Ohio State may be a heavy favorite to beat BYU in the Thrifty Car Rental Holiday Bowl, but the Buckeyes swear they are not taking the Cougars for granted.

If nothing else, BYU's passing game definitely has their opponents' attention."We don't face anyone in the Big 10 Conference who throws the ball as well as BYU does," said OSU coach John Cooper. "Collectively, this is the best group of receivers, including the running backs coming out of the backfield, that we'll have faced all year."

Strong safety Chico Nelson says the Buckeyes have had to work on things in practice the last couple of weeks that they didn't do all season.

"Back in the Big 10, we don't have to disguise our coverages," Nelson said. "But with BYU, if you sit back in a zone, they'll pick you apart."

The prevailing opinion about this game seems to be that BYU's best chance is to pass like crazy and hope to shellshock the Buckeye secondary. The Cougars have averaged 42 passes a game, while the OSU defense has faced an average of 30 passes per game - and most of those were thrown by teams trying to play catchup. Pitt, for instance, threw for four second-half touchdowns in a 63-28 defeat. And Purdue also passed successfully in losing 45-24. Most of those late-game successes, however, came against OSU's second- and third-string units.

Nelson is confident that while he and the other defensive backs are somewhat untested - at least by Western Athletic Conference standards - they will measure up just fine.

"We have our work cut out for us," he said, "but secondary guys look forward to games like this. We're anxious to get out there and showcase our talents."

Nelson realizes, though, that the Cougars are proficient enough at passing that if they get hot, they could light up Jack Murphy Stadium.

"When you have as talented an offense as BYU, on any given day they can burn you for 500 yards," he said. "It's their receivers vs. our defensive backs."

One thing the Buckeyes don't plan to do is assume that BYU's receivers can't go deep.

"They don't look all that quick on film," Nelson said, "but they keep connecting on all these deep passes, so they must be getting downfield somehow. You can't underestimate their speed."

BYU receiver Eric Drage said the Cougars are prepared - as always - to pass, but hope they can mix it up.

"We don't want to be in a position where we have to throw," Drage said. "We want to be able to run or pass on any down."

Drage said the OSU defense looks solid on film, but there are reasons to hope.

"We've seen some things we're going to try to take advantage of," he said. "The important thing is to be patient and take what they give us."

View Comments

As for speed matchups, Drage said the OSU secondary poses a problem. "They're fast," he said. "They're probably right up there with UCLA. But we feel like if (quarterback) John (Walsh) gets enough time, someone will get open."

Drage, BYU's leading receiver, missed two-and-a-half games late in the season with broken ribs, but that amazingly may have been a blessing in disguise for the Cougars. In his absence, the almost-forgotten Micah Matsuzaki stepped up and played big, while others - like Bryce Doman and Tim Nowatzke - got a chance to establish themselves as threats.

"I personally feel we have the best receivers in the nation, as a group," Drage said. "We're nine deep. Not too many teams can say that."

And that's a fact of which Ohio State is well-aware.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.