Thorny victory for OSU

COLUMBUS, Ohio – With a Diet Coke in one hand and a bouquet of roses in the other, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel entered his postgame press conference prepared to answer questions about the fifth straight Big Ten title his team had just clinched with a 27-24 overtime victory over Iowa.

When it was time for the interrogation to begin, though, no one said a word.

Photo The Buckeyes rejoice with their fans at the Horseshoe after an overtime victory over Iowa that clinched a Rose Bowl berth.
(Mark Duncan/AP Photo)

“You guys look dumbfounded,” said Tressel, staring into a throng of reporters. “It’s like you’re shocked that we [won].”

In a rare attempt at humor, Ohio State’s stoic coach couldn’t have been more on the money.

The Buckeyes may have sewn up a spot in the Rose Bowl but, as has been the case all season, they hardly looked like a team worthy of a BCS berth.

Conservative, timid play-calling – a “star” quarterback who was more of a facilitator than a factor – blunders on special teams and untimely penalties. So maddening were the Buckeyes to watch on Saturday that, entering the overtime period, their fans were actually booing.

But then – as they so often do in close games against mediocre teams – things began going Ohio State’s way. A sack and an interception kept Iowa off the scoreboard, and the Buckeyes capitalized when walk-on Devin Barclay – a 26-year-old former Major League Soccer player – kicked a 39-yard field goal that won the game.

All of a sudden the same people who had been jeering were hopping the rails of the Horseshoe, storming the field and taking pictures of the scoreboard with their cell phones. Barclay said someone even ripped the name off the back of his jersey.

The more telling scene, though, occurred near the Iowa tunnel, where receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos attempted to swat a bouquet of roses away from a Buckeyes fan who was holding them high in the air while running onto the field.

“This is bullshit,” Johnson-Koulianos said to no one specific, and there are plenty of college football fans who feel the same way about the Buckeyes and the Big Ten.

Ohio State continues to be the best team in its league but, on a national scale, it appears destined to disappoint once again. There’s no reason to believe this group of Buckeyes will fare any better in January than its predecessors, who have lost three straight BCS bowl games, including two in convincing fashion.

Photo Iowa’s Ross Petersen (97) and Jonathan Grimm walk away after a tough overtime loss to the Buckeyes.
(Amy Sancetta/AP Photo)

While the defense has been stout, Ohio State’s offense continues to be laughable at times. Tressel has so little confidence in the unit that on Saturday, with the score tied and just over two minutes left in regulation, the coach called for two straight running plays and a short pass that went for a 3-yard loss. It was as if the Buckeyes, who were forced to punt, weren’t even trying to win the game.

Even more embarrassing was the decision by Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on the Hawkeyes’ ensuing possession. Iowa had the ball on its own 33-yard line with 52 seconds remaining. A few quick 10- or 20-yard passes from red-hot quarterback James Vandenberg and the Hawkeyes would’ve been in range for a game-winning field goal.

Instead, inexcusably, Ferentz ran out the clock. Rather than try to win the game, he played for overtime. What message does that send a player?

“We could win the game with a few medium-length passes and a field goal, but I don’t think you guys are good enough to execute under pressure, so we’ll take our chances in overtime.”

So confident were Tressel and Ferentz in their offenses that, in the final 2:42 of regulation, they ran a combined seven plays.

These are the top two teams in the Big Ten?

It’s no wonder the conference went just 1-6 in bowl games last season. The Big Ten also has lost six straight BCS bowl games, and there’s no reason to think that trend will end this winter.

Especially if Ohio State doesn’t mix things up offensively.

He may improve eventually but, for now, it’s clear that Tressel has no faith in Terrelle Pryor. The former national No. 1 national recruit completed 14 of 17 passes for 93 yards. That’s just 6.6 yards per completion, meaning his coaches don’t trust him to do anything other than the elementary. There also were only three or four running plays designed for the athletic Pryor, who is saying all the right things. Still, deep down, he can’t be happy with the way he’s been utilized thus far in his career.

“I know we need to get better,” Tressel said, and that may have been the understatement of the night.

Scores in the teens and 20s may be enough to win in the offensively challenged Big Ten, but it won’t cut it Jan. 1 in Pasadena in a game that promises to be somber for the Buckeyes.

Luckily, they had the chance to celebrate Saturday, when fans threw roses at them from the stands and mobbed them during an on-field party that could’ve become dangerous. Pryor said his main goal was getting to the locker room.

“Those kids were drunk,” he chuckled.

After sitting through that game, could anyone blame them?

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Saturday, Nov 14, 2009