Carrying On About Big Ten Football: Sept. 12
What an eventful day in Big Ten football. It began with a half dozen games kicking off at noon and it ended (for me) a little after 1:30 am ET Sunday morning when Purdue's last-ditch onside kick attempt was unsuccessful.
In between, I saw a little bit of all 11 Big Ten teams...eight of which won, bringing the league's record to 18-4...now if I can just keep all the games straight!
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: USC 18, OHIO STATE 15
This week's spotlight game is the USC/Ohio State clash that felt more like a bowl game than a regular-season tilt.
From the on-field cameraman getting run over by the "I-dotting" sousaphone player (wow, that was funny)...to the sparkling national championship trophy ESPN kept showing (not like it's only September or anything)...to the Ohio Stadium-record crowd (more than any Michigan game in the Horseshoe's history, which just doesn't seem right)...the night was flat-out crazy.
And then there was the game.
Here are five things about the Buckeyes you should know.
1. Ohio State Basically Lost the Game in the First Quarter, Not the Fourth.
While every game story will lead off with Matt Barkley's coming-of-age drive and the Trojans' poised road comeback in the final minutes, the real problems for the Buckeyes started in the opening quarter.
Consider that the visitors scored a grand total of 10 points in the first 58 plus minutes of the contest...and of those 10 points, seven came off the Pryor opening-drive interception.
Frenzied crowd, huge game, chance to make a statement...and the Buckeyes gift-wrapped a touchdown for the visitors before the game was five minutes old. Not the start OSU had scripted...
The other huge first-quarter issue that came back to bite Ohio State was the failure to punch in a second early touchdown. Tied 7-7, the Bucks got the ball late in the quarter at the USC 44 and drove to a first-and-goal play at the two-yard line, thanks to a 34-yard reception by DeVier Posey.
OSU promptly squandered a golden opportunity by following the big play with an incompletion and two running plays that went nowhere. The Buckeyes eventually settled for a field goal and a 10-7 lead, keeping the Trojans' anemic offensive attack (at that time) squarely in the ballgame and down three points instead of seven.
It should come as no surprise that a Pete Carroll-coached, talent-rich USC roster was going to break free on offense at some point in a 60-minute game; too bad for the Buckeyes that they let the Trojans hang around until the last five minutes.
I guarantee that the missed first-quarter opportunities, not just the crucial fourth-quarter drive, will keep OSU coaches and players awake for a few sleepless nights.
2. OSU Fans Are Frustrated With Jim Tressel's Conservative Approach in Big Games.
With each important game the Buckeyes fall short in (and the list seems to keep growing), the rumbling around Ohio about the head coach's conservative decision-making continues to get louder. (Trust me, I know...people were screaming in my living room last night!)
No one really seemed to complain about Tressel's conservative nature when the Buckeyes were winning the national title and beating up on Michigan every year...I mean, it's not like there's much mystery about the coach's old-school, traditional approach (just look at his sweater vest)...but now that Ohio State is losing winnable games on a semi-regular basis, the boo-birds are making their presence felt.
There are two plays in particular that the armchair quarterbacks around Ohio would have approached differently (as they've told me in no uncertain terms!).
First, the aforementioned field goal on 4th-and-goal from the USC 1 that gave Ohio State a three-point lead. If the coaches switched sidelines and Pete Carroll was coaching the Buckeyes, do you think Mr. Twitter would settle for a kick attempt when the promised land is only inches away?
I'll give you a hint. Carroll and the Trojans went for it on fourth down not once, not twice, not three times, but FOUR different times Saturday. In my little town 50 miles from Columbus, Buckeye fans would have loved to find out what THEIR favorite team could have done on 4th-and-goal from the 1.
The other call that had OSU supporters up in arms was Tressel's decision to eschew a 53-yard field goal with about seven and a half minutes left in the contest. Ohio State's kicker, Aaron Pettrey, has plenty of range, and a three-pointer would have stretched the Buckeyes' lead to eight.
The worst part of the sequence for Big Ten fans is that Ohio State had actually gotten as close as the 32-yard line before Pryor took a bad sack (which would have made for a 49-yard field goal attempt).
With how low-scoring the evening had been, it may have been in the Bucks' best interest to run the ball every single play and settle for a makeable field goal, because with an 8-point lead, the best the Trojans could have done is tie.
Obviously hindsight is 20-20, but once Pryor took the sack, the Ohio State coaches decided to punt the ball away and make USC go the length of the field to win the game.
And we all know how that went.
3. Terrelle Pryor Has a Long Way To Go.
It's easy to understand why the Big Ten's national reputation is in the dumps when the conference's preseason offensive player of the year has a big-game showing like OSU's sophomore quarterback did last night. Pryor finished with an underwhelming completion percentage (44 percent on 11-25), while only amassing 36 rushing yards.
From a Buckeye fan's point of view, the worst part has to be the comparison to USC's Matt Barkley. Ohio State seemed to have the crucial edge in quarterback experience coming into Saturday's game, but Barkley completed more passes for more yards, despite playing his first college road game.
While we're talking comparisons, I would not only take Matt Barkley over Pryor today, but I also think Michigan freshman Tate Forcier is a better player right now. (And Buckeye Nation cringes in unison.)
I said over and over again last fall that Ohio State's recruitment of Pryor was more crippling to Michigan than it was helpful to the Buckeyes, since Rich Rodriguez's spread desperately needed a quarterback like Pryor and missing out on such a talented player could set the Wolverines back in a big way.
A year later, maybe RichRod got the better of the deal after all. Forcier put on a clinic in the Wolverines' comeback win over Notre Dame, while Pryor was left to tell reporters after a disappointing outing, "I'm sure Coach isn't too happy with me right now."
Pryor may have all the talent and potential in the world...but he didn't show either yesterday.
4. Ohio State Needs a Running Back.
The Buckeyes suffered through a 35-3 beatdown on the west coast last season because they couldn't run the ball effectively (71 yards on 34 carries for a paltry 2.1 yards per rush), which was blamed largely on the injury to star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells.
12 months later, Wells is graduated and playing in the NFL, the OSU/USC rematch is on friendly turf in Ohio, and guess what? The Buckeyes still don't have a running game to speak of.
Ohio State finished Saturday's game with 88 yards on 30 carries, mustering only 2.9 yards per carry. Dan Herron got the lion's share of the workload (18 carries in all), but his longest rush was only eight yards.
The Buckeyes' offense needs a home-run hitter in the backfield, and right now, Terrelle Pryor is the closest thing the home team has (he managed an 17-yard scamper on one of his 10 carries).
And if Pryor's your best running back...
...that's not good.
5. OSU's Defense Seemed Completely Clueless on the Game-Winning Drive.
With 6:30 to play and the Trojans going backwards (thanks to a sack and false start) Matt Barkley, Joe McKnight, and company found themselves 95 yards away from a go-ahead touchdown.
No big deal.
On their way to the score that broke the collective hearts of Big Ten country, the Trojans' got a pair of big pass completions from their freshman quarterback (21 yards to McKnight and 26 yards to Anthony McCoy).
Whether Ohio State was in a prevent defense, a "bend but don't break" approach, or whatever else the coaching staff wants to call it, let's just say it didn't work. (Unless the goal of the OSU masterminds was for Barkley to play pitch-and-catch all the way down the field).
Perhaps most disappointing was the Buckeyes' complete lack of ability to stop the quarterback sneaks on 3rd-and-1 or 4th-and-1. Barkley converted two of those plays on the final drive alone and at least four for the game.
I understand the Trojans' offensive line may be better than some NFL units, but if everyone in the building knows a quarterback sneak is coming, please figure out a way to stop it, despite how good the blockers might be.
Even if it means bringing all eleven guys and selling out (at the risk of a play-fake touchdown pass), OSU needed to do something different on the last drive...and instead, they got steamrolled all the way to the end zone.
A good example is the lone fourth-down conversion on that final Trojan drive. USC had a 4th-and-1 at the OSU 28-yard line with 3:30 to play. Bring all eleven guys, plus the sousaphone player (hey, he can hit!), Brutus Buckeye, and a few alums.
Stuff the quarterback sneak no matter what...there's not a lot of mystery to the play call when Carroll had gone to the well a few times already.
Even if the Trojans cross things up and throw a play-action pass (which would probably be wide-open for a touchdown), the home team would then have over three minutes to come down the field and score instead of one.
With the way USC had moved the ball, a touchdown seemed to be almost inevitable, so try something different and take away the sneak.
Or just lose.
MAYBE BROADCASTING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
I always like to call these quotes the Lou Holtz Specials, because Holtz seems to be the master of saying ridiculous things on air. (And I must admit I'm extremely disappointed I didn't get to hear what Holtz had to say after his national-title pick lost in Ann Arbor...but I digress.)
"Cousins is your classic backdrop, er, dropback quarterback." - Ray Bentley
"If that had been Denard Robinson, we'd have been looking at the official's armpits...because his arms would have been in the air, signaling touchdown." - Matt Millen
"10 on the shot clock. I mean the play clock." - Matt Rosen
And last, but not least, this incredible exchange between on-the-ball play-by-play man Joel Meyers and extremely confused color commentator Dave Lapham...the play in question is an unsuccessful Iowa State onside kick attempt.
Meyers: It's going to be an onside kick, covered by the Hawkeyes! They were ready for it.
Lapham: They're offsides though, it's coming back. That's a huge mistake.
Meyers: Well, no. It was offside, Iowa State.
Lapham: Yeah, I said Iowa State's offside, so they recovered the football. They're gonna lose that opportunity.
Meyers: Well, Iowa's got the ball at the 46. The Hawkeyes have the ball.
Lapham: I thought Iowa State...
Meyers: No, the Hawkeyes covered it. They were ready for it.
24 hours later, I think they may still be debating that particular play...
MAYBE COACHING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
Wisconsin got a big-time 57-yard field goal from kicker Philip Welch to end the first half and pull with 21-17 of Fresno State at intermission. Safe to say the monster kick was a huge play in the game, since the teams finished regulation TIED. If the Badgers don't get those three points before heading to the locker room...well...
With that said, the Badgers have only one person besides Welch to thank for the crucial kick.
Fresno State coach Pat Hill.
So let's go back and look at the drive that created the field goal, because I must say I've never seen this before.
Wisconsin gets the ball at their own eight-yard line with 1:37 to play before intermission.
John Clay gains six yards on the ground. That makes it 2nd-and-4.
John Clay carries for another six. That makes it first down at the Badgers' own 20.
Fresno State calls timeout.
John Clay carries for three yards.
Scott Tolzien completes a 44-yard pass to...
WAIT A SECOND.
Back up—WHAT DID THAT JUST SAY?
After John Clay's second carry of the drive got the Badgers a first down, FRESNO STATE called timeout to stop the clock.
And if you watched the game, this wasn't a personnel timeout or miscommunication timeout or anything like that.
We've all seen coaches use timeouts when it looks like one team is trying to run out the clock with a few simple handoffs...it sure seemed like Hill had predetermined ahead of the 2nd-and-4 play that he would call a timeout and save time for his offense to get the ball back...and then simply neglected to change his plans WHEN THE BADGERS GOT A FIRST DOWN.
So in essence, as soon as Wisconsin got a first down, Fresno State called timeout to give the Badgers more time...Scott Tolzien hit on a 44-yard pass two plays later, and Wisconsin finished the half with a 57-yard field goal and all the momentum.
Maybe next time, Mr. Hill, you should wait to see if your defense actually stops the running back before you call timeout on impulse.
Just a thought.
THANK GOODNESS FOR MY DVR
Did you see the hit Purdue's Ralph Bolden took on his fourth-down touchdown dive? Bolden jumped from about the four-yard line and met an Oregon defender mid-air. Ouch.
How about the one-handed catch by Michigan's Greg Mathews down the sideline for 40 yards? Nice.
Personally, my favorite play of the day was watching Michigan State's Trenton Robinson excitedly jumping up and down on a fumbled punt and pointing that it was...Central Michigan's ball!
While the referees dug into the pile of players, MSU cornerback Chris L. Rucker slapped Robinson on the helmet and got him turned around, so Robinson spun and immediately began pointing the other way. Amusing to say the least, but the final score in East Lansing certainly wasn't.
New Favorite Player: Central Michigan defensive back Tommy Mama. The name says it all.
The Big House Gets Loud: Looks like one of the benefits from Michigan's new stadium renovation is that the extra structures help keep noise in. Amazingly enough, the athletic department actually anticipated that and mentioned it in the renovation FAQs.
Well, consider the construction a success on the audio scale. I can't remember ever hearing the Big House so loud.
Call of the Day: Great play call by Purdue on 4th-and-11 from the Oregon 14, trailing by eight with just over a minute to go.
The Boilers ran a wide receiver pass, faking a Statue of Liberty and having converted quarterback/converted safety/current wide receiver Keith Smith roll out and throw a bullet to Aaron Valentin for a dramatic touchdown.
The Boilermakers came up short on the potential tying two-point conversion, but they threw a scare into the Ducks in Eugene with the fourth-down trickeration.
Game-Changing Play of the Day No. 1: With Western Michigan down only six points and set to go in for what could have been a game-winning score late in the fourth quarter, Justin Carrington recovered a fumble inside the five-yard line to keep the Hoosiers undefeated.
Game-Changing Play of the Day No. 2: Minnesota's Nate Triplett picked up an Air Force fumble and raced 50 yards for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter, helping spark the Gophers to a win in the first game at TCF Bank Stadium. Triplett added a career-high 17 tackles, just for good measure.
I Don't Believe in Offense By Committee. Mr. Rodriguez, Mr. Dantonio, and others: I've tried to keep an open mind, but this just won't work. Pick a quarterback, pick a running back, and move on.
RichRod, I would suggest Forcier at QB and turn Robinson into a tailback or slot receiver as soon as possible...they both need to be on the field as many snaps as possible.
Coach D, I don't care which signal-caller you play, but settle on one. I'm not sure about the three running backs thing either. Your playmakers need to get into a rhythm and have time to settle into the flow. Kinda like that LeFevour kid.
And the Understudy Award Goes To...Kudos to Illinois backup quarterback Eddie McGee who put up huge numbers in relief of an injured Juice Williams against Illinois State Saturday night. McGee finished 13-17 through the air for 164 yards with one passing touchdown and two more scores on the ground.
Don't forget—if you see a highlight, crazy stat line, wacky announcer quote, or strange decision that needs to be included in next week's Carrying On, just drop me an e-mail or send me a Twitter message @TimCary. You could make it into the column!
This column is a weekly feature at FirstandBigTen.com, a Bleacher Report blog dedicated to Big Ten football.
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