Rose Bowl preview: Can Ohio State prevail in Urban Meyer's send-off?
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Rose Bowl
Who:
No. 9 Washington Huskies (10-3, 8-2 Pac-12) vs. No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1, 9-1 Big Ten)
When: Tuesday, Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
TV: ESPN
Odds: Ohio State -6.5
Over/Under: 57.5

Tale of the tape

2018 STATS Washington Ohio State
Points Per Game 26.6 (T-82) 43.5 (8)
Points Against/Game 15.5 (5) 25.7 (55)
Rush Yards/Game 179.9 (55) 175.8 (57)
Pass Yards/Game 232.5 (63) 373.0 (2)
Total Yards/Game 412.4 (59) 548.8 (2)
Rush Yards Allowed/Game 116.4 (16) 160.5 (61)
Pass Yards Allowed/Game 185.4 (20) 239.8 (82)
Total Yards Allowed/Game 301.8 (12) 400.3 (67)
Third-Down Offense 45.4% (21) 48.2% (11)
Third-Down Defense 38.8% (65) 31.4% (11)
Red-Zone Offense 78.0% (111) 75.8% (T-119)
Red-Zone Defense 80.0% (T-34) 89.7% (109)
Team Sacks/Game 1.62 (T-106) 3.00 (T-10)
Turnover Differential +3 (T-47) +6 (T-30)

(Division I rank in parentheses)

Season review

Washington

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Under head coach Chris Petersen, Washington sports the nation’s third-stingiest defense. However, the team could never truly gather momentum throughout the season, as issues on offense plagued the Huskies while quarterback Jake Browning floundered.

A stumble out of the gate against Auburn was followed up by losses to Oregon and Cal, both by a field goal.

After a campaign with missed opportunities, the defense will still give Washington a shot against Ohio State. The unit ranks in the top 10 in defending explosive plays and the percentage of first downs it allows on first or second down.

Ohio State

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Urban Meyer’s final season in Columbus was a tumultuous one. Things fell apart off the field, as Zach Smith and Meyer’s health/future dominated the discussion.

On the field, the Buckeyes had issues, too. They were shellacked by Purdue 49-20 and were lucky to escape with a win over Maryland.

Meyer has had to adapt his offense to better suit quarterback Dwayne Haskins. The spread-to-run, battering ram approach of old made way for a system that looks suspiciously like the Air Raid offense.

The results have been impressive, with the Buckeyes ranking fourth in S&P+.

The defense has been disastrous, ranking 37th in defensive S&P+. Given the talent the Buckeyes put on the field every week, that figure is horrendous.

Still, the team heads to the Rose Bowl after a pair of quality wins. It smoked Michigan 62-39 in what will likely claim the 2018 Performance of the Year award and followed that up with a 45-24 rout of Northwestern in the Big Ten title game.

Meyer will look to go out on a high before handing the reins over to Ryan Day, but Washington is ready to spoil the party.

Players to watch

Washington RB Salvon Ahmed

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Myles Gaskin is the household name, but keep an eye on Ahmed. A threat in the running, passing, and return game, Ahmed is an explosive playmaker.

He's averaged over 6 yards per carry as a rusher and 8 yards per catch as a receiver, snagging every ball chucked his way.

Washington will have a chance to pop big runs against this porous Ohio State defense. Ahmed is a threat to take the ball to the house from anywhere on the field. He might not have an efficient day, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to string together a few 30-yard-plus plays.

Washington CB Byron Murphy

Murphy is tremendous. He’s a long-limbed, fluid corner with first-round potential. He excelled as a predominantly off-corner in Washington’s Cover 2/Quarters Match system, where brainpower is placed at a premium.

His production is borderline preposterous, recording four interceptions and 13 pass breakups. Evidently, few young corners read the game better:

Watch him (top of the screen, boundary corner) read the route concept. The receiver in front of him ran a sluggo and Murphy tracked it all. He stayed on top of his man and kept one eye on the quarterback before he broke on the ball.

However, he did have some teething problems in press coverage and struggled on some slower developing out routes.

Growth will come with more reps. He’s at his best in a trail technique, bumping then playing in a half-turn rather than sitting in an opponent’s hip pocket and tracking them all over the field. The game is natural for him there:

Ohio State will mix and match who it plays on Washington’s stud. Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill offer speed, Terry McLaurin is "Mr. Reliable" and a blend of nous and technique, Austin Mack offers more size.

Whoever is chucked at Murphy, he will handle it.

Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins

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Haskins’ last chance to impress pro scouts will come against one of the strongest defenses in the nation. It will be a fun battle.

Haskins had an extraordinary season with 47 touchdown passes against just eight interceptions and over 4,500 yards through the air. He's a lock to be the first quarterback off the board in the draft, should he declare.

His development has been a treat to watch. He’s now a Ph.D-level passer, and uses a combination of brains, movement, and pinpoint accuracy.

It’s not good enough for Haskins to just complete passes anymore. Everything is about keeping the juggernaut that is Ohio State’s offense on the move.

Washington's defense doesn’t do a whole lot of funky things on the back end that Haskins will need to decode, but there are future draft picks all over the secondary. He’s not used to facing defenders who can turn and run with his receivers and will have to show just how far his development has come.

Ohio State DL Dre'Mont Jones

Jones has become the star of the Buckeyes' defense ever since Nick Bosa announced he was leaving the program.

The 6-foot-3, 295-pound defensive tackle is constantly behind the line of scrimmage. He leads the Buckeyes in TFLs (13.5), sacks (8.5), run stuffs (16), and average yards per tackle (0.4). Jones has begun to understand his physical advantage and has the potential to single-handedly take over any game.

When he's feeling it (conditioning is a concern), Jones becomes a one-man wrecking crew in the interior. For quarterbacks, there’s nowhere to climb against him, and they’re forced to throw from uncomfortable platforms. Quickness, leverage, and power is a wicked combination for any center to deal with one-on-one:

Greg Schiano likes to move his playmaker around. Washington will have to be alert to where Jones is on each and every play.

Washington's keys to victory

Motion, motion, motion: Ohio State’s defense ranks 100th in the country in conceding plays of 20 yards or more.

Many of the difficulties Schiano has faced are due to the quirky fronts he has insisted on running, and that’s fine, so long as the offense doesn’t switch the rules of engagement prior to the snap. As a defense, if this happens, you need to adjust.

The Buckeyes have been dreadful against any kind of motion or shift this season. Purdue perplexed Schiano with a raft of double-motions and mini-motions, flipping the strength of the formation by crossing the running back behind the quarterback.

Those sound like non-issues, but they can completely flip the geometry of the defensive front. Ohio State rarely reset or stemmed its line to regain its gap discipline and relied on post-snap movements to take care of it.

You better believe Petersen is licking his chops after binging Schiano’s tape over the past month. The Buckeyes have better athletes up front than Washington, but Petersen is one of the all-time best at designing specific plays that fit his game plan.

The Huskies will never stop moving pre-snap. Let’s see if Schiano has made some adjustments.

Protect Browning: Based on expectations, Browning's had one of the most disappointing seasons of any player in the country. He tossed 16 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and has been guilty of making terrible decisions.

Browning is still prone to stretches of brilliance, which only makes his brain farts more irritating. Washington can’t afford to gift away possessions against OSU, though.

When pressured, Browning’s decision-making becomes even more erratic. If the Huskies are to have a shot, they have to slow down Ohio State’s front and keep their quarterback clean.

Ohio State's keys to victory

K.I.S.S. on defense: Keep it simple, stupid. Schiano has routinely overcomplicated his defensive fronts, leading to his unit being out-leveraged by design, rather than a blown assignment. By trying to disguise things, Schiano has made it difficult to keep a balanced front and cover all the gaps an offense could attack. The sheer volume of explosive runs the team has gifted between the tackles is staggering:

Five-star creatures roam throughout the entire defense. Line up, play man coverage, rush four (with the odd stunt or twist), and see if your guys can win their one-on-one matchups.

Sustain the quarterback run game: What do we know about Meyer in big games? He loves nothing more than plowing his quarterback into the line of scrimmage, 4 yards at a time, 20 times.

This year has been different, as Meyer's been more inclined to lean on Haskins’ arm than his legs.

But if Washington’s excellent DBs win their matchups, expect Meyer to roll back the years and revert to a heavy dose of designed quarterback runs.

Prediction

Ohio State 42, Washington 31

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Rose Bowl preview: Can Ohio State prevail in Urban Meyer's send-off?
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