Buyer's Remorse

By Ramzy Nasrallah on September 18, 2012 at 1:00p
Run right or bubble screen? Bubble screen or run right?

What started out as quiet mumbling during the second quarter on Saturday quickly became an open and anguished discussion in the third.

Why are we so bad?

Miami's receivers kicked off Ohio State's season by dropping a bunch of well-thrown passes. The following week Central Florida found even more holes to exploit but couldn't overcome Braxton Miller.

Cal spent Saturday abusing the right side of the Buckeye defense and as you read this, just ran another bubble screen for seven yards. But Miller exploited their commitment to stopping the run with his arm and poor Vincenzo D'Amato sent too many points flying to the left of the goal posts.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Adding Urban Meyer to Ohio State football was expected to produce two glorious outcomes: 1) The preservation of a stingy defense that despite one of the worst seasons in memory still finished 19th nationally in 2011, and 2) a swift update to that albatross on the scoring side of the ball. 

Three games into the season it appears that the offense is grinding its way through Meyer's philosophical approach to ball control while the defense has atrophied into the bottom half of the FBS despite having faced the 110th, 71st and 38th-ranked offenses in the country.

But we were told by Vegas - and indirectly, by Nevada and then Southern Utah- that Ohio State was going to crush Cal. The Buckeyes' spurts of brilliance came in sharp spasms that were separated by excessive periods of artless blundering and gawky ineptitude.

What a looooooong strange trip it's beeeeeeeeeeeenHe's a believer: Year 12 is when it will all finally come together.

So let's just say it: Ohio State football is in the throes of puberty. This is what happens in a transition year between coaching staffs: Growing pains.

They're temporary, as you probably remember: Steady childishness with bouts of maturity eventually morph into steady maturity with bouts of childishness.

It must be the hormones. They're growing up right before your eyes. We won't miss this, but it's necessary.

You always knew - deep down, anyway - that the Buckeyes wouldn't grow up from a 6-7 spaz into a highly-refined title contender overnight, so Saturday's escape shouldn't be terribly troubling.

What would be alarming for the Buckeyes under Meyer was the cautionary tale on the visitors' sideline on Saturday.

Jeff Tedford arrived in Berkeley 11 years ago as a ballyhooed offensive guru-slash-workaholic (familiar, yes?) and Cal has exactly one shared PAC title to show for it since. After turning the program around and showing some modest success, the Bears haven't finished better than fourth over the past five seasons.

Cal's last January bowl game was 20 years ago. Its most recent Rose Bowl is three years older than Tedford. To make matters worse, Cal's arch-rival, Stanford, isn't doing too badly these days.

Tedford, as you might have already heard, makes a lot more money than Cal's mediocrity should justify. He recently put his awesome house on the market and his proverbial coaching seat is, shall we say, warm.

Cal is a pubescent program that never grew up. It's perpetually a year away from maturity. That's the cautionary tale. That's who the Buckeyes beat on Saturday, and that's who they will play again out west next season when the Bears are once again one year away, if they're not being coached by someone else.

Tedford arrived after one of the worst seasons in school history, changed the football philosophy at Cal and since that quick turnaround has plateaued his program hard into what is now a slow bleed. Eleven years without a Rose Bowl - and no other BCS distractions - is an eternity for a coach earning his paycheck.

Oh, and he also inherited a bowl ban that kept his first team out of the postseason despite earning bowl eligibility. (This will also sound familiar in the coming weeks.)

Meyer hasn't run any program for the amount of time that Tedford has been running Cal, and yet Meyer has managed to find greater success and sooner. But there was an oddly familiar question among the Cal fans commiserating on campus Saturday night following one more loss that felt more like yet another squandered win:

MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! Score touchdowns. Miss fewer field goals. Win more games.

Why are we so bad?

It was the same question Buckeye fans were asking, though only on the surface. Cal isn't supposed to still be in the throes of puberty.

Sure, the Buckeyes were penalty gluttons on Saturday. They tackled meekly. Offensive linemen Shugarts'd far too often. They lacked basic fundamentals. All of that plus those flying yellow flags were glaring red flags.

This is a change year that's following what was a lost year. You cannot even see Ohio State's panic button on the horizon. That's how far off the terror threat level is for this team.

Cal's panic button is already pressed. That kind of talent with their kind of results points the blame toward the headsets on the sideline.

Rebuilding sucks, especially for programs that always seem to be in the midst of such projects and can't climb out. Meyer's shift in philosophy largely relies on Jim Tressel's roster, which was constructed for a markedly different approach to Saturdays.

You expected their climb to finish somewhere during that Miami game in week one. It would be healthier to prepare for an entire season defined by that climb. Honeymoon seasons aren't just about getting better each week; they're about learning how better is defined under the new guy.

Those gaping holes in the defense won't close quickly and those lulls in the offense aren't easy fixes either. The conference isn't terribly strong, but that's an afterthought after watching the Buckeyes give up big play after big play against lesser teams.

UCF and Cal both saw something on the right side of the Ohio State defense that they loved. UAB likely sees it too, but unfortunately for the [looks up UAB's mascot] Blazers they are ill-equipped to consistently threaten the Buckeyes' weaknesses.

And while it shouldn't get worse than UAB in 2012 where quality opponentry is measured, that's not really the concern for this first season with the constantly-looming postseason ban. There hasn't been a less-satisfying 3-0 start in Columbus in a long time, but being this unsatisfied now should pay nice dividends later.

Why are we so bad?

Blame it on football puberty. The Buckeyes will grow up soon enough.


Comments Show All Comments

BrewstersMillions's picture

A picture of Travis Howard's back with the ball carrier in front of him? Now I've seen everything!

Maestro's picture

Blazers?  Don't they have a dragon as a mascot?

vacuuming sucks

Catch 5's picture

Yes. it makes a lot more sense than the previous mascot - a warrior that they canned because it wasn't racially diverse (not kidding).

If OSU struggles in any aspect of the game against UAB you should be concerned. They had a couple of decent (for conf. USA anyway) years about 10 years ago, but really has no business with a football team, especially in the FBS.

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

Maestro's picture

We're already concerned.  It's our nature.

vacuuming sucks

onetwentyeight's picture

If we beat them by 50, people will still be concerned. (ZOMG the 1st Q was close!). Just kind of how it always is around here. 

Maestro's picture

This article points out exactly what I fear the most this season.  LOSING TO scUM.
I expect the defense to be able to contain most of the remaining opponents on the schedule enough to allow more victories than defeats.  However, Denard will punish this defense like he did last season.  Pray for several turnovers by the bad guys on Thanksgiving weekend.

vacuuming sucks

hodge's picture

I'm not wholly prepared to believe that just yet.  As has been mentioned ad nauseum, we were missing tackles, which means that we were at least in position to prevent a great many of the plays that were sprung for massive gains.  My chief concern lies in our LB's coverage skills, those need to improve else we're going to be exploited in that arena all season.
If we played the fighting Denards on Saturday, color me scared; personally, I'll refrain from judgment until I see a few more games this season.

Maestro's picture

I am certaiin that Sabino wakes up in cold sweats dreaming about trying to tackle Denard.
The LB's coverage is not going to be markedly improved as the season goes on IMHO.
I am preparing to see a lot of points put up by Nebraska, Purdue, and Michigan.  Hopefully the Bucks can outscore them.

vacuuming sucks

bwh's picture

"punish this defense like he did last season"
And yeah Scum barely won last year? Something doesn't add up here.

Maestro's picture

Are you really going to deny that he punished the defense last year?  330 yards and 5 TD's........gouge my eyes out.

vacuuming sucks

nickma71's picture

I don't understand why people keep talking about the spread like it is supposed to happen or a prediction. It is a number generated to do what it did. Haters said OSU can not win by that much, and homers said they will crush them. Bookies win every time.

Kurt's picture

Teams with a hurry-up spread offense always tend so struggle defensively.  But it's ok, because those teams can score points in an even greater hurry.  It's just a massive change for OSU fans.

Alhan's picture

Ohio State is not technically a hurry-up spread (like Oregon).  They are a no-huddle spread.  They get up to the line of scrimmage fast, but they don't hike it as fast as they can.

"Nom nom nom" - Brady Hoke

Ohio Guy in Jersey's picture

Ramzy - To be fair, you were not NEARLY as forgiving toward Luke Fickell last year when he was the head coach.

DarthSweaterVest's picture

To be fair, Fickell was a first time head coach, Urban is a two-time MNC winner.  I would say he probably deserves a little more leeway than a lost and scared looking Fickell

Maestro's picture

Nice Halloween costume DSV.

vacuuming sucks

DarthSweaterVest's picture

What do you mean, Hallowe'en?  That is my every day uniform. 

Maestro's picture

My bad, what was I thinking?  Well done sir.

vacuuming sucks

Ohio Guy in Jersey's picture

Actually, I'd say you give the break to the first time HC who never expected to be the HC and only became so after the true HC cooked his own goose. In other words, you've got it backward.
And to be clear, I think Ramzy is right about Meyer this season. Just wanted to point out that he spent much time last season ripping Luke Fickell a new orafice when he was in a far worse situation. On the other hand, Luke should rightly be held accountable for some very bad defense so far this season.

DarthSweaterVest's picture

Actually, no, I expect that Urban will turn things around because he has obviously had success in the past, and based on his track record, you give him the benefit of the doubt.  Luke was thrust into a positoin that he was not ready for and there was no evidence that he would have the tools to turn things around as he had never had that experience before.

Ohio Guy in Jersey's picture

Last season Luke needed to be great early, he wasn't, and he didn't deserve to keep the job. He also didn't deserve the pounding he took, and Ramzy was throwing haymakers against a guy who was out on his feet. And it wasn't some mercenary who saw OSU as a payday. No one was going to take that job for the one season OSU needed to figure out which was up and Luke took it. He took it knowing he wouldn't have his best offensive players for virtually the entire season and knowing that he had the Walrus as his OC and had no power to change it. That says something about the guy. He deserved some better treatment even if he didn't earn the job.
That said, Luke had better turn this defense around or he won't have that job either.

DarthSweaterVest's picture

I will take your word for Ramzy pounding on Fick, because I don't really remember, and I applaud Fick for stepping into the hornet's nest last year and taking that punishment because of his love for OSU.  However, it was obvious he was not ready for the main job and as you pointed out, looking like maybe he isn't even ready to be the main man on the D side.

hodge's picture

For what it's worth, I believe that Ramzy was quite complimentary of Fick's character in taking the job, if anything he was brutally realistic about his performance.  Fick made a number of mistakes (not developing his own identity separate of Tressel, not picking permanent captains, not managing the clock or game effectively, etc.) that were blatantly indicative of a rookie head coach.  Like it or not, that's what happened, regardless of the deck being stacked against him from the getgo.  He was facing an uphill battle from the start, and to succeed in the circumstances he was left with is an extremely uneviable, thankless task.  But the bottom line is that he didn't succeed, and the job of Ohio State's head coach cannot be left to someone who is learning on the job--the brand is worth too much, and the fans expect too much for that to happen.  Ohio State owes it to itself to go after the very best that it can get--which is the top-of-the-line available talent; to "settle" for anything less is a disservice to the program, its school, and its fans.
Ramzy was merely trying to illustrate those points last year, which made him a voice of reason at the time considering that there was a sizeable portion of this site that would have preferred Fickell to remain head coach at that time.

Ramzy Nasrallah's picture

Are you guys thinking of the same 11W writer, or do you think Jim Bollman is the same person as Luke Fickell?...OH NO. Is Bollman Fickell? Is Fickell Bollman? IS THIS FINKEL IS EINHORN ALL OVER AGAIN?

Ramzy Nasrallah's picture

I'd love to see an example of what you're referring to. My 2011 in-season stories can be found starting here.

Squirrel Master's picture

Very well written article although I really don't see the true similarities between OSU and Call. Cal and Tedford are not Urban and OSU. Cal doesn't bring in the talent OSU does and Tedford hasn't won a NC.
Despite that though, there are some odd issues going on that is beyond the pubescent tenure of Urban the great! The offense is still trying to figure it out, that I can agree with and totally feel will be much better as the year goes on. Not to mention I think there is a lot of talent that still has yet to play because of the starters from last year (Mike Thomas I think will make a difference. Decker and Boren I believe will supplant Fragel and Lindsey at some point due to their higher level of skill. Warren Ball could be useful if he was healthy!). I also believe Urban's offense takes at least a year to get down, hence his remarkable success in the second year of his tenures.
The defense is the scary part. So much talent that it is mind blowing how average they have been. But I don't feel it is scheme and I don't believe it is overhyped talent! It is something that is so simple that it frustrates us to no end! TACKLING! Pure, unadulterated tackling! How can a defense with so much talent be so horrible tackling? The first 2 games we were all hung up on pressuring the QB and coverage that we keep forgeting the one thing this team should do 10 X better than it currently is! You can blame Fickell, you can blame Curtis Grant or the other linebackers! They deserve it! But nobody needs to be fired, nobody needs to be demoted! They just need to get back to the basics of how to tackle. They get that down, Cal wouldn't have had 200 yards let alone 500. Out of the 224 yards rushing that Cal had, 200 was purely on the outside. Nobody is running up the middle on this team. All yards are outside the hash marks! That is basic tackling to solve the problem.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

Maestro's picture

Linsley has been pretty great IMHO.

vacuuming sucks

Squirrel Master's picture

aside from the blow up that cost a 15 yard personal foul and the false start?
Really I am not saying Linsley or Fragel are playing bad. I am just saying I think the backups are more talented and will solidify this line in the future, be it later this year or next year! I think Devin Smith and Philly Brown are playing very well. I do feel Spencer has disappeared from time to time and that Mike Thomas will provide an excellent target that Braxton will trust to go after the ball. Stoney plays that role well right now but why not have 2 of those guys with Smith and Brown instead of 3 speed guys and 1 possession receiver? I just think Thomas will bring something to this offense if he was on the field. Nothing against the current starters at all. There is talent on the 2 deep! The offense has the weapons to be great, starters and backups! just going to take time to be more consistent.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

ekeith21's picture

I hate to say it because I love him, but need to cut ties with Fickell. He isn't a very experienced coach as he shown last year and isn't even ready to take over as defensive coordinator. He still has a lot of growing up to do. Urban felt the pressure to keep him on the staff but if this D performance keeps up Myer will make that move.

Maestro's picture

He has a co-defensive coordinator who was the interim head coach at UNC last season, has been a d-coordinator for a decade, coached in the NFL multiple times, and has coached defense since the 80's.
Perhaps the players just aren't that good.  If the upperclassmen were that good than true freshman would not be getting the significant reps that they are.
Perhaps the coaching staff is still learning each other.  Fickell and Heacock we together from 2005-2011.  Do you really expect this coaching staff to just instantly gel?
Give the guy a chance for chrissakes.

vacuuming sucks

txbucknut's picture

Shugarts'd...haha that's classic!

lippertini's picture

Meyer inherited an offense that wasn't designed for him, but he doesn't design the defense and the personnel WERE recruiting for a sytem like (or exactly) this.  I'm not so concerned about the offense progressing (though Braxton's touch and ability to lead his receivers correctly does concern me), but I AM concerned about our defense.  I don't know whether it's coaching, or just an unfortunate and hopefully temporary drop off in linebacker and db play. 
We should have lost to Cal (three missed FGs, remember), who looked atrocious in their first two games.  We could easily lose to Mich St, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan, and possibly to Penn St. and even Illinois as well if play doesn't improve.  I don't think we'll lose all or even most of these games, but losing any one or three of them wouldn't surprise me too much. 
My fear is that Fickell, Vrabel and Withers are in their jobs b/c of their recruiting prowess, but none of them are actually great "scheme" guys, like Heacock was.
Only time will tell, hope I'm wrong!

MuraliPatel's picture

Am I the ONLY person on these boards who thinks that our defense hasn't really been 'stingy/nasty/national championship caliber' since 2005?
Look at EVERY game we've played since then against a top-flight opponent, and realistically, we couldn't stop them consistently for 4 quarters. Against Oregon in the Rose Bowl, we played reasonably well, but Oregon stopped itself more than it had anytime all year, and then in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, we played with our hair on fire for one half of football.

johnblairgobucks's picture

The Rose Bowl was a defensive gem. 
Defense played great vs Texas in Fiesta Bowl except forgetting to cover Quan Cosby.

JLP36's picture

A first quarter Simon-Denard-Williams sandwich with a big hank on top would slow Michigan considerably...