Cus Words: My Way

Excuse Jim Tressel if he whistled some Frank Sinatra on the way out of Michigan Stadium as a victor for the third time in a row. Who can blame him after a Big Ten championship season in which his philosophy came under attack regularly? He beat the Wolverines for an eight time in nine years, and he did it his way, albeit with an ironic twist.

What we learned this week: The worries about Ohio State lacking an offensive identity can be put to bed for good.

First of all, the Buckeyes under Jim Tressel have always wanted to hang their hat on the same thing: a power running game.

Second, the whole concern about defining a system or typical method of moving the ball is ridiculous anyway.

I need no more proof than what I saw in the last half of this season.

Because of myriad problems with health and inexperience (not to mention a puzzling unwillingness to call control plays and counters when the time was right), the Buckeyes couldn't get their power game in gear early in the season, and a stop-gap shotgun-heavy running approach worked temporarily, but ultimately there was no getting around it: the Buckeyes had to get healthy, get some experience and get tougher up front in order to become Big Ten champions again.

Then they went out and did it.

And how, pray tell? The same way they had hoped to do it all along, with a lot of power, some passing and a sprinkling of deception. They remembered some of those control plays, too, such as bootlegs, bubble screens and screen passes.

They won the conference while finishing No. 1 in rushing and No. 2 in points during conference play.

What more do you want?

From my perspective in the total dump that is the Michigan Stadium press box (or was, I guess, since that was the last game to be played before they tear it apart), all of Tressel's surprisingly abundant and sometimes justified critics should have had their questions answered when they watched how the Buckeyes' 21-10 win against Michigan played out.

Tressel had his team come out throwing and trying its usual power stuff. That didn't work, so they - gasp - adjusted to something else. Specifically that meant a lot of shotgun and zone reads with Terrelle Pryor either handing the ball to one of his running backs or keeping it himself.

And guess what? It worked. And when it worked, they stayed with it.

But this was no pure rushing show, as was the case late against Iowa, a move that drew much scorn from Buckeye Nation one week earlier.

In Ann Arbor, Tressel tried to take a couple of the same shots he did at Penn State.

Trouble was, throwing into a wind measured 10-15 miles per hour at the kickoff, Pryor overthrew DeVier Posey twice on plays that could have created more breathing room.

This was big for a few reasons. One, it showed Tressel was willing to be aggressive when he had the chance. Two, it showed he believes the sophomores can take advantage of various coverages when they get it (this should not have been news, but a reminder didn't hurt). Three, the failures also both coincided with three-and-out drives, proving why there is more to think about than simply throwing the ball deep. Tressel views multiple three-and-outs (he has a number but I forget what it is. More than two, for sure) as the next-worst-thing to a turnover, so he was going to some pains to take these shots. They were not decisions made lightly, and one could almost view their failure and the results as a validation of his general approach, and that is not to take shots just to take them. Take them when they are there but worry more about winning every play than going for broke.

Afterward, the head coach made no attempt to hide his belief the passing game needs to improve, but he explained the method for beating the Wolverines was the same as it was for every team the Buckeyes play: Tressel had them win the surest way. In this case, the run was working, so why change?

But there was a subtle yet significant alteration along the way, and that was the decision to keep the ball on the ground but beat the Wolverines at their own game by putting the ball in Pryor's hands for a multitude of zone read plays.

In what had to be galling to Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez at some level or another, Pryor beat the Wolverines with the play their mentor created.

Ohio State's coaches had previously stated they like the zone read but they don't plan to make a living on it (as Rodriguez does), and I think that's a wise viewpoint, but credit them for their flexibility in the heat of the moment, too.

And that brings us back to the whole identity debate.

Were Tressel to bend to the whims of those who want the Buckeyes to concentrate on being a power team or go all-in for the spread, he would have been in a bind at some point in the last three weeks because Ohio State rolled up big yardage Nov. 7 at Penn State with a mix of running from all sorts of formations, did the same to Iowa with base formations and power runs doing the majority of the damage then were forced to rely mostly on the shotgun at Michigan.

Tressel is a power guy, first and foremost, but he has always maintained a desire to be able to beat an opponent in any way necessary, so he builds his offense around his personnel as opposed to recruiting to a style. That gives his own defense a greater variety of experiences in practice (particularly important in the spring and during preseason camp), and it gives opposing defenses more to work on, something Ohio State's defensive players say give them the most fits when they face similar prospects from an opponent.

Tressel's belief and that approach were validated again in Michigan.

What better place for that to happen for a coach who owns the Wolverines?

What we can expect to learn next week: Well…. I guess we'll find out who the Buckeyes are going to play in the Rose Bowl, won't we?

Next Thursday at 8 p.m. on ABC, I will be watching the Civil War intently both to scout Oregon and Oregon State but also to see if the Oregon coaching staff, which is given near deity status by some Ohio State fans tired of Tresselball, really does keep the foot on the pedal at all times or if it exhibits any of the same basic protect-the-ball and strike-when-the-time-is-right principles that Tressel and most other successful coaches do.

Should be informative.

All-Buckeye Beater Nominees: Tate Forcier's 226 yards passing with a touchdown might have gotten him some consideration had he not thrown four back-breaking interceptions, but the main beneficiary of his passes will get a look. That would be Trotwood (Ohio) Madison product Roy Roundtree, the player whose signing day decision to drop Purdue in favor of Michigan prompted former Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller to make his famous comment about snake oil salesmen. He caught nine passes for 116 yards, including a 43-yarder.

Defensively, end Brandon Graham was just the terror everyone expected him to be as he made six tackles, including four for loss, and nose guard Mike Martin capped a strong year with a five-tackle, one-sack performance. Linebacker Jonas Mouton also deservers props for notching 11 tackles and snagging an interception that gave the Wolverines a short field on which they scored their only touchdown.

Prior to the game, I would have figured Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko would have a good shot to earn repeat honors, but his ridiculous sour grapes comments after the game about Ohio State not being that good have me reconsidering.

Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (Previous week ranking)

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

Marcus Hartman is a staff writer for 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 . This morning he expressed some strong opinions about the travesty of the 2009 All-Big Ten squads released last night.

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