Five Things: Texas

By Chris Lauderback on January 8, 2009 at 7:00 am

Even with a couple days gone by, I'm still staring at the screen deciding what I feel about the 24-21 loss to Texas. Was some national respect regained? Probably. Does that matter if Ohio State still lost? Not in my eyes. But, I guess I can see where the moral-victory-camp of fans is coming from. It's a matter of taste, I suppose.

Still, I say you play to win and anything less is losing. That doesn't mean it's realistic to expect to go undefeated every year but it does mean there's nothing wrong with not being in all giddy over the simple fact the Buckeyes finally showed up in a big game. That should be a given. Right?

Anyway, I apologize in advance for a lengthy and rambling final edition of Five Things...

The Defensive Game Plan
In a season filled with second guessing of coaching decisions more so than any other year I can remember since Coop was chomping his nails to the quick, I don't have as many qualms as usual with regard to the game plan.

Do I think Heacock should have crowded the linebackers at the line of scrimmage and not left at least one safety over the top while man blitzing on the final play? No, I don't. But I do like the fact the game plan was to get pressure and hit McCoy as often as possible. That plan is certainly better than the all too familiar strategy of sitting back in a soft zone hoping the opposing offense makes a mistake. We saw that soft zone for much of the third quarter and McCoy picked it apart.

In the end, the aggressive strategy nearly all Buckeye fans clamored for still wasn't enough to pull out the win but even though the D surrendered 468 yards and 33 first downs, it also held Texas to a season low 24 points.

Besides the last play call, my only other major gripe defensively was the fact Tressel and Heacock refused to take call any timeouts when Texas went into the hurry up offense and the Buckeye D was running on fumes. If you aren't going to call a timeout while Gibson is hopscotching through the neutral zone, in the freaking red zone, when are you are going to call a timeout and give your D a chance to collect itself? Baffling.

On another occasion, Gibson was about 12 feet from his position at right end, standing next to Freeman and had to dead sprint to the other side of the line while the ball was being snapped. Again no timeout. And lastly, Jenkins appeared to be a combo of tired and hurt in the red zone and still no timeout. Unbelievable.

And one last out of sequence thought on the blitzing. I liken it somewhat to starting Pryor after the USC game. Everyone knew there was a significant risk involved but all were willing to take the good with the bad. In the case of Pryor it was about grooming for next year and beyond since a title run was shot in September. In the case of the defense, it was about forcing McCoy to make a play versus sitting back and letting him execute down the field. Even with the loss, I'm ecstatic that the plan was to try and dictate, to match athlete versus athlete. That's why kids come to schools to Ohio State and Texas - to see how they fare head to head against elite talent.

Pryor and the Offensive Game Plan
I hate gimmick offenses but I think the coaches felt there were yards to be had in the Texas secondary leading to Boeckman getting off 11 passes (5/11, 110 yards) compared to 16 for Pryor (5/16, 66 yards). Rumors continue to swirl around the water cooler about Pryor having an injured shoulder or maybe a bad right hand.

Watching the replay, I'm not sure I believe any of that though I assume the truth will come out at some point. Until proven otherwise, I think the problem with Pryor's passing is that his mechanics are garbage at this point in his career and I'm sure Tressel had him so uptight about throwing a pick that he just never got settled in the pocket. From my vantage point, he appeared to regress during the layoff. Even easy screen passes looked like the ball was filled with helium and he looked anything but poised in the pocket.

I know some are using the fact Pryor was running out of bounds like Ray Charles on various plays as evidence of an injury but my recollection is he typically ran out of bounds while running up the right sideline with his left shoulder exposed, not his right. In fact, I do recall at least one instance when scrambling left, he did take on a tackler with his right shoulder exposed. Again, I guess we'll wait to hear if he was truly nicked or just lost his mind on a few carries resulting in stalled drives.

One specific reason I held off writing about the game was my worry that Pryor might not live up the Vince 2.0 hype and instead continue to look like a great running back / athlete trying to play quarterback. Now that the boil is reduced to a simmer, I am convinced TP's competitive nature will lead to improved passing but I don't think even the biggest Buckeye homer on earth can disagree that Pryor has much to work on if the 2009 Buckeyes are going to be a top five program.

Getting back to the actual game plan, I had no problem with Boeckman getting some time even though it was obvious a pass, or attempt to pass, was coming if he was lined up at QB. Though I hate such a plan for the long term, I did like how Pryor was used when not under center. When I'm 80, I'll still find it funny that Pryor could assuredly be a first round pick as a WR if he wanted to while Hartline finished with zero catches to put the finishing touches on his stellar season. (I know - Pryor's lack of throwing ability didn't help Hartline's stats but still..)

One complaint I will share is the first down play calling. In the first quarter, Ohio State threw on four of nine first downs completing 3/4 for 39 yards but then chose to pass just six more times on first down while running 15 times over the final three quarters. I just don't understand the decision to abandoned the first down pass especially considering 'The Warrior' carried the ball only four times in the second half before giving himself a concussion tapping his helmet too hard to signal he needed a few plays off. (Man...I was doing so well at staying level headed and avoiding sarcasm. I'm sure you'll all make me pay for it in the comments but you know it's funny.)

Speaking of Beanie
I know this is supposed to be about the Texas game but I don't even want to play 'What If' where we all project what would've happened had he not suffered the concussion.

There's no doubt a healthy Beanie ranks as one of the all-time most devastating running backs ever to sport the Scarlet and Gray.

Unless you're too drunk on the Beanie Kool-Aid to be objective, there's also no doubt he is the most dramatic and finicky running back, albeit the unluckiest, to ever sport the Scarlet and Gray.

I am truly forever grateful for the times he put the team on his back and single-handedly won games over the years he gave us but I'd be lying if I said I personally thought he deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as true warriors like Archie and Eddie.

To me, he's in that second tier, no doubt, and that's nothing to sneeze at but the fact remains he couldn't always be counted on to deliver no matter the reason or the validity of the reason.

Regardless, I again applaud and thank Beanie for all he did accomplish and sincerely hope he is wise enough to go pro now while he's still a top 15-20 pick. Even a healthy and dominant senior year may not vault him up the draft ladder enough to justify the risk of coming back and proving he can stay healthy because of all the extra carries added to the odometer.

Thanks to the Seniors
I'm going to miss Malcolm Jenkins more than any other senior. The guy didn't have a stellar showing against Texas but he was definitely deserving of the Thorpe Award he bagged a month ago and he represented the university exceptionally well during his time at Ohio State.

They talk about Lighty being the glue-guy of the hoops squad and that's exactly what Jenkins was to this Ohio State team in addition to being a dominant player. I can't wait to watch him at the next level and project him to have the most impressive pro career out of all this year's Buckeye draftees.

Laurinaitis was also nothing short of a class act and his leadership will also be missed. The guy took some flak for not being able to shed blockers in a dominant fashion and wasn't quite the playmaker some thought he might become but Little Animal still slots into the top 5-10 best linebackers to play at Ohio State.

I remain indifferent on Boone though he was clearly the best o-lineman in this year's crop and did his job more often than not. I know the media loved him but I personally wasn't a fan of his antics over the years. Even as a senior after his last game, he's on TV dipping while doing an interview. Vintage Boone. And a prime example of why he's just another player to me.

Good luck to those guys as well as Robo, Freeman and the rest.

You gotta respect the fact they collectively came back when they could've been getting paid to play at the next level instead of sacrificing the money for a chance at a national title and redemption for not just themselves but the program. That says a lot about these guys even if they did fall well short of expectations.

National Perception
The good news is it appears Ohio State is getting a little more love nationally for hanging in to the bitter end. While I could care less what Joe Fan thinks about Ohio State, it is obviously important the media and voters view the Buckeye program in a slighty better light than they did coming in to the game.

There's still a ways to go to undo the collateral damage associated with three straight BCS bowl defeats but if this season taught us anything it's to try and accept baby steps.