Ohio State vs. Utah: 5 reasons the Buckeyes will win the Rose Bowl
It’s not the season Ohio State wanted, but it’s the season it has. There sit the Buckeyes, having missed the B1G title game for the first time since 2016, carrying a 10-2 record that left them outside the College Football Playoff. The genuine question for a P5 team dealing with such a disappointment is whether they dial in for the bowl game or simply go through the motions.
Given that the Buckeyes are favored by nearly a touchdown, the expectation is that they’ll be ready. Here are 5 reasons why they’ll handle the Utes and pick up the Rose Bowl win.
Ohio State’s ground game will spell doom
Despite being a West Coast team, Utah is actually a team that bases its success on running and stopping opposing running games. In Utah’s 3 regular season losses, it allowed 231, 204 and 260 rushing yards. In Utah’s 9 wins, it never gave up more than 149 rushing yards. That said, OSU reached that mark in 9 of its 12 games. And actually, in the other 3 games, OSU had just 30, 30 and 31 rushes. When OSU rushed 32 or more times, it had 161 or more rushing yards in every game. Utah just isn’t equipped to handle a healthy dose of TreVeyon Henderson, and there’s no reason it won’t get one.
Utah hasn’t seen a passing game like this
Again, the expectation is that the Pac-12 is one big passing league. But the numbers don’t bear out that assumption. Southern Cal was 17th in the nation in passing yardage (and passed for over 400 yards on Utah). But after that, Washington State was 41st and the next Pac-12 team was UCLA at 68th. Meanwhile, OSU was 5th in the nation in passing yards, throwing for 400 yards 4 times and 300 yards another 6 times. Even with star WRs Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson opting out, OSU has plenty of weapons with Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming ready to step up. This is the kind of offense Utah hasn’t faced.
Utah’s ground game is designed to play from ahead … not to play catch up
Utah does run the football very well, led by 1,000-yard back Tavion Thomas. That said, Thomas has gained 788 of his 1,041 rushing yards on carries when Utah is ahead. When the Utes are tied or behind, Thomas’s stats are much more pedestrian — 6o rushes for 259 yards, with a long rush of 16 yards. It’s hard to imagine Utah taking control from the opening kick, and if OSU can take a lead, it looks like the Utah offense is suddenly much less fearsome.
Ohio State can keep CJ Stroud upright, which thwarts Utah’s defense significantly
Utah is very good at pressuring quarterbacks, but it’s pretty much essential for the Utes. In their 9 wins, they have 39 sacks. But in their 3 losses, they have only 3. Meanwhile, Ohio State has allowed just 17 sacks all season. Holding Utah to just a sack or two — particularly in conjunction with point 2 above — will probably end up keeping Utah’s defense on the field for way too long for realistic hopes of slowing Stroud and the Buckeyes offense.
The Buckeyes still have a chance to define the season in a positive way
So much of college football is made up of teams that would be absolutely thrilled to have a 10-2 regular season with only a pair of losses to ranked teams, including 1 to a College Football Playoff selection. But it’s simply not up to expectations at Ohio State. As a result, the Buckeyes season is a jumble of images.
A rough opening, with a defensive start that got coordinator Kerry Coombs out of his job, is seared into the memory of Buckeyes fans. An impressive middle, with perhaps the most potent offense in college football, is also part of the big picture. But so is a painful swoon against Michigan, with the defense again failing to carry the day.
Utah’s season is already something of a positive surprise, but the Buckeyes are still trying to work a good spin onto Ryan Day’s third season. Does that motivation translate to a greater need for victory? Probably so.