After Saturday, Jim Tressel might be getting a new member in his small club.
What club is that you ask?
The club where the punt has been named the most important play in football. I signed up last season after sitting in the stands and watching Groom take the stuffing out of Wisconsin with a late 67 yarder. This week, Utah head coach Urban Meyer might be faxing in an application for membership. Utah nearly lost their game with California when their punter hit not one, but two short punts from deep in his own end zone. Cal used the opportunities to score 14 points and take the lead. Utah found itself trailing for the first time all evening in the fourth quarter and had to fight back to win.
A Giant Raspberry award to…
Bill Snyder, Nick Saban, and Walt Harris. Undoubtedly, these three grown men will cry like babies if they are somehow bumped out of the BCS game down the road because of weak scheduling. However, in my opinion, they will not have a leg on which to stand. Their opponents include California (scheduled PT – Prior to Tedford), Troy State, McNeese State, Massachusetts, UL Monroe, Western Illinois, Kent State, and Ball State. Are you kidding me? If you are counting, there are three Division I-AA teams there and two perennial cellar dwellers in the MAC.
I for one am almost hoping that three teams go undefeated and one of these programs is forced to watch the Sugar Bowl from their hotel because of their pathetic schedule. If you want to be in the big games with the real big boys, then act like a serious football program.
Don't give me this baloney about how tough it is to win in your league, the pressure of being a head coach, etc. Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Washington, and a good number of other programs have a proud tradition of tough non-conference foes. Their preconference slates included Nebraska, Boston College, NC State, Washington (for OSU), Oregon, Notre Dame, and Ohio State (for Washington). Apparently this has not hampered them from winning considering they all have national titles in the last 15 years...
Somewhere around the second overtime, a lady behind me commented, "Well, at least we are getting our money's worth!" To which, her friend replied, "Yeah, but I didn't want this much!"
I think a great many Ohio State fans might share those sentiments.
Saturday's game was a true classic because of its outcome, but once again – it appears the Buckeyes are their own worst enemies.
The Running Game
The current Buckeye running game is about as effective as the 18th century medicinal practice of bloodletting – and about as painful to watch.
Saturday, Ohio State rushed the football 32 times for 44 yards. Craig accounted for 37 of those yards on 13 attempts.
That means the rest of the Buckeye offense rushed the ball 19 times for 7 yards.
Brandon Schnittker rushed the football once for 5 yards, and the Buckeye team rushed it once for –1 yard.
Doing the math, this means Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross carried the ball 17 times for 3 yards. Maurice Hall (13 carries for 2 yards) averaged a whopping 5.5 inches per carry. Meanwhile, Lydell Ross is breathing down the back of his neck and showing the coaches he deserves more playing time by managing a stunning 9 inches per carry (4 carries for 1 total yard).
I would be hard pressed to find a rushing game in all of Division I-A that is more disappointing right now than the Buckeyes'. This is a senior offensive line with a senior quarterback, a big fullback, and two junior tailbacks. Yet they cannot even average a yard a carry?
Something is bad wrong. Bad wrong.
I cannot in my lifetime remember a more anemic Ohio State offensive rushing attack this early in the season.
Be Careful what you wish for…
For the hordes griping and complaining about the play calling, I have a couple of observations.
First, bear in mind that Jim Tressel seems to know what he is doing overall. The Buckeyes have two consecutive wins over Michigan, have an overall mark of 24-5 under his tenure, are the reigning national champions, and they are riding a 17 game winning streak.
Second, those who want Tressel to "gamble more" and to "spread it out and throw" had their wishes granted against the Wolfpack in regulation and it all but cost Ohio State the game.
What am I talking about?
If you have a tape of the game, pull it out and fast-forward it to about three minutes left in the first half. Ohio State has the ball, and NC State has two time outs. On the first play, Ohio State runs the football and knocks about 50 seconds off of the clock. At this point they have two options. They can either run the ball two consecutive times, or they can pass for a first down. The former would be guaranteed to either force NC State to use both of their time outs or to allow the Buckeyes to run off another 90-100 seconds, leaving them with maybe 30 seconds left and the ball deep in their own territory right before the half. The latter would allow the Buckeyes to run out the clock IF they made a first down, but if they threw an incomplete pass or stopped the clock, then the Wolfpack would have the ball back with 2 minutes and two time outs.
Jim Tressel threw the football, just like all the fans and pundits always scream for him to do. On second down, the pass was completed to Drew Carter who was run out of bounds stopping the clock. On third down, the pass was thrown incomplete. As a direct result, NC State had the ball back with 1:42 left and both of their time outs remaining. They mounted a scoring drive, needing both of those time outs, and put the ball in the end zone with 18 seconds left.
Had OSU run the football and taken the more conservative path, NC State likely goes into halftime trailing 14-0. Instead, the fans and pundits were given what they want every week from Jim Tressel and it cost Ohio State 7 points.
The second example of this dynamic came with Ohio State up by 10 points late in the contest. The Buckeyes could have just sat on the football and opted to run out as much clock as possible with around 7 minutes remaining. On that particular set of downs, they might have been able to shave another 1:30 off to take the time down to 5:20 with a ten-point lead. Instead, Craig Krenzel was allowed to pass. One pass went incomplete and the other was thrown for an interception that set up an NC State score.
Fans and media pundits had again been given what they crave. The result? NC State scored not only because of the interception, but the extra time on the game clock proved critical as well. Rivers tossed the final touchdown in regulation for the Wolfpack with only 18 seconds remaining.
Though it is not a given, it is a strong possibility that had Tressel simply done what he normally does (and is criticized for) instead of what the couch potatoes and media experts desire, Ohio State wins by at least 10 in regulation.
I say this not to criticize Tressel but rather to point out two items. First, being a college football coach is often a no win situation. If you call a pass, then in retrospect you should have run. If you run and gain no yards, then you are called unimaginative even if you do run out the clock on the opponent to win the game. Second, maybe – just maybe – Jim Tressel knows what he is doing. The man has coached teams to seven national title games in just 17 years and has won five of them. Even if it looks strange, it is safe to assume that most of the time Tressel is making the correct decisions to win the football game.
Say what they will, nobody can convince me this was unexpected. I picked Arkansas to win this game.
First, Mack Brown has never once won anything of note in his entire career. Check out his biography on the University of Texas website some time. He has no conference titles. He has no national titles. He has nothing. Nada. Zilch. It was a given that he would be out coached by Houston Nutt. Three years ago I pointed to Nutt as a top coach. My opinion of him has not changed. If you have never been to Fayetteville, Arkansas, it is a nice enough town but not exactly the easiest place to recruit top athletes. Give Nutt the facilities and players of Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Miami, and a bevy of other schools, and he would be winning the SEC every other season.
Second, this was not a regular game. The odds makers missed the mark badly on it. This is a rivalry game. Arkansas folks still remember the days of the SWC. They also do not really care for their Texas neighbors who love to talk about how much better Texas is at everything from barbecue to football to even knowing how to walk and chew gum at the same time. Nutt is an old Arkansas boy who remembers the rivalry of yesteryear, and he teaches his players about it. This makes Nutt 2-0 against Texas.
Sure, Texas will be ready for the Hogs next year when they visit Austin. They better be or Nutt will make it three in a row…
No, I am not writing to whine about the officiating.
Rather, I am writing to say that I for one am glad the officials managed to get at least one call correct last Saturday. Had they not done so, I was honestly feared for their health. Watching that game from the stands, I have never seen an Ohio State crowd that angry.
I watch parts of 150-200 college games every year. I can't remember the last time I have seen that much open rage.
Had Ohio State lost the game, the officials had two options. 1. They could have made a run for it out the tunnel and straight to a police car to whisk them out of there. 2. They could have waited about two hours for the crowd to go away and then left town with a police escort.
The Rushing Game Part Two
Those who thought OSU would line up and stuff the ball down NC State's throat did not see the Wake Forest game. When Wake Forest tried that, they were stuffed almost every time.
Wake Forest managed to get its rushing yardage with a number of misdirection and unconventional (at least these days) plays. They frequently called quick hitting fullback bellies right up the middle. When not doing that, they also called draws to slow down the NC State defensive line. Also on tap were QB runs where the running backs became a pair of fullbacks (sound familiar?). Finally, Wake Forest ran a number of misdirection plays (such as reverses) to force the NC State defense to get out of a packed box formation.
What Ohio State ran (for the most part) with their running backs on Saturday were slow developing plays where the running back was led to the line by a fullback or an H-Back. Those failed to work for Wake Forest, and they failed to work for Ohio State.
What did work?
Schnittker gained 5 yards on his carry.
Craig Krenzel gained yardage with his carries.
Still though, I do not see this as the "Eureka!" answer to the problem. It is not just play calling. This is a systemic issue in my opinion. The offensive line, the tailbacks, the coaches, the fullbacks…each bears a part of the blame.
Football is the ultimate team sport. As such, the entire offense must figure out what the problem is and fix it before it costs them a win. Passing to set up the run will work only so long. Sooner or later, the Buckeyes will run into a good defense, and then they will lose if they cannot consistently run.
Before Anointing Georgia…
Football fans and media pundits should remember this is just September. I would not rush to anoint Georgia as legitimate until they play LSU and Florida. If they are still undefeated after these games, then yes – the Bulldogs probably are for real.
In fact, I would not recommend anointing any team at this point in the season. Remember that every team starts out with a clean record, but no season in the last 8 years has ended with more than two undefeated major conference teams.
Ohio State was ranked as low as fifth in the nation last year at this time because pollsters were convinced that Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Miami, and Georgia were better. They were wrong, but it took until the Fiesta Bowl to prove it.
No column that included thoughts on last Saturday's game would be complete without commenting on the announcers.
Apparently, the network executives did not send their regular crew. Something must have happened to them because at least one (Cunningham) of the two was reportedly seen in a Three Stooges screening recently.
Among the gaffes by Cunningham were:
·He believed that NC State should go for the first down late in the game in their own territory. Had the Wolf Pack done this and failed, they would have seen their hopes go up in smoke. Apparently Cunningham had failed to see that Ohio State was stuffing the run like mothers do their skinny teenage boys. Further, NC State punted the ball only to benefit from Santonio Holmes' lack of securing the football and a bad call. The result was that Amato looked like a genius while Cunningham the class clown.
·Cunningham said that Amato should go for a field goal down 24-7. Though I must admit that I agreed, this was Chuck Amato's call. He knows his team better than any, and he obviously knows how to coach football games. Amato went for it on fourth down and Rivers rewarded his faith in him by scoring a touchdown.
·Cunningham said that cornerback AJ Davis had half a step on Michael Jenkins when a flag was not thrown for bumping Jenkins on the pass route. Huh? Are you kidding me? Jenkins was the one with the step on Davis.
·After the questionable called fumble on Santonio Holmes, Cunningham was extremely vocal in his insistence that the call was a good one. He even went so far as to vociferously override his partner's objections that Holmes might have been down. No matter what the truth of the call on the field (and it was a questionable call at best), that is considered poor etiquette in the broadcast booth.
·Cunningham believed NC State should be running T.A. McClendon in overtime. Yet, only minutes before the announcers and camera crew had shown and discussed a shot of McClendon having both knees iced on the sidelines.
·Cunningham went apoplectic over the play selection of NC State in the third overtime. He could not believe that they had run Philip Rivers for two quarterback sneaks to get the ball to the 1-yard line (from the 4). When the McClendon run was called, he loved it and said this was the play that the Wolf Pack should have been running instead of the quarterback sneaks. The problem with that comment is that running that particular play two times would have netted one yard. The sneaks netted three yards. Which is better? Clearly the latter.
·Finally (though there are many more inexplicable comments that one could criticize), Cunningham said the final play selection was the correct one. Pull out a tape of the game, and you will discover that it was the exact wrong call. Ohio State was ready for it and had put in a 4-4-3 defense. Dantonio, figuring that NC State might try to run the football in from that distance had Carpenter, Pagac, Reynolds, and Hawk on the field. Who made the tackle but A.J. Hawk – with a little help from Will Allen (who was being held). Had NC State passed the football or run a quarterback sneak, they would have had a much higher chance for success.
So why criticize the announcers?
Rarely would I even consider doing something of this nature. The reason I included it in my article this time is the simple fact that coaching football is hard enough without some guy (or gal) constantly commenting that this is the "right" or the "wrong" play call. How do they know? Do they have the charts and tendencies of the teams? Have they spend 70+ hours every week coaching either team? Have they spent their entire week focusing on one side of the football for just one team (as some of the assistant coaches do)?
The answers to those questions are all a resounding "no."
Only occasionally does an announcer/analyst really have a gripe to criticize the coaches for either team.
The rest of the time, I believe they should call the game and analyze what is happening. Unless they are willing for the coaches to review the announcers' comments in a special extended segment – pointing out where the announcers were wrong, they should do their job and stop being so critical of the coaches.