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Ohio State gears up for 'conditioning test'

12/29/2009

LOS ANGELES -- The run for the roses has taken on a whole new meaning for Ohio State as it prepares for Friday's matchup against No. 7 Oregon.

No offense in college football tests a defense's conditioning level quite like the Ducks, who operate in a no-huddle, spread attack that stresses speed both before and after the ball is snapped. Oregon's pace makes it hard for defenders to communicate the correct play, make substitutions or simply line up in the right place.

Ohio State's operating system on defense will be put to the ultimate test Friday in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET).

"We'll look at the body language of the other team, we'll look at our tempo," Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. "We don't want a defense to be set. We want a false step at the snap, and hopefully that's created by playing fast and creating a moment of indecision for those guys.

"[Ohio State is] going to shuttle in and out a lot of big guys up front, and we want to make sure those guys have to stay in the game a little longer than they want to."

The Buckeyes have heard the speed argument for years, and some will question their stamina going against a team like Oregon. Players say they're up for the challenge.

"That's what their offense does; it tries to rattle you," Buckeyes safety Kurt Coleman said. "It's about being poised and being conditioned. If you're conditioned, you can think clearly. Being out of condition, I don't see that happening. It's just about getting the right calls in."

Conditioning will be especially important for Ohio State's defensive line, the team's deepest and most disruptive group. Ohio State consistently clogs lanes and generates pocket pressure with players like Cameron Heyward and Thaddeus Gibson.

While Oregon could neutralize the Buckeyes' pass rush a bit, the down lineman are ready to run all afternoon Friday, after doing so throughout practice the past few weeks.

"We're out there running, making sure we get to the ball on every play," defensive tackle Doug Worthington said. "We can see exactly what all that running, the run for the roses as we call it, how that stands out and what it's for. I can feel it now. I feel my wind better than it's ever been.

"It's going to be a great testament to the strength coaches and all the things they've put in place to help us get better."

Oregon players and coaches will watch opposing defenders to see who shows signs of fatigue. Then the Ducks gear plays toward the weary.

"At the end of the day, I know when that ball snaps, as long as [Ohio State defenders are] 100 percent, that's all that matters," Worthington said. "Put your hands on your knees right before they snap it, and then put your hand on the ground and go out and compete and do what you have to do.

"Guys are ready, and the conditioning aspect is going to be huge."