What to do, what to do…
Every week, Ohio State fans are treated to quotes from coaches, players, and even the television media talking about the woeful Buckeye offense. Each week someone different is put on the spot. Running backs Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross have said not everything was clicking with the rushing game. Craig Krenzel has pointed out the rushing game and the timing between himself and the wide receivers. The offensive line has pointed to itself for not giving enough protection to the quarterbacks and not opening holes for their running backs. The coaches have said that maybe they need to do something different…
Still, the hit parade continues marching down the street, with everything but the juggling clowns and decorated floats.
Meanwhile, the offensive numbers just seem to get worse and worse.
Against Northwestern for example, Ohio State actually trailed the Wildcats for rushing yards until late in the game. Only a couple of nice runs by Ira Guilford and Troy Smith in the final minutes swung the balance so that the Buckeyes emerged with 125 yards to 121 for Randy Walker's squad.
Only once in the last four games has Ohio State actually out-gained its opponent. San Diego State, Bowling Green, and North Carolina State managed to tack more yards on the talented and deep Buckeye defense than their Buckeye offensive counterparts gained. That Ohio State cannot gain more yards on players who are significantly less talented than the players than they face every day in practice should be embarrassing if not downright humiliating.
Ben Hartsock is clearly frustrated. During player interviews on Tuesday, he must have used that word half a dozen times at least if not more.
"Frustrating. Frustrating seems to be the theme of the day," he said when asked why a senior laden unit is not performing better.
Not only that, but the coaches are frustrated.
"I think offensively some of our coaches have gotten a little frustrated," he said. "I would be. As a coach, you try to do everything you can to show the techniques to do the things to be a good player, but it seems like no matter what they aren't working. Something is going wrong every game. I don't think it is a frustration to the point where they are ready to throw in the towel or throw somebody else in there. It is just a constant search to try to figure something out to get things working."
So what should one make of all of this?
Despite all the struggles, I believe Ohio State fans and the media should be enjoying this edition of The Ohio State Buckeyes more. I believe instead of griping and seeing all the negatives, perhaps the cloud has a sterling silver lining.
The Ohio State offense is in the bottom ten percent in the nation, and I am telling folks to, "Don't worry, be happy!"?
While talk of the underperforming offense seems to dominate the airwaves and print media, the big picture is being missed. Ohio State is 5-0. They have one Big Ten victory in their belt and are going to be aiming for a second next week in Madison. The Buckeyes are sitting at third in the country in both polls, and with the struggles of Miami last night – if the pollsters are truly fair about their voting – the Scarlet and Gray could and should jump to second. Even so, just like last season, if they win their games, the polls will take care of themselves.
While they may be last in the conference in total offense and near the bottom in too many categories to count, the Buckeye defense is dominating in a way that they did not even manage last year. Remove the points scored against Ohio State in overtime by NC State, and the Buckeyes are giving up a mere 12.6 points per game (13th in the nation). Have I mentioned the Buckeyes are leading the nation in rushing defense, giving up an unheard of 43.4 yards per game? Their total defense numbers are fairly impressive as well considering that they find themselves at 13th in that category nationally despite the fact that the majority of those ranked ahead of them have played weaker competition in their preconference slate. A similar improvement to 2002 down the stretch might leave pundits questioning if this is the greatest defense since the Alabama unit in 1992 or the Washington Huskies in 1991.
In other words, why not embrace this team for what it is instead of what it is not?
What is it in the human condition that compels us to always look at what we do not have rather than what we do?
Stop for just a moment and ask the question – how many teams have ever had a winning streak of more than 10 games let alone 19? How many teams have ever won a single national title let alone over half a dozen? How many teams have ever had a home grown coach as articulate and respected as Jim Tressel? How many programs have a cathedral of a stadium like the Horseshoe on the banks of the Olentangy?
Shortly before I returned to Ohio, an Ole Miss fan pulled me aside and sang the praises of Ohio State and their coaching staff. Remember, this is the same Ole Miss who has majored in wide open offensive attacks in recent years and has some kid by the name of Eli Manning at quarterback. He was openly envious of how well the coaches prepared Buckeye players and the stress they placed on special teams and defense even at the cost of a few points here and there on the other side of the football.
The reality is not just that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence; it is rarely greener.
What about just being grateful that football is being played instead of having to sit through the NBA playoffs and baseball all star game?
For their part, the players do not view this season as some tiresome grind. They have yet to view each game as a coalminer does the company whistle bidding them entrance into the underbelly of the earth. They realize it is a game.
"I think everyone is having fun. You can't not have fun winning football games," said Hartsock. "You can't not have fun being a part of Ohio State, playing in that stadium. Everybody is having fun; that is not an issue. It is just a different challenge. It's a much different season from last year, but I don't think anyone would want to have just a carbon copy of what we did. We want to have a different season. It is a new set of seniors; it is a new identity. So, I think everybody is having fun."
Tim Anderson agrees that football is fun. Period.
"I think guys are still going in having a good time, enjoying themselves," he said. "You know, this is a game that is meant to be fun and enjoyed. I think that is a key in being a successful team."
How can you not have fun winning games?
Football is a sport that is meant to be enjoyed?
Despite all the controversies, despite the shortcomings for the Ohio State offense, despite the unmet expectations, and despite the high probability that Ohio State will lose a game before the season concludes…
Why not enjoy this team for what it is and cheer them on? Why not praise the coaching staff for what they have accomplished instead of hammering them for what they are not doing?
When I bid Coach Tressel to have a good day recently, he replied, "Every day is a good day."
Even when his team is not performing up to expectations?
So, if the coaches are having fun and the players are having fun… What is stopping you from having that fun and simply enjoying the game?