This Week in Ohio State Football: Let’s get Tresselized (again)

Credit: Matthew Stockman

Credit: Matthew Stockman

Youngstown State returns to Ohio Stadium this week to take on Ohio State for the third time.

Jim Tressel coached both teams en route to a College Football Hall of Fame career.

He figures to come up a lot this week as a result, but his history with the two schools is not the only reason.

Here are some final thoughts on the Buckeyes’ win over Indiana and a look at what they are doing this week with the Penguins on the docket:

1. Regardless of the opponent, I couldn’t help but think of Tressel on Tuesday.

The current Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day has been trending toward Tressel’s tendencies, but his response to a question about aggressiveness was almost Too Tressel to be believed.

“It’s probably the art of coaching — figuring out how aggressive we can be,” Day said Tuesday. “That comes with trust over time.”

To really drive home the point, Day added, “A big part of that is the quarterback, and a lot of it has to do with the offensive line. The more trust we all have in them, the more we can let it rip.”

Letting it rip is supposed to be Day’s thing. It is not something anyone would associate with Tressel.

However, this is where I put on the Old Guy hat and explain that Tressel, who won 153 games at YSU and 104 at Ohio State with a combined five national championships, was not necessarily as conservative as he is sometimes remembered.

He was almost certainly not as conservative as he actually coached games at Ohio State, but Tressel was more than anything committed to winning.

He was committed to doing what his players could do, and perhaps coincidentally or perhaps not, he tended to have better personnel on defense than offense during his tenure in Columbus.

That’s how an offensive-minded coach became known for his buttoned-up style of play, but he and his offensive coordinator Jim Bollman reminded reporters often that the key to play-calling was protection.

If they could block a play, they could run it. If not, well, better to keep it close to the vest.

2. Day, of course, has not had better personnel on defense than offense. Far from it.

But what about this year?

That remains to be seen, but it just might be the majority of better players are on defense for Ohio State in 2023.

Day and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles both said they were happy to see some of the success the defense, especially the secondary, had in the preseason carry over to a real game against another opponent. That included challenging and breaking up more passes.

He also repeated something he said last year about the value of a reliable defense for the attitude of the whole roster.

“I believe when you play great defense, it just gives everybody confidence,” Knowles said. “Whether you’re a fan or on the team, you know, you just kind of know, ‘Hey everything’s gonna be okay’ when you play great defense.”

3. Knowles stopped well short of saying his defense has arrived after stifling Indiana.

The second-year defensive coordinator knows nothing is won until the end of the season, and he pointed out the Hoosiers did not really challenge the Ohio State secondary.

Seeing the Buckeyes rely on their training and fundamentals to stop Indiana’s triple option offense, which was barely considered an option during pregame prep, was encouraging to Knowles, though. It means the group as a whole is taking coaching and internalizing the scheme and its different facets to the point they can put them to use without being told specifically how.

I’d say there is no better example of this than the way every man handled his assignment on the first play, stopping the dive, forcing a pitch and then throwing the running back for a loss. Textbook option defense.

4. Knowles also seemed fine with hearing his players talked Saturday about expecting a shutout.

That was a call back to something he said multiple times last year about wanting to teach them to value winning every play regardless of the opponent.

He felt it was a mindset they would need to maintain at the end of the season when the competition got stronger. Of course, given how the season ended, that might be a lesson that didn’t sink in, but it is worth noting Knowles is still trying to establish the same internal expectations.

5. Ohio State unquestionably has great offensive skill players, but the receivers and the running backs were also very talented during the Tressel years and the output did not always show it.

Sometimes the Buckeyes had their wings clipped by the play-calling, but that wasn’t just because Tressel and Bollman were transfixed with running the ball.

It was because they weren’t going to try to ask too much of the quarterbacks and/or offensive line before they were ready.

Day bemoaned how quickly he thrust the full weight of the offense on C.J. Stroud two years ago, and he seems determined not to do that with Kyle McCord or Devin Brown.

Does that mean he thinks they are not as good as Stroud?

That remains to be seen.

Very likely he has less faith in the offensive line, at least at this point in the season, so how much and how quickly that improves bears close watching.

Then the ball will be back in Day’s court when it comes to aggressiveness.

6. Somehow I got almost 800 words into a story about Ohio State football without mentioning the quarterbacks.

This sure is an interesting situation, isn’t it?

Day seemed to have settled on McCord when the junior got the lion’s share of the snaps at Indiana, but he made it clear Tuesday he still sees Brown as being in the race.

Would he really make a switch later in the season?

Well, the last four Ohio State coaches have all made midseason changes at least once.

In 1999, Austin Moherman started the season-opening loss to Miami (Fla.) at the Meadowlands in New Jersey for John Cooper while Steve Bellisari played two series and threw one pass.

Moherman started again a week later at home against UCLA, but Bellisari led the Buckeyes to a touchdown drive in the second quarter and never really looked back.

Tressel also went another direction in midseason five years later when he benched super recruit Justin Zwick (who was injured in an embarrassing loss at Iowa) for lesser-known Troy Smith, and he benched senior Todd Boeckman for true freshman Terrelle Pryor in 2008.

In his one year at the helm, Luke Fickell installed Joe Bauserman as the starter to open the year (and he looked great in a blowout of Akron), but that experiment ended with Wayne grad Braxton Miller getting the keys to the offense in Week 4 against Colorado.

Urban Meyer pulled Cardale Jones in favor of J.T. Barrett late in the 2015 season, but there were some other variables that year.

Could it happen again? I’m not making any predictions or writing off McCord, but it is worth noting it wouldn’t be without precedent.

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