Ohio State and Oregon went through their first Southern California workouts Saturday in preparation for the Rose Bowl game. And after the workouts both teams acknowledged Friday's showdown will be challenging since neither has played in nearly a month.
Eighth-ranked Ohio State has been off since beating Michigan on Nov. 21, and No. 7 Oregon hasn't played since its Dec. 3 win over Oregon State.
"We went 12 straight weekends playing. And you kind of get into a little rhythm and get into a little normalcy," Buckeyes Coach Jim Tressel said. "So I think it's going to be critical that we get out there and we do a good job of tackling and handling all the speed things and the change of direction things.
"You just have to get that behind you and know that it's going to be a long, tough game."
Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman says a lot of that will happen after the first play.
"You need that first pop to get the juices going. But once I think you get that first pop, it's just a regular game," he said. "It's not really difficult because we've been in constant game mode. The thing that we do well is we have game-type situations and we scrimmage each other. Only you don't get to play another team."
Buckeyes four short
Ohio State (10-2, 7-1 in the Big Ten) will be without kick returner Ray Small, who, along with defensive lineman Rob Rose, was suspended for unspecified reasons last week. Also missing from the Buckeyes' Rose Bowl roster is freshman receiver Duron Carter, who was declared academically ineligible, according to the Associated Press, and sophomore walk-on running back Bo DeLande, who is being penalized for violating team rules.
"I'm most disappointed in the two older kids," Tressel said of Small and Rose, who are seniors.
"This could have been the end of a career. But life goes on and they have to take care of what's next."
Tressel said he'll probably use receivers DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher to return kicks in the absence of Small, who averaged more than eight yards on 33 punt returns and brought a kickoff back 89 yards for a touchdown this season.
"They're going to have to step up and do a good job," Tressel said.
On their first full day in California, both teams also toured Disneyland, where Oregon's first-year coach, Chip Kelly, was introduced to Mickey Mouse.
"I'm a Duck fan. Sorry," Kelly told Mickey, who nonetheless continued smiling. "If you could get your buddy Donald up here, we'd be a little more fired up."
Donald Duck, the creation of Walt Disney, has served as Oregon's mascot since a 1947 handshake arrangement between Disney and Leo Harris, the school's first athletic director.
Defenses won't rest
Ohio State gave up seven points or fewer five times and finished the season ranked among the top 10 nationally in five defensive categories. So one theory is the Rose Bowl could be a low-scoring slugfest.
"I could see [the score] being in the low 10s," said Coleman, who led the Buckeyes with five interceptions and finished third with 64 tackles.
But Jim Cordle, a senior offensive tackle, disagreed.
"Thirty points is our goal," he said. "Even though we have a great defense, we might have to score more to win the game. I guess I'll argue that it will be an offensive game."
However, Cordle says the defenses figure to benefit from the long layoffs both teams have endured.
"When you've got timing and things like that on offense, the game reps are something that maybe is required week to week," he said. "A couple of weeks off might hurt that a little bit. But, on the same hand, they're going to come out with things our defense hasn't seen [and] we're going to come out with things their defense hasn't seen. That can balance itself out."
Although neither Ohio State nor Oregon has played in the Rose Bowl this decade, give Oregon (10-2, 8-1 in the Pac 10) the home-field advantage since more than a quarter of the Ducks' Rose Bowl roster comes from Southern California. Ohio State, on the other hand, has only one player from the Southland -- junior receiver Grant Schwartz of Dana Hills.
"You always want to go to the highest [BCS] bowl possible, you want to get to that national championship. But if things don't work out your way, your next-best bowl is the Rose Bowl," said Oregon's senior captain Walter Thurmond III, who played high school football in West Covina. "It's really great to be here. [But] it's a business trip. We're trying to win a football game."
And trying to line up tickets. Thurmond, a preseason All-American and Oregon's defensive playmaker before going down with a season-ending knee injury against California, said his allotment of six Rose Bowl tickets isn't nearly enough.
"Everyone's using their tickets," he said. "It's very hard to find someone that's giving their tickets away."