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5 Storylines to Watch: Ohio State

Sep 10, 2021

An intersectional battle that's been anticipated for years will finally play out on the field Saturday when the No. 12 Oregon football team plays at No. 3 Ohio State in Ohio Stadium at 9:05 a.m. PT.

Oregon (1-0) is looking to build on a season-opening win over Fresno State that saw the Ducks score the last 10 points of the game to complete a fourth-quarter comeback, 31-24. The Buckeyes (1-0) opened their season with a win over Minnesota, 45-31, in a game played on Thursday of last week.

The game will be televised by FOX, with Gus Johnson on play by play, Joel Klatt in the booth as analyst and Jenny Taft providing reporting from the sidelines. Oregon Sports Network will produce the radio broadcast, with a crew of Jerry Allen, Mike Jorgensen and Joey McMurry.

Some storylines to watch Saturday …

1. As the game approaches, the Ducks were looking to block out the noise, both literally and figuratively.

Ohio Stadium officially seats 102,780 fans, although it has hosted crowds as large as 110,045, for a game against Michigan in 2016. The atmosphere figures to be on par with those the Oregon football program experienced at Tennessee in 2010 or Nebraska in 2016 — also massive stadiums that are physically imposing as well as rowdy and loud.

To prepare for the volume of the crowd, Oregon has been piping in noise for practices at even higher levels than usual. The Ducks also will tackle the mental challenge of blocking out the "outside noise" around the game, from the years of anticipation building among the fan bases to the fact that Oregon enters the game as a decided underdog.

2. Oregon can't exactly be said to have started slow against Fresno, but surely the UO offense would like to be more efficient right from the outset Saturday,

The Ducks led 14-0 after one quarter last week, with both touchdowns supplied by the offense. But each was set up by a turnover forced by the UO defense, which gave Oregon possession at Fresno State's 16- and 27-yard lines.

Offensively after one quarter, although the Ducks had 14 points they were averaging less than 4.0 yards per play, and Anthony Brown was just 2-of-5 passing. They'll look to be more productive and explosive out of the gate against the Buckeyes.

3. The UO defense was largely successful at limiting big plays against Fresno State, and while the Ducks will try to repeat that Saturday, it will be an entirely different challenge.

The Buckeyes feature arguably the most explosive receiver group in the country. In their win over Minnesota, the Buckeyes had scoring plays of 71, 38, 56, 70 and 61 yards on offense — the last four of which were through the air.

Defenses talk about keeping the top on an opponent by not allowing big plays that get behind the secondary. Players like Verone McKinley III, Steve Stephens IV and Bennett Williams will look to help the Ducks keep the top on the Buckeyes as much as possible.

4. In the current age of football, few statistical battles are more important to winning than having an edge in explosive plays, and also winning the turnover battle.

The Ducks had three takeaways against Fresno State, and committed only one turnover themselves. Ohio State also played a mostly clean game and won its turnover battle with Minnesota, recovering two fumbles to overcome one interception the Buckeyes threw.

One of the stranger statistics from Oregon's opener was that the Ducks, who led the Pac-12 with 33 passes defended in 2020, didn't have a single interception or pass breakup against Fresno State. For the sake of avoiding big plays, the Ducks may not want to gamble much in coverage Saturday, but an interception or two would do wonders to tilt momentum to Oregon.

5. Interceptions are easer to come by when the quarterback is being pressured, and thus Kayvon Thibodeaux's status is a potential X factor in the game.

Thibodeaux was a dominant force for most of the first half against Fresno State. He forced one of the fumbles that set up an an early UO touchdown with a ferocious hit on the quarterback, and provided pressure that set up sacks by teammates.

But Thibodeaux suffered a sprained ankle late in the first half and didn't play after halftime. He's been considered day to day all week by the Ducks, who held out hope Thibodeaux could work his way back onto the field come Saturday in Ohio Stadium.