Can this season still be salvaged? Can this team run the table and get back to the title game in Miami? Can this team still win the Big 10, and become the first team in history to win three out-right titles in a row?
Sadly, the answer is "No" to all of the above questions. This team is lacking the mental toughness to fight back when things get tough. This is a hard sentence to write, especially about a team filled with great kids. These are young men that represent Ohio State so well, and their character isn't the question. But their toughness is about to be questioned.
I'm afraid that consecutive losses in the BCS championship games has ripped the fight out of these guys. Ohio State seems incapable of standing up to a powerful opponent and fighting the good fight for four quarters. When faced with adversity, the typical response from this team is missed tackles, penalties, turnovers and the willingness to accept their fate on the scoreboard without a response. That is hard to accept.
I wrote before the game that Ohio State had enough talent to win the game. I was wrong. If the Buckeyes couldn't block Ohio University, how could they hope to block USC? The answer is they couldn't. And they didn't. After finishing last season in the title game, and returning 19 starters, it was thought that the Buckeyes would be a better team in 2008. After three games it is painfully obvious that is not the case. This team will struggle the rest of the season unless something miraculously changes overnight.
Where does coaching play a part in this? I'm on record as stating that Jim Tressel and his staff are among the best in the country, and I still feel that way. But how do you explain the penalties, turnovers and mistakes that occur routinely in big games out of Ohio State? These factors are just not indicative of a well-coached team. This certainly wasn't a Jim Tressel-coached team's description in his first few years on the job.
Is it time to look at the offense as one of the areas of this program that isn't getting it done? It was apparent Saturday night in the Coliseum that the Buckeye offense was simply offensive. Alternating quarterbacks on every play? Running the ISO play to the left [without success] on every single third-and-short? The Ohio State passing attack is straight out of the covered wagon era, with no sophistication and less imagination. How do you have seven different receivers catch passes against USC, but six of them average less than eight yards per reception? How many passes were completed for less than five yards? Too many. How many times do you see two receivers in the pattern, one going long on a fly and the other running a four yard dig route? How often do you have to hear every team that crushes you speak about how simplistic and predictable the offense is?
I think the Buckeyes need to decide what type of program they want to be. If they want to continue to be a power in a weak conference, then they probably don't need to change a thing. Right now, with the conference being so average, Ohio State can continue to do business as usual and still be among the best, if not the best, in the Big 10.
But if you want to be able to compete with the elite teams in college football, and right now Ohio State CANNOT compete with them, changes need to be made on the offensive side of the football. Unless you think that consistently being ranked below average among all 119 Division-I teams is acceptable, there is no reason to continue to play outdated offensive football. The Buckeye defense is consistently ranked among the best in college football year after year. Check out the numbers for where the Buckeye offense consistently ranks against the other teams in college football. It's not pretty, believe me.
On the bright side, there's no doubt that Ohio State has taken their recruiting to a higher level the past two years. They have several talented freshmen, and another great recruiting class following them, to be able to put together a new offensive scheme to take advantage of super talent Terrelle Pryor and his teammates. Pryor showed flashes of brilliance Saturday night against USC, and there's no doubt he needs to be the key piece of the puzzle you build around, possibly starting today. But to maximize his talent, and be able to step up and compete with the big boys, the Ohio State offense needs to come out of the dark ages.
Is it possible the current staff has the ability, and the motivation, to dramatically alter the offensive philosophy? Or is it time to turn the offense over to an outsider, and give this person total control? I don't have the answer to either question, but after getting waxed in California over the weekend, one can only hope this game is the moment of clarity for this staff in regards to how they are approaching offensive football.
If this loss to USC ends up being the final nail in the archaic, outdated approach to the Buckeye offensive philosophy, people might someday look at the loss to USC as the day things began to change for the better, to allow Ohio State to once again become a national player.
If, however, Ohio State continues to follow the same path and doesn't look to improve on the offensive side of the football, then people need to accept the fact that beatings like the one USC administered will continue to happen every time the Buckeyes venture outside the Big 10.
Watching USC play in person was a reminder of how the game of football was meant to be played. It also reinforced the fact that Ohio State is a long way away from playing at that level.