A Bitter Pill

Ohio State’s loss against USC last night was another tough one to take.

The game started off disastrously, when Terrelle Pryor threw a terrible pass that was picked off and returned close to the Ohio State goal line. (It looked like Pryor was pretty wound up pre-game; ESPN had the camera on him at one point when he was tapped on the helmet by a back-up and Pryor seemed to have an almost angry, startled reaction.) After the first USC TD I suspect that most of the Ohio State fans were fearing another humiliating blowout loss to an elite team. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Ohio State came back to score a quick touchdown, the Stadium was rocking and sounded incredibly loud, and the game settled into a tough defensive battle. Ohio State took the lead but could not put the game away, and at the end the Trojans put together a fine long drive to score the winning touchdown. It reminded me of the 1980 Rose Bowl, when Ohio State valiantly fought a great USC team down to the wire but could not stop Charles White and the Trojans offense and lost narrowly at the end of the game.

Some thoughts on the game:

Ohio State’s defense played a very good game. The defensive line more than held its own against a highly regarded USC line, the linebackers for the most part filled the gaps and made some big hits, and the defensive backfield did not get burned on a deep ball. When you only give up 18 points against an offensive powerhouse — 7 of which came after the Trojans offensive was given the ball on the Ohio State three-yard-line — you have played good defensive football.

Not to take anything away from the OSU defense, but my sense was that USC is not playing with its full playbook. Pete Carroll is doing a good job of not overwhelming his freshman quarterback and putting him into tough positions where he has to make big plays, and the kid played a good game.

You also have to admire Carroll’s confidence in his offensive line. USC repeatedly went for it on fourth down and converted. Those conversions tend to be back-breakers for a defense.

I thought Ohio State had a good offensive game plan to use against the Trojans, but the offense failed to execute in the second half. Ohio State repeatedly had the ball in good field position, where a score could have either put the game away or changed the game dramatically, and it just could not move the ball into scoring position. Obviously, USC’s defense had something to say about that, but some of the problem also appeared to be execution. Ohio State’s offensive line looked to play better than it did against Navy, but it still has a lot of room to improve.

I liked the toughness of Boom Herron, I liked the use of Brandon Saine as a receiver, and I think DeVier Posey has lots of promise. Terrelle Pryor obviously has tons of talent and ability, and made some good throws after his early error. Ohio State has a number of significant offensive weapons. It just needs to work on putting things together and scoring TDs rather than settling for field goals — which has been a problem the last few years.

Obviously, the Buckeyes need to work on the two-minute drill.

I give credit to the USC for coming into a hostile environment and emerging with a win. I am glad that Ohio State came back after the tough start and played a gritty game against a talented opponent. I don’t buy the concept of moral victories, however. Ohio State had the game in hand, and just could not close the deal. As a result, what could have been a tremendous win became a bitter pill for Buckeye fans.

Bring On The Trojans

Tomorrow night the Ohio State Buckeyes take on the USC Trojans in a clash of college football titans at Ohio Stadium. I am certain that many Ohio State fans are viewing the game with some trepidation, because Ohio State got waxed by the Men of Troy in L.A. last year, and Ohio State’s performance against Navy last week raises a lot of questions about Ohio State’s offensive and defensive lines. I am a football traditionalist who learned by watching Woody Hayes-coached teams.  I therefore believe that the vast majority of football games are won by the team that is better at blocking and tackling, with the toughness and technique to win the battle of the trenches. Ohio State’s offensive and defensive lines will have to play much better this week if Ohio State hopes to beat the Trojans.

Woody Hayes

Woody Hayes

Even if Ohio State loses, I am glad that the Athletic Department is scheduling teams like USC, Texas, and other quality opponents for regular season games. I think if you want to be viewed as a premier program you need to play a premier schedule and prove that you can compete with the best teams in the land. Lately Ohio State has struggled with elite non-Big 10 opponents, but that doesn’t mean it should shy away from such contests. Excellent teams welcome challenges and rise to meet them. Respect has to be earned, and a win over the Trojans would go a very long way toward repairing Ohio State’s damaged reputation among college football fans. I’ll be watching, and rooting, and somewhere I think Woody Hayes will be watching, too.