Cus Words: Crash Course In Brain Surgery

This week we are curious about a coach's influence over what is on his players' minds heading into a big game like the Buckeyes' visit from Penn State last week, and we examine Ohio State's curious habit of misapplying its pregame knowledge early in contests.

What we learned this week: Ohio State's 38-14 victory over Penn State is another example of how much influence even great coaches really have on the mindsets of their teams before games.

The two winningest active coaches in Division I college football have both seen their teams come out flat at home the past two weeks, something conventional wisdom insists shouldn't happen.

Ohio State's Jim Tressel denied the Buckeyes were flat in the first half, but many of his players seemed to think differently.

Penn State head coach Joe Paterno also mentioned he thought Ohio State might have had more intensity in the second half when the Buckeyes outscored his team 35-0, a similar run to the one his team put on Northwestern a week earlier.

Tressel has said on more than one occasion - including yesterday - he doesn't try to anticipate what his players are thinking about heading into games.

I have always found that interesting because I think the general feeling among sports fans is mental preparation is a coach's No. 1 job heading into a game, yet here is a coach who seems to think it's out of his control.

Then again, the Buckeyes credited Tressel's brief halftime speech for getting them fired up to come out and play better in the second half. The act was out of character for the usually calm and calculating head coach.

Perhaps his players woke up on their own and Tressel's speech really had nothing to do with it.

That would not make much to write about, but I suppose Buckeye fans are more worried about chalking up another win than they are about who was thinking what when it happened.

Whatever the case, I find that an interesting topic and one to explore later.

What we can expect to learn this week: If Ohio State can figure out how to attack a quality opponent from the start without such a long feeling-out period.

Wherever it comes from, emotion is always a huge part of college football, and it might have played a part on defense for Ohio State as the Buckeyes started winning battles up front they had been losing early on, but let's not discount the strategic aspect of Ohio State's comeback, either.

I thought leading into the game Penn State's best chance to hang around had more to do with Ohio State trying to be something its not, namely a finesse offense.

Even though the Buckeyes have clearly been at their best all year with an offense built around their powerful offensive line, destructive fullback and sparkplug tailback, I figured there was a solid chance Tressel would go back to trying to show off what other gadgets he has in his workshop.


The first two possessions featured almost as many different formations as plays, and the Buckeyes could not build any kind of momentum. Even their field goal drive was essentially the result of one play, and it was a simple drop-back deep throw out of the 'I' formation.

I understand wanting to be a diverse offense, but first thing is first. The team clearly has an easier time getting into a rhythm if it settles down by running the ball, and any defense will be in a bind if it has to worry about two-way threats from the same formations, but Tressel and his staff repeatedly get away from attacking them that way.

They did so again Saturday, and it helped them get into a 14-3 hole at halftime similar to what happened at Wisconsin earlier in the season.

But credit the offensive staff for realizing the folly of its ways and going back to the bread-n-butter after intermission.

Of course, the defense cannot be absolved from blame for its role in another first-half stinker, either. Penn State offensive coordinator Galen Hall had a good feel for what Ohio State would do, and quarterback Matt McGloin and his solid but unspectacular receivers executed it well for a half. They took advantage of Ohio State's cornerbacks, who alternated between playing soft in a three-deep zone and man-to-man coverage, and had a great start to the ballgame.

Ohio State's frequent blitzes in the first half were largely ineffective because McGloin had an easy read with one deep safety, and he did a good job of getting the ball out of his hand quickly, but credit defensive coordinator Jim Heacock for recognizing what needed to be done. His choice to go to a cover-2 scheme in the second half seemed to baffle the PSU signal caller.

Additionally, I believe Ohio State, perhaps thanks to liberal substitution on the line throughout the game, wore down the Penn State offensive line. Although the pressure was never great, it steadily improved as nightfall descended on the banks of the Olentangy River, and that seemed to play on McGloin's mind.

Although wounded heading into the game this Saturday, I consider Iowa dangerous. The Hawkeyes are formidable on both sides of the ball (Speaking of good coaches and players' mindsets… What's up, Kirk Ferentz?), and for a first-hand account of how dangerous they can be early in a game at Kinnick Stadium, all Tressel has to do is call good friend Mark Dantonio of Michigan State.

All-Buckeye Beaters: For snagging the first two touchdown passes in Ohio Stadium by a Nittany Lion since 1963, we recognize both Derek Moye (four catches, 36 yards) and Justin Brown (five catches, 64 yards), but McGloin is out because of the dual pick-sixes he threw.

Defensively, there were no standouts as Penn State gave up 453 total yards. The Lions no doubt missed their best playmaker, linebacker Michael Mauti, who was absent most of the second half with a shoulder problem. For snagging an interception inside the 5-yard line while things were still in doubt, Malcolm Willis gets a nod here.

DVR Directions: With only one game left on the schedule and the Buckeyes' bowl opponent anyone's guess at this point, give the DVR a rest. Start saving space for holiday specials and watch Michigan travel to No. 7 Wisconsin (Noon, ESPN). That is the only other game Ohio State fans need to bother watching Saturday. Tune in to scout the Wolverines one more time and see if they can give their hated rivals the inside track to the Rose Bowl by pulling a major upset.

Big Ten Predictions: After a rough 2-2 week, let's get started with that clash between the Wolverines and Badgers. This could be a wild one as I am still not convinced Wisconsin has a particularly talented defense. Michigan should have a lot of success moving the ball and scoring points, but Wisconsin might hit 80 for a second week in a row. Badgers improve to 10-1.

The game between Penn State and Indiana at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., looks like a good chance for Paterno's team to bounce back from their beating from the Buckeyes. With its once promising offense having gone off the rails, I don't see how Indiana can get to bowl eligibility. Penn State guarantees a non-losing Big Ten season with a win.

No. 12 Michigan State returns from its off week to face decimated Purdue, a team so banged up on offense it could not even score 20 against Michigan last week. The Spartans should roll.

And what about Northwestern-Illinois at Wrigley Field? The Wildcats scored a major upset last week but lost their starting quarterback, Dan Persa, to a torn Achilles tendon. Lucky for Pat Fitzgerald's club they get to face an Illinois team that appears to have fallen off a cliff after losing to the worst team in a BCS conference this season. The Wildcats tune up for a chance to spoil Wisconsin's Rose Bowl hopes by continuing Illinois' slide.

Record to date: 20-10
2-2 last week

Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll
(Week 9 ranking)

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