows this post.

Arkansas Offense v. Ohio State Defense

It would be absurd to refute that Ryan Mallet can play.  He is without question in the top 5 most pro-ready quarterbacks in the college game right now, and arguably in the top 2 or 3.  That said, he’s limited in his options to throw to and Chimdi Checkwa will be able to hang with Greg Childs.  Devon Torrence will be fine on the other side against the bevy of receivers that he’s likely to see and Arkansas simply doesn’t have the ability to overload Ohio State with viable receiving options the way that USC did in 2008 or Florida did in the 2007 (2006 season) National Championship game.

Assuming that Ohio State Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock opens the game in a four – three set playing a zone, Arkansas will be able to move the ball fairly effectively.  The reason for this is the 6’8” freak of a quarterback Arkansas has.  Ohio State will want to stop the run first, which they will do, and Mallet will be able to wait for his receivers to find the holes in the zone.  You won’t see many early game stunts from Ohio State’s front four because that’s not the way Ohio State likes to open games.  But, expect Ohio State to lock it down after the second or third possession of the game.  Heacock likes to adopt a bend-but-hopefully-don’t-break strategy in the beginning of games so that he has the opportunity to see how the opposition’s offensive coordinator wants his plays to develop.  Playing the zone early allows him to do this because it allows the offense to come to the defense rather than the defense attacking the offense.  The plays fully develop before the defense comes to meet them and this allows the boys in the booth to analyze possible weaknesses that can be exploited.   This has led many “experts” to criticize Ohio State for their slow starts.  I believe that these experts either don’t understand the benefit of conservative early game play calling on the defensive side of the ball or they don’t think their audience can understand it, so they improperly criticize the Ohio State players’ emotional preparedness.  Either way, expect Ohio State to give up some big yards early, but to flip a switch sometime close to the end of the first quarter.

After that, expect Ohio State to move to man coverage and use their free (usually front side) linebacker to add passing pressure.  The reason it will be mostly the front side, or strong side, linebacker is that Arkansas likes to run a fairly popular blocking scheme on most of their passing plays.  They rarely go empty backfield.   When it happens that the quarter back has time to throw, the running back releases out of the backfield into the flats.  They will almost surely retain this philosophy of protection first against the very good front four of Ohio State, especially early in the game.  Mallet can move around a little bit, but he’s not a serious run threat.  This means that Petrino will have an extra incentive to keep a release back close to Mallet.  Sometime around the start of the second quarter expect to see Ohio State move into full man coverage from a four – two – nickel package.  I expect Cameron Heyward and John Simon to be very effective and place a lot of pressure on Ryan Mallet.  This may lead to an incentivized zone under man with Ross Homan and Brian Roll, but either way, I expect the nickel package to include straight man coverage on the corners.

Arkansas’ ability to effectively run the ball on Ohio State will depend on (here comes a big shocker) the Arkansas line.  Yes, I mean that as simply as it sounds.  Ohio State’s front four can run.  They can really, really, run; this is especially true of Cameron Heyward and John Simon.  I expect Bobby Petrino to respond to this by taking an old school “put a hat on a hat” philosophy toward run blocking.  I’m not saying they won’t pull their guards to run off-tackle, but down blocking in the direction of the play will outweigh designed cut-backs and back side misdirection.  I expect the Arkansas crew to study a ton of Ohio State film, including the film of the 2010 (2009 season) Rose Bowl against the Oregon Ducks.  Nobody in the country is better at running designed cut backs and backside misdirection than Oregon and Ohio State absolutely shut it down.   Ohio State did, however, display some vulnerability against a power run game that doesn’t shy away from hard-nosed football.  The 2010 Wisconsin game provided a blue print on how to beat the Buckeyes.  The trick is that most teams can’t simply out power the Buckeye front four and I don’t think that the Razorbacks will be able to do so.  The bottom line is the Razorbacks won’t be able to run the football with a great deal of efficacy against the Buckeye defense and they won’t be able to pass the ball much after the first quarter.  I expect Arkansas to score a total of 17 points or so.

Ohio State Offense v. Arkansas Defense

I agree with what everybody will be saying on this one.  It all comes down to Terrelle Pryor.  Since that part of this discussion is so obvious, I’m just going to say this:  The 2010 (2009 season) Rose Bowl should show everybody that Terelle Pryor can play under pressure and he has all the natural ability that it takes to go up against a premier football team and make plays.  There will, however, be some really interesting under-stories that we should all pay attention to.

First, Daniel “Boom” Herron will have to put up at least eighty-five yards or so in order to give Terrelle Pryor the kind of time that it will take to find open receivers.  Here’s why.  Ohio State only has two viable wide out receiving options and a tight end.  Jake Stoneburner and Reid Fragel are good options with few drops for Ohio State at tight end, but only one will play at a time and often, Jim Bollman (Ohio State’s Offensive Coordinator) likes to keep the Tight end in to block on passing plays.  Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey are Ohio State’s only down field threats.  Ohio State has one young receiver that can get open regularly, but Corey Brown has shown his youth when the ball has been thrown his way by dropping a number of passes in the last few games.  This would be an enormous problem for Ohio State, except that Terrelle Pryor can run just as well as any other quarterback in the country, save Cameron Newton.  This ability means that the Razorback linebackers will have to hold the line to keep Pryor under wraps.  If Bollman is smart, then he’ll call a plethora of rollout pass plays seeking to put Terrrelle Pryor in match-ups against the Arkansas linebackers in space.  Expect Terrelle Pryor to have at least 70 or so rush yards.

Dane Sanzenbacher should lead the way for the receivers as Terrelle’s favorite choice.  Arkansas is unlikely to double cover him because Ohio State has two great out-of-the-backfield receiving options in Brandon Saine (RB) and Zach Boren (FB).  With the linebackers frozen because of Terrrelle Pryor’s run threat, single, zone under man will rule the day for Arkansas.  Expect a three – three – nickel package from the Razorbacks throughout most of the game.  Most of Arkansas’ speed lies in the corners, but the linebackers can run too.  Bobby Petrino will try to use this speed to confuse and out run the Ohio State line.  Expect a ton of blitz packages from a very strong SEC defense.

The key for the Ohio State offense just may end up being the relationship that develops between Pryor and Saine.  The nickel package from Arkansas is likely to be effective against Ohio State’s down field passing attack and Ohio State won’t be able to rely only on Boom Herron for all of their offensive yardage.  This means that there will have to be some third option to keep the linebackers and corners honest and off the line of scrimmage.  Out of the backfield receiving from Brandon Saine is by far the most likely choice for Tressel, Bollman and Pryor.  Saine has the ability to turn second and nine into third and one, or better.  A great day for Saine will mean that Ohio State will have the ability to run long sustained drives.  And, as Arkansas moves their safeties up to try to combat these short gains, Sanzenbacher and Posey will have one on one looks in man coverage down the field.  If Saine can have a good day, then Ohio State should be able to overload the Arkansas defense.  Between Herron running the ball, Sanzenbacher and Posey’s down field receptions, Saine’s ability to relase from the backfield and catch short passes, and Pryor’s abaility to scramble on the broken plays, there should be enough scoring opportunities for Ohio State to out score Arkansas.

The bottom line here is that Ohio State won’t put up huge numbers over all, but there are just too many weapons for Arkansas to keep under check for the whole day.  I expect Ohio State to score somewhere between 24 and 31 points in the game.

Well, this was my first, ever, blog post.  I hope you all enjoyed it and I hope you leave comments, but mostly, I’m just excited to watch a great game between two great teams.  Thanks!!!

Written by ryanandjocelyn

December 6, 2010 at 11:51 PM