LOS ANGELES — If at first you don’t succeed, try tackling again.
That’s what the Ohio State defense will be doing on Saturday in the 2022 Rose Bowl against a Utah offense that is about as physical as a short-tempered bouncer in the angriest bar on the block.
The Utes are as comfortable playing three tight ends as most teams are playing one. Those tight ends can then tilt the field to allow even more downhill running from tailbacks Tavion Thomas, TJ Pledger, and Micah Bernard.
“Physical, they’re a very physical team,” Ohio State secondary coach Matt Barnes said of his overall impressions of Utah’s offense. “They’re very well coached. They’re a sort of NFL style, and they use multiple tight end personnel groupings. They do a good job with pre-snap shifting and motions, some of the things you see more in the NFL than you do in college football. The thing that jumps off the tape right away is their physicality. They try to run the ball downhill, and they’re big upfront. They do a really good job. They’re very well coached.”
Utah is second in the nation in yards per carry (5.62). All three of the Utes’ running backs have multiple 100-yard rushing games this season. And they’re running behind an offensive line that sets the tone better than a pitch pipe.
“Just physical, big guys,” Ohio State linebacker Steele Chambers said. “Guys that just want to run the ball down your throat. Just want to out-physical you. Run the ball, like, 30, 40 times a game.”
The last time the Buckeyes played a game, they faced a very similar foe.
“If I had to compare them to anyone, I guess the team up north because that’s the team we just recently faced,” Chambers said.
“Really, just stacking the box and going right at you. Yeah, a lot of similarities as far as the run game. They just come at you downhill.”
Considering that Michigan rushed for 297 yards in their 42-27 win over Ohio State last month, the Buckeyes are going to have to be different mentally and physically than they were against the Wolverines. If they aren’t, then something similar to their last game is probably going to happen again.
“The challenge has been being more physical, really. It’s pretty simple,” Chambers said. “I think we’ve been doing that in practice. We’ve been going pretty hard. So I think we’re definitely making adjustments to just be tougher in the run game and just tougher, in general.”
While outsiders may see Utah’s physicality as being a bad matchup for the Buckeyes, it’s a matchup that Ohio State likes because it will give them an opportunity to show that they can just as physical as anybody else.
“Just get the really bad taste out of your mouth,” Chambers said of the opportunity on Saturday. “We’ve had that taste for – it feels like two months now. I think it’s only been like a month so far. But, yeah, I feel like it’s just good to end the season on a good note, really, getting that bad taste out of your month after a game like that.”
After the loss to Michigan, the Buckeyes were said to be a soft team. They were criticized for the way the Wolverines pushed them around. Rather than deflect, Chambers accepts what people are saying because the results are what they are. Saturday is an opportunity to disprove people, but what happened can’t be wiped away.
“I personally think we kind of deserved it, maybe, I don’t know,” Chambers said of the labels. “I mean, we did it, so it’s now part of us and we now have to own it. So I’m not just gonna say that’s not us. Because I mean, that was us on the field. But I mean, again, we just got to make corrections and try to right our wrongs. We’ve just got to do better.”
The focus this month has been on correcting those errors and maintaining the necessary physicality to win a big game, and according to Matt Barnes, there is a benefit in getting an opportunity to face an opponent similar to the one that just got the best of them.
“Absolutely. Again, we feel like we were backed against the wall coming out of that last one,” Barnes said. “So now we have a chance to regroup and practice hard. I think we’re more motivated than ever. And we’ll need to be because, again, it’s a very, very good football team, very talented, extremely well coached, and again very physical. We’ll have a great challenge.”