Are you getting excited yet? My sense is that Ohio State really wants to finish the season well and show everyone the last game of the year was not what this team was about. But to do it in the 108th edition of the Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes will have to fight through some disappointment and player opt-outs, but most importantly, one whale of a team in the Utah Utes.
Don’t kid yourselves. Utah deserves to be in usually sunny (but damp and gray so far this week) Pasadena. The Utes have gotten better as the season has gone on and did so by turning into a physical bunch that likes to get after things at the point of attack.
Just ask Oregon, a team Utah beat twice, that made life difficult on Ohio State earlier in the year.
The Buckeyes are clearly the more explosive team on offense, at least from a potential standpoint, but will have to play up to that seemingly limitless ceiling (even with Olave and Wilson not playing), to maximize possessions and get Utah backed in a corner game-plan wise.
Still, it’s going to be a donnybrook and OSU will have its hands full with Utah on Saturday. Here are three reasons why the Utes could pose some issues for the Buckeyes on New Year’s Day.
The gritty game
Dec 3, 2021; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Utah Utes running back Tavion Thomas (9) scores on a 2-yard touchdown run against the Oregon Ducks in the second half during the 2021 Pac-12 Championship Game at Allegiant Stadium. Utah defeated Oregon 38-10. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The physical challenge — again
Last time we saw Ohio State, it was licking its wounds after a bunch of Wolverines mauled it in the trenches on both sides of the ball. It was a shot to the manhood of a Buckeye team that is usually a pretty physical bunch itself.
Welcome to the sequel. Utah has much of the same ways of doing things that Jim Harbaugh and his khakis looked to unwrinkle. The Utes will use a downhill running attack behind a physical offensive line and running back Tavion Thomas. The game plan will be to try and control the clock, keep the Ohio State offense off the field, and wear down OSU’s offense, then take shots down the field and with the tight ends in the passing game to keep OSU off balance.
Utah has the ability to do just what Michigan did, and that should be concerning if OSU doesn’t play better.
Motivation in polar opposites
— Buckeyes Wire (@BuckeyesWire) December 25, 2021
Two different mindsets
I’m very troubled by how both of these teams are coming into this contest. I have no doubt Ohio State wants to win this game and show everyone it’s not a so-called “soft” team. Also, it’s the Rose Bowl. That alone, should get the goosebumps and emotion going.
However, four players are opting out for Ohio State, there’s some change looming with the defensive coaching staff, and this is not the College Football Playoff. That all matters to the psyche no matter how talented a team is.
Meanwhile, this is Utah’s first-ever appearance in the Rose Bowl. The Utes want to be in Pasadena and have a strong desire to beat a blue blood to let everyone know that the program has not only arrived but is going to be a problem going forward. Guys are playing, and they want to make a statement.
This is a recipe for an underwhelming performance by Ohio State and an emotional, physical performance by the Utes. This should at least concern OSU fans.
December 3, 2021; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Oregon Ducks quarterback Anthony Brown (13) is brought down by Utah Utes defensive tackle Junior Tafuna (58) during the first half in the 2021 Pac-12 Championship Game at Allegiant Stadium. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Utah is gritty on defense as well
The tough-as-nails approach doesn’t just pertain to the offensive side for Utah. The Utes also bring a lunch pail on the defensive side of the ball and will relentlessly attack the Ohio State offense.
The Utes are just outside the top ten — No. 11 in fact — in yards allowed per game (315.4) and the number of sacks against opposing quarterbacks per contest (3.23). It is built on being a well-coached, aggressive bunch that will rally to the ball, get pressure on the quarterback, and not give up too many big plays.
Ohio State might have to work through some adversity and patience in moving the ball, and that is when things have derailed a bit on offense for the Buckeyes.