Blogger debate: Arkansas vs. Ohio State

January, 3, 2011
1/03/11
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Arkansas has one of the most balanced offenses in the nation and is riding a six-game winning streak.

Ohio State is ranked near the top of the nation in just about all of the defensive categories, but is plenty potent offensively, too. Ohio State has won five in a row, averaging 39.2 points during that stretch.

They meet up on Tuesday night in New Orleans in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, a Big Ten-SEC matchup that’s sure to reverberate throughout both conferences.

SEC blogger Chris Low and Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg take a closer look at this battle of the Hogs and the Buckeyes.

[+] EnlargeArkansas running back Knile Davis
AP Photo/Danny JohnstonArkansas running back Knile Davis has rushed for 889 yards in his last six games.
Chris Low: Adam, I’ll start with a concession. The Eastern Division this season in the SEC was brutal. Unless Kentucky can defeat Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl, four of the six teams will finish with losing records. The division champion, South Carolina, finished with five losses. So don’t judge Arkansas based on the way the bowl season started for the SEC with Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina all going down in flames. The Hogs were the second-best team in the league when the regular season ended. They can score with anybody in the country. They run it as well as they pass it, and they’re much improved defensively. The SEC came back strong on New Year’s Day. How did the Big Ten do? Better yet, how have the Buckeyes fared lately in bowl games against the SEC?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, you know how much I'd love to make a witty comeback, a Cam Newton money reference or talk about the academic standards in the SEC, but I've got nothing. The Big Ten was embarrassed Saturday, especially in two of the three losses to the SEC. Michigan State's performance was the most shocking, while Michigan didn't show up again and Penn State let a mediocre Florida team hang around. I caught up with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany on Sunday, and he pretty much conceded defeat to the SEC, saying, "They have the strongest football-playing conference. We've had some competitive success, but they have the edge. Until we beat them, they deserve the edge." That pretty much sums up my thoughts. We all know Ohio State is 0-9 against the SEC in bowl games, a shocking stat. But Arkansas is a newcomer to a BCS bowl, while Ohio State has been there in each of the previous five seasons. How do you think the Hogs will handle the spotlight?

CL: Granted, Arkansas is new to the BCS, but the Hogs aren’t new to the spotlight. They faced Alabama when the Crimson Tide were No. 1 earlier this season and Auburn when the Tigers were a top-10 team. The Hogs know all about playing in big games. They beat four teams this season that finished in the Top 25 of the final BCS standings. To me, the most impressive thing about the Hogs’ season is the way they picked themselves up off the ground after that September home loss to Alabama, didn’t feel sorry for themselves and played their way back into BCS bowl contention. What about the Buckeyes? Any more “back to the future” suspensions coming?

AR: Yeah, how about that? Nothing like a little deferred punishment to add flavor to this game. I'm really interested to see how the suspended players and the rest of the Buckeyes respond after such a major distraction. It could bring them together for a critical game or you could see some fracturing, although I doubt it. Ohio State boasts a large and decorated senior class that will do all it can to make sure the players' heads are in the right place Tuesday night. People knock the Buckeyes for their national title game losses, but they know how to handle the BCS spotlight and showed it last year in Pasadena. The Buckeyes will need their seniors in a big way in this game, especially guys on the defensive side like Cameron Heyward, Brian Rolle, Ross Homan, Chimdi Chekwa and Jermale Hines. What's the biggest key for Arkansas' offense against one of the nation's top defenses?

CL: As long as those two Big Ten officiating crews that worked the New Era Pinstripe and Franklin American Mortgage Music City bowls don’t show up, the Hogs should be all right. Nah, seriously, the Hogs haven’t had any weaknesses offensively the second half of the season. They struggled to run the ball and protect leads earlier in the season, which cost them in the Alabama game. But the emergence of Knile Davis has been huge for Arkansas. He rushed for 1,183 yards, and 889 of those yards came in the last six games. At 220 pounds, he has breakaway speed, and can also grind out the tough yards. Ryan Mallett will spread the ball around, too. The Hogs have five different players with at least 500 receiving yards, including one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the country in D.J. Williams. My question is this: If this game is close in the fourth quarter, do the Ohio State players start thinking, “Here we go again?”

[+] EnlargeOhio State's Ross Homan, (51), Brian Rolle (36)
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteOhio State linebackers Ross Homan (51) and Brian Rolle (36) will be counted on to limit a fast start from the Arkansas passing game.
AR: Gotta love the Big Ten officials. I'm sure they'll be receiving a few letters from the state of Tennessee, or is all the hate mail directed at the Low household? SEC fans are, well, a little extreme. Ohio State has been better in the fourth quarter the last two seasons, and its recent struggles against the SEC have come earlier, in the second quarter. So it's important for Ohio State to prevent a fast start from the Hogs. The Buckeyes have been a slow-starting team this year, but they've been very good in the second half of games. Williams has to be a major concern, and Ohio State needs linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan to perform well. Let's talk about the Ohio State offense and the Arkansas defense. What must the Hogs do to slow down Terrelle Pryor and Dan Herron? Any tattoo artists on the Razorbacks' sideline?

CL: One of the first things the Hogs did this season was make sure they got more speed on the field defensively, and moving Anthony Leon from safety to linebacker helped them do that. Arkansas is good up front and will play several different players. Linebacker Jerry Franklin has quietly had an excellent season. The Hogs were much better at not giving up the big plays this season, which will be key in this game. They want to make the Buckeyes drive the ball and not give up anything easy. If they can hold Ohio State below 28 points, I think Arkansas wins this game. The Hogs don’t mind playing in shootout-type games. In fact, that’s their comfort level. And let’s face it: There’s nothing comfortable about facing an SEC team in a bowl game for Ohio State. The drought grows to 10 games and counting. Final: Arkansas 34, Ohio State 24.

AR: C-Low, I agree that the higher the score gets, the better Arkansas' chances are of winning the Sugar Bowl. But I think you're underestimating Ohio State's defense in this game. A lot of teams move the ball against the Buckeyes, but it's extremely tough to score touchdowns against them. This is the ultimate bend-but-don't-break defense. I see Mallett and the Hogs moving the ball between the 20s, but they'll have a tough time in the red zone. Dan Herron has a big game against a mediocre Arkansas rushing defense, and Ohio State ends The Streak. Final: Ohio State 24, Arkansas 21.

Chris Low | email

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