Depleted Ohio State confident it has the talent to beat underdog Utah in Rose Bowl
Just like the smell of champagne on New Year’s Day, Ohio State has been a fixture during New Year’s Six games for the past eight years.
No. 6 Ohio State (10-2, 8-1 Big Ten) will make its 16th Rose Bowl appearance on Saturday in Pasadena when it faces No. 11 Utah (10-3, 8-1 Pac-12), which is making the first Rose Bowl appearance in program history. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. and the game will air on ESPN.
After record-breaking rain poured through the region, which led Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency in 20 California counties including Los Angeles, the Pasadena weather forecast calls for clear skies and sunshine on game day.
Utah’s road to Saturday’s Rose Bowl game was marked with professional and personal losses, but coach Kyle Whittingham kept the Utes on track.
Here are the top storylines and matchups to keep an eye on:
Plugging in holes
Ohio State will play Utah without some of its top talent in the lineup. Wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, defensive tackle Hassell Garrett and offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere opted out of the Rose Bowl after they declared for the NFL draft.
The Buckeyes are confident their replacements can perform at a high level despite inexperience.
“We got some good receivers stepping up: Marvin Harrison Jr., Julian Fleming, they’re all great guys who can make great plays,” Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson said. “So it’s going to be exciting to see them play and see them spread their wings.”
Olave and Wilson combined for more than 2,000 receiving yards this season, so Harrison and Fleming didn’t see much competitive action and recorded less than 70 yards apiece.
Utah doesn’t see the receivers’ limited playing time as an advantage.
Utah and Ohio State say they don’t mind passing on Rose Bowl traditions, including steak dinner at Lawry’s, to avoid COVID canceling the Rose Bowl.
“[Olave and Wilson are] very talented wide receivers, but they’ve recruited and they’ve got depth. That’s college football,” Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said. “You’ve just got to keep on coaching your guys regardless of who’s out there. Come with your game plan and play ball.”
First come, first serve
Utah is familiar with redshirt quarterback C.J. Stroud’s dynamic style of play. It’s what they liked about him when they recruited him out of Rancho Cucamonga High School.
“For a young player, [he’s a] very good decision-maker,” Scalley said. “Gets the ball out quick, understands when pressure is coming, where to go with the ball. Very good athlete. He’s looking to throw first, but man, when he takes off, he can run.”
San Luis Obispo and Pomona made a last-minute adjustment to their annual Rose Parade float to honor NFL legend John Madden, who died unexpectedly Tuesday.
Stroud was named the offensive player and freshman of the year by the Big Ten after he led the Buckeyes with a 70.9% completion rate, while his 38 touchdown passes ranked fifth nationally at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
A year in the making
Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd has been lauded by his coaches and teammates as a generational talent. Ohio State players agree, acknowledging the challenge he presents.
“He’s coming into this game very big,” Ohio State offensive lineman Thayer Munford said. “Getting attention from us as players, but also at the same time, we’re not going to bow down to him.”
Lloyd led Utah’s defense with 8.2 tackles per game, which ranked third in the Pac-12. The second team All-American linebacker has been a veteran presence in the Utes’ 11th ranked defense, earning eight sacks.
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