SO WHAT HAPPENED?
I wish I could end my long layoff as a sports blogger with a post about a crowning achievement. In fact, I, like most of you, was ready to annoint Jim Tressel as a quasi-deity if the Ohio State Buckeyes had emerged victorious Monday night in Glendale like we all thought they would. But it was that Monday night that we all got a blindsided smacking from reality reminding us why such a coronation is premature.
Now about 36 hours from the final whistle of Florida's 41-14 pasting of our Buckeyes in the national championship game, when people ask "why" did Ohio State receive such an improbable beatdown, the two words thrown around most are "outplayed" and "outcoached." In the same vein as the latter, I would throw in "outprepared," as well. Though I can't deny that the 20-something-year-old (or younger) athletes on the field bear some responsibility on the team's poor performance, I assert that Jim Tressel and the rest of the staff lost the national championship before the game even began in preparation.
First and foremost, it was mental and strategical preparation. Ohio State wanted to come at Florida with the same attack as they did against Michigan. The only problem was that Urban Meyer, more of a student of the game than Lloyd Carr, was going to be ready for that. After all, Florida, like Ohio State, made a living all year spreading the field. You'd think the OSU defense would be used to seeing those formations, and they were, but it wasn't the Florida offensive formations that threw off the Buckeyes' D, it was the way Florida carried them out.
Florida has tremendous speed--we know that now. I still won't say it's vastly superior speed to what the Buckeyes have (I'd say it's about equal), but suffice it to say Florida was the fastest team OSU had seen all year. From the way the Buckeyes pursued them early in the game, it seemed that this surprised them? Defensively, the Bucks were running the wrong way on pursuits. Offensively, the line was not picking up blitzing schemes giving the Gators nearly uncontested shots at Troy Smith. A slower quarterback would have been on his back just about every time he had the ball.
You have to tip your cap to Urban Meyer, but you have to raise your eyebrows at Jim Tressel, who for the first time in his tenure at Ohio State, just did not bring his "A" game, so to speak.
Tressel's "A" game is to play the percentages and not make any drastic decisions. I'm not sure why, but he abandoned that. The turning point in the game, in my view, was when Florida had opened up a 10-point lead at 24-14 late in the first half. Ohio State failed to convert on a 3rd-and-1 inside their own 30-yard line. Expecting A.J. Trepasso to come strolling out onto the field again, I heard a sentence that make my heart sink into my stomach.
"...and the Buckeyes are going for it."
Going for it? Tressel? Deep in his own territory? Down 10 points? I realize it might have been one of those emotional "I-believe-in-you-guys-to-pick-this-up" moves. It also might have reflected a little desperation in that star wideout Teddy Ginn was out for the whole game after injuring his foot on the touchdown celebration. Additionally, Ohio State's offense was struggling to move the ball, but even a tired defense has a better chance of keeping Florida from making the score worse if the Gators start, say, on their own 35 instead of the Buckeyes' 30.
But Tressel didn't the most un-Tressel-like thing he could do. He went for it, they didn't get it and instead of going into the half a manageable 10 points down, the Buckeyes left for the locker rooms down 20, shellshocked and seemingly done for.
It's easy to second-guess, and I realize I'm doing exactly that--playing "armchair quarterback." But if Tressel's gameplan was not to deviate from the norm in his playcalling, why would he deviate from the norm in his choice not to punt? He said in 2003 (granted, under the anemic Krenzel- and Lydell Ross-led offense) that the punt was the most important offensive play. Maybe a Heisman-winner at quarterback made him reneg on that claim, but history shows he should have stuck with it.
I've mentioned only a few of the factors Ohio State came out startling short against Florida, and I left out that Florida is just a better team. But they're not 27 points better, and a much closer game would have played out if the Scarlet and Gray coaching staff had prepared the players a little better for what they would see.
I'll put a cap on all of the negativity with this: Would any of us watch or play sports if we always knew what was going to happen? The greatest thing about sport is its unpredictability, it's drama. Unlike movies and books where the endings are scripted, sports are not. I hate that Ohio State lost, but I understand that because they did, the next national championship will be even more meaningful the next time the Bucks earn one. Great stories, upsets and unpredictable outcomes keep people coming back to sport. Even though Troy Smith and perhaps Teddy Ginn, Antonio Pittman and Anthony Gonzalez will be gone next year, I hope the potential for the unnpredictable brings you back, too.
Look for future postings as I will hit on streaking Cavaliers--best in the Eastern Conference--the Tribe's off-season, the Blue Jackets, Buckeye basketball and more.