Buckeyes Staying Close To The Vest

It is one of the oldest strategies in the book. When playing teams one should beat before taking on a truly difficult foe, one often withholds some of the playbook to save some surprises for the future. Has Ohio State been doing that the first two weeks of the season? We will find out tonight against USC, but all indications leading into the game point to yes.

Any shot of Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel on game day will see him clutching a sheet of paper containing the team's plans for that contest.

Heading into Saturday's showdown with USC, though, the question is just how close the head coach has held the plan to his patented sweater vest. Having simply survived the first two games of the season, the Buckeyes now head into the game against the Trojans looking like they have serious problems with their formerly high-powered offense.

But more and more, a clearer picture is emerging as to why the offense looked the way it did in the first two games – and it might well have been by design.

"I think we did what we had to do to win those first two games," OSU wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell said. "(USC) is obviously a different football team. There will be some things a little bit different."

Hazell at least attempted to answer the question. Asked how much the Buckeyes held back offensively during the first two weeks, offensive coordinator Jim Bollman responded with a question followed by laughter.

"Why should I tell you that?" he said before laughing for several seconds.

It seems fair to conclude that the Buckeyes were holding things back to give the Trojans less of an idea about what they might put on the field Saturday night.

Some things that seemed absent were strangely common. Last season, quarterback Todd Boeckman could frequently find his receivers on quick slants across the middle that would pick up decent chunks of yardage at a time, but this year such routes have all but disappeared. Through the first two games of the 2007 season, Boeckman had connected with wideout Brian Robiskie for two gains of 39 yards or more but has just one 31-yard completion to Robiskie thus far this year.

Wide receiver Brian Hartline said the offense has not felt different during the first two games of the season, but added that things have changed upon watching the film.

"Personally, I felt we might have held some things back," he said. "We didn't feel that during the game, but thinking about it after the game we might have."

Of course, the playcalling has invariably been affected by the loss of junior tailback Chris Wells, who missed the OU game with a foot injury suffered in the YSU game. Trying to get a handle on just what the Buckeyes might do on the ground this weekend is a near-impossible task with Wells out of the game and the team's commitment to having all three backup tailbacks see significant action.

But if the Buckeyes have one thing working for them as they head into Los Angeles, it is that the Trojans likely have no idea what they will be facing on defense.

OSU could either get a 200-yard performance from any of its three tailbacks, or the Buckeyes might not gain any rushing yards at all. The passing game that looked woefully out of sync against the Bobcats in week two could start lighting up the scoreboard and establish itself as the feared attack it became during the first half of the 2007 season.

In addition, freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor could receive his prime-time unveiling as a change-of-pace option who can spell Boeckman in situations where his running abilities might be better suited for moving the ball.

Although Bollman said he is confident in the personnel the Buckeyes will deploy against the Trojans, he admitted that such confidence was not nearly enough for him to reveal any part of the team's game plan for the weekend.

Ever.

"I'm not going to divulge the whole game plan," he said with a laugh. "I'd like to know their game plan. I'd like to know what kind of blitzes they're going to run and all that kind of stuff. I'd say there's a little advantage to that. "

Just as there is an advantage to keeping things concealed until the very end. When the two teams finally take to the field, there is a significant chance that the Trojans will not know what hit them until it's too late.

If that proves to be the case, the Buckeyes will have to hope that their practices leading up to the game have adequately prepared them to spring a few traps on the Trojans.

"That's hard," Hazell said. "Really the best thing you can do it put it on the backburner and say, ‘We've got to go into the game with this and hopefully it works for us.' We'll see." "


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