Five Things: USC

By Chris Lauderback on September 14, 2009 at 7:00a
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Tressel gets the usual condolenscenes after a big gameStudent (left) meets professor (AP: Terry Gilliam)

I started to type a disclaimer similar to Jason's in case I went off but unfortunately I find myself more apathetic than angry after another big game failing. I doubt I even cover five separate topics today. Let's just get to the big stuff.

The fact many of us didn't honestly expect OSU to win (I predicted a 4 pt loss) doesn't take away the sting because the game was given to USC via horrific game/clock management, slow development of players at key positions (ahem, QB, ahem) and an overall lack of discipline showing itself in penalties and poor fundamentals. I'm well aware this year's ceiling was to lose a game and go to the Rose but I'm tired of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory (3 in a row now: PSU, Tex, USC). Plus, how much you want to bet this USC team improves during the year at a rate Tressel cannot match? A rematch with them in the Rose might not be pretty. Barkley could be much better by then. Based on the current maturation curve, I'm not sure we can say the same for Pryor.

More Head Scratching Moves from Tressel Where do I start? As much as I hate that its come to this, it sounds as if many who were overdosing on the Tressel kool-aid are singing a different tune today. I'm not calling for his head because that makes absolutely no sense. There's no clear cut replacement that would be on his level and his accomplishments at OSU can't be ignored, but I think even the most staunch Tressel supporter should be closer to realizing that just because there may not be such a replacement available doesn't mean Tressel's not in the second tier when you list the best game strategists in the business. Funny how he seems to be more like Cooper every year - great recruiter, mediocre in-game coach. Considering the most logical fans see next year as the real chance for this program to make a legit run (Miami FL, PSU and Mich at home), what happens if they don't? Could Tressel's wins over Michigan and the 2002 championship collateral finally be spent from the majority of fans perspective?

I've only been able to rewatch the game in chunks out of respect for my health so I'll probably leave out some things but how can Tressel expect to win a big game, even at home, when this stuff happens:

  • Tressel's playcalling at the end of the FG drive that gave OSU a 10-7 was astonishing. With 1st and Goal at the 2 he failed to run a QB sneak on the series with his 6'6", 235lb quarterback even though the USC linebackers were lined up three yards deep in the endzone on both 2nd and 3rd down. I'm sure you noticed Petey was wise enough to run the QB sneak, with a much smaller QB, when only a yard was needed for a 1st down early in the 2nd quarter. That's because it works 99% of the time. The 3rd down call hand off to Boom was especially painful as OSU was inside the one yard line. You HAVE to sneak it there. No way he doesn't score if you watch the replay.
  • That scenario was child's play however, in comparison to Tressel's play selection on OSU's final drive of the half. Leading 10-7 with 1:49 left he ordered up two pass plays on the 3 and out chewing up just :54 knowing full well USC had no timeouts. I didn't mind the 1st down pass attempt but to attempt a 25 yard pass on 3rd and 3 to a well covered Posey made no sense. OSU even hiked the ball with :06 left on the play clock. With two TO remaining, at least let the play clock run to :01. Naturally, the decision gave USC all the time they needed to march 77 yards and kick a FG to make it 10-10 at intermission.
  • For an offense that is considered by even the most loyal followers to be a bit vanilla, can anyone explain why it seems like forever to get plays signaled to Pryor? How many times does the play get called in just enough time for the team to get to the line and hike the ball with less than :03 left - and not on purpose. It puts increased pressure on Pryor because he has virtually no chance to try and read the defense, kills any chance for an audible and leads to continuous delay of game penalties.
  • To me, the most disappointing of all JT's decisions was when he passed up a chance for Pettrey to hit a 53 yard FG in what turned out to be the key possession of the game for OSU. After the D forced a 3 and out, OSU failed to get points following an 8 yard punt return by Small that put OSU in business with 1st and 10 at the USC 45 with 10:17 left in the game nursing a 15-10 lead. OSU had a chance to kick a 49 yarder with even an incompletion on 3rd and 7 from the USC 32 but Ballard got beat badly by Everson Griffin off the edge allowing Griffin to sack Pryor for a four yard loss pushing OSU back to the 36 yard line. How you don't attempt a FG to go up 8 points with a guy who has proven he can hit from 53+ is beyond me. I know Tress was worried about field position but you have to try and get points when you get the ball at the USC 45 to start the drive midway through the 4th quarter, don't you? Especially when to that point the defense had only given up one 2-yd TD 'drive' and one FG in the game and had forced four straight punts in the second half. Unreal.

Pryor Still Not Ready for Prime Time After his medicore 5/13, 120 yard, 2 TD, 1 INT effort against Michigan last year all the talk was about Pryor and how the time off for bowl prep would do wonders for his passing mechanics and understanding of the playbook. Then, he put up another 5/13 - with only 66 yards - against Texas in the Fiesta and the fanbase blamed a shoulder injury. Now, it's an entire off season later and we're still waiting for Pryor to emerge. His 11/25, 1 INT performance did little to comfort the OSU faithful as they wait for him to live up the hype.

The first possession interception was an obvious mistake as he stared down Posey, then forced the ball to him when he was so covered he hadn't even bothered to look at the QB yet. To Pryor's credit, he did rebound nicely from the INT, hitting Dane for a 56 yard reception on his very next pass, as OSU showed some moxie in immediately responding to USC's cheap TD with a score of their own to tie it at seven.

Some big problems with TP's 11/25 showing was he had time to throw but still couldn't deliver accurately and struggled to go through progressions in addition to the same mental mistakes we've seen before. Physically, besides the INT, the 3rd and 5 groundball to Posey on an out route with around nine minutes left in the half was a killer. Mentally, what was he doing when he tried to pitch the ball on the option - from his knees - nearly costing OSU he ball as the refs failed to recognize he was already down when he carelessly flipped the ball to Herron? The play cost the Buckeyes 8 yards on what was 1st and goal from the USC 10 yard line. Of course, the offense had no chance to get a TD facing 2nd and 18 and ended up settling for a FG to make it 15-10 late in the third. Pryor did make two outstanding throws to Saine (20, 18 yds) on the drive but the negative play killed a chance for a TD that would've given OSU a 19-10 lead.

The issue is that even though Pryor is young, has yet to step up when the lights are brightest by avoiding crucial mistakes that detract from the great plays he contributes. This brings up a few questions. First, is he getting the proper guidance from the coaches considering he's had two QB coaches so far, plus Tressel's counsel? When will we see consistent ability to avoid locking in on receivers? When will he mature and eliminate those killer plays that result from trying to do too much?

I have not lost hope on Pryor by any means but I did expect faster development. What about you? Can he become a legit elite quarterback or will he always be an athlete trying to play quarterback? I know one thing, he isn't going anywhere for two more years so we're going to find out. With the flashes he shows, I feel like he's got in him to improve consistency in his all around game making last night all the more frustrating. I just hope he doesn't put more pressure on himself because while I appreciate that he seems to singlehandedly want to quiet the program's doubters, it causes him to try and do too much with negative results.

Hats off to the Defense It's hard to type that headline considering the final drives of both halves but man did those guys step up last night. I was so excited to watch the defensive line as they competed for 60 minutes against college football's best offensive line. They held USC to 3.0 yards per carry, picked up two sacks and generally got pressure giving the defensive backs some help by eliminating the amount of time they had to cover USC's physically gifted receiving corp. Cam Heyward had a great night with seven stops and a sack and Gibson also had some moments where he terrorized the USC offensive line. At LB, Homan added nine tackles and a pick while Rolle showed his speed on his way to eight stops. Spitler appeared faster than he was a week ago as I watched live.

And how about the secondary? I thought Torrence showed he deserves the starting spot opposite Chekwa. He finished with eight tackles including a sack and a pass breakup as he went toe to toe with some big WR's. He lost some battles but overall he continues to impress me more than Amos who also had a nice pass breakup just before Homan's pick. I felt even some of USC's completions required perfect passes because guys were covered. Chekwa did a great job of Williams much of the night. Good stuff. Should've been enough to win.

Special Teams With all the hype about USC's return game, it was completely neutralized. Jon Thoma was in punter beast mode pinning USC inside the 20 four times. In fact, on six punts, USC never had a return. He has been very impressive so far this season. On kickoffs, the coverage team allowed only 21 yards per return. It seems to be a collective effort as I haven't seen a gunner emerge similar to guys like Rolle in recent years. Pettrey was a perfect 2/2 on field goals though the aforementioned non-attempt from 53 will haunt me forever. Excellent job out of the special units.

Shuffle

  • Only one carry for Saine though he had two nice grabs out of the backfield. What do you make of that? I thought Boom ran hard. Yards were tough to come by as he finished with 44 yards on 18 totes.
  • Under Tressel, OSU is now 2-3 in night games at the Shoe.
  • Posey set career highs with six grabs for 81 yards.
  • Boom has at least one TD in six straight games.
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