Cus Words 11/4: Fixing A Hole

A rare in-season week off allowed plenty of time for extra talk about how the Buckeyes can get better, but BSB staffer Marcus Hartman wonders if the groundwork for improvement has already been set. If that is the case, perhaps the status quo is not as bad as it feels to some in Buckeye Nation.

What we learned last week: If there is an aspect of being a college football coach, Jim Tressel has his detractors in that area.

Some might claim he's a good recruiter who cannot coach, while others say he can't coach because he has so many good players.

I find this curious because I don't think those two theories can both be true at the same time.

In looking at the average recruiting rankings since Tressel took over in 2001, Ohio State is a small but discernable step below all the other teams that have won the BCS National Championship game in that time span, so assuming Tressel is doing less with more when he gets on the national stage is wrong.

That may have been what Lloyd Carr did in the second half of his time as head coach at Michigan – although one could make the case that Michigan recruits are somehow systematically overrated given the rate NFL teams have drafted them lately, that's a discussion for another day – but it is not the case with Tressel, at least not at the present time.

Those demanding staff shakeup should consider that Tressel just might be in the midst of putting together his best consecutive recruiting classes in nine years. Actually, "just might' isn't much of a stretch because all the class of 2009 has to do for that to be true is avoid slipping from its current spot (No. 1) to No. 16 or lower.

Tressel has never put together back-to-back top 10 recruiting classes, but he's basically assured of doing that next February, and he credited his staff's ability to pull in the No. 4 class in 2008 to continuity, so be careful what you wish for in terms of changing things up now that that train could be gaining steam.

The truth is the offense is far from as archaic as some would have you believe (They really do pass on first down sometimes, I promise), and the defense is not as simplistic or predictable, either, although neither is above reproach.

Obviously, there is something wrong with the offense at this time, but the idea that Ohio State doesn't know what it's doing offensively holds very little water.

The 2002 offense was very good when it had all its parts, the 2005 offense was very good once everyone got on the same page. The 2006 offense was the best of the bunch, and the '07 offense put up big numbers, too, although that was against some iffy competition.

Conversely, this year's offense is bad, as was the 2003 unit and for most of the season the 2004 squad. The attack in 2001 was up and down, as I recall.

All the while, the Buckeyes have usually played very good defense while winning more games than just about any program in the country.

The 2001 offense did not have high expectations because it hadn't been all that good the season before. I doubt anyone thought the 2003 unit was going to light the world on fire without Maurice Clarett, and the 2004 team was a rebuilding project, so what is different this year?

The angst of Buckeye nation is a product of expectations placed upon this team that were much higher than any of those squads I just mentioned, but now we have to face facts about how that came to be.

There are members of the 2008 Buckeyes who have not consistently played at the level they did last season, but it is undeniable that they often looked better than they were in the past because of the level of competition.

Maybe if Tressel and his staff have a problem it is that they are not necessarily experts at anything. There are better recruiters out there. There are better playcallers and designers, better motivators, but I'm not sure anyone does all those things so well as Tressel and his staff, which might even be getting better at recruiting as the landscape changes under their feet.

Calling for a changing of the guard could well be full of unintended consequences, for better or for worse. If you don't believe me, go back and check out how many recruiting updates include kind words from a recruit about Jim Bollman.

Now that those updates are more often involving four- and five-star recruits than they were in some previous recruiting cycles should not be overlooked.

I don't mean to come across as a mouthpiece for the university, but I do mean to say the clamoring for all kinds of changes is over the top at this time. A knee-jerk reaction for something better to watch is understandable, but most logic points toward concluding that the people over at the Woody Hayes Athletics Center are quite good at what they do, and finding some who are better could be a quite treacherous journey, especially because help may already be on the way in a different form.

What we can expect to learn this week: I'm always mystified by the spectrum of players out there. Most players perform better with more playing time under their belts, but some are so good physically they can be great even without experience. Then they get better when they learn more about what they are doing.

Other guys can only succeed with knowledge. They don't have the ability to overcome the time it takes a youngster to process something. Or they have to have such a grasp on the offense that they can be a step ahead of the usual opponent because their own ability naturally robs them of a step by comparison. But then you have all these guys competing against each other, at different stages of their careers with different things asked of them and different casts around them. It's all quite fascinating, I think.

One never knows how much a player will develop, how much time he needs.

Could Justin Zwick have figured it out if Troy Smith had not taken his place? Could Todd Boeckman have overcome his troubles if they had no other options this season? How good will Terrelle Pryor get?

He's just gone through something similar to what Smith did in 2005, losing a close one to Penn State when an extra play here or there could have changed the outcome.

Smith made a bad throw early in the game that gave Penn State a touchdown. Later he fumbled to let the game get away, although that might not be so much his fault.

Regardless, Smith also missed at least a couple of potential big plays (be it by failing to throw to an open receiver or just not putting the right amount of touch on a ball) that would have greatly affected the outcome, but he ended up pretty good in the year and a half that followed.

Zwick, perhaps, could have made those throws. He was not blessed with an arm nearly the equal of Troy's in strength but at that time he was probably more polished as a scanner of defenses and had a more accurate arm. He might have had a better chance to put the right touch on a ball here or there that could have won that game, but Troy was in the game because of the multiple ways he made the team better.

Those included his ability to run and to lead, although the latter was still manifesting itself in 2005 and the running talent would later be supplanted by an improved arm.

So what I am interested in seeing this week is what kind of steps forward young Mr. Pryor can make.

He has already beaten teams on talent alone, but others have been able to corral him as his repertoire continues to build.

Presumably he will be someone new each time we see him now and in the near future.

That is exciting.

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