2015 Sugar Bowl: The Defensive Blueprint for Stopping Alabama’s Offense Should be the Same as it was Versus Wisconsin


Heisman contender Ohio State QB Braxton Miller – out for the year with an injury. Heisman contender Ohio State backup QB J.T. Barrett – out for the year with an injury. Worry for Ohio State fans and head coach Urban Meyer – nonexistent.  Many questions were asked about the morale of the Ohio State football team after losing two time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller to a season-ending injury. Many questions were answered after having witnessed backup quarterback JT Barrett put up ridiculous numbers in Miller’s absence, leading his team to a Big Ten title game appearance and getting Heisman trophy consideration. But then things got worse for the Buckeyes.

In the game versus Michigan a few weeks back. a broken ankle (cracked fibula) ended what was a record breaking season for Barrett, a red-shirt freshman out Wichita Falls, Texas. Not only did Barrett break Super Bowl winning quarterback Drew Brees’ Big Ten record for total touchdowns accounted for in a single season, he broke Heisman trophy winning quarterback Troy Smith’s school record for the most touchdown passes in a single season, and set a school record for total yards gained in a single season.

After such a player goes down, many questions are asked about the state of a team. In Ohio State’s case, the morale of the team was in question. And, once again, many of those questions were answered after having witnessed third string and now starting quarterback Cordale Jones put up ridiculous numbers in the 2014 Big Ten championship game vs the Wisconsin Badgers.

Wisconsin statistically had one of the best defenses in the country going into the game. Prior to their Saturday night beat down in Lucas Oil Stadium, the most yards the Badgers gave up during a game this season was 412 which occurred in their week twelve 26-to-24 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes. Well Ohio State racked up 400 yards by the end of their first drive of the second half versus that same Wisconsin team, and they ended up with over 550 yards, and 59 points! While Cardale Jones’ play was an integral part of the Buckeyes’ success, in this situation the game ball goes to the Ohio State defense.

Coming into the game, Badgers running back Melvin Gordon led the nation with 2,260 yards rushing. The junior out of Kenosha, Wisconsin was averaging roughly eight yards (7.96) per carry and 188 yards per game. To put that in perspective, only forty-five TEAMS as a whole have rushed for more yards than Gordon this season. This past Saturday versus the Buckeyes, however, Gordon rushed for a measly 76 yards on 26 rushing attempts, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry.

Come New Year’s day versus Alabama, the Buckeyes must take the same approach; dedicate extra bodies to stop the run game and disrupt things in the backfield.

Playing in the toughest conference in college football, the Crimson Tide are 28th in the country in terms of total rushing yards. Granted they have passed for more yards than they have rushed for this season, but their bread and butter is their ability to run the football. It always has been! In Alabama’s two closest games this season (the loss to Ole Miss and overtime victory over LSU) they rushed for an average of 137 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry. Aside from those two games, the Tide rushed for an average of 223 yards per game. Similarly, last year the Crimson Tide rushed for an average of 211 yards per game in wins, and 173 rushing yards per game in losses. Granted, the two teams they lost against last year were better than the majority of teams on their schedule, but the similarities are hard to ignore.

This season the Buckeyes are seventh in the country in terms of sacks with 40 of them, fourth in the country with 21 interceptions, and 36th in the country in terms of total pass defense. Buckeyes cornerback Doran Grant and safety Vonn Bell alone are tied for the fifth most interceptions in the country with five apiece. And super sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa is tied for second in the nation in total sacks with 14! It’s safe to say that the Buckeyes’ secondary will be tested by Bama’s pass offense, but if extra bodies are in the backfield on every given play, the QB pressure applied could be the difference of the ball game.

So the best shot Ohio State has at taking down the number one ranked team in the nation is if defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Chris Ash can dial up a disruptive game-plan in the backfield versus Alabama (similar to the one they did versus Wisconsin) and make its offense one dimensional. If they can do that, they’ll be right in this ball game and in a great position to pull off the upset.

Let the chess match begin!