About 11 AM on Saturday, while the players were milling around the locker room, I used an old locker room pass that Steve Snapp had given Charles Babb a few seasons back. Pretending to be part of the towel service, I then sat innocently off to the side and listened in as a group of the starters huddled together to discuss what needed to be done to get Ohio State's fortunes back on track.
"I thought this over, man", said a voice I couldn't quite place. "And we ain't never gonna be the team we should be until we get this statistics thing straightened out".
"What do you mean?" It was Teddy Ginn!
"Here's the thing," said The Voice. "The coaches are convinced that certain stats are more important than the obvious goal – winning. So here's what we gotta do: we gotta win and mess up all those stats. That's the plan, man…"
"Hey, I studied the films – what are you talkin' about?" This time, I recognized Troy Smith.
"Simple", said The Voice. "Time of possession? We are the best in the conference. Yet we have the worst offense in the conference. Man, it's silly but we gotta flip that around. And turnover margin? The song goes that we can't win without winning that margin crap. Whoever thought up this stuff? Oh, yeah, and it's dead certain that you can't win without convertin' 50% or more on third down. It's in the book, guys".
At this point, I heard Tressel calling for "Troy Smith and the other one" (I think he meant Zwick…). The Voice was reduced to a whisper. "So here's my plan. First, we gotta keep the ball away from Troy. Yeah, that's right. We got a better chance to score on defense if we can limit his touches. So, man, someone has to fumble each time down and let the defense do its thing. You with me guys?"
Tony Pittman spoke up. "It sounds weird but I'll go along. I'll take care of the first fumble".
"Hey, if Tony's in", (it was Holmes). "I'll mess up a kickoff so that the offense doesn't have to do anything".
Ginn said, "I don't know if Dad's gonna get upset but I can certainly botch another punt without anyone noticing".
"Great", said The Voice. "You know that Troy will pitch in once he sees what's goin' on. He is the team leader, after all"
"Wait", Ginn said. "We gotta win, man. This is Ohio State. This is our house!"
The Voice scoffed. "Yeah, and it's also Michigan State, man. You seen their defense? Well, neither has anyone else! You seen their special teams – that kicker is a joke. He's worth 7-10 by himself. And remember last year? Listen, we can score 14 any time we want".
There was a spate of silence. And then Holmes spoke up. "OK, let's do it. But just to make sure no one messes up the plan, the only guys who get to touch the ball on offense are Troy, me, Teddy and Tony. Got it?"
At this point, Bollman came by and scowled. Said he was looking for some offensive linemen and to break it up. As the players filed out of the locker room, I straightened out some crying towels and busied myself to fit in, my mind reeling with this rush of bizarre information. I wrote all of this down verbatim so that I wouldn't miss a jot or a tittle of this improbable dialogue.
Later, much later, I went over these notes with a trembling hand. Was it possible? Did it really…?
Well, here are the facts: 1) MSU won the all-important Time of Possession battle by 41 minutes to 19 minutes, yet Ohio State won the game 2) MSU won the absolutely necessary Turnover Margin 4-0, yet Ohio State won the game 3) Ohio State let the defense become the weapon they needed on offense, and Ohio State won the game 4) Ohio State was 1-6 on converting third downs, yet they won the game 5) Ohio State fumbled and bumbled and stumbled their way through 60 minutes of football, yet they won the game and 6) Ohio State kept staking the Spartans to seemingly insurmountable leads, but scored at will in the end and won the game.
Oh yeah, Ohio State won again with fans screaming for an offensive coordinator even as Troy racked up almost 250 yards passing; but the Bucks show they don't really need one. Plus – did you notice – only four players on offense actually touched the ball the entire game? You know what that means…
If you are looking for answers, you better look up it and you best not ignore The Voice…
* * * * *
Letters from "A" to "Zwick"…I get e-mail. Hoo boy, do I get e-mail! And after the first 600 or so suggestions to force Coach T to hire an offensive coordinator (hey – I can spot trends, you know), the next biggest and most pressing issue is that of Zwick: why don't they use him, how bad can he be (upon further review…) and is he going to transfer? As to the transfer question, the follow-up query typically was – how could Coach Tressel, so loyal to his veterans, allow Zwick the Quarterback to languish on the bench. And one answer that comes to mind is: because he did this to Zwick before!
Actually, to Jared Zwick, Justin's brother. It was at Youngstown State, where Jared saw quarterback action in his first game as a Penguin. After two seasons, Jared's star was descending and he finished his career there split between back-up QB and occasional WR. Then he went on to OSU Dental School where he convinced younger brother Justin to come play for JT. You have to give Coach T credit – despite the circumstances, the kids who hang in there really do seem to love him…
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Freddie (and George and Derek and… ), we hardly knew ye…Remember all the times that us recruitniks lived or died over the announcements of some 18 year-old phenom? Well, we do it every year. We obsess – exult or castigate, and then – forget all about it! Hey – the Aaron/George Brown passion play is finally over, right? And who will remember how great this particular offensive lineman was, or figured in the scheme of things for the Buckeyes? Sure, get back to me in 3-4 years and remind me, then…
We could put together an entire offensive line of the "we-wannas-but-didn't-gets" including ghosts like Derek Morris and Ronnie Wilson and Justin Boren and Biggie Townsend and Kyle Ralph. We have just as long a list for the "we-gots-but-they-aren't-playing" like Ben Person and Kyle Mitchum and Andre Tyree and Tim Schafer and Jon Skinner, none of whom have yet to crack the two-deep, despite the initial excitement generated on Commitment Day. "Can't miss" guys miss all the time, of course. Like top 100 O-lineman Joel Holler, who transferred out this year from Penn State when he couldn't crack their two-deep.
I remember well the tragic-comic recruiting choreography of Mike D'Andrea. Kirk and I were relieved when it was over. Not so much because Mike chose the Buckeyes. More that it just was over! I spoke a number of times to Mike's dad, Bob, during those tumultuous days and told him to quit reading the message boards, if he wanted to keep his sanity. Five years later, we are still waiting to measure Mike on the seismic recruiting scale.
And how about Derek Morris and his current two-penalties-per-game abilities? With Derek, you also got Daddy Morris. I think that the staff decided they could take on the "project" of Derek or take on the daddy but not both. There have been other parental concerns like that; perhaps they overwhelm the odds of a kid contributing – at least, insofar as the coaches are concerned.
So when you see the coaching brain trust hit or whiff on guys like Aaron Brown or Lee Tilley or really almost any recruit out of Cincinnati, imagine that some of the baggage just ain't worth the trip. You don't know the whole story until you have the whole story…
* * * * *
Out of our depth…When OSU was consistently losing to Michigan ("The Cooper Era"), Jerry Rudzinski here at Bucknuts opined that a main reason (besides Cooper…) was one of depth. That is, OSU's top 22 matched up – talent-wise – well with their top 22. However, the top 44 was not an equal of their top 44, in talent. Jerry now thinks that we have achieved parity, there.
But that depth issue sneaks up and bites you in the strangest places. Like tight end – ouch! Ryan Hamby has come in for a disproportionate amount of criticism this year. But, reflect for a moment – was Hamby "projected" to be in the situation in which he now finds himself? There is one school of thought that says he could be third or fourth on a depth chart that would have included Louis Irizarry, Marcel Frost, Rory Nicol and even RJ Coleman. The latter two are out with injuries (the latter one, for his career). Frost resides in the doghouse and Louis is back in Youngstown – after a stretch. So, it's certainly not a stretch to imagine Ryan in a much-reduced role.
That's where the depth issue hurt this season. Just like when Maurice the First left too soon – they had no depth there and are still re-building the running back position. To me, that project won't be completed until Chris Wells arrives…
* * * * *
Running on…Last week' lesson, children, was in selecting running backs. The Buckeyes chose from a group that included Maurice Wells, Javon Ringer and Tyrell Sutton, as you remember. And although school is still not out on this choice, early returns indicate that Ringer and Sutton are at the head of this class. So now let's examine those RB's that chose other schools altogether – despite our attractive entreaties. I saw a news item from a West Virginia newspaper that touted: "West Virginia To Start Freshman Running Back". I thought, geeze, now they are going to rub our noses in the Jason Gwaltney Fiasco" all over again. So, it was with some surprise that I learn that the freshman in question is another running back: Steve Slaton, a 190-pound back from Pennsylvania who gained 90+ yards against the vaunted Virginia Tech defense and then was all over the place in their upset win over Louisville. Now, Gwaltney is still part of the Mountaineer plans, but it is interesting how a good scheme and a good line can make a good young back look great.
* * * * *
Psychedelic posters from the ‘60's…Of all the posters on all the boards out there, perhaps none is as entertaining (or as densely obtuse) as our long-time friend, Buck68. He has a way of obfuscating the most mainstream of thoughts. He can take a specific and turn it into a James Joyce odyssey of philosophical meanderings. So it was with a girlish squeal of joy that I saw – and now present to you – one poster's response to a typical Gordian Knot post made by our loyal Bucknuts buddy, Buck 68:
Buck68, what the hell are you talking about? Your writing reminds me of a kaleidoscope of Chinese proverbs meshed together in the form of a Jim Morrison poem, rearranged by Descartes and polished off by the editor of 420 Times Magazine. For God's sake man, put the bong down for a few minutes…
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Think on these things…For those of you amongst us who still think that coaching has little to do with the winning and losing on the college football scene and that coaches have but a nominal affect on the offense, check out Notre Dame circa 2004 versus Notre Dame circa 2005. Pretty much the same cast of characters. But a whole different ending to those scenes…
And for those who want to check in with their own weighty thoughts, feel free to contact the weightless form of Mr. Bucknuts at MrBucknuts@yahoo.com