SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The 2015 season will soon come to an end for No. 7 Ohio State (11-1) and No. 8 Notre Dame (10-2), as the two historic programs are set to ring in the new year with a Friday meeting in the Fiesta Bowl.
Here are five elements The Lantern’s sports editors Ryan Cooper and Kevin Stankiewicz will be monitoring when the 1 p.m. kickoff comes in Glendale, Arizona.
When the Buckeyes and the Fighting Irish step onto the turf Friday, it will be their first game action in over a month.
As with any bowl game that takes place this last in the cycle, questions about how each team will respond to the long layoff are valid.
Predicting how each particular team will react, though, isn’t necessarily an easy assignment.
Bowl games provide additional adrenaline for a quick start. However, that could just as easily lead to over-aggressiveness and penalties.
Those penalties, missed assignments and turnovers are great indicators of cobwebs. But both teams know those cannot appear when the Fiesta Bowl kicks off.
“That’s always important to start fast and set the tone for the game,” Notre Dame junior right tackle Mike McGlinchey said Wednesday. “That’s one of our goals. I’m sure it’s one of theirs, too.”
McGlinchey would be right about OSU putting an emphasis on a quick start. To ensure they produce one, the Buckeyes held an intrasquad scrimmage Tuesday.
“It helped create a game atmosphere, game vibe,” OSU redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Michael Hill said. “We did the same type of thing coming into the Virginia Tech game, and we did very well that game.”
Both teams want the fast starts as soon as their four-week layoffs are over. Whichever gets that wish will be going down the path to victory with a head start.
One wrinkle that bowl games provides that regular-season matchups do not is the chance to spend multiple weeks looking at tape of opponents. With that comes the likelihood of each team being thoroughly familiar with play-calling and player’s tendencies.
It’s not that during the regular season scouting is minimal. It is still incredibly in-depth, but for postseason play, being able to place a singular focus on one team is a whole different ballgame.
To counteract that, teams will often implement new layers to their gameplan to really catch their opponent off-guard.
Both OSU and Notre Dame will presumably take that same approach and on Friday, some of those new — now hidden — layers will be revealed.
As for what they might look, that is tough to predict. Might OSU redshirt senior H-back Braxton Miller throw? What about Notre Dame using both running backs, C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams, in the backfield at the same time?
All possibilities are on the table as of now. But whichever team executes the newly implemented play-calls will hold the upper hand in the matchup.
End of the road
The curtain call for 18 OSU seniors, and many underclassmen darting for the NFL, commences Friday.
For the 18 players whose eligibility will soon run out, they have a chance to win their 50th game as a Buckeye. As a whole, this year’s senior class is one of the most legendary in OSU history, in large part to securing to the national title last season, but also for the way the group lifted to the program out of the shadow of “tattoo gate.”
“I think the entire senior class,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said, “we feel very strongly, not to go too far backwards, but a group of coaches came in after a seven-loss season, it was a leap of faith, a blind faith, to follow a group of coaches as they did.
“What that group has done is rather phenomenal.”
Members of that group include Miller, linebacker Joshua Perry and left tackle Taylor Decker. That trio has helped transcend the program, and because of that, many of their teammates are planning on doing anything they can to secure a win.
“I want to do my job,” sophomore defensive tackle Donovan Munger said Wednesday, “but it’s really about getting the win. That’s our main goal: sending the seniors out with the 50th win in their careers.”
In their last time in scarlet and gray, expect many of the players to try and churn out the best performance possible.
Barrett’s big-stage debut
Redshirt sophomore quarterback J.T. Barrett has 16 career starts under his belt in his second year of play. However, he is yet to appear in a bowl game after a late-season ankle injury prematurely ended his 2014 campaign and left him watching from the sideline as backup Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes to a national title.
But Barrett will get his chance to appear in the spotlight in the Fiesta Bowl, though he said he is trying to curb his enthusiasm.
“I don’t really think there’s any pressure with it,” he said. “I heard pressure is something that comes when you’re not prepared, and I think I’m preparing well for this bowl game.”
But Barrett did say that that type of big game is something he has looked forward to since he stepped in the Columbus campus.
“I’m excited to be playing in a bowl game, for sure, and going against a great team like Notre Dame is something you can get up for,” he said.
The Wichita Falls, Texas, product started four of the final five regular-season games for the Buckeyes after snagging his job back from an inconsistent Jones. He only missed the Nov. 7 contest against Minnesota due to a one-game suspension.
Jones’ bowl debut a season ago was a very positive one for Meyer’s squad. He piled up 286 total yards and a score as the Buckeyes topped Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship.
The last quarterback to make a bowl debut before Jones was former quarterback Miller, who first appeared in the 2011 Gator Bowl as a true freshman. He threw for 162 yards and two touchdowns but struggled mightily to get anything going on the ground, picking up only 20 yards on 15 runs as the Buckeyes fell 24-17 to Florida.
Whether Barrett shows up like a veteran treating each game the same could be a pivotal factor in the Fiesta Bowl. As Ezekiel Elliott showed last year, Meyer’s offense relies heavily on strong performances from his running backs.
But Notre Dame knows that, so they could make an effort to crowd the NFL-bound junior and instead force Barrett to take care of business himself. Meyer just has to hope his signal-caller is up for the task.
Finding help up the middle
For the most part, the Buckeyes have been pretty healthy all year long.
They have had some injuries, as all teams do, but most of their key players have been able to stay on the field when they are needed.
That good fortune will take a major hit on the defensive line on Friday.
A pair of starting senior defensive tackles, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt, are not going to be at Meyer’s disposal in the Fiesta Bowl.
Washington is healthy, but has been banned from the game by Meyer after a citation for solicitation earlier in the month. Schutt, on the other hand, recently broke his foot and will only be able to watch his final collegiate game from the sideline.
On Wednesday, Meyer said a series of players including redshirt senior Joel Hale and redshirt sophomores Hill and Tracy Sprinkle will get increased reps in the middle of the defensive line.
He also said junior Joey Bosa — a stalwart at the end position — will also likely see snaps in which he slides over and plays up the middle.
Notre Dame’s quarterback, redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer, is as adept at finding room to run as he is at hitting the right target through the air. Meyer knows one of the only true solutions to slow him down is to put him under constant pressure, but the thinness of the line could make that a very tall task.
However, Kizer said on Wednesday that he respects any player donning the scarlet and gray regardless of their statistics, as he is well aware of the type of talent the school brings in, even simply as depth options.
“We know that, as much as we have depth at Notre Dame, they have depth there,” Kizer said. “They do a really great job recruiting great guys, and they’re going to be able to have guys step in and play those roles. Maybe not as well as the original starters, but pretty darn good.”
How Meyer chooses to manage the number of snaps with players who haven’t been relied on heavily this season, as well as how successful those guys are at making Kizer uncomfortable, will be crucial items to monitor on New Year’s Day.