By Chris Le
Prior to the season, I predicted a USC victory over Ohio State in an upset. I was pretty high on the Buckeyes and their 18 returning starters from a team that played for a national title in ‘07. I cited looking-ahead-to-USC as reason for their lackluster performance against Ohio University and expected a charged OSU squad at the Coliseum. Even without Beanie Wells, I figured it would still be a relatively close game considering how awesome OSU’s defense looks on paper.
Boy, was I wrong.
Instead of the game of the century, we got the beat down of the century (other than BYU’s 59-0 demolition of UCLA).
With first-round talent across their depth chart, everyone knew USC’s defense was its strength. But I’m not sure anyone would’ve predicted them holding Ohio State to three points (!), the lowest total in Jim Tressel’s tenure as the Buckeyes head coach.
Needless to say, it was an impressive outing for USC. And after a long night to soak it in and digest, here are a few observations.
- Beanie Wells wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Hell, I’m not sure Adrian Peterson or LaDainian Tomlinson would’ve made a difference against this ball-hawking Southern Cal defense. This game was won in the trenches, with USC regularly penetrating the line to the tune of five sacks. There wasn’t any doubt that the OSU line was wary of blitzes, with veterans like Alex Boone committing innumerable false starts. USC defensive coordinator Nick Holt did a masterful job of giving Ohio State multiple defensive looks, at times showing blitz only to have the linebackers drop back into coverage. Buckeye quarterback Todd Boeckman was getting drilled all night long, not knowing when the heat was coming, and the pressure forced quick, inaccurate throws leading to two interceptions.
- Speaking of the trenches, the Trojan offensive line—supposedly the team’s Achilles heel—looks to be their strength. Mark Sanchez was able to take his time, scan the field and look at every option. There was absolutely no pressure, and the only sack given up was Sanchez’s own fault for stupidly scrambling instead of throwing the ball away. Questions about the young line arose before the season, but many failed to realize that with their veteran line being decimated last year, the young crop got invaluable starting experience. It’s now carrying over to this year. The line is relatively small, at an average of 296 pounds, but they are all well-coached, aggressive at the point of attack and extremely athletic with nice footwork. Ohio State might be the best defense the Trojans see all year so things don’t bode well for the rest of the Pac-10.
- Despite bad perceptions and talk of the Big Ten being a weak conference, OSU is still a very good team. A legitimate top-ten team when it’s all said and done. USC is just that good. There are maybe three, four teams tops, that can compete with USC’s overall speed and depth of talent so there’s no shame in losing to them. Ohio State might not run the table in Big Ten play (watch out for Penn St.), but with their defense and experience all over the field, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if they win the conference and make the Rose Bowl. My only hesitation is their quarterback situation. Boeckman appears to severely limit the offense, and with highly touted freshman Terrelle Pryor showing moxy and decent, if not sporadic, passing skill, the Buckeyes might have a new starting quarterback starting next week against Troy.
- Ohio State’s national title hopes are done. Even if they win out and USC loses a few, this loss was so lopsided no one in their right mind would rank the Buckeyes over USC at the end of the season.
- That being said, the national championship is Southern Cal’s to lose. Historically, there has always been at least one team that gives USC a scare/defeat (Stanford in ’07, Oregon State in ’06, Notre Dame in ’05). USC will be heavily favored in the rest of their games; it’s merely up to them to play up to their potential. They’d probably be at least a touchdown favorite in the title game as well. The only teams I can envision giving a healthy and focused Trojan squad a competetive game are Florida and Oklahoma/Missouri (whoever makes it out of the Big 12).
- Mark Sanchez is a serious Heisman contender. My preseason pick of Sam Bradford is still looking pretty good; he is by far the most efficient passer in the nation. Chase Daniel has been the most prolific, no doubt. But with USC looking this good and an undefeated season within sight, it’s almost mandatory that USC have a horse in the race. I didn’t think Mark Sanchez would look this good, this early, but he’s come out of the gate on fire.