Jim Tressel has taken a lot of flack his first three years at Ohio State for his offensive play calling. Even the biggest Tressel supporters will take shots at the way he calls a game from time to time.
However, in the 27-6 win over Cincinnati on Saturday, Tressel kept the Bearcats on their heels with some excellent play calling. The Buckeyes seemed to use everything in their playbook - even the much-requested spread, shotgun attack. Yes, that was the Buckeyes with four and sometimes five receivers on the field together.
Could it be a sign of things to come? Well, let's not get too carried away. Maybe Tressel felt this was the only way to out-smart Mark Dantonio, who knows better than anyone that Tressel likes to use a conservative approach. But the Bucks looked good in the spread yesterday. Justin Zwick gets rid of the ball quickly and is accurate. He is already polished at recognizing blitzes. Sure, he had a few bad moments - but chalk that up to first-start nerves.
The Bucks also have a good mix of receivers. You have the big-play, do-everything guy in Santonio Holmes, the big, physical possession receiver in Roy Hall (who had a terrible first day, but is sure to rebound), the jitterbug slot receiver in Bam Childress, a very good tight end in Ryan Hamby and a host of talented young receivers like Tony Gonzalez, Ted Ginn and Devon Lyons.
Who knows how much more of the spread we will see this year, but the Bucks have proven they can do it well. Hats off to Tressel for trying something different.
Tressel also deserves credit for sticking with his guns and allowing Troy Smith to play when the game was still on the line. Sure, Tressel said all along that Smith would play, but forgive me if I thought that was lip service. We heard the same thing three years ago (two quarterbacks will play) but Steve Bellisari never came out of the game, even when he couldn't complete a pass to save his life in the 2001 loss at UCLA.
Heck, Tressel didn't just put Smith in the UC game when the outcome was still
in question, he put him in the game when the Buckeyes were losing 3-0 early in
the second quarter. That tells me he has a lot more confidence in Smith than I
And Smith played well. He took care of the ball and threw an outstanding touchdown pass to Holmes on a fade. No, I don't think he has much chance of unseating Zwick, but he's going to be one of the best backup quarterbacks in the country. If nothing else he can enter the game once in a while for a change of pace. Run a few QB draws, throw a couple bombs with that cannon he has for an arm, just give the opposing defense something else to think about.
It was also a good first day at the office for freshman tailback Antonio Pittman. This sounds like a broken record from the spring, but he runs with a quick burst and good vision. If there is a hole, Pittman is going to find it and hit it hard. He finished the game with seven carries for 66 yards, including a 38-yard jaunt late in the fourth quarter.
I was a little bit surprised Erik Haw didn't play - running backs coach Dick Tressel hinted that Haw would not redshirt this year - but maybe the coaching staff is so impressed with Pittman that they don't want to burn two freshman tailbacks unless they absolutely have to. I still think that Haw will play this year, but the coaching staff must be tempted to redshirt him. If Lydell Ross, Maurice Hall and Pittman stay healthy, it might be smart to get that extra year of eligibility for Haw. But, at the same time, it's just going to be Haw and Pittman next year at tailback (not including incoming freshmen), so it might be a good idea to get Haw some reps this year. Tough call for the coaching staff, but the point to all of this is that Pittman is going to provide a lot of excitement these next few years.
Another pleasant surprise was the kick returning of Mo Hall. He looked slow in that role last year as he was battling injures in both knees. (I know, why was he back there in the first place if he was hurt?) But against UC, he returned one 43 yards and the other 41 yards. He obviously won't keep that outstanding pace up, but it was an encouraging sign. He seems to have his speed back and although he is never going to have great vision or the ability to break a lot of tackles, it looks like he will be more than serviceable in that role this year. Maybe Ginn or Holmes will end up as the primary kick returner, but right now it's Hall, and Tressel seems very comfortable with that.
Just a couple quick defensive notes…
Linebackers Bobby Carpenter and A.J. Hawk led the team with nine tackles each against Cincinnati. These two are good friends and it will be an interesting battle to see who ends up leading the team in tackles this season. Usually that honor would go to the middle linebacker, but with the Bucks rotating Mike D'Andrea and Anthony Schlegel in that spot, it will likely be one of the outside guys (Hawk led the team with 106 stops last year, but OSU didn't really have a playmaker at MLB).
The Buckeyes used a 3-4 scheme at times against the Bearcats in order to get D'Andrea and Schlegel on the field together. Look for more of that the rest of the season. They will still use the base 4-3, but the 3-4 is just one more curveball to throw at opposing offenses this year.
What a good first game for defensive coordinator Mark Snyder. He made all the right calls and watched as the Buckeyes held a pretty good Bearcats offense to just 238 yards of total offense.
And I must say that I like Snyder being on the sidelines. I am a big proponent of coordinators (offensive and defensive) being up in the press box because they can see the field better. However, Snyder is the exception to the rule. After every big play, he was literally running 10 yards out on the field to congratulate his guys. As long as he doesn't get flagged (ha!) I like it. His players seem to respond to his fiery attitude. Remember when Harlen Jacobs blocked a punt in the Fiesta Bowl last year? Snyder - who also coaches the punt block team - was so fired up that he grabbed Jacobs and put him in a headlock. I like that kind of take-no-prisoners attitude in defensive coordinators. Fred Pagac was the same way. Dantonio was more laid-back, but that approach obviously worked very well for him.
A few of the other defensive players that stood out against UC were defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock, cornerback E.J. Underwood and safeties Nate Salley (of course) and Tyler Everett. Pitcock is a nightmare for guards and centers. He's strong enough to bull rush, but quick enough to get around most anyone who tries to block him one-on-one. He will eventually command double teams nearly every play, much like Tim Anderson faced. Pitcock finished with seven tackles and pressured Cincinnati quarterback Gino Guidugli on at least two occasions.
Underwood came as advertised, showing good ball skills and the ability to come up and make a tackle. Salley was Salley and Everett made a nice play to break up a would-be touchdown pass early in the game. There are probably five or six other defensive players I could mention that I was impressed with, but those guys stood out the most.
Overall, there's a lot to be excited about for Buckeye fans. The opener went about as well as you could have expected.
Next up, Marshall. Unfortunately, Troy State beat the Thundering Herd 17-15 in Huntington Saturday. There will still be a lot of pre-game intrigue due to the Redgie Arden situation, but the loss to Troy definitely takes some of the luster off this game. It will also end up hurting the Buckeyes' strength of schedule.