The matchup everyone is anticipating in the Rose Bowl is Oregon's offense versus the Buckeye defense. The Ohio State defense has shut opponents down all season long, and comes into the game the 5th ranked defense in the country. The Ducks on the other side are averaging 424.7 yards and 37.7 points per game. While the Buckeye defense shouldn't be disrespected by anyone for what they have done this season (and they have been on many Oregon websites), fans do have to be honest in saying this team has not faced an offense like that of the Ducks.
Rather than spend tons of time talking about what either team has previously accomplished this season though, I want to take a look at what the defense needs to do to slow down the Oregon offense. It starts by understanding exactly what they do.
Chip Kelly and the Ducks, like all users of the spread offense, like to use the whole field to their advantage. That way they stretch the defenders out, and put pressure on each individual. What makes Oregon tougher to defend is their execution of the read option. This is a run first option, like that of Florida, which will throw tons of different looks at the defense.
"The quarterback takes the snap in shotgun formation. He puts the football in the belly of the tailback, who crosses in front of him in the same direction the line is blocking. While doing this, the quarterback watches the defensive end on the back side of the play. The offense leaves him unblocked."
"The defensive end's natural inclination is to move with the flow of the play in the same direction as the offensive line. If he does, the quarterback pulls the ball and runs toward the open, backside of the defense."
"If the defensive end zeroes in on the quarterback, the quarterback hands off and the tailback carries as if on a zone running play. Either way the defensive end has taken himself out of the play."
That is just the start though! Oregon will add all sorts of wrinkles to make things even more complex for defenders. Sometimes they isolate the defensive tackle instead, sometimes they will mix in a little triple option, and all of this happens without them even throwing the ball.
So what can the Buckeyes do?
Well, the first thing is be prepared and be disciplined. Stopping the spread, and even more importantly the read option, has to be a team effort not an individual one. Many talented defenses, including USC, have gone down by not sticking to their assignments. This is tough because the offense is fast paced and forces quick decision making, so each man must know his role and the formation.
That also means that sometimes guys will have to take on blocks rather than just rallying to ball. For instance, go back and watch the film of the Navy game as the Buckeyes tried to defend the triple option. Ricky Dobbs and company gashed the defense many times when they didn't play disciplined, team defense. Each player simply trying to collapse on the potential ball carrier will result in the same long runs that Oregon has had all season long.
Second though, the Buckeyes also need to be ready for a four quarter battle because Oregon will try to push the tempo all game long. Slowing them down at certain moments is possible, especially early on the game, but no one wins in the first half. The Buckeyes should have learned that lesson in the first game of the year when Navy came roaring back late. Oregon's style of offense can strike very quickly, and will press the defense as much in the fourth quarter as it will in the first. If the defense gets worn out or becomes complacent, count on the Ducks striking fast.
Ultimately both of these things, discipline and conditioning, will be huge for slowing down the Oregon attack. I don't want to sound overly simplistic because there are other things that need to happen (like playing well on the defensive line, slowing the tempo of the game to limit possessions, etc), but I think these two things will play the biggest role for the Buckeye defense.