Chip Kelly is not necessarily a spring chicken. Sure, he’s a first year head coach, but he’s been on the Oregon staff for a few years before Belotti’s retirement and was the offensive coordinator for 1-AA New Hampshire for some years. Surely being the top man for the first time is a trial, but I don’t suggest that Kelly was in a position for which he was totally unprepared. Our Jim Tressel, by contrast, has been head coach, for Youngstown State and Ohio State since the mid-1980s. Kelly may be no spring chicken, but the years of experience for Tressel has made him a tough old bird. Moving from a bird metaphor to a forest predator one, the 2010 Rose Bowl leads me to wonder if Jim Tressel and company simply outfoxed Chip Kelly and his staff this game. The job the Buckeye defense did on Oregon’s offense was remarkable. I won’t draw too much attention to the total yardage from that game, such as Oregon totaling only 260 yards and the Buckeye defense holding Oregon’s rushing attack to about 70 yards below its season average. Some of that is a function of poor, poor play from the Buckeye special teams, confining the Buckeye defense to their own half of the field.
Further, I attribute Oregon’s scoring drives to their field position as much as I do to the adjustments they made in the second quarter. Namely, Oregon’s offensive coaching staff realized that their normal zone read, aforementioned in my preview as the heart of their offense and production, wasn’t going to cut it. The Buckeyes did a wonderful job confusing Masoli’s reads and winning their own individual assignments. Kirk Herbstreit touched on this in the telecast: Oregon had not seen a defensive line like ours. They were accustomed to defensive lines like Oregon State, where the task was just to erase one star player from the festivities. However, the Buckeyes were deep and talented at every position. Outgoing senior Doug Worthington, who I think might be the weak link in the defensive line if I was forced to identify one, won his individual assignments as well. It was a truly special performance from the part of the team we widely recognized would be our strength way back in the summer. To compensate, Oregon worked in fly sweeps to keep the ends at bay. This worked, and stretched our defense and allowed Oregon to capitalize on the short field in the second quarer and very early in the third quarter.
However, it worked for only so long. The Buckeyes adjusted, took away the boundary and were still able to stifle Oregon up front. Unable to keep the ball long, Oregon was left at the mercy of Tressel’s clock nazi offense. I’ve blocked most of the USC game from my memory, but I’m fairly certain that, in spirit, Oregon tried just about the same damn thing the Trojans did. Bring 8, sometimes 9, guys in the box, kill Dave, and force Terrelle Pryor to win the game with his arm. Those adjustments during the game that we felt weren’t forthcoming against the Trojans actually occurred against the Ducks. Aware that Oregon was going to bring the kitchen sink, the Buckeyes dialed up plays that privileged quickness in execution. Quick inside slants for Posey and Sanzy, bootleg runs and the like allowed the Buckeyes to keep possession for a Rose Bowl record 41 minutes and 37 seconds. 2 Oregon wanted to make Pryor win the game for the Buckeyes and, well, he obliged and led the Buckeyes to victory.
In the Rose Bowl.
Comments on Individual Players
A few things jumped out to me about the performance of some individual players, both strictly for the game itself and looking ahead to 2010.
- Terrelle Pryor. Pryor did a very good job handling what was expected of him and what he knew he had to do in this game, not doing too much, making the right reads and leading the Buckeyes to victory. He ran tough even when we could see that he was hindered with his PCL tear. He also showed a much better presence in the pocket. Looking ahead to 2010, we need him to take this performance against Oregon as momentum and continue to improve. His release was uncomfortably low this game and, like other games, he held on to the ball a bit longer than I would’ve liked. For example, there’s really no room to pump fake on a screen or a 3 step drop. Those plays demand a quicker release, and it’s something I’d like to see improve next year.
- Zach Boren. I don’t think I need to say too much about one of the breakout players on the team. I can only hope with every part of me that he continues to get better. This kid is just a freshman.
- DeVier Posey. I believe he dropped a sure touchdown on the first drive of the game, but we fortunately compensated for that. He proved himself over the course of the game and showed he might be a 1st team all-conference selection in 2010. 8 catches, 101 yards and 2 TDs. More, please. Definitely more.
- Taurian Washington, Lamaar Thomas. Both these receivers were firmly on the 3rd team, but upgraded 2nd team following the suspensions of Duron Carter and Ray Small. Both were also rumored transfers, but it looks as if Lamaar is the only one to exit. Neither appeared in the box score, but I recall a few things about both. Washington made some key blocks, first on the first TD of the game and later on a 3rd down conversion speed option play on the Buckeyes’ last TD drive. Lamaar Thomas may have been who Pryor was throwing the ball to when Jake Ballard rebounded it for a crucial 3rd down conversion on that eventual TD drive.
- Jake Ballard. Fans say we don’t throw to TEs enough. Whatever you think of it, the tight end without many receptions in his career will likely appear in a picture for that catch and be immortalized forever.
- Anderson Russell. Maligned of late, Russell was second on the team with 6 solo tackles. The reverse playcall to Russell was certainly a head-scratcher. It’d be understandable, in hindsight, if we dialed that play up as a “the hell with it” playcall to give a maligned senior the ball in a position that, should he have capitalized, he would get to tell his grandchildren about. Didn’t work out that way. In one of the many special teams lowlights from that game, Anderson Russell made a touchdown-saving tackle.
- Kenjon Barner. I’ll be happy if I never see you again.
The Buckeyes end 2009 on a much better note than they did 2006, 2007, 0r 2008. Accordingly, it’s very likely that the Buckeyes will be given a pole position in 2010 (see: Rivals, Schlabach), setting them up for a national title run. Yes, the task every year at a school like Ohio State is to win them all, therefore putting them in a position for a national title. However, 2010 should feel like a do or die year for this team. Key members of the 2008 recruiting class are entering their junior campaigns, and thus are in a domain for early entries into the NFL if they feel it’s right. It’s this same recruiting class that, in the wake of disappointing championship finales against Florida and LSU, stated openly that winning a national title for OSU and Tressel is the goal. Well, they’ll be juniors and returning to a team that A) has a manageable schedule and B) has manageable losses at key positions on both sides of the ball.
Miami is the key non-conference game, and the Buckeyes host the Hurricanes for that matchup. Further, as this is an even-numbered year, the Buckeyes will host both their designated rivalry games. I expect Michigan to be better in 2010 than 2009 and will return to December/January football. Penn State is never to be taken lightly, but will come to Columbus with key defections at quarterback and linebacker (especially). These are the marquee games annually for Ohio State, but it’s probably road trips to Wisconsin and Iowa that will serve as important measures of how good this football team is and if they’re national championship material. Wisconsin doesn’t have the overall schedule we have, and, therefore, will have our game circled as a key game (along with their visit to Iowa City). Wisconsin returns a lot from an offense that showed some flashes during the regular season and turned it on against the Hurricanes in the Champs Sports Bowl. Likewise, Iowa is returning important players too and will probably have us, as the 5 time defending Big Ten champions, circled on their calendar. They’ll benefit from having Clayborn, Spievey and the like, but will have to deal with key losses on the offensive line.
Manageable, but certainly not easy. Challenges are an important part of any national championship effort. The Buckeyes should benefit from playing in the Big Ten (I said it), since it appears the conference established itself in this bowl season as one where the great defensive fronts are able to take over games against teams otherwise unaccustomed to seeing them. Taking the Great State of Ohio back to the mountaintop is the goal, but it will require across the board progression and improvement. Terrelle Pryor will play an important role, and one can only hope that the passing game improves over the winter, spring and summer to where the Buckeyes can execute quicker. I’d love for the offensive line to take the next leap, but getting better production from both tackle positions is paramount. The Buckeyes are mostly covered at defensive line. Thaddeus Gibson’s replacement, Nathan Williams, is more than capable. Depth will be compromised with the loss of players like Denlinger, Worthington and Rose, but Larimore, Simon and Goebels will contribute. The linebacker picture is clearer now than it was last year this time. Sabino looks to take over for Spitler (at least as it stands now), allowing the Buckeyes greater flexibility in their 4-3. The Buckeyes lose both safeties, but it seems certain that Jermale Hines will move into one of the vacated spots. Beyond losing a strong safety in Kurt Coleman, the Buckeyes lose a ballhawking leader in Kurt Coleman. Again, we expect the front 7 to carry the defense, specifically looking to Cam Heyward and Ross Homan. I hope someone from that unit steps up and can lead that unit with the authority that Coleman demonstrated on the field itself, be it Hines, Torrence, Chekwa, or one of the many talented, young players we have in the secondary (OJ, Clarke, Domicone, Howard, Barnett, Brown and… yes: the Donnie).
Lest we forget: special teams needs to pick up the pace.
Maybe it’s just me (I hope not), but Ohio State fans are approaching a condition where the 2002 season is almost 10 years old, and becoming more mythical with each passing year. In other words, it’s approaching the point where it’s so idealized that it becomes a point that we think is no longer attainable. The Buckeyes have the personnel to make another run at the glory that team had. I can only hope this offseason is used to progress towards what became a stated goal for players on the team becoming upperclassmen and leaders on the team.
- Hubris for the win [↩]
- There’s a debate on whether or not time of possession is an overrated statistic. I don’t think it is, and it’s certainly of vital importance for what Tressel wants to do in a game. Oregon freely concedes time of possession in games, even being dead last in time of possession in 2008. Their offense privileges explosion and tempo, compromising time of possession in favor of points. However, should adjustments come to said offense, their defense — already overtaxed by design — is in a more precarious situation. The Buckeyes used this to their advantage in the Rose Bowl, eventually coming away with the victory. [↩]