Posted on December 31, 2021
But OSU has been almost unstoppable since losing to Oregon, presenting a difficult challenge for Kyle Whittingham’s team.
I preview the matchup here, and the picks of our senior football writers appear at the bottom.
No. 11 Utah vs. No. 6 Ohio State
Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, CA
Saturday, January 1
2:00 pm PT, ESPN
Given an allotment of 20,000 tickets, the Buckeyes had to return around 7,000 after their fans considered the Granddaddy of Them All not worthy of their money.
Four Ohio State starters feel similarly. Wide receiver Chris Olave, wide receiver Garret Wilson, offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, and defensive tackle Haskell Garrett have all opted-out.
A fan base and roster that spurs the tradition and history of the Rose Bowl doesn’t deserve to win.
Utah, on the other hand, sold out its allotment of 27,800 tickets and had to request another 5,000 to satisfy demand. In what might be the biggest game in program history, the Utes are treating this matchup like the Super Bowl.
But motivation and fan support don’t score points.
To beat the Buckeyes, Utah must slow down C.J. Stroud. The freshman quarterback is playing on another level, completing 70.9 percent of his passes with 35 touchdowns and just five interceptions on the year.
Stroud heads the top scoring offense in the country, as OSU puts up 45.5 points per game, 551.1 total yards per night, and converts 53.1 percent of their third downs.
Two starting receivers aren’t playing, but running back TreVeyon Henderson is ready to do damage. The true freshman has 1,172 yards rushing and 19 total touchdowns this year.
With an NFL-caliber quarterback and running back to work with, the opt-out of Olave and Wilson might not matter.
Up against Stroud and Henderson, Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley faces his toughest task of the season. Taking away the passing game could be accomplished with blitzes, but it risks giving up chunk plays over the top.
At the same time, the Utes can’t sit back and allow Stroud to deal. It’s a pick-your-poison schematic dilemma, but one that Scalley must make.
On offense, Utah won’t come out on top unless it runs the ball effectively. Cam Rising’s willingness to run adds a dimension to the Utes’ game plan that could be the difference.
Not solely reliant on Tavion Thomas or TJ Pledger in the backfield, Utah’s ground game is unleashed when Rising makes plays with his legs.
Effective quarterback runs should create space for UU’s tight ends, too, with OSU’s linebackers keeping one eye on the QB. The result could be a productive night for Dalton Kincaid and Brant Kuithe.
When it comes down to it, if Rising and Company take care of the ball, the Utes have the offensive firepower and the defensive strength to win the game.
Ohio State has won eight of its last nine against Pac-12 opponents, but the motivation from playing in their first-ever Rose Bowl should give Utah the edge on Saturday night.
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