Bob Griese and Brad Nessler probably made the most positive comments on the Buckeyes by national media in some time. As the game wound down - even with Ohio State managing only 138 total yards on offense - these two announcers talked about how well Ohio State had played.
They understand football. They understand the way it is supposed to be played. They understand games are indeed won with discipline, special teams, defense, and fundamentals.
OSU has all of that. The offense is coming along, but to be honest, they didn't need much offense to win this contest. So, Tressel simply shelved it and allowed the rest of his team to dominate.
It's the sound byte folks who don't truly understand football strategy that decry Tressel's methods and describe them in unflattering ways. At some point, media ‘experts' are going to have to give The Ohio State program more respect with how they win. I'm not talking about just picking against the Buckeyes for this game. I'm talking about a widespread belief that Ohio State is simply lucky or plays an ugly brand of football. I'm talking about making fun of or belittling the Buckeye offense and constantly saying, "They are going to have to open it up to win today…" as if the only real way to build a program is with a basketball on grass spread offense.
I've come to the conclusion that I must have missed the memo. What memo you ask? The one that apparently was passed around saying you should compare every rushing attack to Woody Hayes' offense and then turn up your nose. Woody Hayes is a hall of fame coach who won five national titles and came within inches of claiming another four in his tenure at Ohio State. Yes, he had a temper and was a flawed individual, but give me a break. Further, Woody's coaching descendants have added better than 10 other national titles in Division I-A and Division I-AA (among them Jim Tressel, Lloyd Carr, Nick Saban, Bill McCartney, Lou Holtz, Pete Carroll, and the Stoops family).
This is not a pro-OSU apology (though admittedly it might sound like one); it's an appeal for common sense. If the so called pundits really understood football, then they would recognize that winning 28 of your last 30 games - and one of those losses came within the last few minutes of a game in messy weather - is a sign of fantastic coaching, great talent, and a team that knows how to walk away with the all-important "W" as the clock hits zero.
Sure, the offensive numbers were ugly Saturday, but the 'W' Sure is pretty. Who came out on top? The team with the ‘prettier' offense today or the more dominant defense and special teams?
That's what I thought.
The much-questioned defensive line showed up to play today. Led by Simon Fraser, the group harassed and pressured the NC State quarterbacks and contained the Wolfpack rushing attack. Marcus Green showed signs of emerging, with a sack, pressuring the passer, and combining with Fraser to recover an NC State fumble. Quinn Pitcock (aside from his foolish penalty) finished with two tackles for loss and a sack. Even when they were not wreaking havoc on their own, the defensive front tied up would be blockers and allowed Mike D'Andrea and Anthony Schlegel to reach to the NC State quarterback with foul intentions.
Even Jay Richardson made his presence felt. It might have largely gone unnoticed, but on first down with about two and a half minutes remaining in the first half, NC State tried a well-designed screen pass. They had blockers out in front ready to lead the charge, and it would have been a big play. Instead, with Simon Fraser bearing down on him, Davis was forced to throw the ball away. Why did he throw the ball away? He tossed it to the turf because right there in the middle of the NC State blockers - beside the intended receiver was Jay Richardson who had smelled out the screen and snuffed it by staying home.
Do turnovers come in bunches?
For NC State, this has to be a game they will look back at and be sick when they see the impact of their fumbles, special teams miscues, and interceptions. For Ohio State, this is a game that the young defense (even younger without Dustin Fox) will look to build upon.
In recent weeks, the Buckeyes came tantalizingly close to grabbing a few turnovers but had nothing to show for their effort. Saturday afternoon the Buckeyes forced 5 turnovers - and really a sixth had the officials not blown the call with the A.J. Hawk interception that would have ended the game. Hawk in particular was impressive with his two grabs.
The final tally in the turnover battle?
Ohio State forced 3 NC State fumbles (recovering 2) and 3 (really 4) interceptions. For their part, the Buckeye offense turned the football over only once - on a Lydell Ross blunder that nearly cost Ohio State dearly.
For 3 ½ quarters, Lydell Ross was not impressive perhaps, but he was doing what was asked of him. He ran the football in a physical manner and gained what yards were there most of the time. Granted, he did not cut the ball back against the grain for big gains, but he worked for every inch and protected the football.
Then, just as time looked to be running out on the Wolfpack with the Buckeyes in position for a record sixth field goal for Mike Nugent, Lydell Ross made a play for which there is no excuse. Crossing the line of scrimmage, he was stripped of the pigskin. NC State recovered and might well have scored a touchdown had not Santonio Holmes forced the NC State defender to fumble.
The resulting Wolfpack drive put them back into the game, trailing only 22-14 with around 90 seconds remaining. The onside kick attempt was perfect and to be blunt - without a lucky bounce to Ryan Hamby who found himself all alone, this game might have gone into overtime.
If this were simply the first time this has happened, it would not perhaps be so serious. The problem facing the Ohio State coaching staff however is that in three games, their senior captain tailback has fumbled the football three times at critical points in the contest. Against Cincinnati, Ross was fortunate a penalty was called to nullify the error, but both Marshall and NC State have surfed the emotional wave from Ross turnovers, scored 14 points, and pressed the Buckeyes late in the game.
This simply cannot continue if the Scarlet and Gray expect to win close football games. If he cannot hang onto the ball, don't be shocked to see #30 ride the pine while freshman Antonio Pittman plays.
The redshirt sophomore fared relatively well in his first start on the road. In contrast to previous weeks when he too often looked more like a gunslinger than a quarterback, against NC State his throws were measured. He took care of the football, scrambling or taking a sack when the situation warranted. His totals for the day (10 of 21 for 73 yards) might look less than impressive, but he seemed to be more mature in his decision-making.
It reaches the point where it's superfluous to mention Nugent's name because everyone knows what is going to follow.
Buckeye fans should simply enjoy this young man in his final season at Ohio State. His like will not come around very often. In fact, in 125 years of football, the Scarlet and Gray have never had a better place-kicker. That's not hyperbole. That's a fact.
Think about that for a moment.
Since 1889, with all the players the Buckeyes have put into the backfield to kick field goals, no one has equaled the abilities of Nugent.
The Offensive Touchdown
Perhaps it's overkill, but the blocking on that play deserves special mention.
With a called run right up the middle, Brandon Joe led Lydell Ross into what should have been the hole. Instead, there was simply a wall. Still, Joe and the blockers up front sealed off the defense. Ross narrowly avoided being brought down from behind by a Wolfpack defensive player and then slammed into the mass of humanity two yards from the goal line. Instead of going down, he continued to pump his legs and push for yardage.
Meanwhile, Rob Sims, Doug Datish, and Joe kept the defense from tackling Ross from the front. T.J. Downing and Kirk Barton combined to finish off the lone defensive lineman between Ross and the touchdown on the right hand side of the line. Still fighting for yardage, Ross spun around and fell forward for the touchdown.
Only in slow motion can that play be properly appreciated from the perspective of the Buckeyes.
- To the referees who started calling penalties. The game likely would have spiraled out of control with fights and cheap shots had they not done their job. A fight nearly ensued shortly after the late hit on Justin Zwick. Who knows what might have happened had the men in the striped suits not tossed their yellow hankies so frequently.
- To the Buckeye defense for coming up with 5 turnovers - and a sixth if this game had instant replay. All week long they heard how the team was 116th in the nation in this category. It appears they were tired of it.
- To Justin Zwick for taking better care of the football. He didn't fumble or drop the football once in this game.
- To Simon Fraser for playing like the senior captain on the defensive line. After jumping out of the starting gate like a champion racehorse against Washington last year, Fraser was slowed by a broken kneecap. This year he is healthy and it is pretty obvious how much a difference that makes in his play.
- To Donte Whitner for showing why he has earned the starting safety position. He not only provided a physical presence on run support this week, but he also tackled well and picked off a pass. His hit on T.A. McLendon sent a clear message - he was there to play this afternoon.
- To T.A. McLendon. Playing on what is likely still a gimpy hamstring, McLendon once again showed why when healthy he is one of the top 20 backs in the nation. It's a mystery why Amato did not give him the football more often. With 15 rushes for 94 yards (6.3 average per carry), a touchdown, and a long of 41 yards - McLendon's only miscue was a fumble that led to a Buckeye field goal.
- To Sirjo Welch. This isn't the first time Welch has done something special on special teams at Ohio State - it's just the first time he has done it to an opponent during a game. Welch appears to have a real nose for the football and causing turnovers. In the jersey scrimmage this August, he forced a fumble by Erik Haw and created troubles for the offense more than once.
- To ABC for cutting to a commercial after the first forced turnover by Ohio State. Turnovers are emotional moments for young players and a struggling offense can use them for motivation. Instead, the Buckeye offense had to cool their jets while the NC State defense collected their wits.
- To the referees for missing two critical calls. First, they completely blew where a ball should be spotted on a third and long play for Ohio State. Instead of a first down, the Buckeyes had to punt. Jim Tressel (in a very rare display of emotion) rightfully let the referee have an earful. Second, A.J. Hawk made a fantastic interception but was denied. The pick would have iced the game for Ohio State. The Wolfpack, given new life, proceeded to score and might have taken the game to overtime for a win with a few more breaks like that.
- To Lydell Ross for his third fumble in as many games. His fumbles have led to two touchdowns for the opposition.
To Hurricane Ivan. Perhaps it is trite to give the storm a ‘thumbs down,' but it might be well to note that while much of the nation watched the games in Raleigh, Auburn, and Knoxville this weekend - many of the locals in those areas could not. Power was knocked out, tornadoes struck across several states, mass flooding occurred, and lives were lost. In many respects, football should have been a complete afterthought this weekend.