Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, December 29, 2014

Forget everything you have heard from coaches over the years about ?defenses winning championships and big games.?

Yes, that axiom carries a lot of truth. But in the Sugar Bowl pitting No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State in a national semifinal playoff game, it?s the offenses that may play the biggest factor in determining the winner.

The battle between Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman and Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin should be epic. Herman pushes the buttons on the No. 5 scoring attack in the nation (45.2 ppg); Kiffin?s attack is No. 16 in America (37.1 ppg). Impressive.


Herman is one of the nation?s hottest commodities, a golden boy who is off to coach the University of Houston after this game. Kiffin is a one-time golden boy who sky-rocketed to the top of his profession quickly in landing head coaching jobs with the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee and then USC. Now, he?s in the process of rehabbing his career in Tuscaloosa.

?I see an extreme amount of depth,? said Herman of the Tide defense. ?They are very big, very physical up front. They've got defensive ends that are weighing in at 280, 290 pounds. They've got defensive tackles that are 320, 330 pounds.

?They have linebackers 255, 260 pounds. So they're really big, really physical, very difficult to move. And it's not just one group that's going. They'll probably play nine to 10 defensive linemen and two sets of linebackers. So they're very deep up front and then good mix of speed and size in the back end.?

Still, neither team?s defense figures to mute the other?s high-powered offense.

Look at the star power on both sides of the ball. The Buckeyes feature running back Elliott, wideouts Devin Smith, Jalin Marshall and Mike Thomas and tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett. And this group works behind one of the nation?s top lines. It?s just too bad quarterbacks Braxton Miller (shoulder) and J.T. Barrett (ankle) are out.

?We respect them,? said Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. ?We work on deep game all week long and they have very good receivers. Our primary goal is to go out there and compete, and know that they?re gonna try us and we got to be ready.?

The Tide has the best wideout in America in Amari Cooper along with quarterback Blake Sims and running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. The line? It?s strong, just like the Buckeyes?.

?Up to this point, I?d say Michigan State is the most complete offense we?ve faced all year,? Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. ?Alabama is right there as a complete offense. There?s a lot of similarities between the two.?

For the record, Michigan State had 536 yards (358 passing; 178 rushing) vs. OSU in a 49-37 loss in East Lansing.

A big key for Ohio State will be sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones, who is coming off a MVP performance in the Big Ten championship game but will be making just his second career start. What challenges will he face vs. a Bama defense that is No. 11 in the nation overall (312.4 ypg) and No. 4 in scoring defense (16.6 ppg)?

?Not a ton in terms of the challenges come when they bring pressure,? said Herman. ?The challenges come from reading coverages. I don't know that the size and depth of their front six or seven is really anything he needs to concern himself with.?

Jones is a 6-5, 250-pound tank who has nifty athletic ability for his size. He also has a rocket arm and showed accuracy on his throws in leading OSU to the 59-0 victory vs. Wisconsin in the league title game earlier this month, hitting 12-of-17 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns. And with no turnovers, which was huge. Bama has little tape to study on Jones.

?It?s hard,? said Smart. ?We?re used to playing guys that have been starting all season long. Like I said earlier, he?s a mystery. We don?t know what he?s gonna come out there and do. We don?t know his tendencies or what kinda plays he runs, what kinda offensive scheme they?re gonna have, so we?re just preparing for everything.?

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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