This is less a mailbag and more commenting on a user submission. Buckeye Mark sent the bolded questions in after the USC game and I wanted to make some comments based on them. He makes some great points and observations.
Some, if not all, of these have probably gone through your head at some point in the last week. I wanted to comment on each one, trying to give a balanced response along with my personal feelings.
I am not offering exhaustive answers and I think each of you should offer your thoughts.
1. How bad are we really? We’ve gone from being a proud, championship contender, worthy of national respect to being the nation’s laughingstock. We aren’t even the Buffalo Bills of college football any more. We’re just viewed as horribly overrated.
It is clear that thinking what happened in Tempe was an aberration, or claiming we were “a few plays away” in New Orleans is delusional. Ohio State doesn’t have what it takes against elite teams.
So just how far away are we? Never has Troy University played against a team with fans any more nervous than they will face Saturday. Are we about to learn more of the truth about our beloved Buckeyes?
Response: I think we know the truth. Ohio State is a very good, not elite, team right now. Before we all torch everything Ohio State, keep in mind that their last six losses were to the last THREE national champions (Texas, Florida, LSU), a No. 3 team (Penn State), a Rose Bowl participant (Illinois), and a potential MNC winner (USC).
No other team can make that claim, not even mighty USC. That means they virtually always defeat lesser opponents, indicating a sound, well-coached team. I think the problem everyone has is how Ohio State has lost. How much better would you feel if they had lost to Florida, LSU, and USC by a combined 12 points?
2. Can the Terrelle Pryor era start now? TB is a great guy and would probably make a wonderful neighbor. There’s no indication he deliberately runs over small dogs or slams the door in the face of Girl Scouts selling cookies. In every big game he has played in, however, he has thrown key interceptions that helped the game turn into a rout.
The pick six against USC was inexcusable. Is there any reason to let him keep trying? TP won’t be here long before the NFL comes calling. Why not hand him the keys to the offense now, so we can get as much out of him as possible?
Response: Buckeye Mark sent this piece in before the 50/50 split was announced, so consider him prescient. It looks like you got your wish, my friend. I think we would all agree that Pryor is uber-talented, but there are sure to be some mistakes along the way including mistakes that we have chastised Boeckman for making.
Ohio State fans will be willing to overlook these mistakes (rightfully so?) because they feel the program is investing in its future. Most believe this will pay dividends in 2009.
3. Does Tressel get it? Tressel’s speech when he first was announced as the new head coach (at a basketball game) made it plain that he understood the dimensions of the scUM rivalry. He got it, and Buckeye Nation embraced him at once.
Hearing him tell a sideline reporter at halftime of the USC game that we simply needed to “stop the penalties and mistakes” was startling. We’re bad. In big games, teams score at will on us. Fixing penalties isn’t enough.
Giving the same speech about “We have to learn from this and get better” won’t cut it. Tressel needs to signal to Buckeye fans that he realizes just how down we are by making some kind of dramatic statement. How about changing coordinators?
4. Are we that predictable? USC quarterback Mark Sanchez gleefully announced that their second touchdown pass (play action, quick pass to the TE) came against a set they had seen again and again on film and we ran that set just like they had prepared for in practice. LSU players said much the same thing. Why does everyone know what we are doing before we do it? When will this be fixed?
Response (3&4): It is hard to say “predictable” on defense, because it is a read-and-react situation. Teams line up in formations before the snap but then largely react to the offense. More often, you hear criticisms about a predictable offense.
I find it ironic that Ohio State just lost to a team that I consider having one of the most predictable offenses in college football. Yet fans lampoon Tressel and co. for being too obvious.
USC runs the same plays over and over. Toss sweep to McKnight; wheel route to running back; deep slant over the middle. They never run screens, reverses, or any other trick plays. They just line up, run play-action, and pound teams.
I have really struggled with the coordinator dilemma. There is no doubt some coordinators are better than others (i.e., Norm Chow), but the majority of them are similar and their reputation hinges largely on their quality of players.
If you take the approach that new coordinators are necessary because the current ones stink, I may have a problem. When Tressel won the MNC, he was lauded for being disciplined, steady, and calm. Now he is conservative and predicable. This is classic what have you done for me lately.
If you want new coordinators because you want new energy and concepts, then you may have something. The offense is stale and an injection of ideas could be what the program needs. That is not so much an indictment of the current staff, as it is a belief that innovation can never stop. Of course, if Pryor fulfills expectations, every coach on the roster will look great.
5. Is anyone ever going to say “In Tressel we trust” again? Methinks not.
Response: C’mon, you know how fickle sports fans are. It will certainly take a while to rebuild the reverence, but I would not count it out.
6. Why is our O line so bad? Todd’s defenders note that he spent a great deal of time fleeing for his life last Saturday night. Where was the pass protection TB desperately needs, so he isn’t flinging the ball to the other team?
Response: This is a disturbing trend for me, too. Remember how average the line was in 2002 and then they were all drafted and starting in the league within a couple of years? That really freaked me out.
I do think something needs to be done with the line. I am not sure if it is blocking techniques, strategy, or a combination of the two, but Ohio State has not had a dominant offensive line in years. If that means bringing in a new coach, so be it.
7. Are any of our receivers fast, and if so, why aren’t they playing? We saw fast wideouts Saturday night. Unfortunately, they were all wearing ugly maroon.
Response: This was my major complaint about the offense coming into this season, and people told me I was an idiot. All of the Ohio State receivers that play seem to be possession receivers. They may be fast, but they do not appear to play fast.
They are great down and distance guys, but no playmaker currently exists (although Ray Small is slowly getting there). The Buckeyes used to mint the big time wideouts. Galloway, Glenn, Boston, even Ginn were all special talents. Still, there are much larger concerns on offense. See #6.
8. Is beating scUM enough? Tressel’s defenders staunchly point to his record against our most hated enemy. Well they should, but now something new is creeping into those conversations. People are starting to say “Yes, but ....” That’s new for Buckeye fans.
Beating scUM used to be all that it took to call a season a success. The Buckeyes will almost certainly defeat scUM for the fifth straight time (something unprecedented), yet dissatisfaction is running very high. Has the day arrived when a victory over scUM simply isn’t what it used to be?
Response: It is a huge prize, but it is no longer enough, and you can thank the BCS for that. For the last decade, teams have been able to transcend the traditional lockstep bowl system by making the BCSCG. Back when the top-ranked teams did not necessarily face each other in a bowl game, the MNC was left in the hands of the voters (to some degree, it still is), and the biggest match ups happened during the regular season.
Therefore, with no guaranteed title game, the Michigan game typically loomed larger. Now, if Ohio State wins all 12 games, they get direct input to the national championship via the BCSCG.
The traditional rivalries, including Ohio State/Michigan, used to rise above the sport but now they are part of a richer fabric with more quality teams. Beating Michigan still means a great deal, but the BCS has added a new dimension to the game.
9. How many Buckeye fans are ready to use a new measuring stick? There was a time when a coach beat his chief rival and won the conference... well, off he went to a bowl game with happy boosters in tow. For some teams that still works. Minnesota wins the Big Ten and they will deify their coach and give him a raise. For some teams, however, that is just not enough any more.
Increasingly the college conferences are being treated like the divisions in the NFL. Some teams long to win their division. For the elite, a division a title is meaningless. They want a ring and nothing else will do. Are Buckeye fans ready to say they don’t care about winning the Big Ten division because all that matters is a crystal football?
Be warned: this is a dangerous road. Frank Solich had three nine-win seasons and went to a national title game. The Huskers canned him and the program went into the dumpster. OU is a great program, but Stoops has come under fire for his BCS game losses. Some are already questioning Urban Meyer at Florida. Are we ready to become another “Win it all or else” school? Are we already there?
Response: I think we are already there, and I am totally fine with that. All it took was one school to say, “Winning our conference was nice, but we want the national title every year.” That team was USC (and Miami, albeit briefly) and they backed it up.
Now, every title-aspiring team is measured by USC and their standards/goals. But winning the Big Ten is no less important because of it. It is just not the end goal. It is a means to an end. You cannot win the MNC without winning the Big Ten so it is still very important. Is it the ultimate goal? Nope.
10. Can we start getting ready for next year’s USC game now? Incredibly (or unbelievably) the Buckeyes will have another chance on the national stage to gain respect when USC comes to the Shoe in 2009. We’ve blown the last three chances. What is happening right now to make sure a national audience doesn’t watch us get beaten down again?
Response: I think the coaches agree with you and playing Pryor is the first step. The coaches are not overtly preparing for USC 2009, but they know this team has to get better to compete with the top-tier competition and it just so happens that the next top-tier opponent they play just happens to be USC.
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