Cus Words: Don't Keep Me Wondering

With The Allman Brothers Band as inspiration, BSB staffer Marcus Hartman argues Jim Tressel's September game plans do not necessarily reflect how he wants his teams to look, but USC's visit to the Horseshoe calls for a break from long-term planning.

What we learned last week: As far as specifically answering this question, maybe not a whole lot.

The Ohio State offense basically confirmed most of what was suspected of it.

Terrelle Pryor made quicker decisions and looked more comfortable throwing the ball than he did as a freshman, but he is not close to a finished product.

The receivers were up and down, as they were in the offseason.

The running backs ran hard but left some yards on the field an elite runner such as Chris Wells would have gobbled up.

If anything, the offensive line's play was something of a surprise because it showed better in pass protection than in blocking for the ground game.

Most of the pressure on Pryor looked more attributable to the backs and ends kept in to block than to breakdowns up front. That, and the Midshipmen happened to blitz into the right spots a couple of times. But Pryor was able to escape most of the trouble in which he found himself.

Meanwhile, the run blocking took only baby steps forward from last season when Wells was usually his own best blocker.

The OSU offensive linemen made holes for Dan Herron and Brandon Saine, but not as consistently as we probably should expect.

In related news, the fullbacks showed they are young and anxious but still raw.

The tight ends proved to be athletic and able to do good things when given the ball. Jake Ballard made as good a catch as you'll ever see to help out Pryor when he was under some pressure and let a throw sail a bit high.

Defensively, I'm not sure we learned much of anything, either. The line was susceptible to being cut, which is true of most linemen, but they won't face anything like that again.

Thaddeus Gibson, Brian Rolle and Ross Homan all showed they can really attack ball carriers.

Kurt Coleman proved he is an athlete who can help a defense in every way, be it as a run support guy near the line of scrimmage or patrolling centerfield against the pass. His diving interception? It wasn't that much different from an athletic pick he made in his first time in Ohio Stadium in front of a big crowd, the 2006 spring game.

And unfortunately for Anderson Russell, we already knew one-on-one coverage is not his forte.


What can we expect to learn this week: Lots.

How resilient is this team as a whole? Is it ready for prime time or another group of Chevy Chases? Will Jim Tressel pull any tricks out of his sleeve the way he used to in big games?

The biggest lesson should be exactly what Tressel really thinks his offense is ready to do.

I'm not in the camp who believes the Buckeyes' head coach was intentionally holding anything back against Navy, but I do think the game plan for USC will have some noticeable differences.

Tressel showed plenty of his cards against the Midshipmen as the Buckeyes tried running inside and out with both running backs, sending Pryor up the middle on draws and wide on bootlegs. He threw to receivers, tight ends and running backs, even mixed in a screen pass that worked quite well. The option and an end-around made appearances as well.

Why the early reliance on the I-formation when perhaps the personnel exists to hurt teams in other ways more easily? I think that's an example of Tressel's belief his offense needs to be a diverse unit by the time the season is over and knows this one in particular won't be a finished product in September as so many of John Cooper's teams were.

And despite what we saw last Saturday, I still tend to think things will be wider open for USC because they'll have to be.

I think just like the spread represents an ideal form of offense for some people who want a "wide-open attack," the 'I' embodies the balance Tressel wants from his offense. I don't think he'll slit his own throat by running the latter for a long time without it working, but he'll never abandon it for a full season because he believes an offense that depends too heavily on the shotgun is at just as much risk of becoming one-dimensional as is an I-form-reliant offense.

So I don't see him ever abandoning the ‘I' or two-TE sets for power even if he has to run more spread than he might prefer to fit his current talent.

Balance will be a continuing theme all year.

The 2006 offense spread teams out regularly because that's what best allowed Troy Smith and his receivers to do their damage, but they kept all the normal Tressel principles of a balanced, multi-faceted attack with Antonio Pittman able to run from both the 'I' and from ace-back sets. That offense was able to do a lot of different things out of a lot of different formations because of the combination of talent and experience available. If they had abandoned some of the power stuff, it would not have been as formidable an offense.

The same principle holds true today as a considerably younger offense is developed on the fly around Pryor.

The difference is Pryor as a true sophomore is not at the level of Troy Smith as a fourth-year junior in 2005, and the receivers as a whole are talented but miles behind the '05 and '06 groups in their development.

That is the most important issue as this team comes of age. I think Tressel is going to fall back on the 'I' rather than sink or swim in the spread with guys he's not sure he can trust yet at receiver, especially with his most talented receiver, DeVier Posey, apparently not 100 percent because of injury.

The reasoning is two-fold: his running backs are capable (if not outstanding) in both sets, and using the 'I' forces the offensive line to get tougher, basically. Ohio State seemed to be trying to get the line to impose its will on Navy almost to a fault, apparently thinking they had enough control over the game to work on things like that until the 85-yard touchdown pass that made it a one-score game.

Despite that lack of early success, Tressel's thinking is too big picture to go full-on spread, for better or for worse. He wants his November offense to be his best offense, and he knows his November offense must be able to run the ball in case of bad weather, he'll keep trying to dabble in aspects of every chapter in the playbook in September.

Now, does this get scrapped for special occasions like USC? Yes, I believe it does. Looking back at the wild way they tried to attack the Trojans last year with rotating quarterbacks, it's hard to conclude otherwise. Although that was a much more desperate time than now because all the best players are available (assuming Posey is back), it's still a lesson to keep in mind as we wonder what is in store next week.

In the moment, Tressel will ask his team to do everything it is capable of doing to win a game, regardless of style, but overall he's trying to build a squad capable of doing everything.


All-Buckeye Beaters Nominees

For those new to the weekly Cus Words column, this is where I select the players who hurt the Buckeyes the most on the previous game day. At the end of the season, I select an All-Buckeye Beaters team to recognize those who played Ohio State the toughest.

In week one, we have plenty of candidates.

No. 1 is easily Ricky Dobbs. The Navy quarterback was the difference between an easy Ohio State blowout and a four-quarter fight. He threw the ball well (9 for 13, 156 yards and two touchdowns) but his tough running was the real key. Not only did he break off two touchdowns runs, Dobbs kept alive both long drives by stretching what should have been short runs into longer gains. He always fell forward, no matter how hard he was hit.

Fullback Alexander Teich provided plenty of body shots inside to help make the rest of the offense effective, and slotback Marcus Curry must be recongized for his 85-yard touchdown catch that opened the door to fourth-quarter intrigue.

The interior of the Navy offensive line also gets high marks for making the dive go, so guards Osei Asante and Andy Lark along with center Curtis Bass will get consideration when the season is over.

On the defensive side, safety Emmett Merchant had eight tackles and an interception and linebackers Ross Pospisil and Tony Haberer both had six tackles, including a sack for Pospisil.

Props also go to defensive linemen Jabaree Tuani (three tackles and a quarterback pressure) and Chase Burge (four tackles), who helped stuff the Ohio State running game.

DVR Directions

The first game worth recording this week is scheduled for Friday night when Colorado visits Toledo, Ohio State's week three opponent, for an ESPN game scheduled to kick off at 9 p.m. EST. Saturday could be a day for your DVR to rest since the Buckeyes play at night, but if you plan to be out tailgating all afternoon, be sure to set the machine to record Notre Dame's visit to Michigan (3:30, ABC). Otherwise, it's a pretty lame day.

Noon matchups that could interest Ohio State fans include a chance to see Penn State against one of its preconference patsies (Syracuse on the Big Ten Network), and Iowa visits Iowa State. Check that one out if you desire an early look at a Big Ten team the Buckeyes have not seen in two seasons but play host to this November.

Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (Preseason ranking)
1-tie. (same) Ohio State
1-tie. (same) Penn State
3. (4) Michigan State
4. (5) Northwestern
5. (3) Illinois
6. (8) Wisconsin
7. (6) Iowa
8. (9) Michigan
9. (7) Minnesota
10. (11) Purdue
11. (10) 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[at]buckeyesports[dot]com.

For more from this author, read his blog about Ohio State football and whatever else crosses his mind .


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