The first College Football Playoff National Championship Game is finally upon us and Dr. Saturday has your pregame prep covered. Every day leading up to the game, we’ll breakdown a piece of each team and preview its role in the upcoming title game.
Season highlight: There was no bigger game for the Ohio State front seven than its 59-0 win against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. It wasn’t just the shutout that was impressive, it was the fact that the front seven held Melvin Gordon, the Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman finalist, to just 76 yards, his second-lowest output of the season (he was injured during his worst output).
Player to Watch: Defensive end Joey Bosa is Ohio State’s first unanimous All-American since linebacker James Laurinaitis in 2007. He led the Big Ten in sacks and tackles for loss and was named the Conference's Defensive Player of the Year. However, he was relatively quiet in the CFP Semifinal against Alabama with just three tackles.
Strengths: Ohio State has been excellent at forcing fumbles this season. In 14 games, it has 16 forced fumbles and recovered eight. However, the Buckeyes forced no fumbles against Alabama in the semifinal.
Weaknesses: The Buckeyes red zone rushing defense has struggled at times this season. Overall, the red zone defense ranked 84th nationally, allowing 85.4 percent of attempts to result in points. Of the 30 touchdown scored, 19 of those came on the ground.
Overview: The Ohio State defensive front was considered one of the best in the nation to start the season and it has lived up to its billing.
It’s really all about the defensive line behind Bosa, fellow All-American defensive tackle Michael Bennett, tackle Adolphus Washington, end Steve Miller and backup Rashad Frazier. The unit averages more than three sacks per game and 7.5 tackles for loss. They like to get after the quarterback, however, if there is a weakness, it’s depth. Beyond those five players, things get a little dicey with defensive line, and that depth will be challenged against an Oregon offense that likes to play up-tempo and prey on fatigued defenses.
The aggressiveness of the Ohio State defensive line has sometimes opened holes for the opponents' running game. Ohio State allows 142 rushing yards per game, and while it did a marvelous job against Gordon, much of that success came because Wisconsin did not have a competent passing game to go with its rushing attack.
The Buckeyes won’t have that same luxury against Oregon.
The Ducks average 241.9 rushing yards per game and have multiple rushing weapons in Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner, and of course, quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Alabama didn’t do a lot of things well on offense during the semifinal game, but it did run the ball well. The Tide had 170 rushing yards and bruiser Derrick Henry had 95 yards and averaged 7.3 yards per carry. But for some reason Alabama got away from its running game and tried to get fancy with the pass. Quarterback Blake Sims had three turnovers, including a pick-six that aided in the Buckeyes win.
The Ohio State linebacking corps doesn’t get nearly as much praise as the defensive line, but junior Joshua Perry did lead the team with 118 total tackles and freshman Darron Lee was third on the team with 73 tackles. Lee actually led the Buckeyes with seven tackles against Alabama.
It will need to be a group effort by the front seven to stop this highly diverse and incredibly fast Oregon rushing attack. Ohio State has given up big yardage against strong rushing teams — 218 against Indiana; 370 against Navy; 218 against Minnesota — and Oregon will pose yet another threat for this talented defensive group.
For more Ohio State news, visit BuckeyeGrove.com.
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