On the lighter side

We are debuting a new feature for you today as Bucknuts staff writer Gary Housteau will be bringing you "On the Lighter Side", a weekly column for club subscribers where he provides his thoughts on goings-on around OSU football. Today's debut article is open to everyone, and it is on a topic that everyone is talking about -- Coach Tressel's offense. Will things open up? Gary says don't bet on it...

No matter how bad you might want to criticize or even ridicule the offensive (literally) play calling by Jim Tressel these days, it all comes down to being an exercise in futility. I've felt the same frustration that many Ohio State fans are just now feeling, for many years.

At Youngstown State, you used to hear the expression, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." That phrase was always loosely connected with the "Smashmouth" brand of football that the four National Championship teams of the Penguins at YSU were known for under Tressel.

Week after week, during the early to middle 1990's, I would hear, almost without fail, head coach after head coach describe the Penguin team that they would be playing later in the week by enunciating some form of the adjective "Smashmouth" at each of the Tuesday conference calls at YSU. It was a badge of honor that all of the Penguin teams wore proudly.

It's undeniable that the ‘91, ‘93, ‘94 and ‘97 teams at Youngstown State brought titles and recognition back to the Mahoning Valley, a once-proud steel producing area, because Tressel's style of football dominated I-AA football in that particular era.

You couldn't argue with the results! You'd be a fool to question the style of offense the Penguins played in the Ice Castle, the affectionate name used to describe the home field of the Penguins from playing in so many cold playoff games in November under Tressel.

I was one of those fools back then. "If it ain't broke, break it," I would routinely decry. I would write about it in this same ‘On the lighter side' column that I wrote when I covered the Penguins back then.

Of course when all the ingredients were in place, Tressel's teams would win and they would win big. Not by a big margin necessarily, but the number of victories and also the winning percentage through most of the ‘90's at YSU was the highest of all of the divisions of college football.

But when things didn't go well, the Penguins could very easily lay an egg (no pun intended) under Tressel. The most glaring example of that was the ‘95 season when Youngstown State was coming off of back-to-back championship seasons of ‘93 and ‘94, and they went 3-8. Returning under center for the third year that season was Mark Brungard, a prolific passer in high school who was contained only by Tressel from putting up those same kind of prodigious numbers during his career at YSU.

Granted, Brungard left YSU, a school that had sent Ron Jaworski and Cliff Stoudt to the NFL, as the career passing leader in both yards and attempts, but when you divide the 6,116 yards and 876 attempts over roughly the 41 or so of the games he started, that comes out to about 150 yards and 21 attempts a game. And that's the numbers from the best quarterback that Tressel ever had at YSU on two of the best teams that he ever coached there.

In three years at Ohio State now, I don't know what the combined numbers of Steve Bellisari and Craig Krenzel under Tressel are, but I'm sure you'll find those numbers by Brungard to more than likely be the upper parameters in yardage and attempts produced by Bellisari and Krenzel in any given season.

But that's the beauty of it. With the type of talent that Tressel will continue to harvest in Ohio, those 3-8 type of seasons will never be seen at OSU. With defense and special teams continuing to be the catalyst of Tressel's teams, the Buckeyes will be hard-pressed to finish below a 9-3 mark in any given season. For the record, it's always been the defensive troops that have stood out over Tressel's own offensive units over the years. But the offense, like last season, has been good enough to win.

Tressel wins! It often isn't pretty, but it's the bottom line. Fans might not like the means to such an end, and neither might the high school players that Tressel is recruiting, for that matter, but it's a tried and true formula that Tressel coaches. Take comfort in those close games. Despite losing recently to Wisconsin that way, Tressel wins way more than his fair share of the big ones and the close ones. Look no farther than last year. But to go a step further: Tressel won 19 of 20 playoff games from ‘91 through ‘94, losing only in the finals in ‘92 to Marshall over that span. And then he won five more in-a-row in his next playoff experience in ‘97.

Like it or not. Last year's national championship season only validated the winning formula utilized by Tressel at the I-AA level. Tressel coaches not to lose! So get used to it! Defense wins championships and Tressel is always going to do his part to make that happen!

But he's such a tremendous human being that he'll continue to get the players that he needs to continue on the winning tradition that is built by strong senior leadership. Why else wouldn't he pull Bellisari as a starter two years ago and won't even consider doing it to Krenzel this year?

Hardly anything that Tressel does as a head coach catches me off guard. I've affectionately called him "Hargrove" over the years for playing the percentages the way Grover did with his bullpen in those winnings years of the Tribe.

But nothing ever caught me off guard in a similar manner to which I was effected by him in his first post-game press conference at Ohio State after beating Akron that very hot and humid afternoon.

Someone in the media asked him to describe his emotions that he was feeling from the victory coupled with the recent passing of his mom just prior to the season and his knowing of how proud his dad Lee would be of his son as the head coach of the Buckeyes.

"The neat thing was that I knew that this would be the first time they watched me coach together in 20 years and that made it special," Tressel said. "And for all of us sitting at this table and all of our guys down in that locker room and everyone that's a part of Ohio State, there were different reasons that this was a special day, and that certainly was one of my reasons."

That single Jim Tressel quote will stick with me for the rest of my days. I had to hold back the tears right there in the press conference.

As many in the Columbus media now are all too familiar with, too often Tressel speaks in vague or cliched terms that don't really describe a whole lot. But after watching him for so many years at YSU, and then seeing him right there in his first game as the head coach at Ohio State speak so eloquently of what was special to him to that day, I knew right then and there, that no matter what the records would be or how many championships that he would bring to OSU, I knew the future of the Buckeyes was in good hands.

And I still think that way! Despite having an offense that I know I'll never grow to love -- it's just not possible -- I'll always be happy and so very proud of the results as long as Jim Tressel is at the helm.

Just win baby! Win ugly baby, but win!


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