The view from both sides of Ohio State-USC

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
1:19
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As most of you know, I spent part of this week with Ohio State down in C-Bus, and Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller has been hanging out with USC in L.A. As the big game approaches Saturday night at the L.A. Coliseum (ABC, 8 p.m. ET), we decided to touch base and get a sense of the buzz in both camps.

Ted Miller: Folks over here in beautiful Southern California are feeling pretty confident -- read: really confident -- about their Trojans' chances to not only beat but whip Ohio State. What's the feeling over there in the Midwest?

Adam Rittenberg: The feeling here in flyover country is a little more tense. Something to do with a big toe. But they're confident that "Little Animal," AKA James Laurinaitis, and the Buckeyes defense will give Mark Sanchez some trouble on Saturday night. You sounded pretty pumped up the other day after actually getting to watch USC practice. What stood out during the Trojans' workouts?

Ted Miller: What stood out? How good the Trojans look. These guys pass the sight test. Of course, Ohio State would too ... if Jim Tressel let you Big Ten folks into the super-secret football sanctum. Anyway. What caught my eye was 1) Mark Sanchez; 2) Joe McKnight. Sorry to stick with the fancy guys, but Sanchez was sharp this week and he's obviously fired up about leading the Trojans. As for McKnight, he's got the sort of speed and elusiveness that he stands out among a team loaded with fast, elusive guys. So let me ask ... Is Beanie going to play? All the USC folks say yes.

Adam Rittenberg: My sense is he'll play, but probably not much, 5-10 carries. The fact he was still so sore from taking 20 "carries" with no contact in Wednesday night's practice suggests there's still plenty to risk by leaving him out there too long. He obviously gives that offense a ton of confidence and let's be honest, Ohio State needs to win this one to get back to the national title game. But this guy, despite his size, can be labeled injury prone at this point, and Jim Tressel might not want to gamble again. Speaking of injuries, what's the latest on the USC front? Cushing? Hazelton?

Ted Miller: USC has notable bumps and bruises but it appears that nothing will keep guys from playing -- at least initially. WR Vidal Hazelton practiced yesterday and looked OK -- Pete Carroll said he was "behind" in terms of the game plan. LB Brian Cushing has a bum wrist and hip -- he gets nicked a lot -- but he should be a go. LB Rey Maualuga is wearing protection on his hand and briefly sat out with a hyperextended elbow Thursday but he returned to practice. This is a healthy team. So, let's say Wells is limited: Does that mean the game is in Todd Boeckman's hands and the Buckeyes will have to throw to win? And is Boeckman ready to post that signature performance?
 
Adam Rittenberg: Boeckman needs a huge performance in what will be the defining game of his career to this point. He admitted the timing was off with his top wide receivers, Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, last week against Ohio. That simply can't happen for Ohio State to keep up with USC. Boeckman doesn't exude a ton of personality, which might be good or bad. He could be a steadying force for an offense going through adversity or a guy lacking in leadership skills. Then again, we could see a ton of Terrelle Pryor on Saturday, especially with Wells limited. How about the other quarterback in this game, Mark Sanchez? Great numbers in the first game, but c'mon, it's Virginia. Is he ready for an elite defense like the Buckeyes?
 
Ted Miller: That's a good question. Sanchez got some playing experience last year when John David Booty was hurt -- most notably at Oregon -- but he has not faced an elite defense, other than every day in practice. Still, he hasn't faced anything like the pressure and soundness the Buckeyes will bring when the lights are on. My sense is the guy can't wait to show the world what he can do -- he's a very confident, charismatic guy. It's fun to watch him charm and work reporters. Moreover, the WRs, who underachieved last year, seem to have found their rhythm. If so, it's a talented, deep group. Let's talk speed. That's all we heard during the Buckeyes twin BCS title game face plants vs. the SEC. "Ohio State is slow." What's the feeling on that in Columbus? Exaggerated or true?
 
Adam Rittenberg: Man, it must be nice to be talking to players with personality. Why can't we all cover the Pac-10? OK, rant over. The speed thing is exaggerated, in my opinion. The NFL scouts who list Malcolm Jenkins as the top cornerback on their draft boards don't see a slow player. Same goes for Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman and many others. A bigger problem for Ohio State has been discipline, sticking to its assignments rather than trying to make the extraordinary play. The Buckeyes have lost their composure in the national title games, either with personal-foul penalties or blown assignments. I think the defense steps up for a while and makes it closer than some anticipate, but I can't see Ohio State winning this one on the road. I'll stick with my pick, 31-24 Trojans. You get the last word. What happens Saturday night?
 
Ted Miller: I had thought all summer I was going to pick Ohio State. Most people don't realize that the Buckeyes contending for a national title in 2007 was gravy. 2008 was supposed to be the year. The Buckeyes are seasoned and talented. But, I just can't pull the trigger. I'm sticking with my projection this week of 28-17 Trojans. I'm rooting -- hard -- for a good game. And I'd think we'd both salute these programs for showing the courage to play each other. Some so-called elite teams hide from showcase nonconference games like this.

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