Cus Words: What It Takes

Since we're used to watching Ohio State run to victory while the passing game seemed neglected, watching the 2010 season play out the opposite way has been interesting. For more on that, a peak inside Jim Tressel's soul, weekly predictions, rankings and more, read on.

What we learned this week: As it turns out, sometimes winning the surest way is through the air, and Jim Tressel has feelings and a little personality after all.

Regarding the first point, for the second time in three weeks Ohio State faced a team with a statistically woeful rush defense and passed up a chance to work on its running game.

This time around, that meant Terrelle Pryor threw for a career-high 334 yards against Indiana in a 38-10 win. With the starters in the game, the Ohio State offensive brain trust called 33 passes and 13 runs.

Although the problems have been overblown, there is room for the "traditional" running game (as in, the part that involves the running backs as opposed to the quarterback) to improve, so I've found it curious to see the Buckeyes air it out to such an extent against inferior teams as opposed to try to grind them into the dirt, but it's hard to argue with success.

For what it's worth, the response from Ohio State coaches and players when asked about the running game sounds an awful like it did when they were asked about the passing game as it lagged in previous seasons: "Hey, we know we need to be better, and we're working on it, but we have to make sure we win the game first."

Take that however you want, I suppose.

Regarding Tressel's feelings, he was both wistful and a bit salty during his postgame press conference Saturday.

First he actually took a couple of sentences to talk about what winning 100 games at Ohio State would have meant to his father, Lee, a legendary coach at Baldwin-Wallace.

"I thought a little bit about the fact that my dad came here in 1943 and chose to, after spring ball, go serve his country," Tressel said. "And this was always his team, you know. No matter where he coached in high school or college, Ohio State was very special. Paul Brown was very special to him for recruiting him here. So I did reflect on that for a minute."

That was a poignant moment, but later Tressel drew laughs when asked if Pryor could have run the ball against the Hoosiers if necessary.

"Could we have? Yeah," Tressel said. "We could have, but that's not what we thought we needed to do. We wanted to try to get it to the running backs a little bit, so I didn't have to answer all those questions Tuesday about why we don't ever give it to the running backs. I wanted to get it to the tight ends a couple times so I could sidestep that one, tried to throw a screen so you didn't bring up the screen thing, so, you know…"

Whether that was a little bit or a lot tongue in cheek, it was an interesting thing to say. Tressel's stance is certainly a fair one to take, as are the questions about things his team hasn't done well so far fair to ask.

Should Tressel turn the other cheek? Should he let living well be the best revenge? Maybe. But what's wrong with lobbing a few shots back once in a while? This was more innocent than the infamous "miserable fans" comment he made after the loss to USC last year (although I found that a fair response, too, I see how some thought it was over the line), and a little emotion is refreshing as a change of pace.

A little friendly banter makes life more interesting, right?

I think the particular answer he gave this time around also speaks to the sincerity of their reassuring statements about the running game this year and the passing game in season's past.

Actually working on weaknesses in games has always seemed secondary to them, a reasonable course of action even if it doesn't do the rest of us much good in evaluating the team as a whole.


What we can expect to learn this week: What the Buckeyes are made of.

Wisconsin has had a slightly disappointing season so far, but let's not forget disappointment is a product of expectations, and expectations in this case were a result of some genuinely talented players returning on offense.

The Badgers enter this contest 5-1, but the veteran offense has been less explosive and less consistent than it was expected to be, problems in part attributable to injuries but also the fact many expected the unit to be dominant, and against most of its major-conference foes, it has not been.

Regardless, the blue-collar, smash-mouth approach the Badgers always bring to the game hasn't always been real easy to see in Ohio State.

The Buckeyes have skewed to the finesse side this year, so how will they react if they are hit in the mouth? Miami was physical, but not to the extent of the Badgers, who pushed around some of those same Hurricanes just this past December.

I expect the Buckeyes will keep attacking through the air, but it will be interesting to see how much they try to engage the Badger defense on the ground versus how much they let Pryor try to pick them apart.

And of course on the other side of the ball, a front seven that has so far been stellar will be in for a 12-round heavyweight bout that will test the toughness of the starters and the depth that has been developing since August.


All-Buckeye Beater Nominations: Slim picking this week.

The Hoosiers weren't expected to put up much of a fight on defense, but linebacker Leon Beckum stood out after making nine tackles, including three for loss and a sack.

No one from the Indiana offense merits mention after the whipping it received from the Buckeyes.


DVR Directions: The Buckeyes don't play until the evening (ESPN at 7), but make sure you are up in time to check out Illinois' trip to East Lansing to take on No. 13 Michigan State. The two most surprising teams in the Big Ten face off in a game that could help Ohio State's strength of schedule since OSU does not play MSU.

For a scouting report on the next two Buckeye opponents, DVR the Minnesota-Purdue contest that takes place at the same time on ESPN2.

With Ohio State now boasting the nation's No. 1 ranking, what could it hurt to scout out a potential national championship game foe? Nebraska plays host to Texas at 3:30 p.m. on ABC or ESPN, depending on where you live.


Big Ten Predictions: While I have been impressed with the improvement of the Fighting Illini since scouting them before they hung tough with Ohio State, I don't think Ron Zook's club has what it takes to knock Michigan State from the ranks of the unbeaten. That should be an interesting one, though, as both teams could be in questionable emotional states after coming off big wins. Neither coach has exactly had the most consistent teams in the past, but I'm going with the Spartans in this one.

How will Michigan bounce back from its deflating defeat at the hands of Sparty? Look for No. 15 Iowa to take more air out of the Wolverines' tires with a sound beating in Ann Arbor.

Because of injuries to the Boilermakers, Purdue and Minnesota look like the two worst teams in the Big Ten this season. I'm picking Purdue at home since Danny Hope's team showed some life with a surprising win against previously unbeaten Northwestern.

Indiana should bounce back with a defeat of Arkansas State in the league's only nonconference game this week.


Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (Week 6 ranking)

1. (same) Ohio State
2. (same) Michigan State
3. (same) Iowa
4. (same) Wisconsin
5. (9) Illinois
6. (5) Michigan
7. (6) Northwestern
8. (7) Penn State
9. (8) Indiana
10. (11) Purdue
11. (10) Minnesota

Marcus Hartman is a staff writer for BuckeyeSports.com and Buckeye Sports Bulletin. He can be reached for comment, cursing or questions via email at mhartman[at]buckeyesports[dot]com

For more from him, read his blog about Ohio State football and whatever else crosses his mind .


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