Badgered in Madison
So that was some week at #1 huh? (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Just like everyone knew there was Wisconsin and Iowa that jumped out on this year’s schedule as big road tests for the Buckeyes. So we all knew we were in for a hostile environment and a team high on emotion. What I still am having trouble believing is that they ran the ball right down our throat all night long for the most part. The front seven that I considered one of the better in the country was gutted on consecutive drives in the first quarter and again in the fourth to seal the game. I mean I think Wisconsin ran like four plays – nothing fancy – the Badger offensive line just plain whooped our boys up front. I think Rolle summed it up best:
“We felt like we were ready for this, and then the run game just overwhelmed us. It’s like, Did they really just do what I think they did? It really hasn’t set in. They just lined up toe-to-toe and beat us.”
Couldn’t agree more, outside of the fact that it hasn’t set in. I thought that if anyone would know what was coming and be ready it would have been the defensive line and linebackers. Considering that Heacock proclaimed this the most talented D line he has had, and our linebackers are returning starters – stopping the run is something that I viewed as a foregone conclusion. On Sunday I remembered a conversation I had with a friend about Heacock’s statement – he pointed out that the “most talented ever” moniker was a little unproven considering we had lost several personnel along the defensive front like Gibson, Worthington, Wilson, Denlinger. I pointed out that outside of Gibson I really didn’t think that those losses were playmakers and he was being replaced by Williams. Let’s just say I feel differently now. When the current group wasn’t getting pressure on the quarterbacks of EMU, and Ohio U it was easily overlooked because of the lopsided wins, but after a test against a top tier offensive line one thing was incredibly clear – they were blown off the ball in the run game and failed to get any pressure in the passing game. Flat out got dominated. I don’t normally like to call out players but where is Heyward? Wasn’t he supposed to have a “Suh-like” year? He has had what – an interception against Miami and that is about it.
Granted – the defense was not given much help early in the game and was constantly playing out of a hole after the special teams once again botched the coverage on the opening kickoff and not only put us down by 7 but also seemed to give an already electric crowd a giant bong hit of insanity and completely energized the Badger team while definitely putting the “oh shit” feeling in the Buckeyes. The offense promptly followed up the return TD with a craptastic three and out. That was followed by the first of two drives in which the Badger O line literally was able to steam roll the defensive line and get to the linebackers. On most plays Clay and White were not touched until Johnson dove at their feet and Hines wrapped them up high – it was a disgusting performance of run defense for any unit, let alone one we refer to as the Silver Bullets. Another stalled Buckeye drive followed by a repeat clock chewing drive of run plays which concluded with Clay trotting in the end zone and bang – we were down 21-0.
That really pretty much tells the story of the game – the offense managed to get somewhat on track in the second quarter and marched down the field mostly on running plays to Boom who ran with purpose all night racking up 94 yards on 19 carries. But once we got in the red zone Tressel buttoned up the play calling with two designed runs from Pryor (with no lead blocker) sandwiched around a direct snap running play to Boom. No roll out pass/run options from Pryor, no corner fades to Posey – just accepting a field goal from the Badger three yard line. The only other drive in the first half resulted in a missed 42 yard FG attempt after our receivers (cough Posey cough) once again forgot how to catch footballs at the most inappropriate time.
In the second half the team showed some heart and fought back to 21-18 after two scoring drives in which Boom and Sanzenbacher showed what heart was all about. Boom with leg churning runs that got him in the end zone and Sanzenbacher coming up with catches that kept drives going sacrificing his body as we have become so accustomed to. I cannot put into words how much we will miss not having him around next year. Too bad we couldn’t put his resolve into our defensive line. Once we got back to within three and we needed a stop from the defense – once again the Badger offense dug in and marched down the field for a score. The Bullets could not deliver when it mattered most. We got the ball back again but the drive stalled – and on a 4th and 9 when we should have gone for hit – Tressel morphed into his old self and punted giving the ball back to the Badgers even though our defense had yet to prove they could shut them down. Lame.
Nothing really left to say about the game itself. The epic failures were on special teams and defense. On the special teams I think it is safe to say that we could benefit from a dedicated special teams coach – the “coach by committee” thing is obviously not getting it done. Defensively we just are not who we thought we were. On offense it was surprising that with Boom we seemed to move the ball decently on the ground, if we would have had more opportunities maybe we could have established it more. Through the air Pryor was inaccurate and looked confused from the beginning. This could be a result of what Wisconsin was doing defensively or just because he was trying too hard to make the big play. Also – Pryor may be healthy enough to play, but he is not 100% – more like 80% as witnessed by his early game jog on a keeper. No explosion, no burst – he is still more mobile than most but that quad is still bothering him. The offensive line had some bright spots in the running game but Shugarts made Watts look like an all world DE. Think about this – the mobile Pryor has been sacked 14 times on the season. Granted sometimes he holds on to the ball too long but still – these are five star recruit tackles doing their best matador impression in some cases. Noticeably absent from the game offensively also were Stoneburner and Saine in the slot or wheel route. And other than the questionable play calls in the red zone what was up with some of the short side of the field end around calls? Just plain ugly.
Halfway through the season and what was labeled as “the most talented team” Tressel has had is not in control of its’ own destiny. So now the Buckeyes have to pick themselves up and show what they are made of. The quest for an 8th NC is now just a long shot fantasy – and should be quite frankly. It hurts bad enough to have the ball jammed down your throat and get beat handily by a conference rival. But to have it done on a national stage during a bowl game would be much worse (hello Bama). The Big Ten crown is even suspect with Sparty owning the top spot now. They have to still play Iowa which could help us, and Iowa has to play Wisconsin, Sparty and us. To win the conference crown outright though will take some luck (like a two loss Sparty, Iowa, Wisconsin) and we have to win out. A tie with any of them would mean us not getting to Pasadena.
As Woody once said – “Nothing cleanses the soul like getting the hell kicked out of you”. So now that our souls are cleansed, we can focus on winning out the season – and face whatever fate may have in store for us.