I heard Cincinnati Head Coach Marvin Lewis talk about it earlier in the week. In no way was he the first coach to make the comment. When asked about the losing record, he said something along the lines of that canned, worn out head coach phrase, "Nobody in this league is as good as we think and nobody is as bad as we think." Sure, call it a cliché from coaches. Call it Marvin just being a politician.
I will go ahead and call it absolutely dead accurate. It is also accurate for college football and the Big Ten. If OSU plays Northwestern 10 times, we win probably 8 of them. I'd say we are the better team deserving of a victory on 8 of those occasions. The 2004 Saturday night match-up against the Wildcats was one of those other two. There is no "could've, would've, should've." The Wildcats went and took it from us. 444 yards of NU offense. Hard running by Herron. Constant pressure from the arm and feet of Basanez. Pressure on our quarterback.
In my mind, the statistic that jumps out is 3rd down conversions by the Wildcats. 12 of 20. If it's 3rd and 3 or 3rd and 1, like it was on their first touchdown drive, you have to get off the field as a defense. If it's 3rd and 3 or 3rd and 11 (twice), like it was on their second touchdown drive, you have to get off the field. Coaches watch the "money" downs closely. All college and pro teams work on third downs for a specific amount of time in practice. We were out-executed by the Wildcat offense on 3rd downs and it proved to be a deciding factor.
I will still argue the formula works. 1.) Great special teams. 2.) Suffocating defense. 3.) Mistake-free offense. It wins not only games, but also National Championships. Bring on Trev Alberts or whoever and we will debate until we are blue in the face. Wolfpack fans, don't call us lucky. The formula smothered a solid NC State team on the road (and won us 28 of 30). But you have to execute all three. If one or more of those are not working, you are in big trouble and don't have any room for error. We gave up a 50+ yard kickoff return. We missed a field goal attempt. We gave up 12 of 20 3rd down situations. We got screened to death, which contributed to 444 yards of NU offense. We had 1st and goal from the 4 and walked away with no points. We lost a fumble. We threw an interception. We missed a first down catch in overtime that would have given us a new set of downs. The formula wasn't executed.
I give Northwestern credit. The Wildcats earned it. They just beat us on that night. They will find themselves in some more games that come down to the fourth quarter. We found out we are not the #6 team in the country. They are not as bad as we thought. We are not as good as we thought.
Stretches of Wisconsin/at Iowa and of course at Purdue/Michigan will make things difficult for the Buckeyes. We saw the great Buckeye flashes against Northwestern. This team is capable of winning every game they play. I saw us play all four quarters against Northwestern. The Buckeyes just didn't play the full 15 minutes of every quarter. AJ, Bobby, Simon, Nugent, Mangold, and Simms should get this back on track. Our character is strong. It is not about what you do when things are going well. It is what you do when things are going poorly.
The blame goes on the players. I was not in the locker room and couldn't tell you if there was an emotional speech from the coaching staff. I couldn't tell you if they emphasized the game enough during the two weeks of preparation. Truth is, it shouldn't matter. The players need to play on game day. They are recruited because they don't need a "win one for the Gipper" talk every day before practice and games. Our players are recruited because they have superior physical skills. Keep in mind though, all D-I teams have those players. What separates Ohio State players is they combine that physical element with mental toughness and an ability to prepare themselves better than the opponent. The Buckeye players need to play fast. I think the Northwestern players played faster than us on Saturday.