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January 4, 2007

2007 Bowl Preview Series

SCS.comIn a season of what seemed like weekly changes at the head of the national rankings, the survivors remaining atop the BCS standings are the 11-1 Ohio State Buckeyes and the 11-2 Louisiana State Tigers. Both teams appeared to have lost their chance at the national title with losses in November when LSU fell in triple overtime to Arkansas in their regular season finale while Ohio State was tripped up by Illinois in their second-to-last game of the year. However, with Missouri and West Virginia both falling in their final games of the season, the door was opened for the Tigers and Buckeyes to make their way to New Orleans.

This will be the first meeting of these two teams since a 36-33 Ohio State win in 1988 and only the third meeting in these two storied programs' history. For Ohio State, the Buckeyes are appearing in their second consecutive national championship game and have been winners in twenty-three of their last twenty-five games, while LSU posted the school's third straight eleven win season, a first in the university's history.

January 7 - 7:00 PM CST FOX - New Orleans, LA

The matchup...

The Buckeyes enter this game as the two-time defending outright Big Ten conference champion, losing only once within the conference in those two seasons. That loss was on November 10th to Illinois, a defeat that snapped a twenty-eight consecutive regular-season win streak and ended the Buckeyes record streak of twenty straight Big Ten wins. Ohio State is looking for better results after last seasonís 41-14 loss to Florida in the national championship game, a disappointing end to an otherwise great season. Leading the Buckeyes onto the field is head coach Jim Tressel, who has compiled a 73-15 record in his seven seasons in Columbus, including three appearances in the national title game. Also under the direction of Tressel, OSU has appeared in five BCS games, compiling a 4-1 record as one of the nationís top teams in the past five years.
LSU emerged from the group of two loss teams to earn their way into second place in the BCS standings after their win over Tennessee in the SEC championship game. In addition to their three-overtime loss to Arkansas, the Tigers first loss on the year was another three-overtime defeat, that time at the hands of Kentucky. This was a season of firsts for the Tigers, as LSU captured their first outright SEC West championship, won six games versus top twenty-five teams and earned their first top ranking in the BCS during the regular season. In charge of the LSU program is Les Miles, who has guided the Tigers to thirty-three wins in three years, the most wins in a coachís initial three seasons at the helm in the programs history. He leads his Tigers into New Orleans in search of bringing the second national title in five seasons back to the Bayou.
If you review both of these teams seasons results and analyze the statistics this title game appears to set-up as a defensive battle. The Buckeyes lead the nation in total defense at 225 yards per game while LSU ranks third giving up 284 yards per contest. Although for LSU, the Tigers were not as sharp on defense towards the end of the season as the unit was injured and missing key players like Glenn Dorsey. With the long lay-off before the championship game, LSU should come into this contest healthy and ready to return to their early season form. Ohio State was amazingly consistent all season long, only giving up more than seventeen points on only one occasion, in their 28-21 loss to Illinois. Time to breakdown how these two national title hopefuls match-up head-to-head in all aspects of the game as college footballís prize is on the line at the Super Dome.

When LSU has the ball...

The Tiger offense is centered around their running back Jessie Hester, who led LSU to the nationís twelfth best rushing attack at 219 yards per game. Hester rushed for 1,107 yards on the season and eleven touchdowns as he assumed the role of being the main offensive weapon as the season developed. One of Hesterís great assets is the fact that he has not fumbled the ball in his last 330 carries, since he put one on the ground in the first game of his career versus Georgia back in 2004. With Jacob leading the way, the Tigers finished fifth in the nation in turnover margin with a +1.38 average per game. While Hester is the grinding back, Keiland Williams and Trindon Holliday provide a nice change of pace with their speed and elusiveness. With Ohio State ranking third in the nation in rushing defense this sets up to be a great battle of strength versus strength.
With the running game setting the tone, quarterback Matt Flynn is in charge of managing the game plan. Flynn is an excellent field general who is capable of making big plays, but he can be inaccurate at times and forced into making mistakes. On the season, he tossed seventeen touchdowns versus ten interceptions while completing about fifty-five percent of his pass attempts. When Flynn drops back to pass he will be looking for his main target in receiver Early Doucet, who led the team with fifty receptions, even though he missed four games due to injury. Doucet is the fourth leading receiver in LSU history and now that he is healthy and ready to go, he can become a difference maker in this contest. The combination of the top-notch rushing game and a solid passing attack produced seven games in which LSU put forty points on the scoreboard and generated sixty-one touchdowns on the season, the most in LSU history.
Gearing up to shutdown the LSU offense is a Buckeye defense that has been brutal on their opponents all season, ranking first in the nation in pass and total defense. Ohio State gave up 10.7 points per game and allowed only eleven touchdowns on the entire season, four of them in their loss to Illinois. The key behind the stellar OSU pass defense is a lethal pass rush, led by lineman Vernon Gholston, who ranks fourth in the nation in sacks with thirteen, and linebacker James Laurinaitis, who registered five sacks of his own in his Butkus award-winning season. LSU does yield 2.2 sacks per game, which ranked seventy-first in the nation, so the Tiger offensive line is likely to have its hands full all night in keeping OSU out of their backfield. In addition to the pass rush, the Ohio State front line has been tremendous in shutting down the opponents rushing attack and keeping blockers off their strong linebacking corps, allowing the group to roam free and make plays.

SCS.comWhen Ohio State has the ball...

The Buckeye offensive strategy is based on rushing the ball first with Chris Wells leading the charge. Wells ranked tenth in the nation while rushing for 122 yards per game, and he became a major force at the end of the season, with two-hundred yard games versus Michigan State and Michigan in the latter portion of the season. Wells possesses a nice blend of speed and power and expect him to get plenty of carries in this game. The LSU rush defense ranks thirteenth in the country and features one of the best run stuffers in the country in tackle Glenn Dorsey. Dorsey and his mates yielded one-hundred yards on the ground, a single time this season, to Arkansas star Darren McFadden. An outstanding match-up to watch will be to see how the LSU front line matches up with the Bucks front, which is anchored by a couple of star tackles in Alex Boone and Kirk Barton who pave the way for Wells.
Todd Boeckman has been a pleasant surprise for the Buckeyes this season, as he answered a major question mark that surrounded this team entering the season. Boeckman answered to the tune of being named to the Big Ten first team by vote of the media after a season in which he ranked fifteenth in the nation in passing efficiency and tossed twenty-three touchdown passes. His main target on the season was veteran receiver Brian Robiskie, who reeled in ten of Boeckmanís touchdown aerials and ended the season by catching at least one pass in twenty-four consecutive regular season games. LSU should be careful not to focus too much on Robiskie, as right behind him is Brian Hartline with forty-six receptions and he is OSUís best punt returner. In charge of shutting down the Buckeye passing attack and the leader of the Tiger secondary is safety Craig Steltz. Craig was named a first team All-American and was a finalist for the Thorpe award as he led the team with six interceptions.
Overall, the Tiger defense put together an excellent 2007 season, even with the slight downturn in the final few weeks of the season. When this unit is fully healthy, there is playmaking talent all over the field, which should be on display on January 7th. LSU ranked third in the nation in total defense and was especially effective at forcing turnovers, thirty-three on the season, setting up the offense with ample scoring opportunities. Glenn Dorsey receives much of the praise, and rightfully so, but this unit is loaded with speed and talent across all the units. Defensive end Kirston Pittman will look to harass Todd Boeckman all night after a seven sack season and he will challenge the star OSU tackles with his speed rush. Anchoring the Tiger linebacking corps is Ali Highsmith, a first team all SEC defender, who led the backers with ninety-three tackles. In this game, expect the Tigers to work to utilize their speed advantage, much like Florida did last season, and to harass Boeckman all night long, adversity he has not yet faced this season with the strong OSU line protecting him.

Star watch...

The major stars for Ohio State reside on the defensive side of the football. First up is the 2007 Big Ten defensive player of the year in James Laurinaitis, the Buckeyes leading tackler and top playmaker. James will play sideline-to-sideline and he will get to the ball carrier and deliver a hit as best as any backer in the nation. Joining Laurinaitis on the Big Ten first team is defensive lineman Vernon Gholston, who dominated opposing lineman all season long. Vernon has proven to be almost impossible to block and will make for a long night for LSU quarterback Matt Flynn. On the offensive side of the ball, the top playmaker is Chris Wells. The sophomore back had eight 100-yard games this season and was dominant at the end of the season. Also keep an eye on Biletnikoff semifinalist in receiver Brian Robiskie, who has a knack for finding is way into the end zone, and led the team by a wide margin by averaging 17.7 yards per reception.
The headliner of the LSU program is defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. Although he battled his way through injury for much of the year, Dorsey still put together a season that won him the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski, and Lott awards in addition to being named as a first team All-American and the SEC defensive player of the year. The most impressive aspect of Dorsey is that he is basically double or triple teamed on every play, so in addition to allowing his teammates to roam free he still was able to record sixty-four tackles and six sacks on the season. Also on the defensive side of the ball is safety Craig Steltz, the leader of one of the nationís best secondaries. Steltz is a ball hawk and a big hitter that will make the Buckeye receivers pay when they make a reception in his area of the field. The top player on the offensive side of the ball is back Jacob Hester, the leader of the Tiger rushing game which generated the most yards on the ground for the school since 1977. Tiger kicker Colt David was the SECís best kicker this season and led the league in scoring, setting the LSU record with 139 points and twenty-five field goals made.

Keys to the game...

1. LSU must be able to rush the ball against the stout Buckeye front wall. Matt Flynn is a solid quarterback but he cannot carry the Tiger offense on his back, so Hester and Williams must find room to run, otherwise the LSU offense will struggle.
2. The LSU offensive line has to slow down the Ohio State pass rush, especially focusing on Vernon Gholston. Gholston can singled handedly dominate games and he will make for a long night for Matt Flynn if the Tiger front does not keep the Buckeye rush contained.
3. The Buckeyes must continue their strong play on first down on the offensive side of the ball. The Buckeyes generated 6.8 yards per play in first down this season, setting the offense up with second and short yardage on a regular basis. The playbook is wide open in this scenario, making the well-balanced OSU attack difficult to shutdown.

The staff says...

- - - - - F o o t b a l l   S t a f f - - - - - - - - O t h e r   S t a f f - - -
David Gregg Joey Jonathan Matt Ben Daniel Eddie Larry
177-97 169-105 175-99 179-95 165-109 - S e a s o n   R e c o r d s -

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