The Home Team vs. The Road Warrior

The BCS Championship may be a home game for LSU, but Ohio State is a road team

Jan. 7, 2008

By Carolyn Braff

CSTV.com



Carolyn Braff

Carolyn is an assistant editor and writer for CSTV.com.
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LSU's campus is located just 80 miles from the New Orleans Superdome, the site of Monday night's BCS Championship game. That effectively makes the title game a home contest for LSU, but for No. 1 Ohio State, that's just fine.

 

"We know that we're going to have to come ready, because we are in their territory," Ohio State running back Beanie Wells said. "That's something that we've been emphasizing to our team, that we're not at a neutral site, really. It's basically a home game for them so we know we have to be prepared for that."

 

What is the best way to prepare to play in a hostile environment? Play in other hostile environments. After taking home wins from the Big House and Beaver Stadium in front of crowds of more than 110,000 loud and inebriated college students, Ohio State figures to be in good shape to handle whatever - or whoever - awaits in the Superdome stands.


 

 

 

"We've been a huge away team this year," wide receiver Brian Hartline said. "We went into a handful of hostile environments and we've played a lot better on the road than at home. This is a perfect situation for us to have our backs against the wall. Sounds good to me, that hostile environment. There's really no room for error, and it's a good way to treat it."

 

For the most part, Hartline is right on - the Buckeyes have played some of their best ball on the road. The season finale against Michigan was the defense's best performance of the season, and it came against Ohio State's toughest opponent. While the Buckeyes' No. 1-ranked defense finished the season giving up an average of just 225 yards per game, the unit was even better against Michigan, allowing the Wolverines only 91 yards in the Big House, including a paltry 15 on the ground. The game marked the first time Michigan did not reach 100 yards of total offense since 1962.

 

What amounted to the Big Ten championship game was not the best for the Buckeyes in the passing department - Todd Boeckman was just 7-of-13 for 50 yards with an interception - but the running game picked up the slack. Wells rushed for a season-best 222 yards, obliterating his average of 121.9 yards per game, and the Buckeyes held the ball for almost 40 minutes, more than seven minutes longer than their season average.

 

Plus, Ohio State managed that performance against their most hated rival, on the road, in front of the biggest crowd they saw all season - 111,941, a much bigger group than will fill the Superdome on Monday. Even packed to the gills, the Superdome's capacity is around 72,000, and despite the widespread home-team lore, don't be surprised if a large contingent of Ohio State fans manage to secure a ticket or two.

 

If the Buckeyes can bring the same fire to New Orleans that they brought into each of their away games this year, they are primed for a big night in the Big Easy.

 

In Ohio State's first road game of the season, at Washington (attendance 74,927), the receivers Brian stepped up - Brian Robiskie had four catches for 107 yards and a touchdown, and Hartline hauled in six catches for 88 yards and a score of his own. The receivers helped Boeckman pass for 225 yards, eclipsing his 180.9-yard-per-game season average. The run game was no slouch either, as Wells rushed for 135 yards.

 

In front of a white-out crowd at Beaver Stadium (attendance 110,134), Ohio State outdid its season average in points scored, passing yards, possession time, red zone efficiency and third down conversions. Boeckman had a particularly efficient afternoon in State College, completing 73 percent of his passes (he averaged 64.5 percent this season) for 253 yards and three touchdowns.

 

"I know at Purdue, at Penn State, at Michigan, we came out and scored on the first drive," Harltline said. "We came out firing. We didn't shy away from the crowd or playing at night, so hopefully it will be pretty similar. The weight of the BCS championship will just put a little more fire into it."

 

Granted, Penn State and Washington hold a very dim collective candle to LSU, but the ability to play up in a loud stadium is something the Buckeyes are eager to embrace once again on Monday night.

 

"Eighty or 90,000 LSU fans are probably comparative to 110,000 Penn State fans, from what I've understood," Hartline said. "It will definitely help us. Overall, I don't expect us shying away from any kind of feeling of the masses of people. I'm sure they're heckuva fans within that Superdome, and I don't expect anything less."

 

Ignoring the distractions of the stands is certainly an important aspect of this game, but the distractions on the field - in the form of players wearing purple and gold - are even bigger. One thing the Buckeyes have done well on the road is take care of the football, and they will need to do so again on Monday, especially considering the prowess of their opponent.

 

LSU ranks second in the nation in turnover margin, with an impressive +18 mark. Ohio State, on the other hand, owns a pedestrian -1 margin, ranking them 67th in the country.

 

In their five road games, however, the Buckeyes notched a +3 turnover margin, fumbling the ball only once with three fumble recoveries and picking off six passes to Boeckman's five interceptions. As long as Ohio State sticks to its year-long protection tendencies, they should not give up anything to the talented LSU defense without getting something back on the other side of the ball.

 

But rest assured, should the Buckeyes give the ball away, they will quickly be reminded just whose house they are playing in.

 

"You know where you stand when you're in Louisiana," offensive tackle Kirk Barton said. "They love their Tigers down here. It's very evident. It would be the same way if they had a bowl game in Columbus."

 

Until the BCS scheduling powers that be put the championship game in Ohio, OSU will just have to find another way to win. If they stick to their strengths and play away-game football the way they have done all season, the Buckeyes give themselves more than a fighting chance to play spoiler, again, in someone else's house.

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