Rose Bowl preview – Key players and matchups for Ohio State and Utah


Ohio State and Utah will head to Pasadena, California, coming from opposite directions. The Buckeyes appeared destined for the College Football Playoff for the bulk of the season until their loss to Michigan, while the Utes started the year 1-2 before a quarterback changed the trajectory of the season.

Utah’s Kyle Whittingham is among the top candidates for national coach of the year after guiding the Utes through the tragic deaths of teammates — and close friends — Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe roughly 10 months apart. It’s a nearly unimaginable set of circumstances to cope with, and to do so while equaling the best conference record (8-1) by any team since the Pac-12 expanded, is a remarkable achievement. If the crowd at Friday’s Pac-12 title game in Las Vegas is an indicator of what to expect, then Utah fans will have a massive turnout for their program’s first Rose Bowl appearance.

This will be Ohio State’s first Rose Bowl appearance since the 2018 season — having qualified for the CFP in Ryan Day’s first two seasons as head coach — and its 16th all time. Coincidently, Day and Whittingham succeeded Urban Meyer in their current roles.

No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 11 Utah Utes
The Rose Bowl Game presented by Capital One Venture X

When: Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, 5 p.m. ET
Where: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
How to watch: ESPN and ESPN App
Opening line from Caesars Sportsbook: Ohio State -6.5

Key player for Ohio State: QB C.J. Stroud. Over the last four games of the regular season, Ohio State’s running backs had five rushing touchdowns. Stroud threw for 15 in those four games. He makes the offense go, and the Buckeyes need him to put up numbers against Utah. Stroud threw for 394 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan in the final game of the regular season, but his team didn’t win, so he vowed to personally correct the wrong. The team had no rushing touchdowns against the Wolverines, so the offense needs Stroud distributing the ball to his three playmakers at receiver and getting them in the end zone.

Key player for Utah: LB Devin Lloyd. A year ago, Lloyd had the chance to leave Utah with the chance to be a first- or second-round pick in the NFL draft, but he passed that up after the Utes played just five games. He wanted to leave more of a legacy at Utah. Consider that accomplished. Lloyd is now a surefire first-round pick and will be featured on several All-America teams after leading the Utes to their first-ever Pac-12 championship and debut appearance in the Rose Bowl. Lloyd is the No. 25-ranked player on ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay’s rankings of eligible draft prospects and No. 2 among inside linebackers.

Matchup to watch: Utah’s pass defense against Ohio State’s offense is going to be a big key to this game. Utah ranks 75th in interceptions this season with nine, but it is fourth in pass breakups with 58. Utah also has the fifth-most sacks of any team this season with 41, so Ohio State will have its hands full. The Buckeyes have so many big playmakers at receiver, though, with Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Ohio State is fifth in passing yards per game, fourth in passing touchdowns (40) and has thrown only seven interceptions all season.

X factor: Ohio State doesn’t want to go out with a loss after losing to Michigan in the final game of the regular season. That loss kept the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten championship game and out of the playoff, so there will be motivation for this team to show what it is capable of. While Ohio State isn’t used to this situation, there is no question this game still means something.

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