Cus Words 10-7: The Fightin' Side of OSU

Boxing analogies were flying all over the place in the wake of Ohio State's rousing comeback win over Wisconsin last Saturday night. With Merle Haggard in mind, BSB staffer Marcus Hartman examines what that means for the second half of the season, what to expect when Purdue comes to town and more in this week's Cus Words.

WHAT WE LEARNED LAST WEEK: Both the Ohio State defensive line and its true freshman quarterback are about as good as we thought, for better or for worse.

Beyond that, there is some fight in those Buckeyes. That glass jaw I wrote about before the USC game just might have gotten some reinforcement since the Trojans' haymaker.

I had my doubts after that overpowering second-quarter drive that saw Wisconsin march 91 yards on 15 plays, and the straits seemed to keep getting more dire after Dane Sanzenbacher got crushed and fumbled on the following drive.

That was not the first big lick delivered by the Badgers, and Ohio State was collectively wobbling. The Buckeyes weren't on the ropes yet, but the knees were starting to bend.

Then P.J. Hill picked up 16 yards on two carries, good enough for a first down despite a false-start penalty that was mixed in there.

The Buckeye defense stiffened after that, but there was more reason to fret during the Badgers' final possession of the half. That was when Allan Evridge, temporarily looking like a competent major-college quarterback, completed four passes for 72 yards to put his team in position for a field goal and a halftime lead of 10-7.

Ohio State showed its heretofore-unseen resilience in the second half, though, and on both sides of the ball.

There were plays both big and small – more of the former, I would say, which could be something that needs to be addressed – on the offensive side of the ball and the defense for the most part held its own. The Buckeyes did not exactly wear down the Badgers on either side of the ball, but they took enough body shots that their big blows did the necessary damage for them to come away with the win.

This should not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

After the 12-point win over Ohio earlier this season, I asked any player I could find if it was good to get an early test, and they all said yes. They also agreed with the notion that things might have been too easy during the past two regular seasons, when they won 23 of 24 games and only trailed in the second half three times (in 2007 against Washington, Wisconsin and Illinois). It's hard to know how you'll react to adversity until you face it, right?

That should no longer be a concern for Ohio State as it enters the second half of the season.

Then again….

We might have also learned that Ohio State can still out-talent the rest of the Big Ten, at least for one more year, because the Buckeyes were not the equal of their Saturday night opponents on either line but won anyway.

If analyzing the trench warfare between Ohio State and Wisconsin were like scoring a boxing match, I think you'd see it scored something like 29-28 in favor of the Badgers on all three cards.

Wisconsin was better, but just barely.

And Ohio State was so much better at the skill positions (quarterback especially) that the Buckeyes won.

How about that?

I'm not going to discount the power of positive feelings that can be created by a good old-fashioned rally, though, because Ohio State had the talent advantage against Illinois last season and could not take advantage of it the way it did three nights ago in Madison.


WHAT WE CAN EXPECT TO LEARN THIS WEEK: Not much, to tell you the truth. This is Ohio State's last breather until Thanksgiving.

Thanks to the Buckeyes' prime-time kickoff time last week, I got to see at least a piece of every Big Ten game, and I can tell you I came away from the Purdue-Penn State clash (to which I paid the most attention of the early games) thinking the Nittany Lions are good (not great) and Purdue is bad.

I wasn't expecting the Boilermakers to be very good, but this outfit looks like it could end up in the Big Ten basement. Joe Tiiller's last Purdue squad might be his worst.

There is no one scary on the outside, the offensive line is so-so and senior quarterback Curtis Painter played so badly last week he was benched in the fourth quarter.

Running back Kory Sheets is a true talent – a tough runner with good quickness and great moves in the open field – but he's pretty much all the Boilermakers have on the offensive side of the ball.

Defensive coordinator Brock Spack has crafted a couple of good units in his time in West Lafayette, but this is probably not one of them. The Boilermakers are last in the Big Ten in pass defense, rushing defense and total defense.

Oh, and Purdue's kicker missed two field goals and an extra point last week.

Since Chris Wells said his foot was throbbing more after the Wisconsin game than it was when he was finished running through the Minnesota defense one week earlier and Boom Herron could be still feeling the effects of the huge hit he took in Madison, perhaps this is the week to get some extra reps – in practice and the game – for Brandon Saine, the erstwhile next big thing in the Ohio State offense.

What about working out that passing game Jim Tressel wants to see more efficiency out of? There seem to be plenty of young wideouts just itching to get it and go, and Terrelle Pryor should benefit every time he drops back.


Buckeye Beater Nominations: Hill got in his shots, but he never looked like a difference-maker against the Buckeyes, so he'll be left off this list.

The running back who looked most dangerous for the Badgers was John Clay, who picked up 69 yards on the ground and averaged nearly seven yards per carry, so he will get some end-of-season consideration, as will Badgers' center John Moffitt and guard Kraig Urbik.

On the other side of the ball, there were again plenty of Badgers who looked silly trying to tackle Buckeyes in the open field, but a few guys in red stuck out. Linebacker DeAndre Levy, defensive linemen Matt Shaughnessy and O'Brien Schofield and defensive back Jay Valai all had sacks, so they are nominated. Levy had a team-high 10 sacks and Valai forced two fumbles, too.


DVR Directions: While the Buckeyes play host to Purdue at 3:30 (on ABC locally and ESPN out of market), No. 23 Michigan State will play at Northwestern on ESPN2. That game should be worth a second look with both of those teams off to strong starts this season and looking forward to getting to play host to the Buckeyes later this season.

For pregame entertainment, the Big Ten Network offers a chance to see three of the worst teams in the league (you can flip back and forth if you have the overflow channels) as Iowa travels to Indiana and Toledo plays at Michigan. Either the Hoosiers or Hawkeyes will be essentially knocked out of the conference race while taking the poll position in the competition for last place. The Wolverines probably have to win this game to keep alive their national-best streak of seasons ending with a bowl trip.

After the Buckeyes are done, do some comparison shopping as No. 6 Penn State visits Wisconsin. Seeing how the Nittany Lions stack up in the trenches with the team the same big uglies that just took their best shot at Ohio State could teach us something.


Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (previous week's ranking in parenthesis)

1. (same) Ohio State (I'm still betting this team has yet to hit its stride.)
2. (same) Penn State (Twenty points at Purdue? Really?)
3. (5) Illinois (After an explosion on offense, the Illini are looking dangerous again.)
4. (4) Wisconsin (This team is what it is: Average defensively, good running it and bad throwing it. Still not ready to sit at the big boy table.)
5. (3) Michigan State (Struggling with Iowa makes me wonder a bit. This might be Wisconsin Light.)
6. (same) Northwestern (The rested Wildcats might be looking at this week as a chance to announce their coming out.)
7. (same) Michigan (The defense, supposed to be the strength of the team, gave up 45. Hmm….)
8. (same) Minnesota (Well, the Golden Gophers are at least better than the bad teams.)
9. (11) Iowa (Close doesn't count for much, but could it save Kirk Ferentz's multimillion-dollar job?)
10. (same) Indiana (The Hoosiers are looking hard-pressed to start a bowl streak.)
11. (9) Purdue (Well, you'll see this week, I guess.)

Marcus Hartman is a staff writer for BuckeyeSports.com and Buckeye Sports Bulletin. He can be reached for comment, cursing or questions via email at mhartman@buckeyesports.com.


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