The agenda was the Minnesota Gophers, but all the focus was on last week's depressing loss to Purdue. Marked as the worst loss in the Tressel Era, the loss to the Boilers dominated The Vest's weekly press luncheon, as there was barely any talk about the upcoming match up with the Gophers.
Sure, Tressel could have dived in to how the Bucks plan to stop Eric Decker and company this weekend, but reporters were only interested in how a 5-1 Buckeyes team could lose to a 1-5 Purdue team. Additionally, with all the talent the Bucks have on the offensive side of the ball, many are curious to know why the unit is ranked 91st in the nation and how The Vest plans to fix what was supposed to be an offensive explosion this past weekend.
Faced primarily with questions regarding the performance to date of quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Tressel refused to throw his quarterback under the bus, instead shouldering a lot of the blame himself. The ninth year Buckeye head coach opened up at the podium discussing his performance as a coach in last week's loss and said:
Well, obviously it was a tough one for us to go drop a game on the road in the conference, but that's exactly what happened. We didn't do the things that you need to do to be successful and what we asked ourselves and our team to do was first and foremost as they studied the film and as they reflect and think about it and our guys think about it all day long, I'm sure, just like we do, is to first think about what is it that I could do better and I know from a coaching standpoint when young people decide to come to Ohio State and we convince them that this is a great institution and so forth that one of the things that we want to know for sure is what is it that you're interested in doing individually, collectively as a team, obviously a million things outside of football, and then you go about trying to coach them, aid them, teach them and so forth in what it takes to accomplish that. And probably the first reflection that I have personally is that I've certainly got to do a better job of helping this group understand what it takes to do the things they would like to do. Haven't done as good a job as you need to do.
It's good to see Tressel taking some of the blame, but the rest of the coaching staff should right there next to him. Clearly the Buckeye struggles are an issue of teaching not talent and Tressel and his staff have not done a good job of putting the team in position to succeed this year. Whether certain players (cough, cough, Terrelle Pryor) are performing or not should not effect the development and growth of the team which has been non-existent so far this season. It's certainly time for the coaches to look in the mirror and man-up before it's too late and the season slips right through their hands.
One group that's been taking some heat other than the coaches and Pryor has been the offensive line. When asked by a reporter what is to be made of the poor performance of the line the last few weeks, and if the return of Andy Miller and Jim Cordle could help the unit in terms of depth, Tressel responded:
Andrew has practiced a little bit and I hope he can contribute. This will be an important week of practice to see if he can get some weight back on and get some strength back and so forth. Jimmy Cordle, we tried to get him into the game Saturday and he just isn't quite ready. It's one thing being able to be able to go through a practice tempo and it's another thing to be able to do it on a Saturday. I like to think he'd be a lot healthier because we kind of took a step back with him. We didn't leave him in so long that he got banged up. So what can you do? You can go to work. You can start working to become better. You start with what are you going to ask them to do? To me that's critical. I've also believed that as much of a success of any unit is making sure they're capable of doing the things you're asking them to do against the people you're playing against and hope that you learn lessons along the way. I have a lot of confidence that our young people will improve. I'm not worried about that much we just need to get better.
The offensive line was horrid and the addition of Andy Miller and Jim Cordle will not make the group much better. Justin Boren has been quite disappointing this season, Bryant Browning has been average at best, and “The Brew Crew” has not grown up the way we all hoped and dreamed for. It seems Pryor is the one taking all the flack, but the offensive line has been horrible, especially the last two weeks, and that will have to change if the Bucks want to get anywhere near sniffing roses this season.
Turning to Pryor, the biggest recruit possibly ever to come to OSU has been anything but that when it comes to filling his potential on the field. Pryor suffered through more growing pains this past week, turning the ball over four times (2 INTs, 2 Fumbles). Many fans have been posting their desire for back-up Joe Bauserman to see time, but Tressel does not seem to be too fast to put Pryor on the bench in favor of the red-shirt sophomore. When asked if the thought has crossed his mind to play Bauserman, Tressel said:
Do we have any immediate plans that we've sat down and said, okay, now we're going to put Joe in at this point in time or we're going to commit ourselves to putting him in the game, haven't had that discussion. Don't believe at this moment that that would be the best thing for the team and ultimately you make all your decisions based upon, okay, what does the group need and so at this moment, we've got a lot of practice and a lot of work to do, but at this moment, I wouldn't say we would be.
I agree with Tress on this one and I think the Bucks have to sink or swim with Pryor. Whether you like it or not he is the quarterback for the next two and a half seasons and I truly believe one day he will be a good college (key word: college) signal caller. Virginia Tech fans were in the same situation as the Scarlet and Gray faithful at the end of last season and the beginning of this year with Tyrod Taylor and he finally was able to live up to his hype and turn things around. Obviously Pryor is not developing as fast as many expected after a promising freshman campaign, but part of the blame has to go to the staff for not recognizing this and calling plays in which he can be successful. With the OSU defense being as strong as it is, the offense only needs to be efficient and that can happen with a game plan focusing on Pryor’s strengths and executing simple plays that can minimize turnovers. This is the answer to the offensive woes, not inserting Joe Bauserman into the lineup. The long-term fate of the team needs to be taken into account, not just the short term effect, when making a decision like the one many fans are clamoring for.
That being said, Pryor's progression has been beyond disappointing. It really seems like he has taken multiple steps backwards from last year's production and trying to fit him into whatever offense is being run looks like it's trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. When asked about his quarterback's progression in his young college career and if he has improved, The Senator said:
From the film grade standpoint, he probably had less minus plays than he did in the past couple weeks. Now, that's the good news. Here's the bad news. The minuses that we had were those triple minuses, just so happens in our grading system that it's one thing to get your job done and handed off or block one guy or whatever, but you have a missed assignment on the offensive line, that's, like, worth three pluses, you get three minuses. Just the way we weigh it mathematically. So his total grade didn't end up better, but the numbers of plays where he had positive grades were higher than they've been and that's the reality and the beauty of what we do is that you can have 72 great plays at corner and you get beat over top and you probably didn't have a very good game. You didn't have a game good enough to win. So what is it that we see that maybe someone else doesn't? We get to see him every day, so I guess my answer would be a lot. Are we committed to Terrelle? Yeah, just like we're committed to Todd Denlinger or Rob Rose or Anderson Russell or whomever to do whatever it is we think is the best thing for the team.
It’s hard every week to hear Tressel talk about the progression of Pryor when there are no positive results being seen on the field. It’s great that his footwork is improving in practice and he is in the film room all the time, but as far as I am concerned I don’t care if his grade is a 58%, as long as the Bucks win and he proves to be a part of that victory. What I care about is results, and, win or lose, Pryor is not giving the proper results to help this team achieve its goal of winning the Big Ten Championship. Until he starts proving he is progressing as a quarterback and a leader, Tressel cannot continue to praise TP’s progression as a quarterback at Ohio State.
Turning attention to the offensive play calling, the media was not very friendly to Tressel in regards to finding out exactly what this team has been trying to do on offense. It seems at times (see: first scoring drive vs Purdue) that the offense is on all cylinders, but more times than not, it seems there is a high level of confusion, especially from Pryor, when the team is on offense. Tressel was asked exactly what the team has been trying to do on offense and what it will do in the coming weeks to improve the lack of performance and he replied:
I think the biggest thing and the most obvious thing is, you cannot be wonderful, but don't turn it over and you can maybe survive, but if you turn it over, the impact that has on more than just you is tough to -- take any level of football. You're not going to be successful if you make errors like that. The question I think you ask, you have to ask yourself is, is it something we're doing that all of a sudden one of the cardinal principles that you know is true about the game, there's debate all the time, should we be doing what Georgia Tech's doing, should we be doing what Florida's doing, should we be doing what whoever's doing, that's a debate. There's no right answer to that. There a right answer to whether or not you should be turning it over, regardless of what kind of system you're using. So the question I think you have to ask yourself in the mirror, is there something we're doing that is contributing toward not being good in a critical situation, just like if you had the ongoing discussion about the guys up front. Well, the cardinal principle there is, you can't miss an assignment because what that can do to the rest of the world, well, then you know he didn't want to miss an assignment, he didn't go out there with the intention of missing an assignment, so what is it we had him thinking about or we didn't work on enough that would have led to us missing an assignment. So I don't know if that answered your question but I did my best.
One thing is certain and that is that Tressel definitely did not answer the question. When trying to get some clarity on the team’s offensive identity, it seems Tress doesn’t even know what they are trying to do, or it could be that he is just trying to hide the fact that they are still struggling to find this team’s offensive identity. Limiting turnovers is something the Tressel offenses have lived by in the past eight years and that will always be something he stresses, but that cannot be the backbone of an offense and clearly it is not the case this season. Pryor has already thrown 8 interceptions on 159 attempts this year compared to 4 picks on 165 attempts last year and that can be (at least partially) attributed to his lack of comfort in what the offense is doing. The coaches need to come together, stick with one plan of execution and go with it, because if they keep trying to change things up as they have been it will be a long season for us Buckeye fans
Finally, the lack of preparation going into the Purdue game was a common theme amongst post-game interviews with the players. Terrelle Pryor, Todd Denlinger, and some other players admittedly did not prepare for the game properly, saying they didn't respect Purdue and that there was a lot of joking around in practice last week. While the coaches apparently tried to stress to the team how important it was that they took Purdue seriously, apparently they did not get their message through and had to deal with the consequences:
The implication was I didn't think I did a very good job of getting them to really understand the challenge we had, it's hard for people to understand the depth of a challenge, but I didn't think I did a very good job as I looked out, I didn't see -- there's nothing you can put -- I can't give it an exact, well, this person did that, I didn't have a good feel, maybe I just didn't have a good feel that I was doing a good job, you know how that goes, but I didn't sense that from anyone that, man, these guys are good or these guys, man, I can't believe they're not 5-1. There wasn't any of that from any which way I looked and maybe that's just my natural paranoia because I'm always looking at the film saying, oh, man, if they don't turn it over -- they had 20 turnovers in their first five games. Well, I mean, you are all schooled well enough to know by now that you're not going to win with that, but if all of a sudden you create five takeaways and what did they have, two or three? Three. Yeah, you've got a chance. You've got a plus two in the game, you've got a chance. So that's my implication that I'm not sure -- and that's my job, that's not your job, it's not someone else's job, it's my job to make sure we understand the difficulty of the challenge truly. I mean, honestly the difficulty of the challenge. What's the percent chances of being the national champions I don't know, what's the percent chances of being the Big Ten Champion, what are we going to have to do to do that? And I'm not sure I've done as good a job as I need to do helping us understand that those aren't just, oh, shoot, we'll be the champions. You know, that's -- there's been a lot of people come through here that have never been the champions and it's a difficult thing and you've got to understand the difficulty of the challenge.
It’s amazing to hear the players talk about their lack of respect for Purdue coming into the game after the loss, but it’s even more amazing for a coach to admit he didn’t mentally prepare his team properly. My hat is off to Tressel for taking a step back to admit that he didn’t have his team fully ready to play Saturday, but the players still need to come ready to play every week. Nobody is entitled to a Big Ten Championship or even more so, a National Title, especially the Buckeyes who have flopped on the big stage the last few seasons. This team should have been playing with a chip on their shoulder every week and not gotten comfortable with skating by as they had in previous weeks. From here on out the effort better be there otherwise the Outback Bowl or (gulp) even worse destinations could be calling the Buckeyes’ name.