Cus Words: The Kids Aren't All Right

Thinking of a song by The Offspring, BSB staffer Marcus Hartman points out sometimes being more talented just isn't enough. Seasoning is an over-looked ingredient to championship squads. The rest of the season is up in the air pending questions about how quickly the Buckeyes can grow and how much the coaching staff can help them.

What we learned this week: Some days, being old and experienced beats being young and talented.

Ohio State football fans, welcome to the world the rest of the nation's regular residents in the top 10 already knew. Recruiting among the very best and throwing the kids to the wolves sometimes yields losses to inferior teams.

Of course, it might later lead to more wins against the creme de la creme, but I suspect few Ohio State fans are taking much solace in that this week.

Some (including myself) snicker when Jim Tressel goes to extra lengths to point out how many veterans an opponent has in its lineup, but there was something to all that Saturday in West Lafayette.

Purdue, with five senior starters on offense, kept its poise through some adversity, and Ohio State, with one, did not later in the game.

That's the mental side of it, but there was an obvious physical aspect on display, too.

I feel comfortable in saying we saw Saturday why Ohio State prefers not to see its linemen be needed until their third year out of high school.

True sophomore tackles Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts had rough days out there in West Lafayette. More often than not, they were unable to handle the Boilermaker ends. The whole line struggled (including the interior with a second-year player and two fourth-year guys), and while Purdue certainly did a good job of bringing extra guys at times, they also more than once were able to drop seven into coverage and still flush Terrelle Pryor out of the pocket. The same thing was true for Wisconsin a week earlier against Ohio State.

Remember how the young quarterback looked indecisive, maybe even lost, for much of the afternoon? Sometimes he looked genuinely confused about what to do with the ball because there really was nowhere to go with it. I can't imagine that's a very good feeling. There were also times he created his own problems, but it's not as if Pryor was the weak link of an otherwise efficient operation.

Now, we must keep in mind that both the Badgers and the Boilermakers have very good ends, but at the same time, the Buckeyes on the perimeter (including tight end Jake Ballard at times) have got to win more battles than they did for Ohio State to have a successful offense.

Make no mistake, the design of the offense did not help those guys.

We were told the shift in the offense from a run-first I-formation attack to a run-first shotgun attack was a move to help the young offensive linemen pressed into duty by health concerns with the older players who started the season atop the depth chart, but the same lack of creativity that let teams gang up on the I has let them do so on the the shotgun runs as well.


What we figure to learn this week: Is there anything that can be done?

For the first time this season, I'm not sure the answer is yes. As I blogged a day after the game, this team could very well be facing problems that can't be fixed right away. Five weeks might not be enough time, either, although I think most of the ingredients are in place for something special to happen in the more distant future.

The accumulation of experience can't be rushed, nor can adding the strength needed to make the quickness and athleticism some of the Buckeyes' young offensive linemen possess effective in the Big Ten.

Of course, those youngsters were at times put in situations in which they were probably not going to succeed, so the problems go across the board and up to the coaches' booth.

Up front, Ohio State just could not handle Purdue, whether the Boilermakers were blitzing or not, so if the Buckeyes had any appreciable advantage on the perimeter, there's no way of knowing it because they couldn't try to take advantage.

Now, you'd be justified in asking, could the coaches have given them more chances? Maybe so. Given the stage of learning of Pryor and his receivers, maybe not.

For certain, Purdue was teeing off on the Ohio State running game, putting extra guys in the box and overwhelming the Buckeyes with numbers. And they must have appreciated having a stationary target to rush in passing situations, too, as there was very little moving of the pocket when Ohio State had the ball.

I tend to think unpredictability is a little overrated - and certainly hard to gauge for anyone who does not pay as much attention to any other team as they do their own - but there is little doubt the Boilermaker defensive players were able to play downhill against the Ohio State offense, something that exacerbated whatever physical problems the Buckeyes had in the first place.

Could Ohio State have tried to mix in more early passes, more variety, more short things to keep the chains moving instead of trying to set up big plays down the field? Probably.

So the lesson is probably an either/or proposition this week: Can the Buckeyes prove they are better physically (and maybe a little smarter) than they looked last week? or, failing that, can Tressel and his staff conjure up ways to counter act what they don't do well?

Coaching from weakness is an unenviable position, but sometimes it must be done.

The best way to counteract an inability to win the line of scrimmage is to attack on the outside, but can Ohio State figure out an effective way to do that? And can the players execute it?

Or will the offensive line bounce back this week and make such measures less necessary?


All-Buckeye Beater Nominations
If there is a bigger slam-dunk selection this year than Ryan Kerrigan, I will be awfully surprised. The Purdue defensive end had nine tackles, including three sacks and four overall for loss. He forced two fumbles, one of which he recovered. The member of the 2008 All-Buckeye Beater Defense looks like a lock to repeat this season.

His partner in pressure, fellow end Gerald Gooden, will get some postseason consideration as well after he was a regular resident in the Ohio State backfield, and defensive tackle Mike Neal gets a nod for helping stuff the middle.

Also nominated from the Boilermaker defense: linebacker Jason Werner (five tackles, all solos, including a sack and three for loss) and cornerback Brandon King (two interceptions).

As for the offense, quarterback Joey Elliott (31 for 50 for 281 yards, two touchdowns and an interception) is a strong candidate, as are Keith Smith (12 catches, 125 yards) and Aaron Valentin (10 catches, 97 yards, two touchdowns). Special mention as well to tackles Dennis Kelly and Zach Jones, who faired much better against the Ohio State speed rushers than did most so far this year.


DVR Directions
Given the state of things around Columbus right about now, I suggest keeping a narrow focus. There is no need to keep an eye on the national scene anymore. The conference title picture could become very messy, or it could be wrapped up in a nice little package. The Buckeyes still control their own destiny in the race for the Rose Bowl, but the prospect of their winning out is dicy at this point. All that said, if you get ESPNU, set the DVR to record Ohio State's next opponent, New Mexico State, when the Aggies take on Fresno State at 10:15 p.m. ET.


Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (Previous week ranking)

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

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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