Ohio State/Wisconsin: What We Learned
Ohio State played another game under the bright lights of (regional) national television last night, for once a game that lived up to preseason hype. A back and forth, hard-fought battle between two perennial Big Ten powers came down to the wire, as Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins finally sealed the Buckeye victory with a less than a minute to play in regulation.
Buckeye fans everywhere woke up this morning and had an extra-large glass of Terrelle Pryor kool-aid with their scrambled eggs. After watching TP march the team down the field and score the game-winning touchdown with 66 seconds left in the game, these fans think they've learned a lot about not only Mr. Pryor, but also the entire team as a whole.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, let's take a lot at what we did learned last night:
- Terrelle Pryor is a leader.
This one may seem pretty obvious. Some have said they could tell Pryor was a leader after his first two starts, but I believe one couldn't really tell how influential Pryor really was against Troy and Minnesota—it's Troy and Minnesota, the players can get by on their own.
Against Wisconsin, however (who has been the thorn in Jim Tressel's side over the past eight years), and AT Wisconsin no less, Ohio State does not get a win without exceptional leadership from their young quarterback. It's that simple.
We had heard Pryor has an exceptional competitive spirit, and we saw it Saturday night —arguably to a fault. Ohio State stumbled after taking yet another early lead, yet Pryor got his team refocused and back in the game.
Holly Rowe noted during the game that Pryor was much less vocal on the sidelines than Evridge was on the Wisconsin sideline, but when the Ohio State offense got on the field, Pryor kept his head cool. He led by example, his offense trusted him the whole way, and as a result Ohio State got the big win.
- Terrelle Pryor is the quarterback Ohio State needs, but he is still a freshman.
After the USC debacle, Ohio State fans (myself included) called for a Quarterback change, and Jim Tressel immediately granted our wish—Pryor started the following game against Troy, and has only secured his spot since then.
Pryor brings a much different look to Ohio State's offense, a much more explosive offense than Boeckman ever could have supplied—it's nothing against Boeckman, it's just a fact. This new-look Pistol formation is what Ohio State needs—having two extremely potent runners (and a competent passer) in the same backfield creates a huge problem for opposing defenses.
Even if Pryor were to simply hand the ball off to Wells on every single play, the other team would need to think about Pryor, and that kind of defensive uncertainty helps Ohio State in a big way.
Ohio State's offense has struggled at times this year, but with Pryor in the backfield, the rest of the team plays with more confidence, even when Pryor makes mistakes— which has happened, and will continue to happen.
It's easy to get swept away with admiration for Pryor, but his game against Wisconsin was far from perfect. After leading Ohio State down the field for his third consecutive first-series touchdown (which is impressive and should be noted), Pryor killed a productive Buckeye drive when he lobbed a pass down the sideline towards Brandon Saine that was intercepted.
Up to that point, Ohio State was unstoppable, and at the time it was a game-changing play. It gave Wisconsin some confidence (forget the fact that Wisconsin quickly punted the ball back to Ohio State), and it derailed Ohio State's offense for the rest of the half.
Pryor also let his inexperience show repeatedly against Wisconsin. The box score will show you that Pryor had 15 carries for 20 yards, but this is very misleading. Pryor had 57 positive rushing yards, and -37 yards being tackled for loss. Too often Pryor would spend all day in the pocket looking for an open receiver, checking from one covered receiver to the next (as he's been taught), but would then be pressured.
Instead of throwing the ball out of bounds and accepting a 0-yard loss, Pryor would use his mobility and strength to intentionally keep the play alive in hopes that a receiver would get open. Time after time, however, the receivers did not open up, and Pryor would run sideways and backwards before being sacked for a loss.
Pryor is an exceptional athlete, he holds the team together and presents a seemingly endless number of options for the offense, but he is still a freshman. He makes mistakes, and while against Wisconsin he was able to keep his cool and recover from these mistakes, he will continue to make mistakes.
Ohio State fans can be pleased with his performance so far, but he is not Troy Smith or Vince Young (yet)—he is a freshman, still learning how to execute Ohio State's offense at Big Ten speed.
- The absence of the Wisconsin marching band was significant.
Before the game, I silently wondered what effect the band's absence would have on the game. After contemplation, I deemed it relevant, and a decided advantage for the Buckeyes, and I was right.
Camp Randall is not a fun place to play, especially at night, but not because Wisconsin players historically like to sleep in and are more well-rested. It's tough to play at Camp Randall because the atmosphere is historically electric (there's a reason Wisconsin hadn't lost at home in three years). In my opinion, last night's environment was the least-electric and intimidating I've ever witnessed at a Wisconsin home game.
The commentators pointed it out in the first half, but even in the second half the crowd was noticeably quieter than usual. I blame this not on the crowd (Camp Randall Stadium was 1,000 people over capacity), but rather on the absence of the band.
The band is supposed to be there to get the fans back in the game after a bad play or for an important defensive stop. Wisconsin fans really seemed lost without their band, I just don't know how else to say it.
Don't get me wrong, the crowd had their moments of intensity—but they were few and far between, and they were virtually non-existent on the most important drive of the game (when Ohio State took the field with 6:30 minutes left). Ohio State fans expect to hear the Buckeye contingency at away games such as Indiana and Northwestern, but never at Wisconsin—yet there they were, louder and prouder than ever.
One of Wisconsin's major assets is their home-field advantage, yet without the band it simply wasn't up to Badger Nation standards last night.
- Beanie Wells is the best running back in College Football.
Coming into the season, Beanie Wells was the consensus favorite for the Heisman Trophy. After injuring himself in the first game against Youngstown State, Wells missed three games before finally coming back last week against Minnesota. Fans knew Wells played hurt for almost all of the 2007-08 season, so playing hurt for the rest of this season would be nothing new for Wells.
There's no perfect estimate on how healthy Wells is, but we know he is not 100 percent—he is wearing a heavier cleat than normal, one normally worn by Linemen, to give the foot a little more protection. Given this information, it is simply amazing to watch Wells run through, over, and past the Wisconsin defense as he did last night.
Well's performance last night was an exhibition in exactly what makes him the best running back in College Football. On his 33-yard touchdown run, the last five or six yards were gained while stiff-arming a Wisconsin defender into the ground. That run showed his patience and ability to find and hit the hole quickly, as well as his ability to outrun and overpower defenders who try to get between him and the end zone.
Beanie brought out his stiff-arm a couple of times last night, a move that noticeably gained him dozens of extra yards. Most impressive, however, was Well's speed. On Well's first touch of the second half, he sprinted 55 yards down the sideline before being angled closer to the sideline and inadvertently stepping out of bounds. On this play, Beanie ran past the entire Badger secondary.
Over the last 25 or 30 yards of his scamper, Beanie straight-up ran faster than the defensive secondary that was chasing him. Keep in mind that Beanie Wells weighs 237 pounds, and he is running on a foot that is not 100 percent in a cleat that is uncomfortable and bigger than his usual cleat. Knowshon Moreno couldn't do that. Javon Ringer couldn't do that.
- Ohio State is, in fact, still coached by Jim Tressel.
Despite Ohio State's new Pistol formation, Ohio State fans should not worry—Jim Tressel is, in fact, still the Buckeye coach. Here are just a couple of things from last night's game that are quintessential Tresselball:
- Ohio State scored first, then did nothing for awhile. Ohio State has this unique tendency to start off hot, then cool down and play down to their opponent's skill level until they are needed to crank it back on.
- It is very common (see games against Ohio, Troy), and it is one reason why Ohio State traditionally doesn't blow teams out. When they play teams clearly equal to/better than they are (Florida, LSU, USC), however, this strategy doesn't work.
- Ohio State's special teams were exceptional. Tressel is well-known for calling the punt the "most important play in football," and last night was an excellent demonstration of Tresselball. Buckeye punter A.J. Trapasso shanked one punt for only 30 yards, but even with that duck Ohio State's net punting average was nearly 50 yards/punt. That is devastating, if you're Wisconsin. When Ohio State and Wisconsin traded punts in the third and fourth quarters, you'll note that Ohio State's field position moved from their 16 yard line to their 41 yard line. Buckeye kicker Ryan Pretorius was perfect on the night with two field goals and two extra points. Finally, Ohio State's punt and kickoff returns were much improved, and they only allowed Wisconsin 77 total return yards (on five kickoff returns and one punt return).
- Ohio State managed the clock beautifully under pressure. Ohio State burned a timeout early in the second half, leaving them with only two timeouts for the final 6:30 of the game. The commentators were speculating (as were, I bet, Buckeye fans everywhere) that Ohio State could actually get the ball back if things didn't go well the first time. Tressel, however, would have none of that. In the well-executed, methodical final drive, Ohio State burned 5:30 off the clock and didn't use a timeout. I'm sure some Buckeye fans were questioning the coaches' decision not to call the timeouts and preserve time, especially after a four-yard loss by Pryor, but it turns out Tressel and Co. knew exactly what they were doing. How is this vintage Tresselball? Ask a Michigan fan, or throw in the tape of the 2005 Michigan game.
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