Sunday, October 26, 2008

Playing it Too Close to the Sweater Vest

Tresselball is dead. Last night's 13-6 lost to the Penn State Nitty Lions served as its solemn funeral. The days of playing not to lose have failed the Buckeye faithful. And, it's time for a change.

Next to Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel is undoubtedly the most revered OSU football coach in the team's history and deservedly so. One national title, three national championship appearances and 4 Big Ten titles over the course of eight years is very impressive. But like Woody Hayes and all the great coaches, Tressel has an ego, a belief that his approach to the game of football is the best approach and in many cases, the only approach. Tressel's game plan can best be describe as a "battle of attrition" - controlling the ball, avoiding mistakes and playing for field position. This style of play has become predictable, boring and perhaps most discouraging - beatable.

Penn State's victory last night is a symptom of the overall problem. At no point in the game did Ohio State look over matched or vastly outplayed. The defense performed admirably, holding a Nitty Lions team that came in averaging 460 yards to only 281 yard of total offense. And had Terrelle Pryor not fumbled early in the 4th quarter it's possible that we'd be talking about a hard fought victory. However, Pryor did fumble and the Buckeyes did lose. And though Pryor's fumble was the direct cause of the loss, the real culprit was that after the Buckeyes took a 6-3 lead, Ohio State's playbook essentially became one dimensional in that almost every play was to hand the ball off to Beanie Wells. Instead of trying to add on to a its slim lead, Ohio State broke out its familiar vanilla defensive style of football that has become a trademark of the Tressel era - playing not to lose.

Penn State spent of the majority of the game loading the box with defenders, daring Jim Tressel to run the ball. Jim Tressel happily obliged. Any Buckeye fan who has watched a game over the past few weeks could tell you that the usual offensive series goes something like the following, hand the ball off to Beanie Wells, hand the ball off to Beanie Wells, attempt a short safe pass to pick up the first down - usually resulting in a Pyror scramble for a large sack or a first down. At the risk of avoiding Pyror throwing the ball and potentially causing a turnover, the Ohio State playbook has become that of a watered down high school team's. Absent is not only the razzle and dazzle (a flea flicker with Beanie or an end around with Posey -anyone?) but also the crossing routes, the 12 yards posts and any semblance of having the tight end involved in the offense. With teams obviously expecting the Buckeyes to run the ball the majority of the time with Pyror in as the QB - why not think outside the box and put Todd Boeckman in as QB, with both Pyror and Beanie Wells in the backfield for a few plays. This would eliminate the ability of the opposing team to load the box and open up a variety of triple options and pass type option plays.

Jim Tressel has had a large amount of success with his approach to football in the past. So much so, that it has become almost sacrilegious to question his football philosophy. And Jim Tressel deserves a lot of respect for his accomplishments. But when an individual who has so much success in the past suddenly faces adversity the question becomes how does he respond. Take the recent example of Vince Young. The supremely talented quarterback of the Tennessee Titans who has had success at every level was suddenly booed at home - resulting in his desire to quit the game of football. Seeing his football team being dominated against USC, a sideline reporter went up to Jim Tressel at halftime to get his comments on the first half. Tressel's response? Attempting to run past and avoiding saying anything at all. Eventually he did stop and respond in a somewhat shell-shocked manner. Tressel cannot keep his head down and plow forward with the same scheme in the future. If Tressel is unable to devise the necessary changes for the offense, perhaps it is time to bring in an offensive coordinator to take over his play calling duties. Regardless, Tresselball is dead at OSU.

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