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Thursday, December 31, 2009
Rose Bowl keys: Ohio State

By Adam Rittenberg

LOS ANGELES -- The 96th Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi is nearly upon us, and here are three keys for No. 8 Ohio State as it tries to end its BCS bowl slide against No. 7 Oregon on New Year's Day (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET).

1. Allow Terrelle Pryor to make a difference with his feet: I know Pryor is a bit banged up, but he remains Ohio State's most dangerous offensive weapon. I've yet to see a defense consistently stop Pryor around the edges, and that includes Texas in the 2009 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, a game where Pryor easily could have had 50 more rush yards. If the Buckeyes can run between the tackles with Brandon Saine and Dan Herron and then go outside with Pryor, they'll be tough to stop. It's the last game. It's a must win. It's time to turn Pryor loose and let him be a difference maker.

2. Buckeyes linebackers must tackle well in the open field: Oregon knows Ohio State's defensive line is trouble, and it will try to run away from Cameron Heyward, Thaddeus Gibson and Co. LaMichael James is one of the fastest backs Ohio State has faced in some time, so there will be increased pressure on linebackers Ross Homan, Brian Rolle and Austin Spitler to be sound in their tackling. Ohio State tackles better than the Pac-10 defenses Oregon typically faces, but James, Jeremiah Masoli, Kenjon Barner and LeGarrette Blount all have the speed to take it the distance.

3. Win the special teams edge: This is usually a given for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have some questions at kicker and with their punt and kick returners. They also allowed a long kickoff return for a touchdown Nov. 14 against Iowa. Ohio State can help its offense by winning the field-position battle, breaking off a big runback or two and keeping Oregon's dangerous return teams in check. Barner averages 24.3 yards on kickoff returns and has a 100-yard touchdown, and he's no slouch on punt returns (9.1 ypr average). If the game comes down to a field goal, Jim Tressel has two decent options in Devin Barclay and Aaron Pettrey.