Clueless in Columbus

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

LOS ANGELES – Here was Jim Tressel, sitting in front of a microphone after his program again melted into a big-game puddle of scarlet and gray. Here was Ohio State's leader after another national humiliation, 35-3, this time at the hands of Southern California.

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 asses 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, who had five tackles and a pick six.

It isn't just that Ohio State keeps producing no-show efforts in these supposed referendum games. It's that the Buckeyes' postgame passion is as feeble as it is in the game. If they are just being polite and internalizing, then the Bucks one day will need a lot of therapy.

"Taking a lot of heat from whom?" Tressel retorted when asked about the perception of the program nationally. "I guess I'm only concerned with Ohio State fans."

If he thinks they are satisfied with this, he must be blinded by his latest contract extension.

This was paint-by-numbers football, the Buckeyes exposed as frauds early in the year this time, not at the end. This year, not even the absurd BCS can save them. Not that they admitted that.

"It's only September," Tressel said.

"We kept fighting, I'm happy with the effort," said linebacker Jim Laurinaitis, perhaps oblivious to the 35 consecutive points USC scored, a number that could've been greater had Trojans coach Pete Carroll wanted to run it up.

Getting rolled by a powerhouse Trojan team, at home in a rowdy L.A. Coliseum on a perfect California night is one thing. Taking a whipping and hardly caring is another.

The Buckeyes have gotten fat and happy in the Midwest, and it isn't just a lack of speed or talent that keeps getting them destroyed nationally. It's a lack of urgency.

"We've got Troy next week," Laurinaitis said. "We just need to work on getting better."

Troy? Really, Troy?

"What's important for us is we roll up our sleeves and go back to work," said Tressel, whose sweater never has sleeves.

Back in the Midwest, Ohio State's version of football works wonders. It generally has better talent than opponents and consistently grinds out victory after victory.

It's everywhere else, against everyone else, that Ohio State can't really run or throw, tackle or scheme. And there is no way it's changing unless Tressel begins to admit it.

"We've had success but you kind of have to measure success with who you play," admitted wide receiver Brian Hartline, perhaps the only Buckeye with any emotion after the game.

"We do a great job playing against Big Ten teams, but a lot of times, you have to get ready for out of conference. Obviously we haven't done that very well in the near past."

What's the difference?

"I don't know," he shrugged. "I really don't know. I don't personally see a lot of difference, but there's got to be something."

Try everything. This looked like the same shell-shocked program of BCS beatings past. After Florida destroyed them in January 2007, the Bucks showed up again in the title game and promised something different. It was the same, destruction at the hands of LSU.

This year they returned so many starters and so many stars, all of whom promised redemption. USC smacked them around with ease.

Hartline claimed he and his fellow receivers were open, but the offensive line didn't provide time for quarterbacks Boeckman or Terrelle Pryor to throw. USC had five sacks.

"The ball couldn't get in the air," Hartline said.

Meanwhile, the USC line opened holes for C.J. Gable and Joe McKnight to pad their YouTube highlights.

When Ohio State is getting dominated (again) in the trenches, what exactly does this program stand for anymore?

Don't ask Tressel. Apparently it's all about fighting hard. Besides, all things considered, he seemed relatively pleased.

After all, they get Troy next week.

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