Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tearing Apart Tressel

Chris Brown of Dr. Saturday writes about the "grisly demise of Tressel Ball."

There's no sugar-coating this: Jim Tressel and his staff were outcoached against Southern Cal and Pete Carroll, . Again. Particularly on offense, Ohio State's gameplan against the Trojans was utter rubbish, and it failed to meet the number one requirement of every gameplan: put your players in position to succeed.

When I watched the game live, I was struck by what I considered poor playcalling and mediocre execution. But after watching the game again in detail, going over replays and studying all the players, I'm convinced the situation in Columbus is nearly hopeless. For all the talk of Tressel's buttoned-down, conservative approach, and how his teams don't make mistakes, the most basic and fundamental errors permeated throughout Ohio State's offensive plan like cancer in its late stages, and the only conclusion I could draw from this game is that Tressel -- whatever he may be as a motivator, a recruiter, a teacher of technique or as a disciplinarian -- is not up to the challenge of leading his team past others that equal his in talent.

Yet the saddest part about the Buckeyes' 18-15 loss to the Trojans is that, for the first time in the last few tries against similar opponents, the Buckeyes were not outplayed. That's what made Saturday night's performance almost disgusting: OSU's players played a hard, fast and determined game; the crowd in Columbus seemed nothing short of unreal; and the pomp and majesty of playing there more than drowned out USC's exotic traveling road show, known to transform opposing stadiums into home venues. No, this loss falls squarely on the coaching staff. And the fissures run deep.

First and most obviously, OSU never once called the zone-read play. Never mind that last year it was the Buckeyes' only effective play against USC, averaging more than 6.8 yards per attempt; Saturday, the Buckeyes averaged a gangrenous 2.7 yards per carry, a number that infected the rest of the the simple-minded affair that the Buckeyes called a playbook, especially considering that the number is inflated by Pryor's third-and-long runs against umbrella coverage. Ohio State tailback Boom Herron averaged a mere 2.4 yards, and his longest gain was eight yards.

I want to take a step back here and look at this last paragraph. Substitute Penn State for OSU, and Penn State's rushing attack for Ohio State's and there are some eerie similarities. Worse, our performance was against teams that would never be confused with USC. Hold that thought.

USC literally lined no one up over the slot receivers, and yet not once did Tressel instruct Pryor to immediately take the snap and throw the bubble screen. For most teams this is an automatic check or sight-adjustment, and it is by no means difficult (every high school runs it). Unless you force the defense to care that you are spreading the field, then all you're doing is hurting yourself; Tressel would have been better keeping an extra fullback in the game.

Thus the rushing results were obvious. In the diagram above, USC has only one safety back and eight guys in the box, compared to seven blockers for OSU, not counting Pryor. Tressel called an inside handoff that was stuffed -- USC had more guys than OSU could block.

Of course, in our first two games, Clark has been able to move the ball through the air, which Pryor could not achieve consistently. Granted, our opposition was considerably softer than what the Buckeyes faced and all that blah, blah, blah.

But the upshot is that Tressel got outschemed, outplanned, and outmaneuvered. He has a lot of talent on his roster, and used barely any of it.

Indeed, one of the problems with a plan that relies on fitting square pegs into round holes is that it makes the players look really bad -- the line doesn't look like it can block, the quarterback is always running for his life, and the running backs never have a hole.

And Paterno's enemies have said the same thing about his program after dismal losses to football's elite and they are now pointing to the dismal running game (and offensive line) as evidence of an impending loss waiting to happen. I'm only pointing these similarites out because it's sometimes easier to be objective when observing another comparable situation.

With respect to Penn State football and Joe Paterno, you can pretty much throw objectivity out the window for most Penn State fans. Some of us (myself included) can't seem to look beyond the stat sheets and win columns.

Interestingly enough, Paterno was never mentioned in this article, although Hayes and Schembechler were.

We're witnessing the evolution of offensive football. Anyone who says you have to establish the run before you can do anything is fooling themselves. They’re living in the deep dark past. It’s just not the way the game’s played now. ...

We're never going to see that Woody Hayes-, Bo Schembechler- style of football again, that run-first mentality. The game has totally changed in a matter of eight to 10 years, and especially in the last three or four.

And herein may be the salvation for this year's Nittany Lion team--you don't have to establish the run to be successful. Better yet, PSU has compensated in the first two games by a passing attack that was not spreading the defense. As I said in my Syracuse recap, we have not seen the HD offense yet, but rather a very bland passing attack that exploited weaker competition without giving future opponents anything worthwhile to watch on tape. Seriously--what is Kirk Ferentz going to learn from these past two games?

In the comments section, there is an interesting inference made:
Makes you wonder where the rest of the Big Ten is since Tressel (right or wrong) has the reputation for outcoaching all of them.


With the exception of the Morelli years, the games with Ohio State in the Tressel era have been low-scoring affairs, often turning on key defensive plays. That strategy has worked well for Paterno for many years . . . when he has better talent than the other team OR when the talent level is more equal but the opposing coach shares the same philosophy. It generally fails though when the talent level is close or better than PSU and the opposing coach is aggressive. It largely failed against Cooper's teams. If Tressel had been coaching THEM for the past decade or so, I doubt you would have seen 9 straight losses by Paterno. But Carr, although not aggressive by any stroke of the imagination, was not Tressel and Carr often played to win. Both Tressel and Paterno play not to lose.

It will be interesting to see how the Buckeyes respond to this loss.

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