OSU Change Needs to Stay

32 years and 9 games.  Buckeye nation is now celebrating the end.  Beginning in 1978 with a loss to Bear Bryant and Alabama, Ohio State had lost 9 strait games to the SEC including 2 National Championship games.  But now with the streak over, Tuesday night’s Sugar Bowl win by Ohio State over Arkansas 31-26 has proven something else.  Jim Tressell’s philosophy on game management has to change.

Not because his ideas are archaic.  Certainly the strategy used has been successful.  Tressel likes to attack offensively in the first half, moving the football down the field and taking what the defense gives.  Known as “Mr. Field goal”, he will take the 3 points when presented.  Contrast to the second half.  Tressel pulls in the reigns and plays for field goals.  That strategy worked again with the Razorbacks, but only because the defensive coaching staff surprised Arkansas at a key time. 

Tressel relies on his defense in second halves.  During the National championship run in 2002, the Buckeye defense was run by Marc Dantonio, current Michigan State coach.  He led an attacking, physical defense. When he left for Cincinnati the next year, Tressel turned to longtime assistant Jim Heacock to run the defense.  Heacock fostered a new defensive mentality, costing Ohio State almost every year.

The Sugar Bowl game was a photocopy of the career of Heacock’s tenure as Ohio State defensive coordinator.  Heacock is outstanding in forming a game plan during the week.  He can watch film; see what the opponent’s tendencies are and how to alleviate them.  It worked against Arkansas as the Buckeyes held a 28-10 lead at halftime.  Then Bobby Petrino and Ryan Mallett had time to adjust for the second half.

Adjust.  That is where Heacock is at a disadvantage.  He lacks the capability of adjusting to what the offensive changes are.  He can’t watch film; he has to make changes on the fly from the press box.  Something he has proven he just cannot do.

Ohio State, coming into the Sugar Bowl with a depleted secondary, lost even more when Chimdi Checkwa went down with a wrist injury in the second quarter and didn’t return.  His replacements, Devon Torrance and Travis Howard battled through leg cramps in the second half.  The safeties were Dominick Clarke and Christian Bryant, both freshmen.  Yet Heacock did nothing to help his undermanned secondary.  Instead of blitzing and changing defenses, trying to upset Mallett and knock him off his game, Heacock stayed with the plain 4-3 defense and let Arkansas see the same front.  Thus allowing Arkansas to fall into a rhythm and pulling back into the game at 31-26.

With Arkansas moving the ball at will and the pressure of the streak on his shoulders, Tressel left his comfort zone.  Abandoning his usual thinking and electing to go for 4th down plays on two strait possessions in the 4th quarter.  Boom Herron fumbled the ball on the first try.  Later the second try resulted in Terrell Pryor picking up the first down on a sneak.  However after stopping Ohio State, Arkansas blocked a punt with 1:10 left and took over at the Ohio State 18 yard line.  With no time outs Ryan Mallett had a chance to be a hero.

On second down, Heacock finally did something against his nature.  He blitzed Mallett, forcing him to throw into double coverage, causing the interception by Solomon Thomas with one minute left.  The first turnover by Arkansas sealed the win for the Buckeyes and ended the streak.

Heacock’s blitz call was shocking considering his predispositions.  Maybe it is a new attitude.  Something the Buckeyes could build around next year.  Whatever the reason, Heacock needs to attack, be surprising.  That kind of defense will allow Tressel to continue his brand of football.

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