"They ran the football to conserve the clock and we didn't leverage it the right way," Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham said after the game. He was referring to the Buckeyes' Brandon Saine, who ran for a 37-yard score on the last play in the game to give one the appearance that Ohio State really dominated from start to finish.
They did dominate from start to finish. They just didn't have the points to show for it in the first half.
Playing vintage 'Tressel Ball', the Buckeyes gashed, creased and cruised through the Huskies' front seven to the tune of 263 yards and two scores. And they maintained possession for nearly 33 minutes of the game, holding Washington, for instance, to just one series in the entire first quarter.
"Our guys up front did a good job of controlling the tempo at the line of scrimmage," Tressel said, in understated fashion. "I thought we blocked really well. I thought we had a good plan."
That good plan resulted in 481 total offensive yards in the same number of plays - 71 - that Washington had. But the Huskies were only able to muster 346, and it felt like all of it came within the red zones. Once Washington tried to sniff six, they ended up with a nose-ful of disappointment.
"We had opportunities," Willingham said. "We just didn't take advantage (of them). Really, that was the game. When you play a good football team sometimes you're not able to take advantage of all the opportunities. They did some good things, and of course we did some good things, but certainly not enough good things to put ourselves in the winning circle."
Thing is, the Huskies did look good against a top-10 team at home - for the first time since arguably the 2003 Apple Cup. They took a 7-3 lead going into halftime - courtesy of a Jake Locker-to-Anthony Russo hookup of 23 yards on the last offensive play of the second quarter.
Husky Stadium was rockin'. All 31 bands that participated in Band Day were rockin'. The House that James Built was rockin' like it hadn't in over half a decade.
And then the wheels fell off.
Ever since true frosh Vonzell McDowell got the starting cornerback spot opposite Roy Lewis, UW fans have been holding their breath - praying that the Rainier Beach Viking would be able to hold up against some major competition. For two game he really stood in there, and even though he probably gave more cushion than he needed to, he was keeping everything in front of him and tackling with consistency.
As his confidence grew, his cushion became less and less. And then the Buckeyes pounced, throwing over the top and connecting with Brian Robiskie for a 68-yard bomb to give Ohio State a lead they would never give up.
"You don't like giving up those," Willingham said. But even though the Huskies' nose had been roughed up a bit, they were only down three and they were getting the ball. Or so they thought.
Normal return specialist Brandon Johnson was out with bruised ribs, so it was up to another true frosh - Curtis Shaw - to make something happen. Shaw had a 35-yard return to open the second half, but couldn't hold onto the rock this trip around.
The ensuing fumble was recovered by Ohio State, and two Chris Wells rushes later, the Buckeyes were up 17-7 and the victory train had left the station and was headed back toward Columbus, Ohio.
"I really like the way that the kids approached the halftime," Tressel said. "There wasn't panic, there wasn't fear. There wasn't anything other than talking about what we've got to do to get better. Lesser groups could've folded."
And don't get Tressel wrong - he's not referring to Washington folding. These Huskies have too much heart to recreate what we saw three and four years ago. If this game had been played in 2004, the result would have been 55-7.
But when the object is to win, the scoreboard is merely a fashion consultant. Winning by 19 on the road might win the Buckeyes style points with the AP pollsters, but Tressel was more focused on the 'how' rather than the 'what'.
"I think it's a statement that they want to be good," he said of his team. "None of us think it's a statement that we are good, but we did what we had to do today."
Willingham isn't part of the 'us' Tressel was talking about, but he still came away pretty impressed by the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball. "We played a darn good football team that was a top-ten caliber football team," he said, matter-of-factly.
And it was. Top-10 teams make adjustments. They keep fighting. They pounce when opportunities come, and they step on the opponents' necks when they have a chance to put the game away.
Ironically enough, those seem to be all things Washington had done well enough in the first two games of the season. But the step up in competition was apparent from the first series of the game, and it was most apparent in the trenches.
"We knew both fronts would be very difficult," Willingham said of the line play. "I think for much of the game, it played itself out that way. Obviously we had great respect for their defensive team coming in. We thought it would be one of the better ones that we would see. Our guys tried to step up to the challenge, and played pretty well."
Pretty well doesn't cut it when you are a perennial top-10 performer like Ohio State. They knew it at halftime and played like it in the second half.
Washington has so much to look forward to this season. As long as Locker can stay healthy, the Huskies have a great chance to be special every time they step out onto the field. "The sky's the limit for Jake," Tressel said. "He's young and this is going to be a good learning experience for him. He faced a pretty fair defense."
How they take this learning experience and apply it to Pac-10 play will be the next chapter that's written by these Washington Huskies. But if they don't handle the little things well, it could end up being another season of missed opportunities and unfulfilled goals.
"Those are the things that are disappointing for us today," Willingham said about not executing and making Ohio State pay for making mistakes. "You've got to make those plays in order to put yourself in the champion's circle."
Buckeyes do the little things to win
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