Progress was "halting" this week at the Horseshoe….
That means - when it started, it also stopped. It zig-ed and zag-ed, right along with OSU's quarterback. And it came and went, just like the penalties. Do they have a great defense? Yes sir! (well, except for the first 11 seconds of the game…) Do they have truly special Special Teams? You bet! Do they have a national championship offense? Yes and no…
"Yes", in terms of talent and theory. "No" in terms of execution and reality. As in past uncomfortable years, this offense keeps snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Turnovers, penalties, missed assignments and the like. As in past versions, the one consistency of this group is that they hard to watch. There were times of wincing and squirming and scoffing and …
Well, here's what we learned in the most recent lesson about the Playground Offense (the revisionists will decry that term and use "Spread", instead):
1) When the quarterback goes back to pass, he must lock in on one receiver. Otherwise, success is far too simple and not enough of a challenge, what with all those great receivers.
2) If that one receiver is not open, the quarterback can still throw the ball at him as hard as possible, assuming that the Other Guys can't hang on to it either.
3) OR…If that one receiver is not open, you must take off quickly so that the other team has a great chance to tackle you…
4) Any receiver open more than 20 yards down the field is ineligible because you would score too quickly and have to give up the ball.
5) Any receiver less than ten yards away will receive the pass at warp speed or low and around the ankles.
6) Backs are ineligible to receive a pass. Screen passes are taboo. Draws by someone other than the quarterback would be considered passé.
I love the spread. I am not as sold on the Playground Offense.
What else did we learn? We learned that this defense is truly special. And that the defense is getting even better. With Malcolm Jenkins in the game, there are no more questions about the "other" cornerback. He's really good. Both Mike Kudla and Marcus Green are coming along big-time up front. Hey – look what these guys did to a San Diego State offense that reeled off 400+ yards against UCLA then Air Force. Other than that first fluke play, they gave up three first downs and less than 100 yards. There were so many three-and-outs that the linebackers started talking about letting San Diego have a first down just so our guys got to play more!
What else can they improve on? Well, it would be nice if the safeties didn't blow an assignment or two during the game and if they could find a rush DE. But that's just being selfish and picky. And they have eight more games to work on it.
What else did we learn (special teams version)? We learned why Josh Huston was recruited (seven years ago!). The kid has been positively Nugent-esque with nearly perfect kicking and outstanding kick-offs. AJ Trapasso hasn't boomed his punts but he has been strategic and consistent and the coverage has been terrific. Punt returns and kick-off returns? Wow. They haven't broken one yet but it feels like they are going to break them all! And we've got opposing teams pooch-kicking and kicking out of bounds and just generally scared as hell. Which is a cool thing. Still to work on? Getting the rest of the guys on special teams to quit holding, blocking funky and drawing personal foul flags.
What else did we learn? Looking around the league, we learned that Michigan can beat up really bad teams but (see: "Carr Wreck Factor") can lose at any time. That the Weis Man at Notre Dame can skip all he wants from lily pad to lily pad, but that the Knute Rockne stuff is over and done with. That Iowa is a whole lot better with a healthy Drew Tate. That Illinois and Northwestern will revert back to what was expected of them and that Minnesota probably will (if history is a guide) once their barnstorming tour of the high schools is over. Hey – and Indiana is undefeated!
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Why is it…Because of the internet (and because of great sites like, ahem, Bucknuts…) why is it that all the traditional mainstream news sources seem so late, so lame and so, well…wrong? I read things in the Dispatch or the Plain Dealer that we had as hot features two days prior. Yawn. I read opinions, that some hack wrote about, that the coaches and players had discussed and dis-proven 48 hours prior to that limp theory. Even radio seems woefully behind. Give us some new news. Give us some news we can use, man!
Why is it that there are so many journalists and so few ever giving you useful information? They can carp endlessly about the econometric modeling and derivative analysis that the NCAA uses to calculate who should play in the Rose Bowl, but simple explanations about important things are never forthcoming. If you asked them to describe the universe and give two examples, sportswriters would be in heaven. If you simply asked "Why?", they would give a history of rhetoric instead of just replying "Because". To help out, I will throw out a problem each week and let the mainstream media look into it. Here's a concrete example.
Ask a normal sportswriter to explain how the football polls work and he will break down all the permutations. Ask him to explain something practical, like how his right foot works and he is at a loss.
You try it. Just how smart is your right foot, you ask. Oh, you think so? Then try this: While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles with your right foot. Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand. Your foot will change directions. I told you so... And there is nothing you can do about it.
Any more than we can change the outcome of the Texas game or than Ryan Hamby can try to grab that pass once again. Let's not fight with physics. Let's just move on…
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Just don't call me late for kick-off…Call me greedy, call me Mr. Optimum, but I can't help to reflect back on the woulda-coulda-shoulda's of recruiting. I think (1) that all native Ohio sons should go to The Ohio State University, of course, if called upon to do so. That's a given. I also think (2) that all recruits we want should go to Ohio State. That's probably peculiar. And – finally – I think (3) that all the recruits that come to Ohio State should live up to our unbelievably high expectations for them.
Part of this exercise in masochism has been inspired by the great early play of both Tyrell Sutton and Javon Ringer, both of whom fit in none of those categories listed above. Tyrell wanted to come to OSU and he was, well…snubbed. So far this season, Sutton has been B-10 Offensive Player of the Week once, has over 400 yards rushing and 6 TD's in just three games. Ringer wanted to go to OSU and passed the NCAA clearinghouse but OSU's stringent and strident academic committee wouldn't let him in. Despite recuperating from a displaced kneecap, Javon has run up 200 yards already and four touchdowns for his rebound suitor, Michigan State.
OK, so Maurice Wells and Chris Wells will make us forget all the Ringers and Suttons and even Gwaltneys of the world. But it's even more painful to see all the other Ohio kids running around in foreign uniforms and doing fairly well (my Category One). Two weeks ago during the Michigan- Notre Dame PR-fest, I watched the Irish's Brady Quinn against Michigan's Mario Manningham, the two Masseys, Prescott Burgess, Shawn Crable and Pierre Woods (from Glenville, no less!). To make it worse, I saw a slashing and rumbling Darius Walker, who came close to matriculating at OSU. It just didn't seem right, that's all…
In Category Two, we list the Darius Walkers. Splitting the categories is DeShawn Wynn, who is racking up yards for Florida and someone OSU didn't pursue that hard. The fact that Dwayne Jarrett and Fred Davis both "committed" then reneged doesn't hurt so much because the Buckeyes are loaded at the wide receiver position. The fact that Stanley McClover sold out to Auburn after telling the Bucks he was coming – now, that hurts. We could use an All-American DE in this group.
Category Three is the most frustrating as we see mere mortals like Scott Kuhnheim (back cover of SuperPrep in his day…) come and go with no noticeable difference to the program. I am thinking more of the sure-fire dead-certain All-World types that change your team, like a Teddy Ginn or an AJ Hawk would. Imagine (if you can suspend disbelief for just one paragraph) Louis Irizarry on this team. Imagine the legendary Drushawn Humphreys in uniform. Or Maurice Clarett without all the baggage. Yes, all three were "on" this team. All three could be huge difference-makers. Any of the three might easily have been the difference against Texas.
There is an offset argument of course. AJ Hawk himself was the "fifth best" linebacker OSU took that year, after D'Andrea, Carpenter, White and Kudla. That takes care of a few Mike Burdens and Jefferson Kelleys. But just imagine what OSU would have done these past years if the rest of the "group" had fallen into place. Or if the world was, simply, a more perfect place from the perspective of a Buckeye fan…
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It comes up…And it did again the week after the loss to Texas: Has there ever been a loss that hurts so bad that you want to just give up as a Buckeye fan? Or simply kill off Bucknuts and not face the horrible reality of a devastating defeat? The answer is "Absolutely". But that moment soon passes and life slowly morphs back to normal. With a bitter aftertaste, of course.
So what are the worst losses, the most painful, the favorite scabs to rip open when I'm feeling somewhat good about myself? I divide them into "BB" and "AB". That's "Before Bucknuts" and "After Bucknuts". The BB losses are as follows (in no planned painful masochistic order):
1) The 1969 loss to Michigan – I thought these particular Buckeyes were invincible and that Woody was god. They weren't and he wasn't.
2) The 1973 tie with Michigan – As bad as a loss; this might have been the best team ever. Woody went all Tressel-esque on us and the tie cost us another national title.
3) UCLA – We killed them the first time. When they beat us (goodbye MNC) for no good reason, I kept saying, "Hey – we killed ‘em the first time, though".
4) Springs slips. 1996 slips away at the same time.
5) The 1998 loss at home to Michigan State – Like the 1973 defeat, this was a team that was the best in the country – maybe by a lot. There was no reason that they lost, other than the one on the scoreboard at the end of the game.
All those beat-downs cost OSU national titles… How about the "AB" defeats? Surprisingly, more of those spring to mind, only because they are so relatively fresh and because we covered them so intensely at Bucknuts. And they are:
1) The South Carolina bowl game, 2001 – An overmatched Gamecock crew crowed loud behind two seemingly overmatched Buckeyes – Lou Holtz and Ryan Brewer.
2) UCLA, 2001 – Because the Buckeyes were just so bad. It looked like Mike Nugent had no future, at all…
3) Wisconsin game, 2003 – Shawn Springs slips! Although this time it was Chris Gamble (and a brain spasm) being suckered by a back-up quarterback
4) The Penn State/Paterno mess in 2001. OSU blew the game, he gets the record (temporarily) and I decide the Tressel karma is no better than the Cooper karma. Fortunately, wrong there…
5) Iowa last year. God, that was awful. Manhandled and intimidated. By Iowa? A true low point in the "AB" era.
Texas? I dunno. It was early in the year. They were darn good. And we just couldn't put them away. As weird as it seems, it doesn't measure up on the Trauma Scale. Maybe it will, in retrospect, by the end of the year.
Now, let's go do something Saturday about avenging that Iowa thing…
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More mascot madness…After I was dancing with Wolves last week, a number of you wrote in to decry my alleged insensitive attitude to the Indian issues. I had a few wits talk about the Syracuse "Orangemen" and the derivation of that Protestant nickname, a good riposte to the still extant "Fighting Irish" insensitivity.
But my favorite response – by a lot – was from a Bucknutter in Alaska. He chimed in with the following article:
Aniak residents stand fully by their Halfbreed mascot
PROUD: Villagers like that school's team name is unique, descriptive.
By DAN JOLING
The Associated Press
Published: September 7, 2005
Last Modified: September 7, 2005 at 12:03 PM
The Alcorn State Braves, the University of Utah Utes and a bunch of other college mascots are banned from postseason tournaments, pending appeal, because the NCAA has deemed their nicknames "abusive" or "hostile" to Native Americans.
The NCAA would have its hands full if it regulated Alaska high schools.
There are seven teams nicknamed Warriors and three known as Braves. Kokhanok teams are the Warlords. And then there's Aniak.
Students from the Kuskokwim River village march proudly onto the basketball court and the cross-country course as the Halfbreeds.
The village of 532 people, 317 miles west of Anchorage, accessible only by air or riverboat, is more than 73 percent Alaska Native, primarily Yup'ik Eskimos and Tanaina Athabascan Indians. Like much of rural Alaska, families rely on subsistence foods. Many make summer trips to fish camps to catch salmon.
The name Halfbreeds was picked by students in the late 1970s as a nod to the community's origins -- white settlers who intermarried with Yup'ik Eskimos, said Wayne Morgan, a graduate of the school and the school board president.
Aniak gets calls when school nicknames deemed offensive make headlines. "Halfbreeds" is considered a slur elsewhere but not in Aniak, Morgan said.
"We see it as who we are, but not as other people hear it for the first time," he said. "It sounds offensive, but we don't see it that way. It's who we are."
According to Alaska's official Web site on communities, a homesteader, Tom L. Johnson, in 1914 opened a store and post office at the site, which had been abandoned by Yup'ik people. Eskimos Willie Pete and Sam Simeon brought their families from Ohagamuit to Aniak. A trader, Semen Lukin, discovered gold nearby in 1932.
The school had different nicknames before the late '70s.
"How it started was, our name before that was the Apostles," Morgan said. "The girls had their own name."
"A group of kids at that time changed it to the Halfbreeds. It was up to the kids."
The symbol of the school is a traditionally dressed Alaska Native man holding a spear next to a white man holding a rifle, Morgan said.
"They symbolically cross the spear and the rifle, and that's the mascot," Morgan said. A mural on the school wall shows similar characters shaking hands.
Morgan's fraternal grandfather was a full-blooded German who arrived in the early 1900s. He's also Yup'ik. Morgan figures most Americans are a combination.
"Most people are of mixed race, mixed background," he said. "We're proud of it. The kids are still proud of it.'
Neither the governing body of Alaska high school sports nor the state's largest Native Alaska organization has addressed high school nicknames.
"It's never been an issue with us," said Gary Matthews, executive director of the Alaska School Activities Association and 37-year Alaska resident.
"They mean something to the communities, or they wouldn't select them," he said.
The names were not just "pulled from the sky," Matthews said, and each has a meaning to the community in a state where more than 15 percent of the population is Indian, Aleut or Eskimo.
"It's not a derogatory term to call someone an Eskimo or an Indian or a Harpooner," he said. "It's just a fact of life."
Tim Towarak, co-chairman of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said team names are a relatively new phenomenon in rural Alaska that has not arisen as a major issue for the largest Native Alaskan organization. Team names such as Braves reflect the local culture, and students are proud of their heritage, he said.
"Up here in rural Alaska, its all just part of our culture," he said.
Some in Aniak object to the name, Morgan said, but the objections have never reached the school board level. When people from outside Alaska criticize the name, Morgan said, residents become more protective.
"We don't want no outside organization coming in and saying, 'That's a bad name,' " he said.
"We're one of a kind. No one else probably in the nation or the world has a name like that. We feel pretty special. There's many Eagles and Panthers and Cougars and Fighting Irish. We're Halfbreeds."
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Nothing left to play for…After the Texas disappointment, there was the expected gnashing of teeth and rending of garments (plus finger-pointing and traditional delegation of responsibility…), with much whining through Buckeye Nation that there was "nothing left to play for". Well, consider this: Ohio State has not won an outright Big Ten title since 1984. That's right. Twenty-one years and counting. Through three head coaches and many calamities.
I think that might be a worthy goal at this point, no?
It all starts next week. I'm ready for Iowa. I hope the rest of the boys are…
For my faithful followers (let's call them the "Half Reads", who want to take their shots, heap scorn, question my sensitivities – once again – to the mascots of the world, feel free to contact me at MrBucknuts@yahoo.com