Once again, Buckeye hearts have been broken, and the Scarlet & Gray has been further disgraced after losing another winnable game to a big opponent at home. First it was Texas in 2005, then it was Penn State in 2008. Now it's USC in '09.
Last year I wrote how Jim Tressel's conservative playcalling known as "Tresselball" has been the culprit for Ohio State's big-game losses (now six straight to top-5 opponents). But after dropping a disappointing 18-15 decision to USC last Saturday night, I have to say that Tressel is only partially to blame.
On Saturday night the Sweater Vest did decide to play it safe more often than not, opting for easy field goals and punts when the Buckeyes needed points. He also continued to script an unimaginative run game, with 90% of the plays going straight up the middle ineffectively (especially near the goal line). And when he did decide to take a chance in the final minutes of the first half, he mismanaged the clock, which ultimately allowed USC to drive back down the field and tie it with a field goal in the closing seconds of the second quarter.
But like I said, it's not all on Tressel. Even with a typical vanilla gameplan, quarterback Terrelle Pryor had his chance to put USC away. But some bad reads as well as his failure to connect on key passes squandered first downs and touchdowns. And even though he operated out of the shotgun the entire game, there was not a single time where he used the zone-read to exploit his evasive scrambling ability. This is partially Tressel's fault, but for all the hype surrounding the sophomore signal caller, Pryor is yet to really prove himself, and he still looks tentative and uncomfortable running OSU's offense.
The one thing that was working was the defense. With the exception of Trojan scoring drives before each half (situations that Tressel put them in), Ohio State's D played lights-out for most of the game. Even the Bucks' much maligned O-line was controlling the line of scrimmage and winning the battles in the trenches.
USC actually played an uncharacteristically conservative game in an effort to ease their freshman quarterback in for his first road game in a hostile environment. But the classic USC confidence and execution was still there, as coach Pete Carroll went for it twice on 4th down to keep scoring drives alive. Jim Tressel didn't. And that pretty much says it all between the two coaches and programs: Ohio State plays not to lose; USC plays to win. The Trojans execute; the Buckeyes do not.
Much like the demeanor of their leader, Ohio State exhibits little edge, aggression, or killer instinct in their play. As evidenced with the too-close-for-comfort brush with Navy the previous week, they don't put teams away. Meanwhile, the always jovial Pete Carroll and his USC team couldn't be more different, remaining loose but fiercely competitive. In big games they play with swagger and confidence, and they have fun doing it.
Coaching deficiencies aside, the biggest thing that irks me about Tressel is his self-effacing, disingenuous communication with the press, always downplaying failures while never giving real answers.
"I haven't had a game yet where I haven't had a significant number of decisions or thoughts that we didn't really critique and see if we could do better," he said to the local media a few days after the USC game. "I'm not sure exactly what a wholesale change [to the offense] would entail."Not only is Tressel willfully oblivious, but like a certain former president, he's just out of touch.
And with Buckeye fans railing against Tressel for the loss, he actually had the nerve to make this statement:
"Honestly...I feel terrible for them because there's no way they're happy. They’ve got to be some of the most unhappy people in the world, and I feel bad because we just made them less happy. And I hate to be a part of making someone less happy. I mean, they’re already miserable, and to make them less happy, I feel bad."Is any other Ohio State fan who's not offended by this? After six straight marquee losses, Buckeye fans have every right to be upset. But instead of personally accepting blame or issuing a genuine apology, Tressel deflects the hot-seat pressure by backhandedly insulting his own fan base, labeling them with the predisposed condition of being "miserable" while ignoring the fact that they might be miserable BECAUSE of him. What an insult.
What Needs to Happen
It's simple: Things need to change, or Tressel needs to let someone else run the offense. Tresselball was good enough to win a national championship, and it's good enough to beat Michigan year in and year out. But for a team that possesses as much talent as Ohio State, that's not enough. It's not that Tressel is expected to meet almost impossibly high expectations each season, it's for him to do it competitively. But because the game of football has changed over the past decade, Tressel's current style will only continue to result in needless losses, pain, and further embarrassment for the institution that is Ohio State until his contract is up in 2013. That is, unless he swallows his pride, relinquishes control, and hires an offensive guru to take over the playcalling duties (Cincinnati's Brian Kelly comes to mind).
The good news is that by now, Tressel's continued failures are well-documented, and Buckeye Nation is finally aware about why Ohio State keeps stumbling on the national stage. OSU fans should be outraged about what has happened in the past few seasons with a coach who has stubbornly and unnecessarily squandered talent and success.
With this last game, though, the most painful thought that stays with me is the fact that Ohio State let a freshman quarterback come into Ohio Stadium at night and walk out with a win. With the electric atmosphere in the Horseshoe, that should never happen, and especially at a time when Ohio State and their hordes of fans NEEDED this win.
Yes, the hardest part is thinking back to that magical night, and what should have been but will never be. Loss where there should be victory; shame where there should be glory.
• Urban Changing OSU Philosophy
• Deconstructing: The grisly demise of 'Tressel Ball'
• Ohio State must figure out how to utilize Pryor's athletic gifts
• Pin down Tressel? It's harder than it sounds
• Thorny victory for OSU
• Buckeyes, The Vest do it their way