Cus Words: Untanglin' My Mind

This week the state of the Ohio State football team brings to mind a Clint Black song. The Buckeyes' problems on defense were largely physical, but the offense and special teams seem to be struggling with some mental blocks. Read how and find the usual sections in this week's Cus Words column.

What we learned this week: Toughness - of the mental and physical variety - is still an issue with this Ohio State team.

If you were fooled by these Buckeyes, don't feel bad. I was, too. They have been saying the right things for a long time, but walking the walk has proven more difficult.

When J.B. Shugarts took the mic in the team meeting room at the Woody Hayes Athletics Center on signing day in 2008 and started talking about winning "a lot of national championships," head coach Jim Tressel told the big fella to take it easy, but I took it as a good sign.

I was convinced similar statements from Terrelle Pryor and Michael Brewster about coming to Columbus on a mission to win the big ones their immediate predecessors couldn't meant the group has a certain edge that would help them achieve their goals.

And maybe that could still be the case, but if so, they haven't figured out how to translate the confidence into production on a consistent basis yet.

Last Saturday night in Madison was a reminder confidence can easily turn to complacency.

Did the Buckeyes have reason to flip on the film and feel good about their chances of beating Wisconsin if they played their game? Yes, they did. That's certainly what I saw. I wrote that more matchups favored Ohio State than the home team, and I believed they had exhibited enough focus the rest of the year to put in the work they needed to to make sure they were ready.

But I became uneasy Saturday afternoon when my Twitter feed told me Pryor wanted his followers to see what Brewster had to say in the next few minutes. When I followed his advice, I wasn't that surprised with what I found.

"Night Game in Madison… The Big Stage is what WE live for…" the Buckeyes' center posted in his first post on the microblogging site since April 5, when he wrote, "Spring Ball! Time to start getting ready for a Title Run… One Day at a Time".

Far be it from me to chastise someone for speaking his mind, but I found that a curious time to beat one's chest without any solicitation that I know of. Surely there were more important things to worry about on game day than again reminding anyone who would listen that the Brew Crew has swagger.

Did that mean they needed to hear it one more time to really believe it? Perhaps so.

Whatever the motivation, the talk cheapened quickly.

The defensive line collapsed under physical pressure from the Badgers, and the offense looked like it was in a haze from mental pressure created by early struggles on the other side of the ball and special teams. The combination led to a 21-0 deficit that was too much to overcome.

In three hours in Madison, the Buckeyes probably let a special season slip through their fingers.

While the Badgers exposed some physical deficiencies on defense, I still think this Ohio State team has enough experienced talent to overcome such a problem with its offense. And there won't be many other teams - probably none - that present the type of challenge Wisconsin did up front, so it what the Badgers did to the OSU defensive front seven might not mean much the rest of the year.

But the offense's inability to bear down early is a concern, one that lies at the feet of the junior class, including such players as Pryor, Adams, Shugarts, Brewster and DeVier Posey, who all at one time or another looked bad on Saturday night. They are in the lead roles they have wanted all along, so it's time they figure out how to deliver on their promises. Seniors Dane Sanzenbacher, Justin Boren and Bryant Browning (plus fourth-year junior Dan Herron) mostly held up their end of the bargain, but they can't do it alone.

What we can expect to learn this week:

What do the Buckeyes want to be about?

While I took the players to task above, I'm thinking more about Tressel here.

The head coach and his brain trust have done Pryor and his mates no favors with a continuing obsession with overdoing the playbook, ignoring what they do well with a determination to keep doing more.

I'm baffled by what I saw Saturday night because so much of it had not been seen before.

Sure, some of it worked and some of it didn't, but there's a bigger issue here: What was the point? Ohio State spent the whole offseason crafting a smart-looking half pro-style/half college spread offense that took advantage of every facet of the assembled talent, all the way down to fullback Zach Boren. The Buckeyes unveiled it against Marshall and Miami then decided to spend every week since moving in almost every direction you could imagine for reasons I cannot fathom.

What's next, the Maryland Triple I?

Tressel has a reputation as a coach unwilling to get creative on offense, but the problem has had more to do with being too creative or maybe getting creative the wrong way. And that's not new.

Last season a crushing mid-October defeat was necessary to put the Buckeye offense back on a sensible strategic path. Is that going to be the case again this year, or will we continue to see a mishmash of things that don't compliment each other?

On the other side of the ball, the defense has a simple task: Go back to handing out the kind of physical beatings it took from the Badgers. No one else possesses an offensive line like Wisconsin's, but perhaps more teams will try to run straight at the Buckeyes now that their aura has been removed. How they react to that will be interesting if it comes to pass.

All-Buckeye Beater Nominations:

Wow… where to begin? Well how about with every member of the Badger offensive line: Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt, Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler and Ricky Wagner. Obviously tailbacks John Clay and James White deserve recognition, and wide receiver Nick Toon was crucial, too.

On defense, Watt was the only real standout as the Buckeyes did as much to stop themselves as did anyone else. Cornerback Niles Brinkley get recognition here for making three tackles and breaking up three passes.

DVR Directions:

For the second straight week, Ohio State's next two opponents square off against each other. This time around, that means Penn State travels to Minnesota (Noon, ESPNU). Both teams are in great need of a win, and the game will serve as the debut of Jeff Horton as the Golden Gophers' interim head coach after the firing of Tim Brewster. I doubt Horton will change much from a schematic standpoint, but I'll be interested to see if the team plays with any more fire or discipline with someone else in charge. On the flip side, Penn State had the week off, so we'll see if the Nittany Lions were able to get healthier and/or find some things they are good at.

Big Ten Predictions:

Coming off a 5-0 week, what do I see next?

The game of the day in the conference is No. 13 Wisconsin's trip to No. 15 Iowa, a 3:30 game to be broadcast on ABC locally and ESPN elsewhere. I like the Hawkeyes in this one because they are playing at home and have a more balanced team. Though Ohio State waited too long to figure out how to exploit it, I still think the Badgers are suspect on defense, and Ricky Stanzi and his pals will take advantage of matchup advantages at wide receiver and interior line. The battle between the Iowa defensive line and the Badger offensive line should be fun to watch as it involves the two best units in the Big Ten.

The aforementioned PSU-Minnesota clash should go to the Nittany Lions, who for all their problems are still better than the Golden Gophers. I'm not sure there is anything Minnesota does well at this point.

No. 7 Michigan State should be able to handle Northwestern (Noon, ESPN), but that has been one of the craziest series in the conference in recent years as neither team has been that consistent psychologically. The Spartans should prevail here, but stranger things have happened.

What to make of Indiana at Illinois (Noon, Big Ten Network)? The Hoosiers struggled against an inferior opponent last week, but that could have had something to do with the post-Ohio State hangover that seems to affect a lot of teams. The Fighting Illini played MSU tough for a half but eventually fell apart. Their mental state is anyone's guess, but I'll go with the home team here, especially if wind becomes a factor.

Record to date: 9-4

Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (Week 7 ranking)

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

Marcus Hartman is a staff writer for 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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