Why The Buckeyes Got Trounced - A Few Theories
By Jeff Forward
I don't think any sane Buckeye fan thought that what happened on Monday was possible. I am sure that a 41-14 butt-whupping with a mere 80-some yards of offense was not on anyone's mind.
But, that's exactly what happened in a stunning and painful fashion. As I sat in a sports bar in Granite Bay, Calif. with 120 other Ohio State fans and alumni, the pain of the game grew with each passing minute and Tim Tebow run up the gut of a tired, on-the-field for 40-minutes Buckeye defense.
Obviously the press jumped on this blow-out in typical fashion, with Lee Corso from ESPN telling viewers the Gators would beat Ohio State nine out of 10 games. Amazing how fast they switch sides, isn't it.
Here are my theories of why what happened in Glendale happened.
The Florida Gators simply played the best game they possibly could on the same night that Ohio State played their absolute worst game possible. When they showed the stats of Chris Leak through the first quarter, he was having a near perfect game. I didn't think he could maintain that for four quarters, but it's exactly what he did. Same thing goes for the entire UF team. They all played their best on the night the Buckeyes played their worst.
I am sorry, but 51 days between games for the Buckeyes was insane and unfair. Florida had an extra two weeks of serious, meaningful practice and two difficult and important games on the road while OSU was at home twiddling their thumbs. Say what you will, but it was obvious the Buckeyes were rusty.
Bringing me to this point: give credit to Urban Meyer for realizing the Buckeyes would be rusty and out-of-sync and creating a great game plan for the beginning of the game to exploit this. As things unfolded and the Gators were en route to 21-unanswered points, I turned to a friend and said, "Meyer has run nearly every trick play in the book in the first quarter alone." My friend replied the Gators hadn't run a reverse yet. Well, two plays later, there it was - a Percy Harvin reverse. Those trick plays really affected the Buckeye defense and its confidence.
As much as it pains me to say this, Jim Tressel did a very poor job preparing the Buckeyes for this game. And, during the game, he made some very questionable calls and decisions. Not only that, but Tressel and his staff did not make any in-game changes to the game plan or strategy which may have swung momentum back to the Buckeyes.
Trailing 21-7, Tressel decided to run the ball. Troy Smith and Antonio Pittman combined for a lot of yards on the ground and OSU scored and cut the lead to 21-14. A great three-and-out by the defense gave the Buckeyes the ball back with a prime chance to climb even at 21. But, instead of going back to the successful running of the previous drive, Tressel had Troy throw on first down - incomplete; and then throw on the next two downs - both incomplete; and was forced to punt. Why not stick with the run when it was already successful and Troy's bad passing game was so very evident? Then there was an ill-advised fourth and one play that was a failure and led to more points.
The last questionable coaching decision Tressel did not make was benching Troy Smith. As soon as I mentioned this, my friends laid into me. "Come on," they said. "Troy is the Heisman winner. We have to stick with him." I agree to a point. But by the third quarter it was evident that Troy was not going to get any better. He was playing poorly on all fronts and was not improving. Why not put Justin Zwick into the game? I mean, this guy has started a lot of games and he can throw the ball. He may not be as mobile as Troy or the leader, but with the terrible game Troy was playing with no signs of getting better, why not gamble and put Zwick in?
I can see it now....add in a tight end on every play for extra protection on the offensive line, put Stan White at fullback and rotate Pittman and Chris Wells and have two receivers and run - no, pound - the ball until you make them honest on defense. Then throw when things open up. I was saddened to not see Zwick in the game for at least one or two series at the end.
My final thought is the Ted Ginn Jr. injury affected the Buckeye offense much more than any of us could have imagined. After the big win over Michigan, Troy was on the set of Game Day and told the crew that he felt Ted Ginn Jr. should win the Heisman. That's how important Troy thinks Ginn is to this offense. With Ginn out of the picture, there was no worrying about everything he could and can do by the Gator defense. No direct snaps to Ginn. No reverses. No post routes blowing by a DB. No punt or kick-off returns. That absence of talent and speed hurt the Buckeye offense and special teams, no question.
In the end, people will say Florida deserved the title and are the champs. But, I can't help but wonder what the outcome may have been if this game was played in December. But, as my father always said, if my grandma had balls, she'd be my grandpa.
Here's to next season and thanks to the Ohio State football team for one hell of a ride and a lot of memories I will never forget. Well, there is one memory I hope goes away fast. I think you know what I am talking about.