Cus Words: Changes In Latitudes, Attitudes

The Buckeyes traveled north to try to find themselves after a disappointing loss. With them back in Columbus to prepare for the start of Big Ten play, BSB staffer Marcus Hartman is thinking of a Jimmy Buffett song while pondering what this team is all about and what it might become.

What we learned last week: This group of Buckeyes responds well to a setback. That wasn't the strong point of the last couple of Ohio State teams. They were more like frontrunners. The general M.O. since the start of 2006, when the top-ranked Buckeyes scored four touchdowns in the first 15 minutes and change against Northern Illinois to wipe away any chance Garrett Wolfe could carry the Huskies to an upset victory on his little shoulders, was to pounce on a team, take control then coast.

By contrast, the 2005 team was more about dogfights. That was a gang of buttkickers that let a late lead slip away against Texas but rallied from significant deficits to beat ranked Michigan State and Michigan teams.

The attitude of this team might remind me more of the '05 squad than any of the previous ones.

Maybe some of the other anecdotal things are the same, too.

Ross Homan, billed as the next A.J. Hawk when he got here, is a veteran linebacker playing well now, and count Kurt Coleman in the role of Donte Whitner. Similar build, smarts and aggressive attitude.

Jermale Hines has a similar build to Nate Salley but Hines might have better instincts.

This defensive line is better and much deeper, and these cornerbacks might be better.

Offensively, you've got the still developmental and thus not terribly consistent dual-threat quarterback.

There is no big thumper running back but guys who can be productive in the right situations, although I would take Antonio Pittman over any of the backs on the roster right now. He was really under appreciated here. His acceleration was tremendous, and he could really start and stop and cut sharply. He also had a way of slithering through holes that you can't teach.

The receivers are young but talented and will be around a while, although matching them up specifically doesn't work too well. This team is better off at tight end. The fullbacks are a work in progress, but that team probably used a fullback less than any of Tressel's teams here.

Whether this offensive line can be as good as the 2005 group, which had two starters who are still starters in the NFL (Nick Mangold and Rob Sims), not to mention future All-Big Ten selections Kirk Barton, T.J. Downing and Doug Datish, remains to be seen.

That team was overflowing with talent but it was certainly not very consistent. They turned the ball over at inopportune times on a regular basis. "Quick change" became a big buzz phrase that year because of how often the stellar, star-studded defense was put in a bad position, but with Hawk, Carpenter and Whitner calling the shots, they still rarely gave up much.

That team was fun to watch.

The sky could be the limit for this defense because the coaching staff seems not the least bit afraid of asking the cornerbacks to lock people up, and they have done just that the past two weeks against talented receivers.

Jim Heacock talks all the time, and rightly so, about how much easier it is to play defense when you get pressure with four rushers, but the same is true when you can take two receivers out of the game with two defensive backs. That's what the great Ohio State defenses of the 1990s did. Wasn't that fun to watch, too? A different kind of football back then, though. And history has proven those were top-of-the-line talents. Could these guys be that good? Maybe. That might be stretching it, but let's not rule it out yet.


What we can expect to learn this week: The talented-but-flawed Illinois team headed to the Horseshoe this weekend could be just what the doctor ordered as this Buckeye squad continues to heal from the USC disappointment and build itself into a championship contender (first Big Ten, then see what develops as we look around and see USC, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma already having lost and Florida looking more mortal than expected last week against Tennessee).

Whether Toledo turns out to be one of those effective MAC teams that parlays its particular strengths into a good season remains to be seen, and dominating the Rockets in such a fashion as Ohio State did is no small feat, but no MAC team will ever match up with a Buckeye squad athletically, so there is a limit to what we can take away from last Saturday's soiree by Lake Erie, but such is not the case with head coach Ron Zook's Fighting Illini.

And there should be plenty of motivation on both sides this week as UI quarterback Juice Williams returns to the site of the game of his life, a four-touchdown masterpiece that ruined Ohio State's perfect season in 2007.

Illinois does things that have at times confounded the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball, so it stands to reason the chances for a lapse in concentration are reduced.

Zook has the talent at quarterback, running back and wide receiver to run a perfectly balanced spread offense, but where the Illii really gave the Buckeyes fits in their near-upset in 2006 and the successful one in '07 was up front.

How good this Illinois line is remains to be seen, but the Buckeye front has been extremely impressive the last few weeks. If Cameron Heyward, Doug Worthington and company can harass Williams, the jobs of the back seven get easier, but the senior quarterback figures to get a chance to take some shots at some point, so we should find out a lot about the whole group.

Keep an eye on how Ohio State chooses to use linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan to contain Williams and the option game, too.

When Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes have the ball, they will oppose a defense that seems to be in disarray, particularly in the back end, but the Illini's unique style could cause some consternation to the young quarterback and his still-developing receiver corps.


Buckeye Beater Nominees
When a team gets shut out, few cases can be made for offensive players, but two Rocket defenders stood out while the Buckeyes romped Saturday. Linebacker Donald Archie finished the game with 16 tackles and safety Barry Church, who spent a lot of time near the line of scrimmage, got credit for 12, so both of them will be considered for the All-Buckeye Beater team at the end of the season. The duo also combined for Toledo's lone sack of the afternoon.


DVR Directions
While warming up for the Buckeyes and Illini to kick off at 3:30 p.m. on ABC in Big Ten country and one of the ESPN family networks elsewhere, check out the high-noon showdown between the surprisingly unbeaten duo of Indiana and Michigan on ESPN2. See if Michigan's freshman quarterbacks can bounce back from a subpar week and get a chance to scout the Hoosiers. With Indiana next on Ohio State's docket, you'll want to watch that one right away, but set the DVR to ESPN for Michigan State's trip to Wisconsin that takes place at the same time. The Badgers come to town in two weeks, and this game figures to tell us a lot about which of these teams has a chance to be a major part of the conference title race.

In the evening, the matchup of the night is Iowa's trip to No. 5 Penn State, the first varsity contest for the Nittany Lions, who will surely have revenge on their minds after Iowa upset them in Iowa City last season.


Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (Previous week ranking)

1. (same) Penn State
2. (same) Ohio State
3. (6) Iowa
4. (7) Wisconsin
5. (3) Michigan
6. (5) Michigan State
7. (4) Illinois
8. (9) Minnesota
9. (8) Northwestern
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[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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