Ohio State's offense is one of the most efficient and productive in the country. However, there have still been several close games where the offense hasn't been able to consistently produce until down the stretch, when the Buckeyes have put teams away late for more impressive-appearing margins. When the OSU offense has struggled, what has been the common theme?
The problems late in games strike us as more of an in-between-the-ears issue. Urban Meyer's wired similarly to Nick Saban in terms of never stopping coaching, regardless of the opposition and the margin. But for whatever reason, against teams the Buckeyes are projected to summarily dismiss, they've had problems closing a lot of the times. This has come seemingly more from a lack of focus than anything else. Though they were facing a deficit as opposed to a lead, the lack of making plays down the stretch doomed the Buckeyes in their only loss of the season (the infamous Virginia Tech game) when they had a real chance to come back and win it. But that was a really bizarre game overall that I don't think Alabama will be able to take a ton away from.
Some Alabama fans may look at boxscores and say, "hey, the Buckeyes give up a good number of points. This should be a pretty easy game." But, in fact, the Buckeyes have the 4th overall adjusted defense, based largely on OSU's ability to kill opponent drives. Is it fair to say that this is a risk-reward defense, then? One that will give up a big play, but that makes consistent drives difficult? What has been Ohio State's key to stifling drives?
Ohio State's fundamentals defensively a year ago were pathetic. They poached Chris Ash from Bret Bielema's stout defensive brain trust at Arkansas, and the secondary that was the team's weakness a year ago is now a real strength. The Buckeyes were extremely vulnerable to the big play a year ago, but have managed to mitigate those much of this past season (the Buckeyes were 27th best defense against explosive plays this year versus 86th a year prior).
Risk reward I think is a fair descriptor at times, but the bizarre thing is despite a front seven that includes two All-American types on the defensive line, they haven't been very consistent against the run. If the Buckeyes focus all their energies on making Alabama beat them on the ground, there's a pretty decent chance they can and will.
We have such a tiny sample size re: redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones. Like the Buckeyes as a whole, he looked impressive in the resounding 59-0 thumping of Wisconsin. There was a Spring battle between redshirt freshman phenom, J.T. Barrett and Jones for the backup spot behind Braxton Miller, with Barrett prevailing. Thus, was Jones ever a true third string quarterback, or was he just 2B? What does he do differently than Barrett?
I think 2B is right: Jones hadn't really been a third string guy since last season. He was actually the guy behind Miller for the entire offseason until coincidentally about 10 days before Braxton went down for the season; crappy timing for him certainly.
I think he has all the talent in the world to play for a school like Ohio State (or heck, even a top SEC one,) but consistency and minimizing errors hasn't been his strongsuit in limited play/spring games.
He's a lot bigger than Barrett and is somehow alleged to run a faster 40 (citation needed). He's also got a much more live arm and is one of those JaMarcus Russell-type gunslingers who can throw it through the goal posts from the 50 on both knees.
I think overall though, Wisconsin game aside, he isn't as careful with the football as Barrett. I'll be surprised if we don't see an interception or two and maybe even a fumble against the rather strong Tide D.
What matchup can Ohio State exploit that will swing a close game in its favor?
The knock on Alabama is supposedly that this linebacker corp isn't as filthy as some of Nick Saban's title winning ones. Not sure I see that on the film (and particularly looking at the pedigree of the guys making it up), but if Urban Meyer, Tom Herman, and co. decide that's the angle they want to go, they've got some folks capable of attacking them.
Tight end Jeff Heuerman, running back Ezekiel Elliott, and H-back Jalin Marshall are all more than capable pass catchers and can run the kind of routes that should let Cardale Jones test that theory. It does get a little dangerous asking him to try and throw the ball through potential traffic though, so the Buckeyes may have to turn on a dime if they find themselves being careless early.
Conversely, what is the least favorable matchup for Ohio State, the one that Buckeye fans dread?
Frankly, I'm not sure there is a matchup for Amari Cooper. The Buckeyes were brilliant in their taking Melvin Gordon out of the Big Ten Championship Game, but part of that was the snowball effect of everything that could go wrong doing just that for the Badgers. I can't imagine a circumstance where that's the case for Alabama.
Senior Doran Grant will get a shot in the NFL, likely as a third day pick, and redshirt freshman Eli Apple probably has a higher ceiling, but both guys will need help even just slowing Cooper down. Even if the Buckeyes have done nothing but watch Arkansas tape for the past month, I can't imagine they'll have a ton of success in that department, regardless of how good the secondary was this season.
Name one player that a casual fan may not be aware of, and why that player has been integral to Ohio State's success this season.
Redshirt freshman H-back/specialist Jalin Marshall isn't a household name, and probably like you guys are accustomed to when someone on your team does similar, started off slow and was left for dead by many passionate Buckeye zealots.
After that, though, he pretty much singlehandedly won an Indiana game Ohio State checked out of after going up 14-0, and will probably see some action at Wildcat quarterback (he was an all-state QB coming out of high school and was recruited by a bunch of FBS schools to play the position).
If Marshall's the player of the game for the Buckeyes, that might not necessarily be a good barometer of OSU's likelihood to win, but he's definitely capable of making a play or two despite not formally being amongst the starters anywhere on the depth chart but in the return game.
How do you see this one playing out, and what is our final score?
If Ohio State does anything but get a quick lead, I'll be hard pressed to see them winning the game. It's going to be awfully tough even in a best case scenario, and while I think the final margin will be something in the 10-17 point range, it probably won't be as close as the score indicates. Let's say Alabama 35-Ohio State 24.
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