First things first: I recommend that everyone consult lt. winslow's preview of this weekend's game, as it reveals all Ohio State fans to be lawless, insane mongrels that shouldn't be let out of the house at any point, let alone to go see a football game.
With that being said, ESPN has posted some rather in-depth analysis of the game. Let's take a look.
First is the Scout's Inc. preview. They predict a 27-24 Ohio State victory, and write that the game will pretty much come down to the play of the quarterbacks:
What will matter is the play of Pryor and Harris. Harris is the better pure passer, but Pryor is making significant strides in that department. Plus, Pryor is developing into a better decision-maker, is the better athlete and has the built-in advantage of playing this nonconference showdown at home. The Hurricanes are much-improved from a year ago, and we expect them to battle Ohio State for four quarters. But coach Jim Tressel's Buckeyes know how to win close games and will take control in the fourth quarter.
Fair enough! The good news is that apparently Ohio State's pass defense isn't exactly the best, as long as Jacory stays protected.
• Hurricanes QB Jacory Harris has an opportunity to shine in this game. The Buckeyes lack elite speed along the defensive front, which leads defensive coordinators Jim Heacock and Luke Fickell to blitz more than they would like. They will occasionally utilize a zone blitz with a defensive lineman dropping off into underneath zone, but more often they simply bring extra pressure with a linebacker charging through one of the gaps. Harris' effectiveness in recognizing the blitz, finding his hot reads and making accurate throws with pressure in his face likely will determine the outcome of this game.
If he deals with it well, Miami has too many weapons at wide receiver -- including Leonard Hankerson, Travis Benjamin, LaRon Byrd and Aldarius Johnson -- for the Buckeyes' secondary to hold up, especially with starting cornerback Chimdi Chekwa nursing a sore hamstring. However, making quick, smart decisions while under pressure -- particularly on the road -- has been Harris' weakness to date. If the Miami quarterback has not made significant strides in this department, he will be exposed in Week 2.
As for the defense, it all comes down to getting pressure on Terrelle Pryor:
• Keeping Pryor comfortable in the pocket will be a challenge for the Buckeyes. Their offensive line as a whole has good size, adequate mobility and above-average experience. However, LOT Mike Adams and ROT J.B. Shugarts are the least experienced of the bunch, with only 16 combined starts, and they face the toughest challenge versus Miami's potent defensive end duo of LDE Allen Bailey and RDE Oliver Vernon. Bailey is a versatile lineman with great power and quickness for his size. He won't threaten Shugarts with speed around the corner, but he has an array of power moves that will keep Shugarts guessing. On the opposite side, Vernon is fresh off a 3.5-sack breakout performance in the opener, and he has the explosive speed and athleticism to make Adams' life miserable. Look for the Buckeyes to frequently give one or both of their tackles help in pass protection. If that's the case, Pryor needs his three best pass-catchers -- WRs Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey and RB Brandon Saine -- to consistently separate from coverage and make plays, because the QB won't be getting as much help as usual from a No. 3 receiver or tight ends.
The more interesting Stats Inc. piece though is one that focuses solely on Jacory. As has been noted millions of times in the off season, Jacory threw too many interceptions last year. Conventional wisdom has stated that he took too many chances downfield, was too careless with the ball, and needs to work shorter passing patterns to be more successful. But that isn't the case, says KC Joyner:
the statistics posted by the Hurricanes in a three-game analysis of their 2009 contests: against the Virginia Tech Hokies, Oklahoma Sooners and Clemson Tigers. Those games were picked because those teams ranked in the top 22 in FBS last season in passing yards allowed and passer rating allowed.
Harris attempted 35 vertical passes against those teams; 17 of the throws were complete and one resulted in a defensive pass interference penalty, so the Hurricanes' success rate was 51 percent. Add in the six dropped vertical passes and the Canes' success rate on downfield throws would jump to a ridiculous 66 percent.
The big risk for Shannon in implementing this type of play calling is Harris' penchant for making mistakes, but there is good news here, as well. Harris made a bad decision (defined as when a quarterback makes a mistake with the ball that leads to a turnover or a near turnover such as a dropped interception) only twice in those 35 vertical passes. That equals a 5.6 percent vertical bad decision rate, which would be a good NFL mark and is very good for the collegiate level.
Put it all together and it means the vertical pass reward for Miami in this game far outweighs the corresponding risk. A lot of teams won't even try to throw deep against the Buckeyes because of their zone-heavy defensive scheme, but Harris has proved he can chuck it downfield against top defenses with consistent success. Shannon should feel free to open up the playbook and let Harris, senior wideout Leonard Hankerson and company go all out to win this game.
Added to that is Joyner's analysis that apparently Ohio State was rather garbage at defending long passes last year, even though most teams shied away from that strategy.
The analysis started with a review of Ohio State's 45-7 win against the Marshall Thundering Herd from this past weekend, adding four games from the 2009 season (versus the Wisconsin Badgers, at the Penn State Nittany Lions, versus the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Rose Bowl game against the Oregon Ducks; those were the last four ranked teams the 2009 Buckeyes played).
The Scarlet and Gray defense posted a superb 5.9 yards per attempt allowed in these film studies; that's not surprising. What was something of a shock was how consistent the Buckeyes' opponents were when they had the moxie to put up a vertical pass (defined as an aerial thrown 11 or more yards downfield).
All totaled, teams threw more than 11 yards on 46 occasions in these five games; 16 of them ended up as completions, and four resulted in defensive pass interference penalties. That means 20 of them ended up with a positive result (43 percent). If the five dropped passes were added into the positive result category, it would move the success rate here up to 54 percent; that would be nearly acceptable for short passes but is quite unacceptable for any type of vertical pass, much less for all vertical passes.