I see two keys to this game: Ohio State was slightly outschemed and immensely out-executed.
The former I'm going to chalk up as a positive for LSU more than a negative for the Buckeyes.
You want a man of the match? The LSU quarterback was the guy. He made great plays both with his arm and his wits on the Tigers' first three touchdown drives as LSU took advantage of Ohio State mistakes and took control of the game.
Of course, much of what Flynn was doing was a direct result of Crowton's ability to keep Ohio State off balance.
Misdirections and rollouts along with a dizzying array of formations set up the Tigers to get big chunks of yardage on early downs, leaving them with an almost unbelievable number of short, make-able third downs.
Maybe this was just me, but it seemed as if every one of Crowton's wrinkles worked: the funky formation on the first LSU touchdown, Ryan Perrilloux's brief option cameo, Trindon Holiday's scampers on his few touches, etc.
That takes not only surprise but also execution. Give the Tigers credit.
So the LSU offense, which let's remember averaged more than 38 points per game in the vicious SEC, got the better of Ohio State's defense because of all this.
Plus the Buckeyes tackled poorly.
They also go themselves out of position on some blitzes.
Something that seemed apparent to me – and not just in this game – was that Ohio State defenders are not as anxious to run THROUGH blockers as they should be. They are too content to run around them, and that makes a man endlessly more blockable.
How did this happen? I'm not sure.
Here is where it is appropriate to question the Ohio State coaching staff.
The best explanation we got after the game for all that transpired was that the Buckeyes were still a young football team, although defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said he did not want that to be used as an excuse.
But weren't the Buckeyes a lot more veteran by the time game 13 rolled around, or do they need a full offseason to truly gain a year's worth of maturation?
I guess now the soonest we might find the answer is September...
At any rate, a defense of any talent level cannot face a loaded offense and survive giving away yards.
Consider that the Tigers had six scoring drives.
One was 24 yards after an interception. Another covered 53 after Boeckman's second pick. LSU went 65 yards for a field goal and had a 66-yard touchdown drive as well, all done on their own, but the two longest drives of the night were boosted significantly by four OSU personal fouls.
On LSU's first touchdown drive, 28 of the 84 yards covered were free. On TD drive No. 4, the opener of the second half that proved to be so crucial, they got not only new life from Austin Spitler's roughing of the punter but another free 15 on another personal foul.
Thus penalty yardage accounted for more than 35 percent of the yardage gained on those drives.
When you go to the other side of the ball, the Ohio State offense was rolling when it didn't hurt itself, when it was allowed to dictate tempo. Trouble is, all that stuff we talked about on defense eventually made that impossible.
When the deficit reached 21, the threat to run – a very real one, clearly – was diminished and the LSU front could take over.
Again let's remember - that LSU front is really good.
Can't we say that without simultaneously concluding that the Buckeye offensive line is worthless?
I would think we almost have to, and that leads me to my next point…
Why the love and the hate?
I guess what I don't understand is why praising LSU seems to require trashing the Buckeyes these days.
Did the Tigers play very well in earning the national championship last Monday night? Yes.
Did Ohio State play poorly? For some stretches of the game, for sure.
Did I walk out of the Superdome feeling as if Ohio State had been embarrassed or blown out? No.
Yet many of my colleagues seem to have a different feeling.
I've read enough criticisms from plenty of places that are enough to make me almost conclude the Buckeyes were barely worthy of scholarships let alone standing on the same field as LSU.
Pardon me, but I just don't see why.
The better team won, clearly, but I am at a loss in trying to explain how one could have watched that game and concluded that Ohio State did not have enough speed or talent - two attributes that are not mutually exclusive, mind you - to compete with LSU or in the SEC, for that matter.
No, the Buckeyes' problem was not talent, nor, in my opinion, should the game plan be picked apart too much.
They did stupid things. Is that the fault of coaching? Somewhat, but I think anyone who has spent much time around Jim Tressel's program would know personal accountability is important, and the players are the ones doing the deeds, no matter how they have been taught.
Let's keep things in some kind of perspective. There is more to most final scores than meets the eye, and this game was no different - although I'm not sure how many 14-point games you'll see dubbed drubbings or received as such resounding beatdowns as this one seems to have been.
I went down there thinking LSU was probably three or four points better and would win, then conversations with media members who cover LSU seemed to make me think Les Miles would cost his team a touchdown or so and I concluded the Buckeyes would pull it out in the end.
The trouble is, no one mentioned Crowton, and I never considered how often Ohio State could step all over itself. The Buckeyes got outschemed by a smart offensive coordinator and then sealed their own fate by executing blitzes poorly, missing tackles and committing personal fouls.
It also just so happens LSU, particularly Flynn, executed the Tiger game plan nearly to perfection.
Why? Because he's good. And his receivers are good. And his five running backs are talented, too. The line ain't bad, either, although this is a place the Buckeyes were lacking this season, too.
At any rate, I'd still like to know why clapping for LSU required so many simultaneous backhanded whacks at the Buckeyes.
On conferences and such…
The SEC is at this time better than the Big Ten. That's just how it is. Was true in 2006 and again in 2007.
I thought this before the OSU-Florida tilt and nothing has since happened to change my mind. I'm not going to sit here and tell you the SEC is an uberconference, unparalleled for all time, but I will suggest the Big Ten is greatly flawed (though still better than the ACC and Big East).
Will anything change for 2008? Maybe. I think I have a grasp on how good the Big Ten will be (better but not great), but I'll have to take a closer look at what is lost and what is coming back in the SEC, so consider this an I.O.U.
I don't care who has beaten who in the past five or 10 years. All I know is that if you look a team up and down, you can get an idea of how good it is. How well it runs the ball. How well it passes it. How well it stops the run and how well it stops the pass. (You get the picture.)
It's very hard to find a team that does a lot of things well in the Big Ten after Ohio State.
The Buckeyes had the best backfield, the best wide receivers, the best offensive line and the best secondary. Give front four to Illinois and probably favor the Illini by a hair in terms of linebackers as well.
But Illinois can't throw and the pass defense isn't stellar. Michigan can't stop anyone and it's offensive line is awful.
Penn State will have a lot of good players back next year, but the Nits have to figure out some way to get the ball to their talented receivers better than they have the past two seasons. They should find linebackers to play up to their hype, too.
Would the Buckeyes be the best team in the SEC? Not in either of the past two seasons, no.
Would they have won enough games to make the national title game if they were in the SEC?
Well, since you asked, I think it opens the door to a different line of thinking. One might say Ohio State would fold in the wake of playing such tough opposition on a weekly basis, but it's just as easy to conclude that the Buckeyes could use those challenges to improve.
The 2002 and '05 teams both faced infinitely tougher schedules than did this or the '06 version, and it is probably no coincidence that the '02 and '05 teams were more resilient late in the season.
LSU credited a mettle forged in any number of midseason tests for its emphatic response to falling behind 10-0 in the title game.
Too bad we'll never know what this Ohio State crew could have done had it needed to negotiate a similar gauntlet.
It does not mean Ohio State can't compete on the national stage, and it certainly is no indicator that they did not belong in the national title game nor that pollsters should think twice (or more, depending on who you're reading) before voting the Buckeyes in against next season should the opportunity arise – though they might...
Upon one last peak at the past
I'll conclude with this thought, which arose while I was looking back at our stories of 2007: We are freakin' spoiled.
Sure, sure, I suspected this, and it's natural I suppose, given all the success happening around Columbus, but I don't think the realization hit me with such weight until just last week as I was ranking the top stories in order (We took a staff-wide survey for a story in this week's print edition of BSB and I had a ballot, lest ye think I was determining this stuff on my own) and I realized just how little attention I paid to the fact that THE MEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM WENT TO THE FINAL FOUR.
You know, most folks think enough of those accomplishments to put them on banners and hang them from a wall, right?
It was just the 10th time this has happened (for real, not according to the record books) since the Final Four came into existence in 1939 (with the Buckeyes taking part, by the way), yet the most vivid images in my head from the last basketball season are of the loss to Florida in the title game, the three frosh going pro and then a little of that regular-season-ending epic with Wisconsin in which both teams were ranked in the top two nationally.
Spoiled? You better believe it.
I feel bad, I honestly do, for not having let all this soak in.
Would it be different if the Buckeyes had won that title game? Or if it hadn't come on the heels of another loss in a title game? Or been followed by yet a third?
I'm not sure, but being too "bottom line" in my thinking is something I will be on the lookout for and trying to avoid in '08, you can be sure.
Cus Words Power Poll – Post-Bowl Edition
1. Ohio State
2 (tie). Illinois and Michigan (I realize Michigan won its bowl game and the head-to-head matchup – I just think Illinois has better players overall, so I figured this was the most fair thing I could do.)
4. Penn State (Flip a coin with the Badgers… )
5. Wisconsin (…or consider Bielema's boys lost to an eminently average Tennessee in the Capital One Bowl while the Nittany Lions got a postseason win.)
6. Michigan State (Just think if this team had a quarterback.)
7. Purdue (Good win for the Boilers up in Motown.)
8. Indiana (Disappointing showing in the bowl but a respectable season nonetheless.)
9. Iowa (Justice was done in the Hawkeyes' missing a bowl.)
10. Northwestern (It's hard to get a read on this program.)
11. Minnesota (Is there anything worse than being the only losing team in a conference?)