Jim Tressel's seat at the podium was a little bit hotter this week, as The Senator came to field question's about the upcoming match-up with Toledo, but instead found the focus of the press conference on last week's big game blunder against the Trojans of USC.
For the first time in his tenure as Ohio State head coach, Tressel is facing the heat for his conservative play calling and "Tressel Ball" strategy which focuses on winning the turnover battle, owning the time of possession, and getting an advantage in the field position game. Don't get the wrong idea, as Tressel will not be fired anytime soon (to the dismay of some and some more), but his grasp over the offense and play calling responsibilities could be loosening little by little.
Tressel tried to take the high note by starting out his interview discussing Tyson Gentry's honor for an Ohio State alumni award and announcements of walk-ons earning scholarships for the fall quarter, but he couldn't deflect the media's questions for too long. The sting of another big game loss is still burning and sports writers, journalists, TV people, broadcasters, and Buckeye fans across the nation want the answers to the questions they were left with after the heartbreak in the Horseshoe in Saturday night.
The first thing The Vest discussed was the reaction of the team come Sunday morning after having to face another defeat to a non-conference BCS team. Many were curious of how the players would react to getting the life sucked out of them once again by the Trojans, just eight months after a disheartening loss in the Fiesta Bowl to Texas. Tressel showed to be quite proud of the troops and how they took a team-first rather than me-first approach to the loss:
Our punt unit did a great job. Six punts ended up at the 20 or back. Four of them well inside the 20. And to give that kind of field position in a knockdown dragout game like that, Jonathan Thoma's hang times were fabulous. They were in the four sevens and four eights. I mean, they were outstanding. But you heard the special teams guys talking a little bit about, you know what, 'if we'd have just blocked that punt, we could have made the difference.' And it wasn't about, well, 'if this group should have done that or that group should have done that.' You could hear them talking a little bit, if we could have just done one more thing for the good of the cause.
And then defensively, shoot, we played relentless. Our guys played and played and played. As I heard them talking a little bit around the course of things, I heard them talking about things like, you know what, yeah, we got five three and outs and I don't know how many teams are going to have Southern Cal go three and out five times in a game, which is outstanding, that's our goal to get a team to be out. Our guys were talking about, you know what, if we had one more stop, if we just had one more stop, we could have contributed to a big win.
And then when you see the offense and you hear them talking a little bit about the fact that they were able to make a play here or make a play there and they knew very well that they were playing against a very good defense, but you heard them talking about the fact that, you know what, we had good field position and we didn't take opportunities to get sevens, we got a couple threes, and if we'd have just held the football a little bit longer, if we would have been able to cash in and so forth and really had nothing to do with "he" it had to do with "we."
While it's nice to see the guys wishing they had done a little bit more to help the cause, I still worry about the lingering effects of this game on the team, especially a guy like Terrelle Pryor. Pryor seems to take games like this (see: Exhibit A here) extremely hard on himself and I have to wonder if big-game flops will be in the back of his head for the rest of the season or further until he actually wins one of them.
This loss is even more dangerous than those against Penn State or Texas in that the Buckeyes face a Toledo Rockets team on a neutral site coming off a big win against Colorado. This was a trap game either way as the Bucks would either be on a euphoric high after an upset win or downtrodden, as they may be now, making the game against the veteran-laden Rockets team one that may be tighter than it should be.
Tressel recognized that Toledo is putting the Buckeyes on upset alert this weekend and that the team will not be taking this game lightly. Their recent success against BCS teams and strong efforts early in the season have not been unnoticed and it will be important for the Buckeyes to come out with a high level of energy this coming week:
Now, the thing that we need to understand is we need to bring it like that every day in our film preparation and our practice and everything that we do in the weight room and getting the proper rest and everything that's a part of becoming good. But that really made a lot of sense to me, you know, that if you'll bring it like you brought it, you're going to end up with a good football team. And you learn sometimes from good times. You learn sometimes from tough times. What's critical for us right now is that we learn and, again, I use the "we." We as coaches, we as offensive players, we as defensive players, we as special teams players, we have to learn how we can just get a little bit better each and every day and go out and attack the University of Toledo.
Toledo blasted Colorado, what, 30-3 at one point. All you have to do, there's one little graphic in their media guide which if it doesn't catch your attention and you play for Ohio State, then you're not paying attention, but if you just look at their games against BCS folks in the 2000s, they start the 2000s out with a 24-6 win over Penn State at Penn State, of course. And just a year ago a victory up in the Big House against Michigan, and if that doesn't give you a little bit of reality.
It certainly does give us a little bit of reality, and if the Buckeyes do not learn from what happened last week, especially on the offensive end and in the last drive of the game, they could be in for more than they can handle against former Buckeye coach Tim Beckman's team. The Buckeyes need to figure out what their identity is on the offensive side of the ball and how they plan to facilitate the growth of the young players on that unit so they can make it through the rest of the season unscathed in pursuit of their fifth straight Big Ten Championship.
Speaking of the offense, Tressel was asked by multiple reporters if he regrets any decisions he made during the past week's game. Although he would not go into anything too specific, he did admit that in a game like the one that was lost to the Trojans on Saturday, there are plenty of calls that he regrets:
There was 150 some plays in that game and if you ask anyone on the offensive side, anytime it was third down and it didn't go or it was fourth and -- third and one and it didn't go, you'd say, well, man, what if we'd have done this? And someone brought up over at the Quarterback Club, well, we probably should have run a quarterback sneak down in there and, shoot, that's very valid. It was the same guy that said that last year against Penn State we shouldn't have run a quarterback sneak, but, yeah, you know, you always question things.
You look at them and you say, was that the best thing based on what they were doing and was that the best thing based upon what we thought we could do well and when it works, you were right. When it doesn't, you weren't. But that's the most difficult thing about playing or coaching is that if you're really competitive, you think about the things you didn't do and you forget all about the things that you did do, but absolutely.
Tressel does bring up a good point that when things go your way in a game you always made the right decision, but when you lose a game, you are subject to question. The last few big games there have been many questionable decisions, but who knows what would happen had the decisions that were not made were the ones that were called.
One of those decisions in question was the Buckeyes' decision to punt late in the game from USC's 36 yard line rather than let Aaron Pettrey attempt a kick that would have put the Buckeyes up 18-10 if he would have converted. Tressel discussed the decision and showed a prime example of why a coach can't win when in a situation like the one he found himself in the other night:
Someone brought to my attention that we had the discussion about should we have kicked a field goal or shouldn't we have and that's a very valid discussion. We were furiously discussing that for 22 seconds or however long we had, and we did what we did and the result was what it was. Someone reminded me that when we played Texas in '05, we did just the opposite. Now, they didn't remind me in those 22 seconds, but on Sunday, they were saying, you know, that was just the opposite of what we did against Texas.
We decided against Texas, we were up by whatever we were and it would have put us up by eight and we went for it and we had a pretty good guy, Josh Huston, I mean, shoot, he was a pretty good kicker and we didn't make it. And Vince Young had 68 yards to work with and worked with it and we came up short there. But you have to make decisions based upon what you think is the best thing for the team. I was very confident that for about the last 50 minutes of the game, defensively we'd done a pretty darn good job and if we kicked them down inside the 10, I was kind of hoping it would get inside the 10, but to the 14 was fine with me, that was good work, you know, that we'd be able to take care of business and you've got to give them credit.
I was talking with Coach Bruce yesterday, that Number 4 for USC is a player. He had a couple runs in there where we were in position and we didn't make the play and he executed on a little route on third and nine that he made the play and 22-yard gain or whatever it was. But, yeah, you go through that again -- because we've got a kicker that can make a 54, but we've also got a kicker that can miss a 54, but, yeah, of course you go through that a million times.
I personally am someone who thought at the time that Tressel should have kicked the field goal and trusted his defense, whether he made the kick or if he missed. The Trojans were challenging OSU to make the decision to try and put them away or not by declining the delay of game penalty and when Aaron Pettrey was on the sidelines asking Tressel to kick, I would have sent him out to prove a point to Pete Carroll and have a chance to put the team up eight points and at worst be in over time at game's end. Clearly in the past a decision like this has come back to bite the team, but you need to live in the moment in great sporting events like the one we witnessed Saturday night and sometimes in order to win big games you need to take big chances, regardless of what has happened in the past.
Another hot topic this week was the disappointing play of Terrelle Pryor against USC. Many expected Pryor to step up and lead the Buckeyes to victory, but instead the super sophomore had a pedestrian performance in arguably the biggest game in his young career. It didn't help that Calista Flockhart rallied the troops to a win over Cheeseburger Charlie and the Not-So-Fighting Irish, or that Matt Barkley got all the credit for the Joe McKnight show, but in all fairness, Pryor did kind of put up a dud. Tressel addressed his quarter back's play and defended the heralded sophomore:
Well, the thing I mentioned to Terrelle when we were talking on Sunday, and obviously Terrelle's highly competitive, and he wanted to be a big reason that we won that game, you know, that's the way he is, that's the way he'll always be, and I'd mentioned to him on Sunday, I said, you know, not that it has any relevance, but keep in mind that at this stage Troy Smith was a kickoff returner and at this stage, Vince Young was getting spot duty going in when things were pretty good with a couple little things to do. At this stage you were lined up against a very good defense with a very young offense and it was tough sledding out there, but we have to grow from it.
And is he human? Absolutely, because no one wants to be a part of great things more than he does, but he's got to keep his focus on now and working on all the little things you have to do. He did some very good things. There was a couple of those throws he put in there that people weren't doing that against USC on the films I watched and he conceptually knew why we were doing it and so forth. There were some other times where maybe things broke down a little bit and it didn't look as good or it wasn't as good and that's part of playing that position especially in those highly competitive games. But if you can grow from that, you know, you have a chance to become good.
Funny Tressel brings up Troy Smith and Vince Young, because after the game I was telling my buddies that if VY or Troy were in the same game in their second years in college, neither would have lead their team to a victory. It's easy to write off Pryor as a big-time college quarterback after last week, but once this kid becomes comfortable with what the offense is trying to do, he will almost be impossible to stop. It's hard to be patient as many expected TP to take the necessary steps in the off-season to be at that point for the USC game, but sometimes, as JT mentions, you have to realize Pryor is still a human being and if he develops the way we all envision, it will be worth the wait.
Another point Tressel touches on when discussing Pryor's performance is how good the USC defense is. The Buckeyes certainly should have done a better job on offense, but nothing should be taken away from the Trojan's defense. This is probably the toughest unit OSU has faced since Florida in the MNC game in January 2007 and will be the toughest unit they face all season long. Carroll's team had a game plan to keep Pryor away from the outside of the field and did a great job forcing him to stay in a collapsing pocket and make tough throws while blitzers were coming at him from all angles. That being said, Pryor will need to learn how to read these types of things better within the offense, and until that is able to be done, I'm afraid to say we might have to put a limit on our expectations of number 2 this season.
Finally, when pressured to answer questions about his vanilla play calling and if he will ever change his ways or consider hiring an offensive coordinator, Tressel, well, pulled a Tressel:
I've always told you guys never say never, but I've also always told you that I'm probably not going to sit in my office or read the USA Today or watch talk radio and get a headache, so I try to be helpful in every phase, whether it's the punt team or the defense or the offense. I spend more time with the offense. I enjoy working with quarterbacks, but I don't work with them on a daily basis in their meeting rooms and all that type of thing, but, no, I think I would have a hard time being at this press conference and you saying, you know, something about the offense or whatever and I had no clue. That, to me, I might as well send somebody else.
I'm not sure exactly what a wholesale change would entail. I mean, are we going to go to the Navy triple option? Probably not. Don't know anything about it. Will we go conceptually to this or that, we think can add to the -- if you look at our teams from 2001 on, they haven't been exactly the same because, you know, you don't have the same people. But I don't know that we would make a wholesale, you know what, this isn't a good idea, this wouldn't work even if we did execute it, because that's the only reason you do it.
I'll always believe that you win tough ball games by making sure that you're the group that makes less mistakes, wins that field position battle, wins the battle in the trenches statistically, and you guys love statistics, that is true. So, no, I philosophically wouldn't go against that, and I think the people that maybe line up differently than we do or might be perceived differently than we do, the games that that happens for them are the ones they win, just because it might look a little bit different.
While Tressel continued to dodge the idea of bringing in a new offensive mind to call plays and said a lot without saying much, he did let Buckeye fans know one thing which is that his offensive philosophy will not be changing anytime soon.
Tressel clearly believes that his strategy can still work in today's world of college football, so all of you who think the game has passed him by should not hold your breath waiting for drastic change in the Ohio State offense. He has statistically and practically justified Tressel Ball in his head and will continue to try to win turnover battles and field position wars as long as he is the head coach in Columbus.
I have no problem with wanting to control the ball, giving the defense good field position, and winning the turnover battle, but what I do have a problem with is the fact that you cannot play not to lose against teams that have the capability to win the game on a single drive, no matter what yard line they begin on. Texas and USC are two of those types of teams and when you give them the last possession to win the game they are going to take advantage of it. Ohio State needs to put teams away when they have the opportunity to do so in game's like the Fiesta Bowl or the one lost on Saturday and not taking advantage of turnovers and defensive stops will no longer suffice if the Bucks want to shake the big game monkey off of their shoulders. I am not saying Tressel needs to hire a coordinator or give up the play calling duties, but what I am saying is that he needs to reconsider how he manages the game against teams of elite caliber.
The first two segments of the presser are below. To see the rest, head over to our YouTube page.