On Tresselball

By Jason Priestas on September 16, 2009 at 2:00 pm
Tress on FireIs Tresselball dead in 2009?

Saturday's loss upset me more than any sporting event since the 98 MSU defeat. Florida in '07 left me in a state of shock, I didn't think we'd pull out the game with LSU (and their second quarter killed any early hopes), losing to USC last year was numbing and the heartbreaker against the Longhorns actually encouraged me (if we're being frank). But Saturday, oh boy.

Others appear to share the frustration because for the first time in James Patrick Tressel's nine years in Columbus, he's facing some significant heat. Websites advocating Tressel's removal are starting to pop up, as asinine as that sounds -- but more incredibly, fans are starting to seek them out.

Tressel is taking hits from several corners right now, but perhaps the heaviest blow came from a Chris Brown article that appeared on Yahoo! Monday. Entitled "Deconstruting: The grisly demise of 'Tressel Ball'", it was discussed in great detail around here as well as other parts of the web, so I won't go into too many details (if you haven't read it, do so, like now), but I did want to highlight a couple of points.

His first point of contention is the failure to check off to the slot receiver with a huge cushion:

Indeed, the overrated Senator Sweatervest essentially gave away one of his most important tactical advantages by not understanding the concept of constraint plays. Routinely, the Buckeyes lined up with two or three receivers. USC managed to play their preferred two-deep defense much of the game, which should have meant that OSU had a favorable box to run in. Except OSU forgot to make USC care whether it had its receivers split out.

USC literally lined no one up over the slot receivers, and yet not once did Tressel instruct Pryor to immediately take the snap and throw the bubble screen. For most teams this is an automatic check or sight-adjustment, and it is by no means difficult (every high school runs it). Unless you force the defense to care that you are spreading the field, then all you're doing is hurting yourself; Tressel would have been better keeping an extra fullback in the game. Thus the rushing results were obvious. In the diagram above, USC has only one safety back and eight guys in the box, compared to seven blockers for OSU, not counting Pryor. Tressel called an inside handoff that was stuffed -- USC had more guys than OSU could block.

The provided screenshot illustrates this in horrid detail and it's something we, like most of you, had problems with as well. Tressel can be guilty of sending in plays late at times and that leaves Pryor with little time to scan the coverage, checking to the correct play, but there were plenty of times when Pryor just didn't make the read. I have a very hard time believing that he's not coached to look at that, but if he is coached and he's still not doing it, that's on the coaches anyway.

Brown points out other things that have caused their share of heartburn in Ohio this week such as the poor clock management, the stubborn insistence on running Boom again and again and again on plays that are better suited for a Beanie Wells and Pryor's refusal to run out bootleg fakes on handoffs. Guilty, guilty and guilty. There are quite a few more solid, logical points in the piece as well.

While I greatly respect Chris Brown's knowledge and he has a track record of dropping football enlightenment on the masses, I can't help but take exception with some of the other points he made.

His contention that OSU telegraphed the bubble screen has some merit:

But when OSU wanted to go to the bubble screen, boy did you know it. OSU used the most idiotic formation, where they split one running back/slot out wide but kept him back at six yards deep in the backfield, where he was a threat to do nothing but run a bubble screen.

But when you consider the fact that the Buckeyes didn't throw that screen once all night and even used a pump fake on the play to setup the following sequence, which worked well enough to spring Dane on a slick 56 yard post:

The bubble setup
The payoff

Brown calls Mays' over pursuit "boneheaded" but we prefer to appreciate the fake and the fact that Tressel ran the bubble against the Trojans last year (one of the few teams that saw it from Ohio State).

Another point -- and this is just nitpicking -- but, Brown has the Buckeyes down for 2.7 yards per carry on the night, when they put up 2.9. Still meager and worthy of ridicule until you consider the fact that the Trojans, with their vaunted offensive line and stable of five-star running backs only picked up 3.0 yards per run. And that's on 40 tries. But that's an entirely different number than the one "that infected the rest of the simple-minded affair that the Buckeyes called a playbook". Make the argument that Carroll was protecting Barkley and he probably was, but I'll counter by saying Barkley might be more advanced than Pryor is as a pro-style quarterback. Getting the win has a way of flipping perceptions like that.

What surprised me the most about the piece was the general tone of it. I've been reading Chris' stuff for about a year now and he has always appeared to me as a well-reasoned, nuanced observer of this beautiful game that put expertise above snark. Completely professional in every sense of the word. But, "overrated Senator Sweatervest" isn't professional. That's Doyel or Mariotti talk, quite frankly. I don't know. Perhaps he's just as frustrated as the rest of us in seeing the Buckeyes snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

I suppose I could be disappointed with the fact that Tressel wasn't given credit in the article for the other small wins he had offensively, like the utilization of Saine as a receiver in the third quarter, or a couple of other things, like the fact that USC has recruited like no other team this decade and maybe, just maybe the talent level on the Trojan defensive side of the ball had something to do with the Buckeye offense's showing (the proprietor of the site -- and another extremely sharp observer of college football -- puts a lot of stock into said ratings) or the the fact that when Mays went out of the game, Tressel went right over the top on a big gain to Posey. In fact, an alleged "insider" with a copy of the coaches tape, no less, posted a rebuttal making solid counterpoints to the analysis. But Brown's piece does make a lot of solid points that are worth evaluating and reflecting on.

So where does that leave us? Clearly, any talk of getting rid of Tressel is crazy, simple as that. I, along with most of you, think he needs to bring in a new offensive coordinator and turn over the playcalling/offensive game management to that new OC (or hand them over to Bollman for a stretch this year to see what he can do). We may get that wish, but we probably won't if the defiance Tressel showed at Tuesday's presser is any indication.

I continue to have a problem with Tressel's philosophy in that it leaves too little margin for error against the elite teams. His signature win at Ohio State, the double OT thriller against the Canes, was a whisker from being a defeat and this ofer-six run is frustrating on many levels. I think a lot of us would also love to see him drop the hammer on teams that have no business being on the same field as the Buckeyes, either. However, we have a guy that is great in the community, loved by his players and manages to beat 99% of the teams he's favored to do so. I'll take that for now.

Besides, as any good coach will tell you, you're only as good as their players. I still believe Pryor will emerge as a great college quarterback. Many seem to forget he just started his 11th game and only has about a year and a half under any type of what you might consider quality position guidance (though it wouldn't hurt to bring in a guy that has a little bit more experience in this realm than what the Buckeyes currently have). At around this time in his career, Vince Young was dropping a 12-0 decision against the Sooners and Mack Brown's job was on the line in Austin. Young, of course, would go on to finish 11-1 that season and would use a coming out party in the Rose Bowl against the Woverines as a springboard to his spectacular junior season.

So, let's continue to hope for small tweaks in the offensive gameplan and/or coaching staff, but let's also know the future looks pretty bright. After all, we're not hearing much about the lack of speed in the Big Ten this week, are we?