The Disappointment Zone

Musings from a Cleveland sports fan

Week 2: OSU vs. Texas

Posted by disappointmentzone on 8 September 2006

This past summer the NCAA rules Committee enacted rules 3-2-5 and 3-2-5-E, which state that after changes in possession the game clock starts on the ready to play signal (as opposed to the clock starting on the snap) and that the game clock starts on kickoffs when the ball is kicked (rather than when it is first touched after being kicked). These rules are an attempt to shorten college football games.

The rule changes were met with sharp criticism, however. Steve Spurrier was upset that there would be fewer plays for his Gamecocks to run up the score on undermanned teams–or that fewer plays gave underdogs an advantage; it’s one or the other. Joe Paterno was bothered by the prospect of a team, leading by a few points in the waning seconds of a game, would, after scoring, purposefully kick the ball high and out of bounds so as to run out the game clock without the other team ever gaining possession of the ball. Furthermore, would teams have time to get into formation and snap the ball for Hail Mary attempts if the clock started when the ball is marked ready to play? Would teams have time to execute a field goal attempt–always a matter of precise execution–if there were only two seconds on the game clock? Perhaps most insidious of all: if the leading team takes possession of the ball with, say, 23 seconds remaining in the game, that team doesn’t have to run a play–that team doesn’t even have to send players onto the field. The game clock will start and expire before the play clock.*

As far as I can tell none of these worries has come to fruition, although each is legitimate. However, through the first week of the season games have averaged 18 fewer plays. In that regard, NCAA rules committee: Mission Accomplished.

I bring this up because OSU is playing Texas this week and I think these rule changes could influence the outcome of the game. Here’s why.

OSU is heading into Saturday’s game as a 2.5 point underdog. As many of you know, Tarell Brown was suspend by Texas coach Mack Brown on Wednesday after Brown was found passed out in his car at 3am Monday with a loaded gun (and marijuana) and was subsequently arrested. Tarell Brown is Texas’s best cover corner and was to be the one responsible for covering Ted Ginn Jr. The strength of Texas’s defense this season, at least early on, was to be its secondary. Now there is a big hole there and that hole comes right where the secondary was most vulnerable. This is great news for OSU and really bad news for Texas. Surprisingly the point spread hasn’t changed at all this week even though Texas took a serious blow. One player might not make that big of a difference to betters, but I think losing the guy who was supposed to cover OSU’s most dangerous player makes Texas more vulnerable than they were before they lost Brown.

Steve Spurrier would think that the new rule changes would favor OSU since OSU is the underdog–shorter games make upsets more likely–and I think the new rules will hinder Texas. Here is why.

It’s much hard to be a rookie quarterback. The learning curve is steep. Throughout the game on Saturday OSU will throw a number of defensive looks at Texas, all designed to confuse Colt McCoy, the Texas quarterback. How quickly McCoy makes sense of these defensive schemes will be a good measure of how quickly Texas will have success on offense. In a shorter game, McCoy doesn’t have the luxury of slowly feeling out the defense. If you are a Texas fan, this is a problem.

Aside: Is there a more Texas-sounding name for a quarterback than Colt McCoy? It’s like the guy is straight out of central casting. Do you think Matthew McConaughey whispers his name each night while gently drifting to sleep? I do.

Given that McCoy will be making only his second career start–in the first game since 1996 in which the AP #1 and #2 teams have played in the regular season, no less– I expect to see Texas run the ball early in the game, if only to settle him down. This plays into OSU’s strength on defense. As the game goes on and McCoy becomes more comfortable, Texas should have greater ease moving the ball, but in the short term—until McCoy adjusts to the different defensive looks and is comfortable enough to audible out of plays—I think OSU’s defense will have success, even if it’s marginal success.

Which is why I think a shorter game favors OSU. I think that, when you toss in home field advantage, Texas’s defense is better than OSU’s defense by a margin roughly equal the difference between OSU’s offense and Texas’s offense. The crucial factor will be the time it takes Texas, in particular McCoy, to adjust to OSU’s defense. If McCoy plays like a rookie quarterback—rattled, conservative—then Texas will be playing below what they are capable of, and even if the margin is slight, this will ultimately cost Texas the game. The fewer plays Texas runs—and if the first week is any indication Texas should run about nine fewer plays—the more pressure will be on Texas to be productive in those plays. The game won’t be a race to 42 points, but this is not a bad model for how to approach the game. Each team will run roughly 60 plays. If Texas wastes 10 of those plays because McCoy has to ease into the game, then Texas will be at a disadvantage.

The game will be close and this slight edge could be all the difference.

With that in mind, if OSU wins the coin toss then I think Tressel would be wise to tell his players to take the ball. In order to win this game OSU is going to have to score some points–neither defense is particularly great, but Texas’s defense is certainly better than OSU’s defense. Both teams are strongest on offense. If Tressel can establish early in the game that OSU is stronger on offense than Texas—by, say, taking the kickoff and then driving down the field for a score—all of the pressure on McCoy to guide the Texas offense will increase significantly, in addition to OSU knocking out what is arguably the biggest strength for any home team: the crowd. A three or seven point lead after the first possession would also take some of the pressure off of the OSU defense. Usually I like to see teams defer, but in an offensive shootout the team that establishes itself as the better offense wins (or so I say).

So what should OSU fans watch for early in the game?

On defense: Pay attention to the number of plays Texas runs on offense: the fewer, the better. This is obvious, so allow me to be more specific.

If Texas marches down the field on their first or second possession of the game, then OSU should worry, not only because it means Texas is moving the ball with ease but because it means that OSU will have to use most of its tricks on defense. Three-and-outs are good for the usual reasons (momentum, gives defense rest, field position, etc.) but against Texas if OSU can hold Texas to short drives to start the game then the pressure of McCoy will increase. Sustained scoring drives are never good. If McCoy and Texas are able to quickly solve OSU’s defense then this could be a very long night for Buckeye fans.

However, there is a meaningful difference between Texas scoring on two plays and Texas scoring after an eleven play drive. The two play scoring drives, though troublesome, are usually not nearly as troublesome as the eleven play scoring drives since two play scoring drives are often the result of blown coverages or missed assignments, which can be easily corrected and usually involve just a handful of defensive players. A cornerback plays zone defense when everyone else is playing man-to-man, for instance. Eleven play scoring drives are the result of bad defense and there ain’t no cure for that. If Texas has five drives of 10 plays or more OSU won’t win.

On offense: Antonio Pittman and the Wellses could have huge games. Texas might use a spy on Troy Smith from time to time, and certainly will have to use multiple men to cover Ginn now that Brown is out. Therefore Texas won’t be able to crowd the box with eight or more men because it’ll leave their defense vulnerable to Smith calling audibles for Ginn or Gonzalez, who would be in single coverage. Last week OSU had over 300 yards passing and fewer than 200 yards rushing. I imagine the number of passing and rushing yards will be closer this week.

If OSU establishes the running game, which is what Tressel likes to do but I don’t think it’ll be that important against Texas, then watch for a few plays designed for the tight end(s), probably late in the second or fourth quarters. OSU’s strengths are Ginn, Smith, and the running backs, so don’t expect a big portion of the offense to focus on the tight ends; but if Texas pays too much attention to the big three (Ginn, Smith, Pittman) then Tressel will counter with tight end drags across the middle for big yards. If OSU’s offense is dictating to Texas’s defense, then OSU is capable of dropping over 45 points. OSU showed last week that the offense can disappear for long stretches, which was in part the result of play calling and in part the result of execution. Texas could hold OSU to under 25 points if things aren’t working. But I don’t expect that to be the case.

Final score: OSU 37, Texas 33

*Here is the rule that is actually the most insidious of all the rules governing college football: The game clock runs when the ball is marked ready to play after the team on offense commits a penalty. When OSU has the ball and the lead in the second half against Texas this week there is one way to ensure that OSU will win–and OSU won’t even have to run a play and there could be 30 minutes left in the game. Here is how it works. The ball will be marked ready to play and the game clock will start. When the play clock reaches one second, the left tackle will false start. OSU will back up five yards. The ball will be marked ready for play–and this is where this idiotic rule comes into play–the game clock will restart. So Tressel tells his team to wait until there is one second left on the play clock and then have the left tackle false start. Back five yards, yes, but nearly a minute has run off the clock and OSU hasn’t even snapped the ball yet. It doesn’t matter that it’s now first and 20 because OSU is going to do this until the game is over. At no point will OSU have to run a play and at no point will OSU be in jeopardy of losing. How’s that for insidious? Unsportsmanlike, for sure, but perfectly legal, too.

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4 Responses to “Week 2: OSU vs. Texas”

  1. gamblinman said

    Good ovservations on the game. One quick little error fix. In the top you said “Texas is heading into Saturday’s game as a 2.5 point underdog.” Ohio State is the one that is a 2.5 point underdog.

  2. Thanks for the catch. I busted this thing out too quickly and in checking all the stats the spread got mixed up in my head.

  3. Soccer Spot said

    It’s a good analysis and I agree on most parts*, but the thing about Texas is that they’re playing at home. It’s a huge advantage (one overcome last year only by Vince Young). Certainly the issues at DB are going to hurt Texas, but the rest of their team still plays for Texas, which is to say, they’re freakin’ good. So despite the fact that their “shutdown” corner is an freakin idiot for carrying a gun and pot on him right before the biggest game of the regular season, Texas should contain Ginn better than most people believe. And no, their other DBs have no starting experience against top 10 teams, but, again, they’re the Longhorns, not Aggies. (Score one for Texas A&M jokes!)

    Smith will be the biggest factor, I think. If he has a strong game (that is, if HE reads the defenses like you’re saying McCoy has to), then OSU will win. But we’ll see. Stands to reason that the spread is so small: hard to call this game.

    I’ll limb it with a 27-21 Texas victory.

    *who am I to talk? I write about soccer!

  4. All Smith knows how to do is play big in big games. And I was right about the Texas secondary (though I was wrong about pretty much everything else).

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