How time flies. Only 3 months months ago we were making predictions and talking about this football team with the excitement of a kid in a candy store. Living with National Championship expectations each year is a futile and fruitless state of being, but that doesn't mean the fans are disappointed with this years Ohio State Buckeyes. At least, not with the players.
Jim Tressel has fantastic numbers. He has won over 81% of his games at Ohio State. He's 3-3 in BCS games. Just the mere fact that he's about to go to his 7th BCS bowl game in 9 seasons makes it sound ridiculous when you try to criticize his coaching style. That said, Jim Tressel is not a good play-caller. A good coach? Sure. A good recruiter? Sure. A good man? Positively. His conservative style mirrors coaches from years past(Woody's' three yards and a cloud of dust). Now, that style of play-calling is costing Ohio State wins, and leaving them ill prepared against elite competition. While Ohio State finds themselves back in the Rose Bowl for the first time in over a decade - it's becoming painfully obvious that Jim Tressel's coaching style hurts in big games. It doesn't even have to be a big game; a close game will suffice.
When Tressel gets a lead he plays 'run-out-the-clock'. Now, every coach does this, but not to the painfully obvious and conservative degree of Jim Tressel. This approach inevitably leads to a three and out. Most of the time(in these circumstances) the team goes backwards. The result is the opposite of what you want. Time killing drives under Jim Tressel ultimately die like leaves in the fall. Case and point Saturday night when Ohio State goes to overtime. Forget the fact that the conservative play calling is what sent the game to overtime to begin with. Maybe if we decide to MOVE THE BALL McNutt doesn't even get an opportunity to tie the game. So Iowa goes backwards and all we need is a FG in overtime to win. We have a walk-on 26 year-old kicker who started the season as a third stringer, and Tressel decides that he DOESN'T NEED to get any closer. Forget the fact that he was just 2 of 4 on FG's in his career. He calls three vanilla runs right up the middle and gains NOTHING. He hit the FG. There's no denying that. Ohio State crept back into the top ten. The team salvaged the top spot in a conference struggling for National recognition. I'm not even going to get into how the not-so-fan-friendly style of play is adding to that struggling reputation, but any fan that denies how this conservative approach is having a negative effect on this teams' production and National perception, IS IGNORANT.
It's frustrating. It's Michigan week. We're going to the Rose Bowl. I love Buckeye Football. We should not be sitting here talking(or reading) about Jim Tressel's coaching style. We should be enjoying the moment.
Tressel isn't playing to win(though he would deny that, emphatically) - he's playing NOT TO LOSE. He reminds the media about how young this team is.... he talks about the mistakes(which have been there).... he talks about the competition..execution.... anything not to acknowledge his shortcomings. Ohio State should be undefeated! There, I said it. I'm not saying it like the obsessive Ohio State fan that expects them to go undefeated every year - I'm saying it because it's a fact. Ohio State was better than every team they played this season. As much talent as USC, and better starting units on both sides of the ball compared to every team they played. We led Navy 29-14, and played NOT TO LOSE just enough to win 31-27. We led USC 15-10 and played NOT TO LOSE and lost 18-15. We led Purdue 7-3 despite Terrelle Pryor only going 3 for 9 in the first half without attempting a single pass down-field, PLAYED NOT TO LOSE, and fell 26-18. In the last three years Jim Tressel is 3 and 5 in games decided by 8 points or less. In that same time frame he's 1 and 4 against top ten competition. The first win coming last Saturday.
Ray Small(ironically) and the Ohio State defense have saved Jim Tressel from what seems to be an inevitable media onslaught. He's been under a small flame, but I'm not sure that Jim realizes how close he is to 'fanbase and media disaster'...a literal meltdown. The problem is that these strengths would still be there if Jim called a more aggressive game on offense. In an era where style points and marketability have become more important than ever - Jim Tressel is a dying breed with a philosophy that will only hold this team back. It is up to him to change. It is up to him to bite the bullet and hire an offensive coordinator that will better prepare this team against tough competition, and help them in close ballgames. If he doesn't - we'll still win BigTen Championships, we'll still play in BCS bowl games, we'll still follow the team as fans, but if he doesn't change this before next season - Ohio State fans will simply relive the disappointments in big games. Let's not waste the biggest gathering of Ohio State talent since '02/'03. It's like a called third strike in baseball. If you are going to go down - go down swinging.
It's not just the fans and the media that are growing frustrated with his conservative play-calling. Anybody notice Terrelle Pryor in the 3rd Quarter against Iowa. Ohio State had rushed 27 times for 120 yards(4.45/to that point)) and was left with a 4rth down and ONE FOOT from their own 30 yard line. Everyone knew what was going to happen. That's how bad it's become. We can tell you what we're going to do offensively as fans. How difficult do you think it is for the competition to figure out what you're going to do when there's 105,000 people in the stands that know what you're going to do? Not very! Pryor begged for Tressel to go for it. Hiding behind a vail of 'coach knows best' - Tressel decided to ignore the pleas of his signal caller and do what Jim does best, play it safe. Of course the decision didn't ignite a fire under the players butts. And we wonder why this team has under-performed in big games. We wonder why they lack the confidence to attack when the pressure is on. Their simply a direct reflection of their coach. Do just enough to win.... just enough to keep the lead... just enough to not take a risk... and all-to-often in big games, not enough to win. You can't tell a marathon runner to become a sprint champion. You can't tell a abused dog to not cower at the site of a raised hand. When the time comes for aggressiveness and big plays on offense - will Jim Tressel's team be ready? Unless something changes - No.
2010 is THE year. Ohio State will return either 17 or 18 starters from this years' team. Pryor is back. Herron and Saine are back. 6'3" 235 pound Roderick Smith and the speedy Jamaal Berry will be added to the mix at Rb. The O-line returns 8 of it's top 9 contributors. Cameron Heyward has said he plans to return for his senior year. Thad Gibson could return as well. 3 of the top4 Db's are back. 2 of the top 3 linebackers. A talent pool that is stinking rich gets one year better and Jim Tressel needs to take advantage. He needs to put the pedal to the metal - not sit there seeing how many miles he can get per gallon. We don't just want to win - we want to look good doing it. It's not selfishness. It's not greed. It's what is required for Jim Tressel to bring home another NC. Take the leash off the running Qb(he can take care of himself), take some shots down-field, attempt some trick plays against teams other than New Mexico St., quit protecting narrow leads, quit being predictable in every facet, or keep edging your way closer to the door, and watch Tressel-ball turn into a Tressel-fall.