Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Bowl Preview No. 2: Ohio State vs. LSU

This bowl has a lot of potential, because both teams have good head coaches and a lot of talent on the field. However, I can't help but look at this game as a possible repeat of last year: a relatively untested Ohio State coming out of a weak Big Ten to play a semi-beaten up SEC team with a dynamic defense and strong offense.

Ohio State offense against LSU defense
The more I see Chris Wells, the more I like him. Beanie's a strong runner who can move the ball well north-south, giving the Buckeyes the potential to chew up a good amount of clock time with the running game. Plus, he comes up big when they need him too, as seen in his 222 yards on 39 carries against Michigan and 221 yards on 31 carries against Michigan State. Ohio State also has a relatively under-rated offensive line, which does a decent job opening up holes for both Beanie and Maurice Wells, their other back. While Todd Boeckman doesn't give Buckeyes the same gamebreaker-potential Troy Smith did last year, he has a good presence in the pocket and is a pretty accurate passer: 64.5 completion percentage on the year. While the Buckeyes don't have the same eye-popping talent at receiver they did last year (Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez), both Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline are decent options.

The one thing that strikes me every time I see LSU's defense is the speed of the secondary and the size they put on the defensive line. Obviously, it all starts with Glenn Dorsey. He has the size and talent to almost single-handedly stuff the run, and forces opposing offenses to plan blocking schemes around him. Meanwhile, the Tigers' speed at the defensive back positions allows them to use a lot of different coverage schemes and rush players from a variety of positions. Boeckman has not seen a defense this fast yet this season, nor has he seen one with the ability to bring pressure from as many angles as the Tigers do. Remember, although Ohio State is ranked No. 1 in total defense, the Tigers aren't far behind: No. 3 overall.

LSU offense against Ohio State defense
The James Laurinaitis vs. the Tigers' entire offense matchup is why I'll watch this game. Every time I see Laurinaitis play, I want to scream "SPARTANS!!" and kick some Persians into an impossibly deep well. The Buckeyes' linebacker is an absolute monster in the middle, and the leader of an incredibly good defense: Ohio State allowed just 3.58 yards per play and only 15 total touchdowns on the season, just two of which were rushing. Jim Tressel has shown he knows how to run a defense, and this year's edition is even better than last year. While Laurinaitis is the only big name, there aren't any weak spots, and the Buckeyes defend well against both the rush (No. 3 overall) and the pass (No. 1 overall). Not a lot of options left for the Tigers.

That's not to say the Tigers have some second-rate offense. LSU's running back duo of Jacob Hester and Keiland Williams helped LSU average 219 yards a game on the ground. Plus, the Tigers have a pocket/scrambler combination at QB that gave the Buckeyes problems against Florida last year. Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux give the Tigers interesting options at quarterback, though they are not in the same league as Chris Leak/Tim Tebow of last year's Gators team. In addition, LSU WR Demetrius Byrd has a real gamebreaker ability, with great speed and good hands.

Final Prediction: LSU 21, Ohio State 17

Monday, December 3, 2007

BCS Bowls previews: Fiesta Bowl

I'll be previewing each bowl game over the next few days, in order of which match ups I find most entertaining. First up, the Fiesta Bowl.

Oklahoma vs. West Virginia: I love this matchup. Oklahoma, just happy to be in a bowl after a crazy season in the Big 12, draws a West Virginia that laid down arguably the biggest choke job of the season on Saturday, losing to a four-touchdown underdog at home when they controlled their destiny for the national championship game.

The game itself should be good as well. Oklahoma has a good run defense — No. 8 in the country at 92 rushing yards allowed per game — but they haven't faced an offense with this many options. Obviously, when people hear "Mountaineers," they think Steve Slaton/Pat White, though maybe not in that order. However, the two biggest factors in the game for WVU will be fullback Owen Schmitt and running back Noel Devine. Against a Mountaineers offense that only has one real receiving threat (WR Darius Reynaud), the Sooners will probably stack 8 in the box and try to shut down the option early, since White's legs really open up the rest of the Mountaineers attack. Here's where Schmitt comes in: WVU will need his freakish physicality to open up holes for Slaton up the middle when the option isn't working. The other thing the Mountaineers might (and should) do is give Devine 10-12 touches out of the backfield. He's a threat to hit the endzone no matter where they have the ball, and the possibility of Devine turning the corner for 25-yard or more runs should keep the Sooners honest.

On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma matches up very, very well with the Mountaineers' 3-3-5 defense. Oklahoma has a pair of good running backs in Allen Patrick and Chris Brown, a solid receiving corps and one of the most poised QBs in the country in freshman Sam Bradford. Bradford threw one interception every 44 passes during the regular season, a phenomenal ratio especially because it shows he doesn't beat himself. Based on the talent at the skill positions and a line that's slightly heftier than WVU, I don't think Oklahoma will have too much trouble getting to the endzone.

Bowl prediction: Oklahoma 31, West Virginia 17