No. 8 USC (11-2) vs. No. 5 Ohio State (11-2)
Friday, 5:30 p.m., AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes. Radio: ESPN Radio, 690.
USC’s offensive line vs. Ohio State's defensive line: The quarterbacks and running backs have gotten much of the attention leading up to Friday’s Cotton Bowl — and both teams have explosive tandems. But the game will be won in the trenches. Ohio State is giving up just 292 yards a game, eighth-lowest in the country. If the Buckeyes’ deep defensive line — there is a rotation of 10, and 11 players have recorded tackles for a loss — can pressure USC quarterback Sam Darnold and contain tailback Ronald Jones II, it could be a long day for the Trojans. Ohio State is the only program in the nation in the top 10 in total offense and total defense.
USC (489.5 ypg/34.5 ppg): Darnold had the kind of year a prospective No. 1 pick in the NFL draft should have, passing for 3,787 yards and 26 touchdowns. But tailback Jones may be the key to the Trojans’ offense, having run for 814 yards and 10 touchdowns in the last five games, all wins. A sprinter in high school, Jones’ speed is of concern to Ohio State’s defense.
Ohio State (523.6 ypg/42.5 ppg): J.T. Barrett, who will be playing his 50th game for the Buckeyes, is a dual-threat quarterback who passed for 2,939 yards and 35 touchdowns and ran for 732 yards. He’s also a smart signal-caller who isn’t afraid to make changes if he sees something in the defense that can be exploited. Freshman running back J.K. Dobbins averaged 7.5 yards a carry this season. Ohio State’s two losses came in games in which he was held to less than 73 yards rushing. Ohio State is the only school in the nation with more than 3,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing.
USC (404.8 ypg/26.3 ppg): USC allowed at least 23 points nine times in 13 games and hasn’t given up fewer than three touchdowns since October. The Trojans do lead the nation with 43 sacks, but if they get after Barrett too aggressively he becomes dangerous as a runner. That will place a lot of pressure on outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, USC’s key contain man. The Trojans are opportunistic on defense, having intercepted 16 passes — returning three for touchdowns — and recovered eight fumbles.
Ohio State (292.3 ypg/19.9 ppg): Led by sophomore Nick Bosa and redshirt junior Sam Hubbard, who have combined for 24 1/2 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, Ohio State’s defense has racked up 100 tackles for losses. The Buckeyes have held nine of their 13 opponents to less than 300 yards of total offense and limited three to a touchdown or less. The pressure is important since Ohio State lost four defensive backs in the first round of the NFL draft the last two seasons, leaving three underclassmen starting in the secondary. They are backed up by three freshmen.
Freshman walk-on Chase McGrath missed the first field-goal attempt of his USC career but was 12 for 15 after that, including game-tying and game-winning kicks against Texas and two others of more than 45 yards. Punter Reid Budrovich, also a walk-on, averaged 42.5 yards in 49 punts, pinning opponents inside their 20 nearly 40% of the time. The Trojans have returned two punts for touchdowns.
Sean Nuernberger, Ohio State’s junior kicker, missed just four of 20 field-goal tries but made only one of more than 38 yards. He is perfect on 174 — 68 this season — point-after kicks in four seasons. Buckeyes punter Drue Chrisman averaged 44 yards a kick. Ohio State has not returned a kick for a touchdown this season.
USC has won its last seven games with Ohio State dating to the 1974 Rose Bowl; three of those games have been decided by three points or less. The teams have met in September, October and January; never in December. … The last time USC played in AT&T Stadium — in last season’s opener — they were routed by Alabama 52-6, the Trojans’ most one-sided loss in five decades. The last time Ohio State played there, in 2015, it won a national championship.
Ohio State has two Southern Californians on its roster, including fifth-year senior tight end Marcus Baugh from Riverside, who has at least one catch in all 13 games this season. USC has no players from Ohio but has five Texans, including Jones.
Ohio State has seven Texans, including Barrett (Wichita Falls) and Dobbins (La Grange).
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11