Rose Bowl preview: Ohio State offense vs. Washington defense
A top-15 matchup in the Rose Bowl is drawing ever closer. The Granddaddy of Them All returns to its traditional pairing on New Year’s Day when Big Ten champion Ohio State faces Pac-12 winner Washington.
Tuesday’s showdown (5 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Pasadena, Calif., features a very productive Buckeyes offense facing a talented Huskies defense. On Friday we previewed the key matchups when Ohio State’s defense faces Washington’s offense. Today we’ll preview the OSU pro style spread offense vs. UW’s 3-4 base defense.
When Ohio State runs
Buckeyes running back Mike Weber has announced his intention to skip his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. So the Rose Bowl will be the final game for the potent rushing duo of Weber and sophomore J.K. Dobbins.
The Buckeyes dominated on the ground at times this season but only rank 55th in the country in rushing offense at 181.9 yards per game. Most alarming for Buckeye Nation, there were three games in which OSU averaged under 3 yards per carry, including the B1G championship game win over Northwestern.
OSU guard Demetrius Knox (foot injury) is out and the Buckeyes O-line might also be without Thayer Munford for Tuesday’s game.
The Huskies have one of the best linebackers in the country in Ben Burr-Kirven (pictured above), a first-team All-American who led the nation in tackles with 165. Greg Gaines was named a first-team All-Pac-12 defensive lineman for the Huskies, who are 15th in the nation in run defense at 116.4 yards per game.
When Ohio State passes
This is the best matchup of the entire Rose Bowl. Ohio State is No. 2 in the country in total offense thanks mostly to its aerial attack, and Washington is No. 12 in total defense thanks mostly to its ability to stifle other teams through the air.
OSU is second in the country in passing at 367 yards a game. On the other hand, Washington’s secondary produced two All-Americans and ranks 19th in the country at 185.4 yards allowed per game — a number that’s even more impressive when you consider that the Huskies play in the pass-happy Pac-12.
The Buckeyes entered this season with a question mark at quarterback and ended it with Dwayne Haskins as the third-place finisher in Heisman Trophy voting and a much-discussed NFL prospect. The redshirt sophomore has not announced a decision on his future but for now he has a plethora of weapons to throw to: Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, K.J. Hill and Johnnie Dixon. OSU passed for at least 250 yards in every game but one and went over the 400-yard mark six times.
The Huskies have a somewhat direct comparison to go by: Its Apple Cup rivalry game against Washington State. WSU led the nation in passing offense but didn’t run well — 83.2 yards per game — and Washington stuffed Washington State and quarterback Gardner Minshew. UW, on the road and in the snow, held the explosive Cougars to 237 yards, 152 passing, in a 28-15 victory which clinched the Pac-12 North Division title.
Cornerback Byron Murphy and safety Taylor Rapp were either first- or second-team All-Americans on most lists, headlining a sterling Huskies secondary.
Can Washington’s defensive scheme and veteran savvy match up with Ohio State’s offensive speed and creativity? Apart from the whole Urban Meyer subplot that is perhaps the most intriguing question entering the Rose Bowl.
Considering how good Washington is at maintaining possession, holding the ball more than its opponent in 11 of 13 games, OSU’s quick-strike ability likely will be paramount for success in this game. The Buckeyes have the weapons to get past a strong Huskies defense but OSU will have to minimize mistakes to make it count.