Sunday, October 17, 2010

Knowing is half the battle

It’s very hard to get the true measure of a college football team in this age parity. It’s especially difficult to get a bead on a powerhouse program like Ohio State, which plays maybe three or four tough games a year thanks to a mediocre Big Ten and a soft out-of-conference schedule.

In their first real challenge of the season, coming in as a #1 against a brawny, smash-mouth Wisconsin team, the Buckeyes not only didn’t measure up, they were shockingly dominated in all facets of the game by a much more focused, seemingly much more prepared Badgers squad. While special teams’ breakdowns have become an unfortunately almost expected part of Ohio State football in 2010, Wisconsin’s supremacy at the line of scrimmage was a freezing bucket of water on an already chilly fall evening at Camp Randall Stadium.

The Badgers’ oversized offensive line created running lanes wide enough for my
sainted mother to get eight yards a pop if she was suited up. The Buckeyes’ offense faired a bit better in stretches, but Wisconsin put enough pressure on Terrelle Pryor to hasten the return of “Bad Terrelle,” the hesitant, out-of-sync lob thrower who tries to get his receivers killed (Dane Sanzenbacher bumped like The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 25 on a couple of those catches over the middle) and looks about as ready for the NFL as I do.

In a cruel irony, Ohio State has emerged in recent years as a faster and more athletic team, two elements the program has been criticized for missing in the past. But as evidenced last night, improved speed has done nothing for team toughness. The Buckeyes look like a finesse football squad, far from their usual m.o.

A pass-first mentality is needed when you don’t have an Eddie or Beanie in the backfield (even with Boom Herron’s surprisingly tough running last night), although I’d have no problem with the Buckeyes creating even more designed runs for Pryor and to hell with trying to mold the guy for the NFL. The Buckeyes took the ball out of their best running back's hands on the goal-line drive at the end of the half, which I found very curious.

Defensively, Ohio State may have finally felt the ill effects of injuries to the secondary, as they were playing soft coverage on Wiscy receivers all night, which the Badgers smartly exploited through pitch-and-catch wide receiver screens and simple curl routes.

As for the defensive front-seven, I don’t know what the fix is here. What do I look like, Mike Ditka? All I know is they were blown off the ball on most every down and could not stop the run game or get pressure on the QB during Wisconsin’s nail-in-the-coffin drive after the lead was cut to three.

So, what’s next for our Buckeyes? For one, a boulder-like plummet in the polls, with the rest of the season relegated to sneaking back into the BCS picture with hopes of snagging one of the meaningless non-Rose Bowl affairs that take place on Jan. 5 or some other oddly random date on the early-year calendar.

At least it’s early enough in the season for us know what the Buckeyes are...a team no longer looking out for #1.