When the No. 9 Washington football team takes the field in Pasadena, Calif. for the 15th Rose Bowl in program history, the Huskies will go against the best team they’ve faced all season in No. 6 Ohio State. In the third piece of The Daily’s preview series, we take a look at the OSU run game versus the UW defense. Check out the previous installments:
Traditionally, this would be the main matchup to talk about; this year it’s been relegated. Ohio State came into this year on a run of three consecutive seasons leading the Big Ten in rushing yards per game, and hadn’t finished below fourth in its conference since 2004. When the Buckeyes won the National Championship in 2014, they averaged more yards rushing per game than passing.
The last time OSU didn’t average over 200 yards rushing was 2011; the Buckeyes went 6-7 and were about to bring in Urban Meyer as their head coach.
Now, the story is different. The Buckeyes average a shade over 182 rushing yards per game, but with Dwayne Haskins nearly throwing his way to a Heisman Trophy, OSU has what may be its pass-heaviest offense ever.
But that doesn’t mean you can ignore what the Buckeyes want to do on the ground.
Ohio State will bring a pair of running backs to the table. Sophomore J.K. Dobbins leads the team with 1,029 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. He’s joined by junior Mike Weber — averaging 5.5 yards per carry — who has announced that the Rose Bowl will be his final game before declaring for the draft.
In Ohio State’s Big Ten championship game win over Northwestern, both backs had 17 carries; Dobbins went for 68 yards and Weber had 51.
This time around, they’ll be going up against a UW defense that has held four of its past five opponents below 100 yards on the ground. In a vacuum, this matchup would be a good one for the Huskies
But OSU’s greatest asset in its run game is its passing attack. In this way, Ohio State sort of mirrors what Washington State has done in past years, taking advantage of light boxes with dives and draws. Against Northwestern, the OSU backs had the most success going up the middle, getting to the second level in a hurry, while wider stretch plays to the corners were often strung out for losses.
“The pass game off of it really makes it difficult,” UW defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said. “You’ve got to come up and try to stop the run, and then it opens up all the passing lanes downfield.”
Edge (in the simplest sense of the word): Washington
Washington hasn’t been a defense to give up big plays on the ground this year. What the defense has been susceptible to, though, are long, meticulous drives of 5-yard dives and quick throws.
That’s not Ohio State’s style, and the OSU passing attack is good enough that the Buckeyes are probably not changing anytime soon. In terms of pure numbers, Washington could well win win the battle up front.
Edge (actually): Tie
On the other hand, all Ohio State needs to do with its run game is just enough to take a bit of the attention off of the passing attack, setting up play-action and the deep ball. If the Buckeyes can maintain at least a little balance, it may be too much for the UW defense.
Reach Sports Editor Josh Kirshenbaum at email@example.com. Twitter: @J_Kirshenbaum