NCF Nation: Trojans-Buckeyes 091209

Video: Top plays

September, 13, 2009
9/13/09
4:33
PM ET


The top plays of Week 2 of the college football season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
The Buckeyes played the way Jim Tressel wanted but could not come away with the victory.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- If Jim Tressel could script the perfect football game, Saturday night's clash against USC would have been pretty close. Except for the final score, of course.

Tressel's hallmarks will always be field position, special teams, stout defense and just enough offense. His best Ohio State teams have reflected his rock-ribbed values, winning games not with flash or flavor, but smarts and toughness.

After numerous big-game stumbles, Ohio State was so close to making The Vest look like a genius again.

"This was definitely an Ohio State game," Buckeyes sophomore wide receiver DeVier Posey said. "It really wasn't like that Pac-10, throwing the ball, all that fancy, NFL style of play. It was just a hard-nosed, hard-fought battle to the end."

But it was a battle the Buckeyes once again lost, as USC's Matt Barkley and Joe McKnight led their team to an 18-15 triumph.

Ohio State's latest big-stage stumble didn't follow the pattern that turned off so many observers to its program and its brand of football. This wasn't Florida or LSU or even USC of last year. Instead, it resembled the loss to Vince Young's Texas team in 2005, the loss to Penn State last fall and the loss to Texas in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl.

So what's worse? Getting blown out or being beaten at your own game?

"Holding them to 18 should be enough," Tressel lamented, "but it wasn't."

Rather than exalting punter Jon Thoma (4 punts inside the 20) or a ferocious defensive front or Ohio State's huge field-position edge, Tressel had to answer questions about several of his own decisions. They weren't surprising choices at all, given his history, but they might have cost the Buckeyes.

At the start of the second quarter, Ohio State faced fourth-and-goal from the USC 2-yard line with the game tied at 7-7. Rather than going for the touchdown, Tressel opted for an 18-yard field goal.

"If it was fourth-and-1, we may have gone for it," he said. "I think your percent chance of making fourth-and-2 probably doesn't weigh as well as getting your three points."

The more questionable move came with Ohio State up 15-10 midway through the fourth quarter. A Terrelle Pryor sack pushed the ball back to the USC 36-yard line for fourth down.

Buckeyes kicker Aaron Pettrey was 4-for-4 in field goals on the season and had converted five attempts of longer than 50 yards in his career. But he didn't get a chance for a 53-yard try as Ohio State opted to punt.

"We did talk about it and we came to the decision that if we didn't make [the field goal] we would have been giving our defense, who had been out there a little bit ... tougher field position to handle," Tressel said.

Tressel made the predictable choices, in many cases the smart ones, but he left some wondering whether he played not to lose against a USC team that always knows how to win. Then again, if Pryor and the Buckeyes offense had done just a little bit more, they would have walked out as winners.

"It comes down to me; I take the whole blame for it," said Pryor, who completed just 11 of 25 passes with no touchdowns and an interception that led to USC's first score. "We had 'em on the ropes. ... We had to punch it in offensively. We didn't help the defense enough, and that's going to happen.

"But we needed this win."

Pryor hit two big pass plays early but never seemed to find a rhythm, continuing a pattern that held true for much of last season. Ohio State had four possessions start in USC territory and got only two field goals out of them.

"We should have beat them by two or three touchdowns, easy," Pryor said. "The ball is floating the wrong way, like I keep saying. We needed this win, and it just hurts right now."

Ohio State proved it can hang with a favored USC team, just as it proved it could hang with Texas in the Fiesta Bowl. But close might not be good enough for a Buckeyes team that has dropped six straight to top 5 opponents and for a beleaguered Big Ten that continues to put its reputation on the shoulders of the Scarlet and Gray.

The Buckeyes gave a tutorial in Tressel ball Saturday night. They just didn't earn a passing grade.

"We felt like whatever was said, "College GameDay," everything, [USC] had to come in Ohio Stadium and play against us," Posey said. "We wanted to battle, we wanted to win, we came up short, but it's alright. We'll bounce back."

Instant Analysis: USC-Ohio State

September, 13, 2009
9/13/09
12:01
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Instant analysis from USC's 18-15 victory against Ohio State at Ohio Stadium.

How the game was won: Backed up to his own 4-yard line, USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley led a masterful drive against an Ohio State defense that had dominated most of the game. With help from junior tailback Joe McKnight, who made several huge plays, USC went 86 yards in 14 plays and drained 6:10 off the clock. The Trojans finally overcame their terrible field position, while Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes never could take advantage of theirs.

Turning point: Facing second-and-19 from the USC 4-yard line, McKnight surged for an 11-yard gain and then caught a 21-yard pass from Barkley for the first down. A second turning point came on fourth-and-inches from the Ohio State 28-yard line, when Barkley sneaked for the first down, his third conversion of the game.

Player of the game: Barkley deserves a ton of credit, but this has to go to McKnight, who came back from cramps in the third quarter to make several key plays on USC's decisive drive. The junior had 61 rushing yards and 45 receiving yards in the victory, but the numbers don't show how much he meant to USC.

Second guessing: Ohio State didn't use Terrelle Pryor as a runner nearly enough. Pryor is always at his best on the move, but he once again tried to be a pocket passer and failed. The Buckeyes couldn't capitalize on favorable field position throughout the second half and scored only one touchdown.

What it means: USC remains the best big-game team in the country, and it has something very special in Barkley, who led his team to victory in an extremely tough environment. The Trojans remain on track for a possible national championship push despite losing the core from last year's team. This is a huge blow for Ohio State, which controlled the tempo and played its type of game (defense, field position, special teams). Pryor will take much of the heat for this one after failing to consistently move the offense. Another big-game loss for the Big Ten, though USC was extremely fortunate to escape Columbus with a win.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Matt Barkley and Joe McKnight just made a record crowd of 106,033 at Ohio Stadium go silent.

The USC freshman quarterback and his junior tailback just went 86 yards on 14 plays, draining 6:10 in the process to give their team its first lead since the first quarter. Barkley was masterful, converting a fourth-down quarterback sneak for the third time in the game. The Trojans finally overcame their horrendous field position and made the big plays when it matters.

Barkley will undoubtedly get much of the credit, but McKnight's play really spurred the offense.

Third quarter a one-sided affair

September, 12, 2009
9/12/09
10:48
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Tip of the cap to colleague Pat Forde, who informed me that more than 13 minutes of the third quarter elapsed before either team ran a play on Ohio State's side of the field. USC finally crossed over to Buckeyes territory with a Matt Barkley quarterback sneak on fourth-and-inches.

It's certainly a testament to Ohio State's special teams and defense, which has limited big plays and put a good deal of pressure on Barkley. But it's also troubling for Ohio State that it only scored five points in the quarter. Terrelle Pryor needs to step up in the fourth quarter.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Special teams and field position have always been hallmarks of good Jim Tressel-coached teams, and Ohio State is maximizing those elements in tonight's game.

The Buckeyes have been extremely sharp on special teams, while USC has stumbled, shorting a 44-yard field-goal attempt and taking a safety on a bad punt snap by Cooper Stephenson. Ohio State punter Jon Thoma is having an outstanding game, consistently pinning USC deep in its own territory, and the Buckeyes defensive line has kept the Trojans there.

If Terrelle Pryor and the offense can capitalize on such favorable field position, Ohio State will be in excellent shape for a victory.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A few quick items at halftime of the USC-Ohio State clash at Ohio Stadium.

Turning point: After a slow start, USC quarterback Matt Barkley showed why he's considered such a special freshman. Barkley led two impressive drives late in the second quarter, and though the Trojans only wound up with three points, the freshman settled into an excellent rhythm throwing the ball. Ohio State's defensive front seven has been very tough, particularly linebacker Brian Rolle, but Barkley seems to have shaken the early jitters.

Stat of the half: Ohio State outgained USC 148-5 in the first quarter. The Trojans outgained the Buckeyes 178-12 in the second quarter.

What USC needs to do: The Trojans sparked their running game toward the end of the half, and Barkley got a lot more comfortable. USC's offensive line needs to dictate the pace and buy Barkley enough time to attack down the field.

What Ohio State needs to do: Aside from two big pass plays, quarterback Terrelle Pryor has struggled. But the Buckeyes got some decent play from sophomore running back Dan Herron. Ohio State can't get away from the run, and Pryor has to be more willing to take off and improvise. This game will still come down to his ability to make plays.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Safety Taylor Mays is back in the game for USC, but the Trojans might be a bit concerned about their young quarterback.

Freshman Matt Barkley has been a bit shaky early on, misfiring on five of his first six attempts and throwing an interception to Buckeyes linebacker Ross Homan. Barkley has missed the open man a few times, though he made a nice third-down throw to David Ausberry.

USC is doing a better job of establishing the run game with Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson, which should take some of the pressure off of Barkley.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Taylor Mays, USC's standout safety, has sustained a right leg injury -- a potentially huge blow for the Trojans.

Mays got hurt trying to tackle Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor near the Trojans sideline. He returned for the next play but then went down and hobbled off the field.

Ohio State just took advantage, as Pryor again looked to the middle of the field and found DeVier Posey over the top. He'll continue to attack that area as long as Mays is out.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Terrelle Pryor's 56-yard completion to Dane Sanzenbacher was undoubtedly the key play on Ohio State's scoring drive, but the Buckeyes set up the strike by establishing the run game.

Dan Herron will be a factor in this game, and Ohio State's much-maligned offensive line stepped up on the series to create gaps for the sophomore. The line needs to follow up with more solid play, but this was a good start. Meanwhile, the middle of USC's defense looks open for Pryor, and you'd expect he'll continue to look for Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey in that area.

USC safety Taylor Mays already has like 40 tackles -- he's pretty darn good -- but the Trojans look a bit vulnerable on defense.

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