Cus Words 11/25: The Ecstasy of Gold

After the Buckeyes earned a pair of gold pants for a fifth consecutive year, the theme song from a classic Clint Eastwood western makes an appropriate backdrop for BSB staffer Marcus Hartman's column in the wake of a game and a season full of good, bad and ugly developments.

What we learned last week: Both teams that mixed it up in Ohio Stadium last Saturday have some work to do between now and next season, but this is certainly a great time to be a Buckeye.

Despite scoring 42 points, the Buckeyes need to keep refining what they desire to do offensively. Big plays are nice, but at some point I have to think moving the ball consistently for the rest of the game is a goal as well.

That starts with blocking people better, creating a passing game with more rhythm and figuring out how utilize the option.

The latter should come as Terrelle Pryor gets more time to work with his receivers and simply gets reps throwing the ball. Like a jump shot or a home run swing, throwing a football accurately requires muscle memory wrought from practice. That said, I believe he is way ahead of the curve for your average athlete-type quarterback, the guys like Troy Smith or Steve Bellisari who spend a lot of their younger days just running by people before figuring out they would be better off throwing it over their heads most of the time.

As for blocking, the boys need to spend more time together, to begin with. It should come as no surprise that there are going to be problems when more than half the positions on the line are manned by different people at the end of the season than at the beginning.

To say the line took a step backwards from last season is accurate, but then again this was not the same line, even though we thought it mostly would be. Two of the returning starters missed all of spring practice and then both were also injured during the season. Four guys they probably thought in January or February would be solid backups (if not more) all missed significant time during spring, fall or both because of injury as well.

(Things like that are part of doing business in this game, but one would like to think a school like Ohio State is better prepared to handle such adversity. Perhaps that is not realistic in the world of 85 scholarships.)

By the end of the season, the OSU O-Line was playing above average but had a lot of room for improvement, and every member of the group coming back should challenge himself to come back a better player for the bowl game and spring ball so that the 2009 offensive line can be something more like the 1995 or '96 group, the last couple here that made holes anyone on the team could run through. High expectations, sure, but not a bad place to start.

There is something to the idea that Tressel needs to put his linemen in better positions to succeed by mixing things up. I suspect, though, there is a reason he did not call more plays than he did in the second half of the season – he probably just stuck with the ones he believed would work. Hard to blame him for doing so given the strength of the November schedule – all three teams offered unique challenges but Ohio State clearly had them all outmanned – but next year the expectation should be for better execution at what they already do and some new wrinkles to make that a bit easier to accomplish.

Don't throw the baby out with the wash, though. Keep that wonderful I-formation and those traps out of the one-back sets. Don't trash that and become some shotgun-loving outfit, because then what would you be? Well, you'd be Michigan, but with far better players.

And that brings me to point No. 2.

Ohio State needs to find some new plays, but Michigan has more work to do: The Wolverines need more players.

There are more holes on Rich Rodriguez's roster than can be plugged in one year. That is partly his fault and partly that of his predecessor. The cupboard was more bare than most would have imagined when Rodriguez arrived, and the new coach's spread offense led to some of the goodies that were left either hitting the road or being rendered less effective.

Michigan would not have contended for the Big Ten this year no matter who was the coach, but the Wolverines didn't need to be 3-9, either. The four best returning players on the offense all left town after Rodriguez was hired, and he cannot be absolved from blame for that, but more importantly the switch to the spread offense hamstrung the team.

It put undue pressure on a flawed defense that was great up front, OK at linebacker and terrible in the secondary, not to mention calling for quarterbacks to do things every college football fan in the country who has seen them must know they cannot do.

Michigan has several talented tailbacks and could have won about half its games with a conservative offense helping out the defense rather than a wide-open attack that couldn't move the ball nor protect the defense from playing with its back to the wall all too often. Then with a bounce here or there, the Wolverines perhaps could have been even better than .500, but that is not the course Rodriguez chose and he paid with the worst season in school history.

Perhaps asking players to do things they could not this year will pay off next year, but was confidence the price of knowledge? Could the loss of one counterbalance the gain of the other?

Maybe if so much time weren't needed to install Rodriguez's ballyhooed system, he could have spent time teaching his players how to tackle or when field punts and when to call fair catch.

Not everyone saw it and fewer still wanted to admit it, but the talent was lacking in Ann Arbor even before this season. Now it's worse.

Will it get better? We'll see, but the gamble looks to be pretty huge given how deep Michigan is in the hole already.

In conclusion… All that said, this was a good year for Ohio State. Ten wins and a Big Ten championship always mean a good year.

The season could have been better, but this team did not underachieve by missing the national title game. The 2008 Buckeyes were overrated to begin the season because of the ease with which they trampled weak opponents the last two years.

There is room to improve, but until the time comes to begin that work, there is plenty to savor as well.


What we can expect to learn this week: I'll have to get back to you on that one once we know who the Buckeyes are playing in a bowl game, OK?

All-Buckeye Beater nominees: Brandon Minor, one of those fine tailbacks I mentioned, makes the list for setting up and scoring the only Michigan touchdown of the day. Watching how hard Minor runs and the strength and balance he displays while doing so makes me believe hitching the wagons to him next year might be a good way for Michigan to begin earning back some respectability.

On the defensive side of the ball, ends Tim Jamison and Brandon Graham proved their worth by playing consistently on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Jamison tied for team-high honors with eight tackles, including three for loss, and had a sack, while Graham had a sack and another TFL among his three total stops. Linebacker Jonas Mouton, who had eight tackles (1.5 for loss), was impressive as well.

For yet another season, if we were doing an "All-Buckeye Beaten" team, every Michigan safety would qualify. If there is a worse position group in the country over the past two or three seasons, I haven't seen it.


Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (previous week rankings)
1 – tie (same) Ohio State
1 – tie (same) Penn State

3. (3) Michigan State
4. (5) Iowa
5. (4) Northwestern
6. (6) Wisconsin
7. (7) Illinois
8. (8) Minnesota
9. (10) Purdue
10. (9) Michigan
11. (same) Indiana

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.


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