USC loss raises big-picture questions for Tressel

September, 15, 2008
9/15/08
3:50
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

For years, the sweater vest was made out of Teflon.

Like any coach, Jim Tressel received his share of criticism, but he could always point to his sparkling record at Ohio State, the 11 first-round NFL draft picks he helped produce and his dominance in Big Ten play (45-11). The calls for Ohio State to modernize its schemes and bring in more creative coaches usually went away after another season of 10 or more wins.

 
 Ohio State coach Jim Tressel's game-plans need some freshening up.

But after Saturday's 35-3 loss against USC at the L.A. Coliseum, the latest in a series of big-stage letdowns for Ohio State, the demands for change likely won't be silenced any time soon.

Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel didn't hold back in his assessment of Tressel and the Ohio State program following the USC game. Wetzel tore into Tressel, not only for a hackneyed approach in the game, but perhaps more upsetting, a lack of fire after it.

Here was the sweater vest, who keeps calling for the same old failed game plan even when he's far from the comforts of the cornfields of the Midwest. He's an example of coaching insanity -- expecting the same bad plays to produce different results.
Here was Jim Tressel and all he could do was smile and shrug.

"The guys fought hard," he offered Saturday night. "I don't know that we did the best we could do, but we fought hard."

So apparently that's it now for Ohio State. They fought hard. Let's just focus on the moral victory -- the lament of every blown-out, schedule-padding cupcake in college football. We were overmatched and outcoached, sure, but we fought hard.

Only this is Ohio State. The Buckeyes keep getting their (expletive) kicked when they dare to venture out of Big Ten/MAC land and Tressel doesn't look or sound the least bit concerned.

Outrage? Frustration? Embarrassment? How about apologies to the Buckeye fans who no doubt feel plenty of all three? Or maybe one for poor quarterback Todd Boeckman, who thanks to a most uninspired offensive game plan had USC defenders taking turns teeing up to try to rupture his spleen?

"They did everything we saw on film, nothing changed," said USC linebacker Rey Maualuga.

Don't expect Tressel to change his public approach to handling losses -- or wins, for that matter. He's as predictable as they come, and in many ways, it works. But this lack of fire seems new and could be a major problem.

Left tackle Alex Boone also referenced the passion issue in Ken Gordon's piece in The Columbus Dispatch. Another interesting development is that Ohio State's attempt to shake things up -- having freshman Terrelle Pryor alternate series with Boeckman at quarterback -- apparently wasn't relayed to the players, who were surprised by the rotation.

Guard Ben Person said, "I think it kind of shocked everybody a little bit."

It's clear this team has more issues than Chris "Beanie" Wells' big toe. The national championship is out of the picture, and a Big Ten title could be as well if Ohio State doesn't play better on the road at Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois. And if the Buckeyes are keen on making a national title push in 2009, they need to do some strong self-evaluation during the offseason.

Tressel isn't going anywhere. He got a big raise before the season, and a well-deserved one at that. But there could be some changes with his schemes and staff members. There's simply not enough creativity going on.

Don't expect Tressel to ditch the sweater vest, but this program needs a fresher look.

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