Buckeyes want to ground Barkley

Published 1:29 am Thursday, September 10, 2009

COLUMBUS — To win this time around, Ohio State wants USC freshman Matt Barkley to spend some time on the ground.

A year ago, the Buckeyes hardly laid a glove on Trojans quarterback Mark Sanchez, whose passing combined with Joe McKnight’s running to dominate Ohio State in Los Angeles, 35-3.

The No. 8 Buckeyes know if they’re to exact their revenge on the third-ranked Trojans in Ohio Stadium on Saturday night, they must dial up the heat on Barkley, the latest talent to take the snaps at USC. That means finding a way to outplay, outflank or outsmart bodyguards with a combined weight of 1,710 pounds that the youngster has on his front line.

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‘‘Pressure busts pipes and it makes diamonds, so we’re going to see what our defensive line and front seven can do,’’ Ohio State lineman Doug Worthington said.

Barkley was jittery at the outset of his collegiate debut last week against San Jose State. But he came around like a veteran pitcher who found his groove.

The first true freshman to start an opener at quarterback for the Trojans, Barkley hit on 15 of 19 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in a 56-3 runaway.

Ohio State’s defenders and coaching staff have seen the films of that performance. They know that if Barkley is allowed to set up in the pocket, go through his reads and deliver passes without having someone in his face, it could be a long, long night.

‘‘Without a doubt, that young man is far enough along that if he has a chance to just stand around, he’s not going to miss,’’ Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. ‘‘He’s knows where his guys are going. He knows what (defense) you’re in. And if he has time, he’s going to complete them.’’

The Buckeyes haven’t hidden that they hope to get to Barkley and undercut his confidence. So the Trojans line is preparing for an all-out assault on their prized signal-caller.

The guys in front of Barkley — tackles Charles Brown and Tyron Smith, guards Jeff Byers and Alex Parsons, center Kris O’Dowd and tight end Anthony McCoy — are expecting the Buckeyes to come at Barkley on every play.

‘‘That’s our responsibility, to give him as much time as he needs to execute the offense,’’ said Byers, who will start at left guard if O’Dowd is healthy enough to go at center. ‘‘They’re going to try to throw him off his game, and that’s what we’re there for.’’

Even though putting heat on Barkley is important for Ohio State, the only way the Buckeyes can do that is if they are able to stuff USC’s deep and talented running attack. McKnight bedeviled them a year ago at the L.A. Coliseum, picking up 105 yards on only 12 carries. He had 145 yards and two scores in USC’s opener.

‘‘Hopefully we can stop the run. That’s their main key and we hope to stop it,’’ said Ohio State defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, son of former NFL star Craig ‘‘Ironhead’’ Heyward.

So to get at Barkley, the Buckeyes must first solve a formidable running game — and then figure out how to rattle the freshman.

‘‘I don’t think he should think of it as all the pressure being on him,’’ Byers said. ‘‘It’s about our whole offense as a unit, and part of that is us run-blocking for the tailbacks and then playing well in pass protection.’’

Chaos will be the Buckeyes’ friend. They may try a wide variety of sets and personnel to keep the Trojans guessing. Don’t be surprised if they blitz all night and send defenders from every angle and gap.

If they are able to keep the running attack under control, then they can put Barkley in obvious passing situations and make him make rushed or even bad decisions.

‘‘If he rattles, he rattles,’’ Worthington said. ‘‘That’s the plan, to get out there and get after him and stay after him.’’

USC coach Pete Carroll doesn’t sound worried.

‘‘I would think he’s going to have fun with it,’’ he said of the hostile environment confronting Barkley. ‘‘And he’s going to be excited to see what it looks like to be in an opponent’s stadium of that stature and all. And then he’s going to go play. I don’t think it will matter to him at all.’’

In last year’s game Ohio State could not rattle Sanchez. The Trojans were able to run (164 yards, while the defense limited the Buckeyes to less than half that). The successful run game gave Sanchez plenty of time to pick the secondary apart, hitting on 17 of 28 passes for 172 yards and four TDs with one interception.

Of course, both cornerbacks and all three starting linebackers for the Buckeyes are gone, most of them off to the NFL. Both sides have had significant losses since their last meeting.

In a way, that has simplified the objectives. There are fewer personalities getting in the way of what each side wants to do.

‘‘It’s going to be key in the game to get pressure (on Barkley),’’ Ohio State cornerback Andre Amos said. ‘‘That’s what we’re definitely focusing on doing.’’