Coach's Corner: It Takes A Passion

Following the loss at Northwestern, former OSU assistant Bill Conley offers an assessment on where things stand with the football program. He discusses specific issues with the running game and the defense, among other areas. Click here for the latest from this special contributor.

Before you can be a contender, you have to have a burning desire to be as good as you can possibly be.

Muhammad Ali had it; Mike Tyson, didn't. Eddie George had it; Maurice Clarett, didn't. The 2002 national championship Ohio State Buckeyes had it; the 2002 Miami Hurricanes, didn't.

There is no substitute for the burning desire to excel. In the world of sports, it is called "passion." As a football coach, I had the pleasure of coaching several players who had a zeal for the game of football and a zeal for The Ohio State University. Great young men like Chris Spielman, Mike Vrabel and Ben Hartsock were players who never had to be told or coached to go the extra mile. Their passion for the game of football was matched by their passion for the university.

The same can be said for two coaches, one for whom I played and one for whom I coached. Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce loved to compete, and their players reflected this attitude every time they took the field. Woody and Earle also had a true love for Ohio State and its great traditions.

That is a far cry from today when, it seems, there are coaches, athletic administrators and even university presidents who take on their duties because it is a job, not a passion. Many times, they even tend to look upon those who have a true passion for their job and their university in a negative manner. For some strange reason, the "powers to be" do not want to hear about tradition. Many times they see it as a threat to their realm of control instead of the great sense of pride it instills into everyone in the university and community.

The Buckeye disaster against Northwestern was indeed a black day in the annals of Ohio State football. It wasn't so much the loss to a Northwestern team that played its heart out; it was the way the Buckeyes played. To be a Buckeye means to play physical every play for four quarters. If you're an offensive lineman, you play low and drive your feet until the whistle blows. If you're a wide receiver, you run great routes and block downfield to help make a good play a great play. If you're a running back, you lower your shoulder to split defenders and scratch for every inch of precious turf. A quarterback exudes confidence and leadership every play.

To play defense at Ohio State means to play hard and fast each snap of the ball. To play with pride means to take great angles, swarm to the ball and hit with every ounce of strength in your body. That might sound barbaric, but that's the attitude upon which Buckeye football tradition is based. When you put on the scarlet and gray, it's your job to uphold that tradition.

Northwestern played more aggressive, more confident, and as hard as it is to say, even more physical than Ohio State. The Buckeye offense was practically nonexistent until the fourth quarter. Questionable play calling, poor first down production and the inability to control the line of scrimmage resulted in another frustrating offensive display. Even though some halftime adjustments got the Buckeyes back into the game, the offense was never in physical control.

Defensively, the Buckeyes were unable to stop Northwestern's base running plays out of the spread formation. They played with a lack of intensity and at times acted as spectators as Northwestern players continually gave extra effort each play. Defensive halftime adjustments seemed ineffective as the Wildcats kept the pressure on the Ohio State defense. Northwestern's final overtime touchdown typified the evening as Northwestern's Noah Herron went into the end zone untouched.

Even in the area of special teams, the Buckeyes can call it a draw at best. A big Santonio Holmes punt return for a touchdown and a Mo Hall kickoff return to midfield were the highlights of the Buckeye special units production.

The lack of intensity, a lack of effort at times and a lack of focus by Ohio State allowed a mediocre team to live its dream. The Wildcats deserve credit for the victory over Ohio State. A nightmare for all Buckeye fans; a once in a lifetime experience for the Wildcat faithful. A night the both will long remember. The night the "underdog beat the big dog."

It is imperative that the entire coaching staff and every player get on the same page against Wisconsin. The Badger defense is much better than Northwestern's. Their offense, though not as explosive as the Wildcats, is much more physical. Whatever internal problems exist for the Buckeyes must be resolved as the tougher part of the schedule is yet to come.

The talent is too good and the coaching staff too dedicated to let the wheels fall off the Buckeye machine. But like any machine, at times it needs to be tuned up and repaired. An overhaul by everyone involved is essential. Let's get the tools out and get it running right.

The bottom line is that to live up to the great traditions of Ohio State football, it takes a full commitment. A full commitment by the players, coaches and administrators to understand what the word "passion" for Ohio State football and its great traditions truly mean. For those who don't "have it", get it; those that "have it", be thankful.

The Running Game

Ohio State's problems in running the football have been well documented.

From studying the situation, I see several things. First of all, they aren't getting any kind of surge.

There are two things you have to do to run the ball effectively. The first is you need a surge at the point of attack. The advantage of that is, even if they have the eighth man up there, you can still get the running back into level two. Then, even if the tackle is made there, it's a three- or four-yard gain. They are getting no surge.

The second thing you have to do to be able to run the ball is secure the backside. You can't allow any penetration from the backside. But too often we are seeing defensive players get in from the backside. Too many times the backs are being tackled from behind.

To have a good running attack, you have to be able to get your running back up to the line of scrimmage and allow him to make his cut at the line. But the line is not getting enough of a "knockback."

Zwick's Progress

I think if you had to find a highlight of the game, the highlight is probably the fourth quarter and the play of the offense. Justin Zwick showed the most maturity he has shown since he has been the starting quarterback during that fourth quarter.

Hopefully, he can build off of that. It seemed like in the fourth quarter things finally came together.

And The Defense

They had two weeks to prepare for Northwestern's spread offense and it was not like that was something new. That is the same offense Randy Walker has been running since he's been there.

They had two weeks to prepare and were not able to stop their base play. The problems were probably in the planning or in the communication on the day of the game.

This Week's Game

This game with Wisconsin is a crucial game. Now they know they are going up against a defense that is much better than any they have played against.

Their offense is known for controlling the football. They like to keep the ball away from opposing offenses.

If they don't play physical football in this game, it could be a long season.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Bill Conley, an OSU assistant coach for 17 years, will provide insights through columns and Chat sessions on throughout the football season. His next Chat session is scheduled for Mon., Oct. 11. Plus, catch Coach Conley on his weekly radio show from 9 a.m. to noon each Sunday morning on WTVN-AM (610).

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