Cus Words 10/28: Big Empty

A gut-wrenching defeat has elicited plenty of talk about what ails the Buckeyes and what they could have done differently to change the outcome against Penn State. In his weekly column, BSB staffer Marcus Hartman argues there is a simple explanation for the Buckeyes' coming up short. Stone Temple Pilots offers some inspiration.

What we learned last week: No matter what formation your team favors, winning is generally going to come down to blocking and tackling.

For most of the night, Ohio State's offensive line could not handle the Penn State front, especially in the running game. That's why the Buckeyes could not capitalize of being as good as or better than the Nittany Lions at every skill position on both sides of the ball. Had the OSU front line been up to the task from the start, the game would have been decided before the fourth quarter started. Even then, the Buckeyes were getting some movement, but they had already let the Nittany Lions hang around too long, and what often happens in games did - one bounce (or a series of bounces, to be precise) decided the game.

In football, sometimes we make the mistake of looking too much at the big picture when comparing units on a team. Balance is great, but sometimes one area can provide such a distinct advantage that it throws everything out of whack.

Ohio State obviously had an advantage with its wide receivers against Penn State's secondary because there were consistently players open.

Terrelle Pryor was good enough that he could move around and find those players even under pressure, even with his limited development as a passer and limited ability to compute everything that is going on downfield the way a player with more experience might.

I will acknowledge that Jim Tressel and his offensive coaches could have done a few things to alleviate the pressure on the line, but they did call roughly 40 percent pass plays on first down up to the point they were trailing in the fourth quarter, and the truth - as left guard Jim Cordle said after the game - is that as long as they have Wells and Pryor, they should be able to run against an eight-man front well enough to win the game.

And they nearly did despite how badly they were outmanned up front.

I got the distinct impression Ohio State was putting it away on the drive that Pryor fumbled. Runs that gained 1 and 2 yards in the first three quarters were going for 4 or more. The creases were getting just wide enough that Well was slamming through them and falling forward for that extra yard that often makes all the difference.

In short, the PSU D-line was probably gassed. That's what happens late in games like this. I expect it's what became of the Buckeyes, too.

Every team has to hang its had on something. For Ohio State, that is running the ball. The same is true for Penn State, which I actually thought got a little too cute at times.

Another fact easily missed: If Pryor doesn't fumble, it's Penn State that has to deal with the questions about why it did not get more creative with its offense, because creativity shows in production, where the play goes, not where it starts, and most of the night PSU went nowhere because of a fantastic effort from front to back by the Ohio State defense.

As Penn State tried to stay balanced, Daryll Clark looked exceedingly average most of the night, as did Evan Royster. Derrick Williams did another disappearing act after breaking off a 14-yard run on the Penn State offense's first play from scrimmage. The rest of that supposedly super triumvirate of Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood combined to catch three passes for 15 yards.

Clark was not even on the field for the game-winning points, and the man taking the snaps could have just as easily been Jay Paterno as it was Pat Devlin, who threw one pass, a play that hinged on the mercy of an official rather than the skill of the players. (Although I believe that was probably called correctly, pass interference remains the most inconsistently enforced penalty in football.)

Royster was the same guy, but he looked a lot better with room to run because his offensive line either raised its play or the Buckeyes finally wore out after putting for a yeoman's effort.

Either way, you see where I'm going with this?

The line that took control won the game because it gave its running back a chance to make moves and break tackles. PSU's big boys had that chance because Ohio State's did not do their job for the first three quarters.


What we can expect to learn this week: Not much, given that there is no game.

I suppose when reporters meet with Jim Tressel Thursday we might find out why Ben Person did not dress for the Penn State game but J.B. Shugarts did. What became of Boom Herron? Just how many reserve linemen are healthy and qualified to play meaningful snaps? How has Pryor responded to this setback? What will the competition for playing time be like the rest of the season?

OK, so it turns out there are things we could learn, but since that knowledge rests solely on getting answers from Tressel, I won't hold my breath.


All-Buckeye Beater nominees: Navorro Bowman was going to be on this list even before he recovered Pryor's fumble. He was simply fantastic all night and finished with 10 tackles, including one for a loss.

Mark Rubin, the safety who forced the fumble and had a team-high 11 tackles, is nominated as well, and there is no way we could leave out defensive tackle Jared Odrick, who had his way with the interior of the Ohio State line all night.

On the offensive side of the ball, we'll go with left tackle Gerald Cadogan, left guard Rich Ohrnberger and center A.Q. Shipley.


DVR Directions: With the only two good teams in the Big Ten not playing this week, there is no need to worry about checking out the conference's games this week.

OK, I guess if you are desperate, check out Northwestern's visit to Minnesota, scheduled for a noon Eastern start on ESPN2. The Wildcats are next on Ohio State's schedule, although they look a lot less appealing after dropping a game at lowly Indiana.

Nevertheless, Minnesota is playing to keep rolling toward a New Year's Day bowl, a race that also includes Ohio State and Michigan State.


Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (previous week's ranking in parenthesis)
1. (same) Penn State
2. (same) Ohio State
3. (4) Michigan State
4. (5) Minnesota
5. (3) Illinois
6. (7) Iowa
7. (6) Northwestern
8. (9) Wisconsin
9. (8) Michigan
10. (11) Indiana
11. (10) Purdue

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.
For more from Marcus, read his blog at this link.


Buckeye Sports Top Stories