Roles reversed for Buckeyes and Longhorns

September 8th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Roles reversed for Buckeyes and Longhorns

Matthew Zemek /

When the Bucks and Horns buck horns in the Lone Star State this Saturday, Vince Young will be gone and the quarterbacking calculus of this matchup will be 180 degrees different from where it was a year ago.

Texas — no longer the hunter of an elusive national title — will be defending its 2005 crown against the 2002 national champs. (Anyone else notice how Texas manages to win a national title shortly after OSU does? After Woody Hayes bagged the 1968 championship, Darrell Royal's boys followed suit in '69.) The psychology, the location, and the strategic components of this contest will be different from a year ago in the Horseshoe.

Yet, those very differences unearth some striking similarities between this 2006 tussle and the 2005 tilt that catapulted Mack Brown and the rest of the Burnt Orange Bevo Boys to the college football mountaintop.
Vince Young's absence, in a weird but real way, makes the quarterback situation very similar to the 2005 game, with the difference merely being that the shoe is now on the other foot. Last year, the home team faced an uncertain quarterback situation, with two talented but not very proven signal-callers competing for big dog status in a battle shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Part of what hurt Ohio State in last year's 25-22 loss to the Longhorns was the home team's inability to find tremendous consistency under center, especially in the red zone.
This year, Texas is the team saddled with a quarterback derby as it prepares to host the Scarlet and Gray. Colt McCoy (what an all-time great name for a Texas Longhorn quarterback, eh?) is the clear No. 1 quarterback and the starter for this game, but if he can't handle the pressure, don't be surprised if Jevan Snead sees some action in the attempt to give the Longhorns a spark. How Mack Brown juggles his signal-callers could be an important part of the night's proceedings, much as Jim Tressel's balancing act proved to be a major storyline in last year's game.
Vince Young's absence (it's casting just a bit of a shadow over this game, don't you think?), oddly enough, reveals another similarity between this game and the 2005 holy war in central Ohio. With Texas' stud now playing for a certain former USC offensive coordinator in Tennessee, the 2006 version of Bucks-Horns won't just have a similar feel for the home side; the quarterbacking picture now looks very familiar for the road team as well.
Why is Ohio State ranked No. 1 going into this game? Two words: Troy Smith. Much as VY was the first, second, third and fourth reason why Texas was able to go into Columbus at night and prevail — on the road to a national title in 2005 — Smith is that same kind of figure who is expected to be the main, secondary and tertiary reason why Ohio State can go into Austin at night and escape with a victory ... on the road to a championship in 2006 at the Buckeyes' regular winter home: suburban Phoenix. Everything Vince Young was in 2005 is everything Troy Smith is expected to be (at least in the minds of many college football pundits and prognosticators) in 2006. The Buckeye quarterback flashed so much game, and — much more importantly — so much poised leadership in the final, decisive games of the 2005 campaign that he seems ready to be a "climb on my back" force of nature who can carry a team, particularly its offense, over and above the rest of the college football world. Much as Texas would simply outscore opponents when the Longhorns' defense wasn't in top form, so Smith can ring up absurd numbers this season when OSU's defense is trying to fill the shoes of guys named Hawk, Carpenter, Whitner, Youboty, and others.
It's clear, then, that when you compare the 2005 and 2006 versions of Ohio State vs. Texas, every difference gives way to a more striking similarity. In many ways, the dynamics of this game are the same, with the roles being reversed. This year, it's Texas — not Ohio State — who will profit from a lower-scoring, ball-control-oriented game. It's the Buckeyes, not the Longhorns, who want a calculator game exceeding four hours and filled with stacks of passing yards, touchdowns and huge, game-breaking plays. If that kind of a game unfolds, chances are the Bucks — with Ted Ginn and other home-run hitters in addition to Smith — will wind up outscoring a Texas outfit that is best suited to hammer the run at the teeth of OSU's defense and work the clock in its favor.
When all is said and done, then, this five-star throwdown in Austin will likely be decided by the kinds of things that always decide a particularly hyped game in which the adrenaline flows rapidly and the air hangs thick with pressure. Strategy and coaching might factor into the outcome to a point, but ultimately — and especially in an early-season game when rust and inexperience loom large — the game will be decided by a key play that you'll be able to identify when you see it. It could be a Ginn punt return for a touchdown or some similar thunderbolt, but it's more likely to be a backbreaking mistake that abruptly changes the momentum of the contest. Last year, this one play was Buckeye tight end Ryan Hamby's drop of a perfect Justin Zwick pass that would have netted OSU a touchdown and a two-possession lead. Unable to make its kill shot when it had the chance, Ohio State allowed Texas to hang close... close enough for one brilliant drive by Vince Young to culminate in a touchdown that stole a win from the Buckeyes' clutches.
Who will make the big play, or the big mistake? That's pretty much what will decide another war in the kind of matchup that makes college football sing. The hosannas were full-throated after last year's beauty in Columbus; the college football chorus is likely to be just as spirited when this dandy in Austin comes to a close as well. So much is different about Bucks-Horns '06; but ah, thank heaven, so much more about this matchup is so blessedly similar in relationship to last year's collision in Columbus. All that's left amidst the hypefest is for the game to take shape. Sit back, relax, down the barbecue, and enjoy what figures to be a very wild rollercoaster ride of emotions and football fortunes. If it's even half of what last year's game was, you're in for a pigskin treat.