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Utah vs. Ohio State Odds, Picks, Predictions: Bet the Buckeyes to Cover in Rose Bowl Game

Utah vs. Ohio State Odds, Picks, Predictions: Bet the Buckeyes to Cover in Rose Bowl Game article feature image

Emilee Chinn/Getty Images. Pictured: CJ Stroud.

Utah vs. Ohio State Odds

Saturday, Jan. 1
5 p.m. ET
Utah Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
-110o / -110u
Ohio State Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
-110o / -110u
Odds via BetMGM. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.

For most teams in college football, a 10-2 finish and appearance in the Rose Bowl would be considered an incredibly successful season.

For Ohio State, however, it’s considered a significant disappointment for a team that is coming off a National Championship appearance and had gone undefeated over its last two regular seasons.

Utah, meanwhile, had an incredibly productive season by its standards, which resulted in a 10-3 record and a blowout victory over Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game.

What makes its finish even more impressive is that the Utes started the year by losing two of their first three games but finished on a 9-1 run after the offense started to roll when they transitioned to Cameron Rising at quarterback.

Handicapping motivation in bowl season is always tricky, but it’s safe to say that this game means much more to Utah than it does to an Ohio State team that had justified National Championship aspirations. This should be a huge game for Utah, which has never played in the Rose Bowl in the history of the program and just won the Pac-12 for the first time in its history as well.

The Buckeyes have experienced some significant opt-outs for the NFL Draft — namely wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson — as well as offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere and defensive tackle Haskell Garrett.

Utah has been one of the hottest teams in the nation down the back half of the season, so will that continue against a shorthanded Ohio State team to secure a victory in the program’s first-ever Rose Bowl appearance?

Utah Utes

Utah Offense

Utah switched from Charlie Brewer to Rising as its full-time quarterback in Week 4, and the offense took off from there.

Among 172 qualifying quarterbacks, Rising’s 80.7 PFF passing grade ranks 34th, and his turnover-worthy play rate of just 2% is tied for 21st. Overall, the passing game ranks 19th in EPA per pass, and that goes up to 10th when just filtering from Week 4 on (when Rising took over).

The ground game is where this offense is most dominant, though, which ranks 10th in terms of Success Rate.

In the backfield, Tavion Thomas has taken the majority of the carries, but Oklahoma transfer T.J. Pledger has been very efficient as well on his 97 attempts, with both ranking as top-30 running backs by PFF rushing grade. Thomas is tied third in the nation in rushing touchdowns with 20, while Pledger’s 4.45 yards after contact per attempt is tied for 10th among running backs with at least 75 carries.

Finally, you can’t talk about Utah’s offense without giving the offensive line some love. It’s ranked fourth in Sack Rate Allowed and 15th in PFF run-blocking grade.

After Ohio State got run over by Michigan’s offensive line in the regular-season finale, it’s going to have to figure something out against a Utah offensive line of similar caliber.

Utah Defense

Any discussion about the Utah defense has to start with linebacker and future first-round NFL Draft pick Devin Lloyd.

He’s been a menace all over the field, generating seven sacks, a whopping 22 tackles for loss (which trails only Alabama’s Will Anderson), and has allowed just 168 yards into his coverage for 4.3 yards per attempt, per PFF. In terms of grading, his 91.1 overall grade ranks second among linebackers, and his 90.0 coverage grade ranks fourth.

Nobody has been able to do a great job of slowing down Ohio State through the air this year, but Utah has what it takes to at least have a fighting chance, with a defense that ranks 18th in Passing Success Rate Allowed.

The pass rush has been a major reason why, as it ranks 17th in pressure rate. Lloyd gets a lot of the headlines, but don’t forget about edge defender Mika Tafua, who leads the team in sacks and ranks second in the nation with 74 pressures.

If there’s a weakness with this group, it’s against the run, with the Utes ranked outside the top 50 in Rushing Success Rate Allowed. That could be troublesome against Ohio State’s lethal ground game.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State Offense

It’s not hard to make a case for this Buckeye offense as the best in college football, considering it leads the nation in Expected Points Added (EPA) per play and points per drive. Looking at splits, it comes in at third in EPA per pass and fourth in EPA per rush.

The receiving corps was the strength of the team this season but will be without two potential first-round picks in Wilson and Olave for this game as both have opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft. Those two will leave a big hole to fill after combining for 135 catches, 1,994 yards and 25 touchdowns this season.

Without that duo, slot receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba will likely see an already high workload increase after leading the Buckeyes in receptions (80) and receiving yards (1,259) this season. In terms of grading, his 90.2 Pro Football Focus receiving grade leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth in the nation.

Behind Ohio State’s three starters at receiver, there’s a lot of talent but also limited experience. Olave, Wilson and Smith-Njigba combined for 299 targets this season, but the receiver with the fourth-most targets is Julian Fleming, with only 13.

The good news, however, is that Fleming was the highest-rated receiver in the 2020 class, while teammate and true freshman Emeka Egbuka was the top receiver in the 2021 class. The loss of Wilson and Olave will hurt, but there’s also no shortage of potential playmakers in this wide receiver room.

This passing game also has the benefit of having one of the top quarterbacks in the country in C.J. Stroud, who has a top-four ranking in yards per pass attempt and PFF passing grade. Let me go out on a limb and trust that Stroud and a wildly talented group of pass-catchers will figure out a way to move the ball.

If not, the Buckeyes always have the ground game to fall back on, with running back TreVeyon Henderson tied for fourth nationally in yards per carry as a true freshman.

Ohio State Defense

Not to play the blame game, but it wasn’t Ohio State’s offense that left the Buckeyes out of the College Football Playoff.

This defense just wasn’t where it needed to be this season for a championship-caliber team, with the Buckeyes ranked 70th in Success Rate Allowed. It really didn’t have a particular strength, either, as its Success Rate Allowed ranked outside the top 50 against the run and pass specifically.

Ohio State is known for its ability to produce elite pass-rushers, but the Buckeyes finished the regular season ranked just 48th in pressure rate. Individually, nobody on the team managed to total six sacks or more.

The front also struggled against the run, which proved to be the Achilles’ heel in both of the Buckeyes’ losses. They allowed 7.1 yards per carry to Oregon in the Week 2 loss and 7.2 per carry in Michigan’s upset to end the year.

In the secondary, none of Ohio State’s starters received a PFF coverage grade above 75. True freshman cornerback Denzel Burke does have a bright future, however, as he started out of the gate for the Buckeyes and allowed a passer rating of just 57.3 into his coverage, per PFF.

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Utah vs. Ohio State Matchup Analysis

Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Utah and Ohio State match up statistically:

Ohio State Offense vs. Utah Defense
Rush Success 31 56
Line Yards 27 65
Pass Success 2 18
Pass Blocking** 39 51
Big Play 3 46
Havoc 3 5
Finishing Drives 1 22
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Utah Offense vs. Ohio State Defense
Rush Success 10 51
Line Yards 8 14
Pass Success 64 68
Pass Blocking** 90 5
Big Play 5 41
Havoc 11 10
Finishing Drives 28 40
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Pace of Play / Other
PFF Tackling 52 60
Coverage 63 58
Middle 8 16 31
SP+ Special Teams 2 114
Plays per Minute 40 84
Rush Rate 47.4% (115) 57.1% (49)

Data via College Football Data, FootballOutsiders, SP+, PFF and SportSource Analytics.

Utah vs. Ohio State Betting Pick

I understand that Ohio State will be without some extremely important contributors in this game and that a Rose Bowl victory means much more to Utah than it does to the Buckeyes.

But with that said, I still see this price as too short for Ohio State. This is still an incredibly talented team and likely still has one of the best wide receiver rooms in the country even without two of the best at their position in Olave and Wilson.

Additionally, Ohio State has an exploitable matchup with its ground game against a Utah front seven that has been vulnerable against the run at times.

The defense is admittedly concerning, and it feels like I’m on an island here, but I just can’t pass up the Buckeyes at this price.

Pick: Ohio State -4

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