A coach whose team played Ohio State this year assesses the Buckeyes' strengths and weaknesses.
The question that could determine the game is simple: Can Blake Sims get Amari Cooper and the other Bama wideouts the ball? If you’re looking for a mismatch, it’s the wide receivers of Alabama against the Buckeyes’ defensive backs. Ohio State has little speed in the secondary, struggles to play man coverage, and its corners are average.
Ohio State’s biggest strength is its defensive line; it’s the second-best we played, behind Michigan State. Joey Bosa is about as good a defensive end as I’ve seen. He’ll give Alabama problems, because the offensive line is a weakness.
When we came out of our game with Ohio State, though, our offensive staff felt that the Buckeyes’ most physically talented player was Darron Lee, the freshman linebacker. He’s big [6’2”, 228 pounds] and fast, and when he drops into coverage, he’s like a cornerback in his movements.
Another advantage for Ohio State is that its offensive line is better than Alabama’s. But Alabama’s defensive line is so deep -- there’s a first group, then a second group will go in. We’ll see if that bothers the Buckeyes. If Ohio State is going to win, it has to be able to run the football and control the game.
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will take away the run up the middle and make quarterback Cardale Jones run the ball. Ohio State’s running backs are good up the middle, but they can’t make linebackers or defensive linemen miss on the corner. Ezekiel Elliott isn't bad, but he’s not as good as T.J. Yeldon.
I wasn’t surprised that Ohio State beat Wisconsin by such a big score [59-0]. No offense to Wisconsin’s side of the Big Ten, but everyone is pretty much the same: They all use 21 personnel (two running backs and one tight end) and run the ball and run the ball. The difference with Ohio State is that its offense will spread you out, and it has better players and better team speed. They’re big and physical too.
People are saying that the Buckeyes can win, and I’d believe it if they still had [injured quarterback] J.T. Barrett.
Ohio State's Road to the National Championship
Ohio State 34, Navy 17 (Aug. 30)
The J.T. Barrett era began with neither a bang nor a whimper, but instead a calm, conservative victory. The redshirt freshman completed 12-of-15 passes for 226 yards with two touchdowns and a blunder of an interception.
Virginia Tech 35, Ohio State 21 (Sept. 6)
Disaster struck early for the Buckeyes as Virginia Tech -- which went on to barely get to bowl eligibility -- took down Ohio State in Columbus, breaking through a porous Buckeyes offensive line for seven sack while limiting Barrett to 9-of-29 passing with three interceptions.
Ohio State 66, Kent State 0 (Sept. 13)
Ohio State took out its frustration from the loss to the Hokies on a hapless Kent State squad, as Barrett tied a school record with six touchdown passes -- five in the first half.
Ohio State 50, Cincinnati 28 (Sept. 27)
Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel kept the Bearcats in it with 352 yards passing and four touchdowns, but the Buckeyes exploded for 710 yards of offense behind Barrett and running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Ohio State 52, Maryland 24 (Oct. 4)
The Buckeyes gave Maryland a cold welcome to the Big Ten in the Terrapins' first home conference game. Barrett continued to show his rapid improvement, passing for 267 yards with five total touchdowns, and Ohio State's defense forced four interceptions.
Ohio State 56, Rutgers 17 (Oct. 18)
The Buckeyes scored 50 or more points for the fourth consecutive game, setting a school record as they trounced the Scarlet Knights. Barrett racked up five total touchdowns with 261 yards passing and 107 yards on the ground.
Ohio State 31, Penn State 24 2OT (Oct. 25)
With Barrett struggling through a sprained MCL, the Buckeyes blew a 17-0 lead but escaped Happy Valley with a double-overtime victory. Joey Bosa picked up 2 1/2 sacks, the last one ending the game by forcing a turnover-on-downs.
Ohio State 55, Illinois 14 (Nov. 1)
After the scare against the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes took no chances against the Fighting Illini, building a 48-0 advantage en route to the lopsided win.
Ohio State 49, Michigan State 37 (Nov. 8)
In a College Football Playoff elimination game, Ohio State proved its superiority with a dominant victory in East Lansing. Barrett passed for 300 yards, rushed 86 and scored five touchdowns while Elliott tallied 154 yards on the ground with two scores. The Buckeyes never trailed in the second half.
Ohio State 31, Minnesota 24 (Nov. 15)
The Buckeyes picked up their second road victory over a ranked team in as many weeks, surviving heavy snow and a 145-yard, three touchdown effort from Golden Gophers running back David Cobb. Despite Barrett setting the Ohio State record for total touchdowns in a season, the Buckeyes needed a late onside kick recovery to seal the win.
Ohio State 42, Indiana 27 (Nov. 22)
Tevin Coleman (228 yards rushing and three touchdowns) and the Hoosiers gave the Buckeyes all they could handle and might have pulled the stunning upset if not for Jalin Marshall. Ohio State's redshirt freshman score four straight second-half touchdowns, including a 54-yard punt return late in the third quarter that gave the Buckeyes the lead for good.
Ohio State 42, Michigan 28 (Nov. 29)
The joy of a closer-than-expected win over their biggest rival was muted by the Buckeyes' sorrow over J.T. Barrett's injury, a fractured ankle that ended his season. After the quarterback went down on the first play of the fourth quarter, Ohio State scored twice to pull away for the victory.
Ohio State 59, Wisconsin 0 (Dec. 6)
No Braxton Miller and no J.T. Barrett? No problem for the Buckeyes. Third-stringer Cardale Jones engineered an annihilation of the Badgers as Ohio State dominate every facet of the game and leapfrogged TCU while holding off Baylor to earn the No. 4 seed in the playoff.
Ohio State 42, Alabama 35 (Jan. 1)
Jones delivered again for the Buckeyes, picking up 286 yards of offense as the Ohio State stunned Alabama to win Sugar Bowl and advance to the national title game. Elliott's fourth-quarter, 85-yard touchdown run and Tyvis Powell's interception on Blake Sims' Hail Mary helped seal the upset.