I wanted to find enough reasons to pick the Huskies to actually do it.
There is no question that the Huskies have the ability to win tomorrow, and it won’t surprise me if they do. Like just about everyone, I expect a close game, and a Husky Stadium that figures to be its most raucous since the 2003 Apple Cup might be enough to pull the home team through. (The attendance could top 72,000 for the first time since that night).
But in my role as objective reporter, I look at Ohio State and see a team I still just think is a little bit better — the sort of thing that if they played each other 10 times, I figure the Buckeyes would win six or seven.
In fact, when I broke down the teams by positions, here’s who I gave the edge:
QB — Washington
RB — Ohio State
WR — Even
OL — Ohio State
DL — Washington
LB — Ohio State
DB — Ohio State
ST — Ohio State
For all that Ohio State may not have — Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Antonio Pittman, etc. — this is still a team that just last January was playing for the national title.
A team that has won 21 of its last 22 games, all but three by at least 10 points.
That still has three defensive players — end Vernon Gholston, MLB James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins — who have the potential to be as good as any in the country.
An offense that while not proven or bound to be explosive even when hitting on all cylinders, is the kind that can win this type of game on the road, built around a two-back running attack.
For all the talk of Jake Locker and the Ohio State defense, that may be the real battle — OSU’s offensive line against UW’s defensive front seven. The Huskies look much improved up front, but Ohio State still has three starters back from the line that started the national title game, including two tackles that have each started for at least three years.
The Huskies contained Ian Johnson last week, but I think it will be more of a challenge this week. I also doubt that Ohio State will move away from the running attack as quickly as it seemed like BSU did last week — the Broncos ran on just 12 of 41 plays in the second half. If Chris “Beanie” Wells can’t get it going, look for Ohio State to give some carries to true frosh Brandon Saine, a Parade All-American last season who has gotten warmed up with 70 yards on 19 carries in the first two games.
And it’s not as if Ohio State has no passing game — its receivers will be the best UW has seen so far (don’t forget that speedy Ray Small will be playing in his first game for Ohio State this year).
Defensively, OSU’s linebacking corps includes two returning starters (Laurainatis and Marcus Freeman) with the new starter senior Larry Grant, the national junior college player of the year two seasons ago.
Suffice to say, these will be the best LBs UW will have faced and will present the truest challenge for Locker’s running abilities.
Locker is obviously a huge key, and his struggles against Boise State could be among the best things that could have happened for UW in regards to this game — he learned a big lesson about forcing the action last week and that knowledge should help him Saturday.
Locker obviously has to play better than he did last week.
But expect the Huskies to try to take some of the pressure off Locker by going with screens and pitchouts to Louis Rankin and other such counter plays. If UW can make those work, maybe I’ll be proven wrong.
Then there’s the special teams, another area I’d give the edge to Ohio State, especially in the return games.
How can the Huskies win?
—- Rattle QB Todd Boeckman, who may be the weakest line Ohio State has;
— Establish at least a semblance of a non-Locker running game, assuming that the Buckeyes do all they can to contain the UW QB;
— Hit a few long passes. Ohio State will likely bring some pressure, leaving some one-on-one opportunities. UW’s receivers will have to get open.
— Make no mistakes on special teams, and create some positive plays in that area.
A UW win can happen.
But I also wonder if there hasn’t been just a little too much value placed in the win over Boise State, a team that obviously isn’t as good as it was a year ago. And if too much hasn’t been placed on Ohio State’s struggles in the first two games — no doubt the Buckeyes haven’t come close to showing all that they have on offense. I also wonder if all the attention UW has gotten this week won’t also serve to wake up the Buckeyes just in case there was any danger of them overlooking UW. The Buckeyes are almost an underdog the way the national media has jumped on the Husky bandwagon.
Add it up, and I’ve got Ohio State winning 21-17.
As always, I’ll be happy to be wrong.
What we all know for sure is that it should be darn fun finding out what happens.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.