Be Careful what you wish for Part II
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that fans might want to be careful what they wish for with regard to the play calling. When Jim Tressel chose to throw the football on two sets of downs instead of rushing to run out the clock more quickly, it nearly came back to bite the Buckeyes. He had done exactly what people had bellowed for him to do, but when he did it - they wished he had not ‘taken their advice.'
This week, much discussion was generated when Tressel inserted Justin Zwick into the football game with 1:48 left in the first quarter.
For three seasons, there have been quiet mutinous murmurings by the Ohio State fans that Jim Tressel should get his backup quarterback more experience during games. In 2001, fans cried for blowouts so Krenzel/McMullen could battle it out for the right to succeed Bellisari. In 2002, the rallying cheer was for McMullen to take more snaps. This season, with McMullen taking snaps in the place of Krenzel, the desire has been to see the third string quarterback, Justin Zwick, playing.
Jim Tressel once again delivered. In a move that had everyone from the average fan to former head coach John Cooper scratching their heads, Tressel ordered Zwick onto the field.
Tressel explained the decision following the game. "We had it in our mind before the game that if there was an opportune time with good field position that we would like Justin to get some snaps," he said. "Just like early on in Scott's days with Craig, we did that with Scott, so you just aren't out there when it's fourth quarter and six minutes to go. We wanted him to have to throw the ball and make some decisions and make some checks and all those kinds of things, and I thought that was very valuable for him."
At least initially, Chris Spielman pegged the motivations of Tressel and lauded them.
"I like the move because you want to get this guy experience, as much as you can, when the game's on the line…It is good for Justin to get this real time experience," he said.
That is one way to look at it.
Pam Ward, Spielman's broacast partner, and John Cooper, the former Ohio State head football coach, viewed the matter in a different light.
Cooper at least, felt that this move swung the infamously fickle momentum back towards the Wildcats. "I think they (Wildcats) got a little momentum when Ohio State substituted their redshirt freshman quarterback. When they put Zwick in the game it looked to me like Ohio State relaxed a little bit."
Ward added, "If I am a defensive player…If I see that redshirt freshman coming in that early in the game, it would kind of fire me up a little bit. It is almost like they are saying, ‘Hey, we've got this game won.'"
Cooper felt certain Randy Walker would use this personnel move as a motivational tool to caulk the leaks in his defense. Walker could play on the substitution and tell his troops (erroneously or not) that by putting in Zwick, Ohio State was telling Northwestern that the Wildcats could not beat them, and he could use it to get more effort from his players. Indeed, it did look like the Wildcats were suddenly playing with more fire and purpose for a time, and if Bear Bryant was correct about defense that it was all about heart - Northwestern played with it after that move.
What about Zwick? What did the redshirt freshman think of his coach's decision?
"My hands were shaking when I stepped off the field," he said. "It was exciting. I have not been in front of a crowd since the spring game. The more experience I have, the more comfortable I will be once I get some plays under my belt."
Exciting huh? Some fans might say that this experience was just a little too exciting. To put in a redshirt freshman up only 10 points in the first quarter of the first Big Ten game of the season is something that 90% of the coaches out there would never dream of attempting. It goes against every adage and supposed ‘rule' of football and the surest way to win. It shatters perceptions (at least it should) that Tressel is some dyed in the wool conservative when it comes to offense.
What was Tressel's assessment of his young quarterback's performance?
"I thought he had some good throws," he said. "I think one down the sidelines, I think Louis was a little off balance as he was going, but if we would have been able to complete that, that would have been a big one. I thought he threw a couple nice squares or curls in there, made a good decision, dumped one off to Mo Hall. I think he made pretty good decisions…"
So the question remains, was Tressel's decision to insert Zwick into the football game a good one? For Tressel, the team, and Zwick, it was worth the risk. For Cooper, Ward, and a bevy of fans it was not.
I, for one, will side with Tressel. I thought the move showed great savvy and an understanding that despite the close score, the game was relatively in hand. As such, the reward was worth the risk. Sure, maybe it did kill momentum for OSU, but on the other hand - maybe Tressel can use this as a carrot to push Zwick more for 2004 when he looks to be the starter. Perhaps this will mean that in his first career start, Justin will not be in awe because he has already played in games where the outcome was in doubt and he needed to make a play.
In the end, if you were one of those who have called for Tressel to get the backups more playing time but then found yourself getting indigestion seeing this substitution, perhaps this will once again serve as a reminder. There is a reason your mother always told you to be careful what you wish for, because you just might just get it.