You hate to see the Wisconsin seniors walk away from the rivalry with so many bragging rights. 2-0 at Ohio Stadium. 3-1 overall. They broke our 18-game home winning streak. They broke our 19-game overall winning streak last year. You can go back way before Barry Alvarez and realize Wisconsin had some real big, physical football players that could battle at the line of scrimmage with anyone in the country. However, the OSU's of the world could always out-recruit talent and athleticism from around the country. Ohio Stadium, the Big House, Rose Bowls, and national television were more attractive than November in Madison and frozen marshmallows. It was actually the skill and talent and athleticism of Anthony Davis, Jonathan Orr, John Stocco, and Darrin Charles that hurt us. The Wisconsin line was dominant, but they bring in dominant lines every year. What was unique was that the Badger playmakers made more plays than our playmakers.
The Roy Hall fumble that ended an impressive eight-play drive hurt. The Santonio Holmes fumble with the score 13-17 hurt. (I apparently am not intelligent enough to figure out what the rule on a fumbled football and instant replay is…so I won't comment officially, but that Davis no-call fumble seemed to hurt). The five sacks of Zwick, the pressure by the Badger front four, the four three-play drives, the three four-play drives…it all hurt.
But what hurt us the most is the toughest thing for me to admit. What hurt us the most is 14 seniors graduating to the NFL. Our players are average right now at OSU. Will game experience and trials and tribulations and highs and lows make our team grow and get better? I would think so, but it doesn't change the fact that we have had very average players in our 0-2 conference play.
I once had a coach shock me by a comment he made. He said "The great thing about so-and-so is that he has no potential." Potential means they are capable of becoming good. I want good players right now. I want to see players that get everything they can out of themselves. I want to see players maximize what they have. We need good players right now. We will get eaten up in the Big Ten if we don't have good players right now. I know…Hawk is awesome, Nugent is awesome, Whitner plays 100-mph, Ginn returned the punt, Holmes will be a pro, and I am sure I missed other great players on our team. However, we have positions that just aren't getting it done. We have had positions where the player lined up over the Buckeye is just better.
As the Buckeye nation evaluates what went wrong, I will defend play-calling until I am blue in the face. If people want to blame coaches for not getting the players to execute during the practice week…fine. If people want to blame coaches for not playing the right quarterback…okay. If people want to blame the coaches for not enough adjustments at halftime…whatever. However, don't say we have tunnel vision in play-calling with a stone-aged, run-oriented offense. It wasn't until 3:30 left in the first quarter that our quarterback got under center. In fact, 12 of our first 14 plays came from the shotgun. We ran a Statue of Liberty. We ran a shovel pass from an option look. We threw short passes and long passes. We had a screen to Ross. We had a swing to Pittman. We hit Hamby on crosser. People that read this column know I am quick to put blame on players' lack of execution as opposed to play-calling. Make your blocks. Make the throws. Catch every ball that comes your way. Punish the defender instead of him punishing you.
No Buckeye player has ever received a Buckeye Leaf after a loss, but AJ Hawk challenged that rule with his performance. One of the most disappointing parts of the game was the 12-play drive in the fourth quarter when Wisconsin lined up in I-Pro with regular personnel. Everyone in the stadium knew every play was going to be a run, but we couldn't get them off the field. AJ treated that series like it was the 2005 Orange Bowl. He is inspirational to me as I watch him. I hope his teammates feel the same way about him as a football player as I do from a distance. Granted, many of his tackles were downfield on that drive, but the linebackers and strong safeties don't stop the run. The defensive line ultimately stops the run.
Let's get better. Let's move forward. How do you get through this? You show up for practice and fly around. You make sure the scout team, the starters, and every redshirt player on that roster practices fast. I know the coaches don't feel sorry for themselves and the players better not feel sorry for themselves either. It is seems the coaches feel Zwick is showing a lot of separation from Smith in practice during the week, so it will be Zwick that turns this around on the road next week.
We can't afford any more fights after the game from our team. That is nonsense and Coach Tressel will get his message across that fights are not what this team is about. Our players have more sense than to get caught up on national television in a shoving match. We need to shove people between the 60-minute game. It doesn't matter who started it or who finished it. What matters is who was involved. If you don't want opponents dancing on the "W" or the "O", don't give them reason to.
Let's hope Iowa has more "potential" than we do.