January 4, 2011/8:30 pm Eastern
New Orleans, LA - Louisiana Superdome
Ohio State Buckeyes
For the BCS bowls, we have culled the responses of our three Tailgater gurus — Matt Strobl, John Mitchell, and Zach Bigalke. Read on for their key players, key matchups, X-factors and final predictions…
- Mitchell: Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett has been brilliant this season and is the main reason the Hogs are playing in the Sugar Bowl, but along with his 30 touchdown passes, he did throw 11 interceptions. His 3 costly interceptions against Alabama cost Arkansas the game and Ohio State has intercepted 18 passes this season. Mallett will have to take care of the ball against the Buckeyes. Will we see the Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor we saw last season in the Rose Bowl? Pryor controlled the game last year and led the Buckeyes to a surprising win over Oregon. If Pryor is let loose by Jim Tressel, then he could have a big game against Arkansas.
- Strobl: For Mallett to be successful against Ohio State’s stingy defense, his offense must avoid being one-dimensional. That means that Arkansas RB Knile Davis will need to find enough running room to keep the Buckeyes from zeroing in on the passing game. If the talented tailback can do so, expect a big day from the Razorbacks. Along with cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State DB Jermale Hines is the heart and soul of the Buckeyes’ secondary. Whatever the OSU offense does, its defense will need to figure out a way to stifle Mallett’s big arm. Hines can do that in pass coverage, but also via the blitz if the Ohio State coaching staff decides to get creative. He’ll also need to be a run-stopper to prevent Davis from getting too much room to rumble.
- Bigalke: Just as Arkansas needs Davis to open things up for Mallett in the passing game, so too will Ohio State RB Boom Herron have to be at the top of his game to keep pressure off Pryor in the Buckeyes’ offense. A soft Razorbacks rushing defense should allow him to find space to keep the D honest. If they shut him down, it will make things that much tougher for Pryor – thus the key on the other side is Arkansas LB Jerry Franklin. The team’s leading tackler each of the past three seasons, Franklin has the ability to get into the backfield and disrupt the timing of the Buckeye offense. Watch for FB Zach Boren to try to keep Franklin in check on running downs.
KEY POSITIONAL BATTLE
- Strobl: One of the keys to this game will be how Mallett fares against an OSU secondary that has been solid for most of the season. Though the Buckeyes can score via deep passes and long runs, they are really a team built on ball control, which means they’ll need to keep Arkansas from building a big lead. That, in turn, means keeping Mallett in check. If the secondary can force a turnover or two, so much the better.
- Bigalke: Can Pryor challenge the Razorbacks with his arm? The big battle in my mind is going to come down to how well Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey are able to get separation from Tramain Thomas, Rudell Crim and the rest of the Arkansas secondary. The Razorbacks allow opponents less than 200 yards through the air, and could give Tressel’s offense headaches.
- Mitchell: Ohio State has had a lot of success on the ground this season with Boom Herron, Brandon Saine, and Terrelle Pyror. They should have success against a suspect Arkansas run defense that gives up over 157 yards per game on the ground, ranking 68th in the country.
TALE OF THE TAPE
- Bigalke: Punting. Neither team is a dynamo when forced into fourth-down punting situations. And with return men like Ohio State’s Jamaal Berry and Arkansas’ Joe Adams, the team that manages to at least keep their net punting averages in the good-to-mediocre range is going to be the one that likely emerges victorious.
- Mitchell: Outside Distractions. With the NCAA levying penalties to some Ohio State players and suspending them for the start of the 2011 season, while allowing them to play in this game, you have to think that this could be a distraction for those Buckeyes players.
- Strobl: Ohio State special teams. The Buckeyes have had some highs (Jordan Hall returning a punt for a tocuhdown) and some lows (returns for TDs by Miami and Wisconsin). Special teams have been one of the most unpredictable aspects of OSU’s game, and be assured that that will have the buttoned-down Jim Tressel nervous. Ohio State needs to make sure Arkansas doesn’t get short fields to work with.
- Mitchell: I don’t know if Ohio State has enough offensive firepower to stick with Arkansas. The Razorbacks’ offense is all that much more electric now that Knile Davis has emerged as a serviceable runner. Ohio State has not found success in bowl games against the SEC and I don’t think this Sugar Bowl will be any different. Arkansas 31, Ohio State 27
- Strobl: As a Buckeyes fan, I’m hesitant to predict anything. OSU is winless in bowl games against the SEC, and Arkansas has more than enough firepower to keep that wretched streak alive. But it’s the holiday season, and I have to have faith. Ohio State 34, Arkansas 30
- Bigalke: After the way the Big Ten has come out so far this bowl season, it’s tough to pick the Buckeyes in this one. They have the defense to hamper Arkansas, but they have been highly ranked coming into BCS games before. Expect the Razorbacks to be looser, without the yoke of past BCS indignities around their neck. Arkansas 28, Ohio State 24
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