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Xs AND O's

It's not wise to write off Buckeyes

January 06, 2008|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

Don't believe the pregame hype for Monday's Bowl Championship Series title game that claims Ohio State does not have a chance against Louisiana State because of the Buckeyes' lack of speed.

Faster players can make a difference, but they don't mean much when they are not in position to make plays. Just ask Florida, which supposedly had a huge advantage in speed over Michigan but was handled by the Wolverines, 41-35, in the Capital One Bowl.

Last year, Florida's speed was given a lot of credit for beating Ohio State, 41-14, in the BCS title game, but Florida won because it was better prepared and executed better than the Buckeyes.

Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel should understand that better than anyone, so expect him to have his team ready.

Offensively, the Buckeyes match up well against Louisiana State, which relies heavily on a strong defensive front and active linebackers to protect a suspect secondary.

Look for Ohio State to test the Tigers' run defense early with talented back Chris Wells -- who rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns in his last game, against Michigan -- operating behind tackles Kirk Barton and Alex Boone, who are better power blockers than pass protectors.

But the key for Ohio State's offense will be how well center Jim Cordle (6 feet 4, 302 pounds) and guards Ben Person (6-4, 321) and Steve Rehring (6-8, 345) handle Louisiana State All-American tackle Glenn Dorsey (6-2, 303).

If Dorsey is able to get consistent penetration, that will free up linebackers Ali Highsmith and Darry Beckwith to make plays against the run for the Tigers. But if Dorsey is handled, Ohio State's offense will have the upper hand and that will be important for junior quarterback Todd Boeckman.

During the regular season, Boeckman passed for 2,171 yards and 22 touchdowns, but he's not a high-volume passer. Three times, Boeckman tried less than 17 passes in a game and in the Buckeyes' only loss -- to Illinois, 28-21 -- Boeckman did not complete a touchdown pass and threw three passes that were intercepted.

But against Louisiana State's zone-based coverages, Boeckman could end up being the game's most valuable player. That's because the Tigers' defensive backs like to keep plays in front of them and Ohio State's group of receivers -- led by junior Brian Robiskie -- should be able to find holes for big passing plays.

Against Florida last year, the Buckeyes' defense did not have an answer for the Gators' spread attack, which featured a deep group of talented receivers. Ohio State will not have that problem against the Tigers, who often count solely on Early Doucet to carry their passing game.

Doucet, who sat out five games because of injury, is healthy, but he will be challenged by cornerbacks Malcolm Jenkins and Donald Washington, who have enough speed and size to defend Doucet.

But Louisiana State's calling card is not its passing game but a relentless ground attack directed by quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux, who are expected to split time against the Buckeyes.

Flynn is a solid leader who makes the Tigers offense click with his determination to make plays. He does a great job of executing plays and getting the ball to a strong group of running backs, led by Jacob Hester and super-quick Trindon Holliday.

Ohio State linebackers James Laurinaitis -- the Big Ten Conference defensive player of the year -- and Marcus Freeman have to avoid getting caught up in blocks because Louisiana State's running backs have enough speed to turn small gains into long touchdown runs.

Summary: Louisiana State has a big home-field advantage with the game being played in the Louisiana Superdome, but that can also work against the Tigers if Ohio State can take control early.

The Buckeyes are at their best when they can run the ball and exploit defenses with play-action passes. If Boeckman can avoid turning the ball over, look for Ohio State to pull off an upset.

lonnie.white@latimes.com

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