Exposing The Myth Of 'Tresselball'

Looking to get a rise out of an Ohio State coach? Ask his impression of the strategy program observers have dubbed Tresselball. Two of Jim Tressel's key assistants will tell you there is no such thing.

Rumors of the death of Ohio State's imagination on offense could turn out to be greatly exaggerated, a result of both preference and necessity.

Overwhelming segments of both fans and college football pundits are seemingly unanimous in their belief that 2007 will see Ohio State abandon much of the wide-open aspects it added to its offense in the past two or three years.

One cannot pick up a preseason magazine nor check a message board without finding some variation of the idea that Ohio State is going to revert to the run-it-well-and-play-for-field-position strategy it rode to the 2002 national championship.

A consensus appears to have been settled upon, and maybe with good reason: the offensive line figures to include plenty of talent and coaches are boasting they have the deepest stable of tailbacks in their seven years on campus.

Throw in the fact a first-year quarterback (or two) will be taking the snaps from center and it is a no-brainer.

Appearances, however, may not be what they seem, and if you don't believe that, just ask Joe Daniels.

Does he chuckle when asked about a return to so-called Tresselball?

"Yeah, because my first response is, ‘Well, what is Tresselball?' Look at the last six years and tell me what Tresselball is," Ohio State's quarterbacks coach said. "That's basically said by people who have no idea what they're talking about."

While Tressel and his staff arrived in 2001 with a reputation for winning by any means necessary, that quickly went out the window when the 2002 team won game after game by the skin of its teeth.

That season Ohio State ran the ball 69 percent of the time, a ratio not reached since. Interestingly, the nearest ratio of runs to passes occurred in 2003. That is another squad that helped build the Tresselball phenomenon as it won three games without benefit of an offensive touchdown, but it ran the ball just 57 percent of the time.

Since then, the Buckeyes have run the ball 59 percent of the time in 2004, 63 percent in 2005 and 59 percent last season.

When asked if he agreed with the idea that the winning formula for 2002 was essentially coincidental, Daniels said that probably is the case.

And even if it were not, the coach isn't sure that formula would work circa 2007 thanks to a nationwide trend toward more aggressive defensive schemes.

Now more than ever, defenses are willing to bring a safety from his typical spot 10 or so yards from the line of scrimmage to a position closer to the post three-to-five yards back a linebacker generally occupies. Many defensive coordinators would rather leave their cornerbacks isolated one-on-one with receivers on the outside than risk letting a team gut it with the running game, and the strategy has worked according to both Daniels and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman.

That so-called eighth man in the box has changed the equation in terms of running the ball when the offense has only its traditional seven men (five linemen, a tight end and a fullback) with which to block.

"When it comes to the point where you can't account for somebody, because of the old saying that if you draw up a play and everyone gets their block, it's a touchdown, that's no longer true," Daniels said. "So you better have a plan."

And it is essential that plan include a solid passing game, as Bollman was willing to attest.

"I agree one thousand percent," Bollman said. "We will only be as effective at one portion of the game directly corresponding to how good we are the other way. We will only be as good a running team as much as we are efficient at throwing the ball and vice versa.

"If we can't run the ball when it's what we call a balanced front [some combination of seven linebackers and down lineman in the box] then we'll be in trouble. And as they start ganging up on us and bringing those safeties down, if we can't throw the ball we'll be in trouble also, so we've got to keep working on both."

Bollman was incredulous when asked about the national perception of "Tresselball."

"It is truly amazing," he said. "I'll never forget the first time someone asked me about going to five wides and going empty. You know, we've done that every year but all of a sudden it took people six years to notice it."

As for this season, "We'll have to see how it goes," Bollman said. "People probably think that because of what happened in our second year. We were fortunate enough to win 'em all doing that but I think that again it goes back to how people express themselves during the year."

That, of course, leaves the door wide open for a run-heavy season.

The problem that has arisen, however, is that developing an effective offense in 2007 might be more complicated than it was just five years ago, begging the inquiry, "Would Tresselball work nowadays?"

"That's an interesting question," Daniels said. "Even from 2002 to now there have been changes. I don't know. That's an interesting question. I don't know whether we could do the same things that we did then. I don't think defenses would allow it."


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