Wednesday, September 24, 2008

St. Jim deflects blame

Well, the Terrelle Pryor era has officially begun in Columbus Ohio. After enduring a vicious spanking at the hands of the mighty USC Trojans, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel announced that the Buckeyes would give the true freshman QB a serious look in the week leading up to a snoozer against Troy. Pryor ended up taking all but the final two snaps of the game. He set a Buckeye record for a freshman by throwing for four touchdowns and Buckeye fans are excited at what this all means.

What it means is Ohio State will lose at least two more games. Look, Troy stinks. I know that Troy made a name for itself by playing tough against rank opponents over the past few years but even after stinking up the field in a win over Ohio and stinking up ABC’s prime time broadcast of the eventual bloodletting, Ohio State was still heavily favored by odds makers heading into the game against Troy. Having watched Ohio State and Todd Boeckman perform against inferior opponents much of last year, Pryor really didn’t do anything special against Troy. Boeckman might have thrown for five touchdowns against that team.

What people don’t realize is that Ohio State’s problem is not at the quarterback position. Todd Boeckman looked terrible against USC but that was because USC knew when he was in the game the Buckeyes were probably going to pass. Tressel put a target on Boeckman’s back by inserting Terrelle Pryor into the game in certain situations.

It was obvious early on that Boeckman’s rhythm was off, but the OSU coaches kept throwing him to the wolves. Then on Monday, in front of mobs of angry fans who finally had enough of nationally televised disappointments, Jim Tressel announced that Todd Boeckman was going to see his role reduced. Basically Jim Tressel put 100% of the blame for the USC loss on Boeckman. He didn’t say it, but actions speak louder than words.

The problem is that Boeckman didn’t do anything wrong. Tressel’s QBs have a history of struggling in big games. His teams don’t play with any energy when the pressure is on. The plays that are called are slow to develop and predictable, fullbacks and tight ends are underutilized and the defense waits for contact to come to them rather than attacking the ball. Ohio State looks good against inferior teams because Ohio State still recruits some of the most talented players in the country, but when the level of talent is close to being equal Ohio State looks slow, stupid and completely overrated. That’s a result of coaching.

Jim Tressel is a putz. He’s quiet, reserved, stiff and methodical. Somehow he manages to recruit great players but the guy shows no visible signs of passion or intensity. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes a leader needs to have ice water in his veins, but with Tressel it seems more like tepid pond water. Ohio State is stagnant and that’s because Tressel’s personality dominates everything.

Now Todd Boeckman leaves a lot to be desired as a QB, but a lot of that falls on the coaching staff. Coaches are supposed help players get better from one year to the next. Todd Boeckman has been with the Buckeyes for a long time. He was a prized recruit out of high school who wanted to play at Ohio State so badly he spurned scholarship offers from other schools to wait in the wings. Tressel rewarded him for his loyalty by effectively benching him.

That’s not so bad except for the fact that Ohio State’s failures against USC went much deeper. The running backs weren’t reading their blocks, the linemen weren’t picking up the stunts, the receivers weren’t adjusting routes and the defense looked pathetic. The failure was universal. The only players showing any passion that evening were Chris Wells who was sidelined with an injury, and Terrelle Pryor who hasn’t been around long enough to be assimilated into the hive. Give him another year and he’ll be as boring and uneventful as a used dryer sheet. Just like Jim Tressel.

Instead of kicking a diligent player to the curb, Tressel should have taken his assistant coaches to task. Co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickel and Jim Heacock have presided over one of the most talent laden defenses in the country over the past four years. In spite of all that talent, the defense gets worked in big games. Florida and LSU shredded that defense with short passes in consecutive BCS title games, Illinois upset the Buckeyes with a mobile QB and USC just humiliated the front seven. The Buckeyes don’t blitz effectively and seldom use stunts to create any kind of a rush. It’s almost as if the coaches can’t believe that ranked teams don’t buckle in awe of the talent the Buckeyes put on the field. Maybe that’s because the Buckeyes spend so much time playing the likes of Akron, Ohio and Youngstown State that awe is usually the response they see.

Jim Bollman is charged with overseeing the offense. He’s technically the offensive coordinator but everybody knows that Tressel calls the shots. It’s his offense, Bollman coaches the line and kisses Tressel’s ass. That’s what they pay him for. Still, Bollman has squandered tremendous talent. Even though Ohio State’s linemen seem incapable of adjusting to stunts and picking up blitzes, the NFL is always happy to see Ohio State offensive linemen on the board. The talent is there, the talent is deep, the talent is wasted. That’s Bollman’s fault.

Tressel should have taken his coaches to task in the wake of another nationally televised failure but he has spent so much time surrounding himself with like-minded yes men that he realizes that acknowledging their failures would be admitting to his own. Tressel’s too arrogant to do that. Tressel wrote the book on winning (at least a book) and he will not admit that he’s in over his head or that the game has passed him by. He still thinks that 2002 national title actually means something even though Ohio State had the 107th best offense in the country and won the game over Miami courtesy of a suspicious call or two.

Until Tressel can own up to his deficiencies Ohio State will continue to be a second rate team. Sure, they’ll win 9 or 10 games a season but that will be against in-state rivals and Big 10 fodder. Ohio State has had several opportunities to prove itself on the national stage against the best teams in the country and it has failed. That’s Jim Tressel’s legacy and you can’t hide that behind Todd Boeckman.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is difficult to understand why the Buckeyes usually underperform in big games. I am hoping to see Penn State try to win a title this year and take the pressure off of Ohio State.

I thought Wisconsin would but they just laid a real big egg. They must have been listening to coldplay during halftime.