On New Year’s Day, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Washington Huskies face the Ohio State Buckeyes. After hosting last season’s most entertaining postseason matchup (a thrilling comeback over the Sooners by Georgia), the Rose Bowl returns to its traditional roots this year, as the Big Ten and PAC-12 champions will face off. Over the last ten traditional matchups, the PAC-12 representative has won eight. Ohio State, therefore, looks to alter the course of recent Rose Bowl history.
Indeed, of the two Big Ten wins, Ohio State owns one of them. In its last Rose Bowl appearance in 2010, the Buckeyes took down Oregon 26-17. But the Huskies won their last Rose Bowl appearance as well. This year’s matchup is perhaps a reversal of tradition in many ways, as Ohio State’s juggernaut offense meets the Huskies’ top five defensive unit. And given that the point totals eclipsed 100 in each of the last two years, fans might wonder whether Washington can do its part to reverse that trend as well.
Ohio State – The End of an Era
News broke earlier this month that Head Coach Urban Meyer would retire from coaching. The university announced that current offensive coordinator Ryan Day would become head coach following the Rose Bowl.
Meyer has coached the Buckeyes since 2012. In those seven seasons, Ohio State finished with 12 wins or better in six of them. The Buckeyes are 4-3 in bowls under Meyer, too. In 2014, Meyer also led Ohio State to its first national championship since 2002. In total, the Buckeyes are 82-9 under Coach Meyer.
Thus, while his tenure has definitely left sour impressions on many due to this season’s scandals, it is hard to say Buckeye Nation won’t miss Meyer.
Ohio State – The Good and the Bad
This season under Day, the Buckeyes transformed from the run-first spread offense commonly employed by Meyer-coached teams. Instead, Ohio State featured an uncharacteristically pass-heavy attack. And the numbers bear that out. The Buckeyes finished the regular season ranked second in the nation in passing yards per game. Meanwhile, they finished ranked only 57th in rushing yards.
The strategy paid off, though, as Ohio State’s total offensive output ranked second in the nation. Meanwhile, signal caller Dwayne Haskins finished just outside of the two-man Heisman race between Tua Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray. That said, the Buckeyes also feature a two-headed backfield, as both J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber are capable runners.
On the other hand, Ohio State has substantially underperformed on the defensive side. The unit finished the season 55th in scoring defense and 68th in total defense. Linebackers Malik Harrison and Dre’Mont Jones are the clear leaders of the unit. Jones and defensive end Chase Young lead the teams in sacks with 8.5 each.
Washington – The Bad and the Good
The Huskies provide an interesting mirror for the Buckeyes. Washington went into this season with high hopes for its offense under senior Jake Browning. Unfortunately, that never materialized. Browning finished the season with only 20 total touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Senior Myles Gaskin was a bright spot on the ground. But, overall, the Huskies underperformed offensively. They finished the season ranked 85th in scoring offense, a far cry from the preseason expectations.
On the plus side, Washington has been dominant defensively. Behind senior linebackers Ben Burr-Kirven and Tevis Bartlett, the Huskies surrendered only 15.5 points per game. That was good enough for fifth in the nation. Burr-Kirven has been as dominant a force as any across the country, as he finished the regular season with 165 tackles, two interceptions, and three fumble recoveries. Cornerback Byron Murphy tallied four interceptions. And senior tackle Greg Gaines led the team with 4.5 sacks.
Behind the veteran leadership in its second level, the Huskies defense maintained a solid balance despite not creating significant pressure in the backfield. Buoyed by solid fundamentals, the defense was equally effective against both the run and the pass.
On paper, this game should be a close call. Vegas agrees as Ohio State is favored by a single possession. That said, Ohio State has faced top defenses before. In fact, the Buckeyes faced two top-ten defenses (and three more just outside of the top 25). And they put up 62 points on the best of those units. Washington, on the other hand, has not faced a single top-30 offense.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are playing with a chip on their shoulder after being left out of the College Football Playoff. In Meyer’s last game as head coach, expect the Buckeyes to beat the Huskies, and the spread. The game will be televised on ESPN beginning at 5:00 PM EST. Ohio State 38, Washington 27.