Two fourth downs, two different choices. Both made at the wrong time in the wrong place.
When Ohio State took on Navy in Week One, the team elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 at its own 15-yard line with six and a half minutes to go. The Buckeyes were up by 15 and seemed to have the underdog Midshipmen under control.
We know what happened next: Dan “Boom” Herron was stuffed. Navy scored on the very next play, then scored again to narrow the Ohio State lead to two.
Luckily for folks in Columbus, Brian Rolle picked off the two point conversion attempt and ran it back for a safety. Ohio State wins, but no thanks to its dicey play calling when the team had the chance to kick a field goal and go up by three scores, putting the game out of reach.
Fast forward to Week Two.
Up by two points with about five minutes to go in the third quarter, Ohio State faced fourth and goal from the USC five-yard line. On first down Terrelle Pryor had fumbled, and Boom Herron recovered the ball at the 18. On second down Pryor completed a pass to Brandon Saine to the USC five, and on third down Pryor threw an incomplete pass.
Jim Tressel then had a choice.
Admittedly, going for it would have been risky. If they weren’t able to get in the end zone, Ohio State would have given USC the ball and, more importantly, all the momentum. Kicking a field goal seemed like the smart choice for Tressel, and that’s what he did, putting his team up 15-10.
Did Tressel choose the field goal because of what happened versus Navy last week? Obviously we will never know, but he did show signs of hesitancy all night.
At the end of the first quarter the Buckeyes had fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line and kicked a field goal. Then, at the end of the first half, Ohio State had a first down with 1:49 to play and failed to run out the clock.
Where was the bravado both Pryor and Tressel showed in the game against Navy? In that game Pryor barely waited for the signal from his coach before running back to the huddle and calling the fourth down play. Yes, it was ultimately the wrong choice in that situation, but his courage was admirable, as was Tressel’s confidence in his offense.
A week later, against a much better team, the Buckeyes could have used that combination. Ohio State couldn’t afford to play scared because field goals were not going to beat USC, no matter the Trojan quarterback’s experience level.
Granted, Ohio State had moved the ball respectably over the course of the game, but Pryor never played consistently and did not look comfortable. With third and five from the 5 yard line, why not have the 6-foot, 6-inch, 235 pound Pryor run twice and force it over the goal line?
Bottom line: the Buckeyes should’ve tried to get the points when they had the chance.
After the game Tressel showed he may have recognized just that, when he was quoted as saying, “You need to score more than five points in the second half [to win.]”
Next time, maybe he’ll take that chance.
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