Stepping into the Mixer: What Saturday's Loss Means for the Buckeyes

Tim Bielik@bielik_timSenior Analyst ISeptember 16, 2009

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates after teammate Etienne Sabino #6 scores on a third quarter safety against the USC Trojans at Ohio Stadium on September 12, 2009 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Saturday night, Buckeye fans went through the gauntlet as far as emotional turnover is concerned, from fear to excitement, then anxiety back down to a depression present in Buckeye land since 2006.

But this loss had a different feel to it. The Ohio State Buckeyes seemed to have outplayed their opponent for the first time in a long time in a big game.

Even Pete Carroll admitted such in one of his recent press conferences.

So clearly talent, especially defensively, is not as much an issue as it was in recent years. Now coach Jim Tressel is feeling the heat, speaking in agitated tones in yesterday's press conferences, staying defiant in his system despite cries for a change.

Now, many fans are calling for Tressel's head if he doesn't conform to what Buckeye fans want. In addition, some feel that Terrelle Pryor is not mature and intelligent enough to be the Buckeyes' starting QB.

Panic has officially set in around Columbus—some of it brought on by Michigan's great start to the 2009 season. But is all of this panic truly justified? In a word, no.

In hindsight, few people even expected Saturday's encounter to be anything less than a USC blowout win. But the Buckeyes defense that was under scrutiny after almost losing to Navy stepped up to the plate, holding USC under 20 points.

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That same OSU offense that seemed pedestrian for so many years under Jim Tressel was explosive in the first quarter.

So in essence, it was the same thing I said last week: This Buckeyes team is a young team learning how to win.

Some people want to spin it as an excuse, but it is a young team looking for some leadership on both sides of the ball.

Two weeks into the season, young MLB Brian Rolle has been counted on for his leadership, and he has stepped up tremendously in the early part of the season.

On the other side of the ball, the young offensive line seems to be very solid on the left side, with LT Andy Miller and LG Justin Boren playing pretty well.

Most importantly, that vaunted Buckeye defensive line showed Saturday that it is worth all the preseason hype. They rotated a plethora of defenders including freshman DT John Simon and still created pressure effectively.

So where do they go from here? It's up to Pryor's maturity and how he handles the criticism that has come his way.

But it's not as bad as it looks for Buckeye fans. One or two plays go differently and we're talking about a 2-0 OSU team with national title hopes.

After rewatching the game on ESPN, it's clear that the passion was back in Columbus, and Ohio State is ready to answer for the wrongs those that are gone committed.

It will take some time for this young team to mature and develop leadership, but the talent is clearly in place.

So I urge the Ohio State nation to take their finger off the panic button. It's only week two of the season, so the season is not over yet.

This 2009 team is probably too young to compete for a title this season anyway with the top teams being so strong.

But there is another important game this week against Toledo, a MAC team licking their chops hoping to catch the Buckeyes in an emotional hangover.

A convincing win should have the Buckeyes back on track, as they have a soft next few games to help get their confidence back up.

If nothing else, Saturday's game showed that Ohio State can still play with the big boys. The only difference between now and a year ago is that the Buckeyes haven't proven they can close the deal.

That's been the case in countless games since the Florida loss. They lack the killer instinct to put teams away and pack up the bus with a 21-point lead rather than a 10-point lead.

Coaching is to blame in some cases for not instilling confidence in their players. But on the other hand, the players need to earn their confidence by their play.

It seems like a double-edged sword because the right amount of balance leads to great success. If it's off kilter by even a slight amount, moments like Saturday night will happen again.

But as mentioned earlier, this team is a work in progress, made great by the sky-high potential of the past two recruiting classes.

At times, they will dazzle; at others, they will leave us scratching our heads in disbelief.

There is very little doubt that this team can play in the spotlight, but now they have to learn to finish.

They have to learn to finish plays, finish drives, finish quarters, and finish games the way champions should: fast and physical. Never let up until the final whistle blows. That's what they teach in pee-wee football.

It's a philosophy that takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master. But the ones that do are the ones that are holding up the Coaches' Trophy every season.

If Ohio State wants to do that in the future, this season will be all about finishing, regardless of how cliché that is. They did not do so well in their first two games in finishing, but they must learn if they want a championship in their future.

The talent is there; now it comes down to how hard you play until the whistle blows. That right now is the mission of the 2009 Ohio State Buckeyes.