Cus Words: Every Rose Has Its Thorn

These days in Columbus, if it ain't one thing, it's another. The offense got into gear against a good Iowa defense only to see the Buckeye special teams and defense falter, so though the pass to Pasadena is punched, there remain plenty of plot lines as The Game approaches.

What we learned last week: Jim Tressel finally has an offense suited to play a diverse brand of Tresselball. Now, if only the Ohio State head coach's defense and special teams had come to the party on time last week against Iowa.

I don't expect the defense's fourth quarter to be more than a blip, but we'll just have to wait and see.

The special teams have been somewhat hit or miss all year, with big plays coming in the return game but a young kickoff return unit struggling more than once this season.

The directional punting has usually been good, but the boomers have been a little more difficult to depend on when the whole field is available.

But all that aside, it is not news to announce no one around these parts cares about those things nearly as much as they do about the offense anyway.

The last month leaves little doubt the Buckeye offense is really close to rounding into the exact form Tressel and his staff would like, but there is a significant followup question to that conclusion: Will Tressel let the unit prove it when the time comes?

He did at Penn State, but not so much against Iowa.

Slow playing the fourth quarter last Saturday night has earned Tressel a lot of scorn from sources both national and local, but I think the bigger issue is to remember why people were upset at Tressel's conservatism in the fourth quarter: Terrelle Pryor and the offense showed it could move the ball in more than one way for three quarters against a good defense.

Let's review: A week earlier against an untested Penn State defense, Pryor took advantage of mistakes with long passes and big runs.

Against a disciplined, more talented Iowa defense that has had to scrap all season, Pryor's performance was much more about avoiding his own mistakes, and he handled that quite well.

He has not forced a ball into coverage the past two weeks, and he has generally picked his spots to run with much more decisiveness and success (one bad sack last week excepted)

He beat Penn State over the top, but Iowa did a much better job of keeping the lid on the defense, so Pryor responded accordingly.

The sophomore completed 14 of 17 passes for 93 yards against the Hawkeyes not because the coaching staff only called short ones for him but rather because he has learned to settle for what is available, a significant indicator in measurement of his development.

He first had to learn to find the outlets and checkdowns. Then he had to learn to actually use them. He had to get his footwork and mechanics cleaned up to the point he could make accurate enough throws to get the ball to those places once he figured out what the places were.

Check. check, check.

So now what?

A little slack in the rope probably wouldn't hurt.

I don't think there was much imprudent about the way Tressel approached the fourth quarter against Iowa, although he certainly could have approached things differently.

Mixing things up a little bit on the drive that began at the Hawkeyes' 45-yard line probably would not have hurt, but running the ball had been working all night so it's not hard to justify staying with it. Then again, Pryor was on target for most of the game, and Iowa's reluctance to leave its base defense even when Ohio State went to three- and four-receiver sets could have left open some opportunities.

I found the decision to only half-heartedly pursue points with the game tied in the final two minutes much more vexing.

Even if Iowa was dropping into deep coverages, that was a great opportunity to let Pryor dink and dunk his team into position to win the game, something you could make the case he seemed capable of doing for the first time in his career.

I believe he should have played both situations differently, but I don't think the choices equate to an overall condemnation of Tresselball, as some have charged. The coach needed to open up to the possibility that after playing the majority of his games with the talent and/or development of his quarterback and offensive line tying one hand behind his back, now both areas look improved enough to be more aggressive when the time is right.

Again, when a coach figures he just about has three points in the bag and he is running for more than four yards a pop, it's a lot harder to justify going away from it (I guess the line's development is a double-edged sword, eh?), but I understand those who bristled that he settled there.

Now, refusing to push the issue on the two-minute drill? Well the playcalling was satisfactory (Pryor again was forced to dump the ball off when nothing was open deep), but not so much the complete lack of urgency the team showed between plays. That justifiably drew some murmurs from the home fans.

As Jeff Svoboda first pointed out to me as we discussed the sequence, Tressel may have been operating under the assumption Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz would not push the issue himself with a redshirt freshman quarterback who very nearly threw two crippling interceptions on the previous drive, so the Ohio State mentor knew he could do no worse than overtime with a more rested defense and an offense that needed to cover a lot less ground.

I can't say I totally follow that line of thinking, but it is justifiable, which is really all I can ask for at the end of the day from any coach.

Tressel has shown in the past he is willing to let his players play, although like now, he has often waited too long.

If both halves of the equation - physical talent plus the ability to execute - are both present, the question becomes, when will the man in charge hit the "=" button.


What we can expect to learn this week: If ever there were a team ripe to be Tresselballed, it's this Michigan group.

The Wolverines are reeling because they regularly make a lot of mistakes on both sides of the ball.

It should be easy to say for the Buckeyes to sit back and wait for their opportunities to take shots, because chances are guaranteed to arrive.

This Michigan team is definitely capable - much more so than last season - of ending Ohio State's series winning streak at its current five games, but it probably can't do it without considerable help.

There is no denying Ohio State dished out significant assists in both its losses earlier this season. The Buckeyes turned over the ball five times in West Lafayette, and while there were plenty of other problems in the USC game, there is no denying the importance of a 1-yard touchdown drive set up by Pryor's first-quarter interception.

Michigan can score, and I expect the Wolverines to move the ball, but will they be able to cash in? That's what the Boilermakers and Trojans did.

And will Ohio State be sound on offense? They weren't in West Lafayette, although they were running a different style of attack at that time.

If Ohio State could run on Penn State and Iowa, the Buckeyes can certainly do so against Michigan. There are some good players on the Wolverine front seven, but they often have to overplay to stop the run. That means the secondary, which is not very good to begin with outside of cornerback Donovan Warren, often gets left out to dry.

That means DeVier Posey, Dane Sanzenbacher and Ray Small should figure to get some chances as long as the Buckeyes can keep Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham out of their backfield.

So, the lessons? They could be a lot more than one would think with a 9-2 Big Ten champion visiting a 5-6 cellar dweller.

Will the Buckeyes continue to give Tressel reason to trust them to attack without sacrificing soundness, and will the coach follow through and give them more opportunities as the game wears on?


All-Buckeye Beater Nominees: As you might expect, we have plenty of candidates this week, starting with Iowa offensive tackles Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway. That pair helped control the imposing Ohio State pass rush, giving quarterback James Vandenberg plenty of time to throw to talented receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. All three of those skill players will get end-of-season consideration, too. Props also go to running back Adam Robinson after he ran for 74 yards on 20 carries while coming back from an ankle injury.

On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Karl Klug was a constant thorn in Ohio State's side, as evidenced by his six tackles, and end Adrian Clayborn lived up to his pregame billing with 12 tackles, including a sack. Recognition also goes to cornerbacks Amair Spievey and Shaun Prater and safety Tyler Sash.


DVR Directions: With the regular season coming to a close for Ohio State, it's all about Rose Bowl matchups. Oregon and Arizona are both still in the race, and they play at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. If you are not among satellite subscribers from whom Comcast has pulled Versus, feel free to check out Cal at Stanford on that channel at 7:30.


Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (Previous week ranking)

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

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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