Bowl Breakdown: Rose
Young Oregon team could get headstart on 2010 with win
Terrelle Pryor hasn't had breakout game yet; Rose is good opportunity
Ohio State's defense will slow Oregon, but will it be enough to win?
Breaking down Ohio State (10-2) vs. Oregon (10-2), Jan. 1, 4:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Three Things You Should Care About
1. Chip Kelly and the Ducks have the chance to erase Boise and The Punch. Everyone remembers how the 2009 season started. When Boise State popped Oregon on Sept. 3 -- and then LeGarrette Blount popped the Broncos' Byron Hout -- absolutely no one figured it would become the context for Oregon's remarkable run to the Rose Bowl.
It took a couple of games to get untracked, but Jeremiah Masoli and LaMichael James fuel an offense (37.7 points per game, 236.1 rushing yards per game) that bears little resemblance to the unit that didn't manage a first down until the third quarter in Boise. The Ducks broke USC's stranglehold on the Pac-10 en route to their first trip to the Rose Bowl in 15 years. Now the decidedly untraditional program meets a perennial power. A brash young coach -- who read Judith Viorst's "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" to his team (yeah, after the Boise State loss) -- matches wits with a conservative veteran. A win over Ohio State would be a fitting ending to that nightmare beginning.
There's one other thing: This is a young Oregon team. Eighteen starters return in 2010. A win would set up Masoli as a potential Heisman candidate, and the Ducks as a preseason Top 5 team. (Good news: The opener is New Mexico.)
2. We're still waiting on Terrelle Pryor to morph into a superstar. It hasn't been two years since college football fans from Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan -- and some hopeful, but unrealistic Oregon fans, too -- held their collective breath as they awaited Pryor's college choice. He chose the Buckeyes because he believed Jim Tressel could best prepare him for the next level. Buckeyes fans believed Pryor would take them to the next level, too.
But here we are, nearing the midpoint of Pryor's college career, and the 6-foot-6, 235-pound combination of speed and strength remains largely untapped potential, and looks like an ill fit in Tressel's conventional attack. He was the preseason pick for Big Ten player of the year. But at midseason, after a four-turnover performance in a loss to Purdue, the water-cooler conversation was whether Pryor should play wide receiver. It was silly, sure. Those comparisons to Vince Young conveniently leave out one important parallel: It took Young a long while to develop into something special.
There's no way to know, of course, whether Pryor will ever have anything resembling Young's impact. That's a tough assignment for anyone. He played solidly down the stretch, although the offense was purposely limited (Pryor averaged 95 passing yards in the final three games). This week, the sophomore revealed that he suffered from a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the latter part of the season. If he's healthy, this could be a breakout game.
3. The Buckeyes carry the weight of the Big Ten's inferiority complex on their shoulders. Don't believe it? Just ask them. They've made no secret of it. Here's Pryor on the importance of the game to the conference: "It's huge, man."
By now, we all know the rap: Big Ten teams are too big and too slow to compete with elite teams from the SEC, Pac-10 and Big 12. Unfair? Maybe. But the league has lost six straight BCS bowl games, and six straight Rose Bowls. Ohio State's BCS Championship game losses to Florida and LSU played a large role in that perception, of course, and they know it. Which is why this game is about the Buckeyes, too. They've won five straight Big Ten titles, but face a weird either-or. Win, and the Ohio State seniors will be the winningest class in school history. Lose, and they'll have lost four straight bowl games.
"We're tired of it," Pryor said of the Big Ten-bashing. But he knows there's only one way to effect change: "We must win."
Inside The Scouting Report
How does Ohio State slow Oregon's explosive spread option attack (ranked No. 6 rushing)? Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Heacock directs one of the nation's best defenses (ranked No. 5 against the run). "I wish I wasn't talking about this," he said. "I'm starting to sweat." I asked a coach of one of Oregon's opponents for his impressions:
"Slowing them down is one thing. You've got to take away what they're best at, which is the run. The key, to me, is the quarterback. That kid, man, I just want to pull my hair out. The dangerous thing with him was when he pulled the ball back and made plays with his feet. We tried to complicate his reads. We tried a bunch of different things, they just caused so many problems because it's a dangerous, dangerous offense. You have to account for every player.
"If you don't stop the run, they're gonna gas you. Everybody has a plan until you hit them in the mouth. They hit us plenty of times. They're one of the most dangerous offenses around.
"If Ohio State is gonna beat them, it's gonna be up front with the D-line. If they can get knock-back and hold the line. They're a lot more dangerous now than when we played them, but so much in their offense is predicated on their run."
Oregon 27, Ohio State 21. We shouldn't overemphasize Oregon's wins over Purdue and USC, which handed Ohio State its two losses. Compare scores long enough, Chip Kelly will tell you, and "the national champion is King's College." But the Ducks' 47-20 win over USC, especially, in which they piled up 613 total yards (391 rushing), was an eye-opener. Ohio State has the best defense Oregon has faced -- big, strong and, yeah, fast -- but the Ducks' offense will easily be the most potent faced by the Buckeyes, too. This could boil down to the nation's fifth-ranked rushing defense vs. the sixth-ranked rushing offense. It might be that simple. Ohio State will slow the Ducks, but won't stop them.
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