Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Admit It, Anonymous Commenter, I'm Right

Occasionally, an article comes along that will cause me to nod my head furiously from start to finish. I'll find myself alternating between "that's exactly right" and "gosh, I wish that I had made that point so clearly and so specifically." Chris Brown's evisceration of Jim Tressel's offense was exactly that sort of article. The fact that the article came from Brown, who has emerged over the past year as the best college football analyst in the Blogosphere, bar none (thank you, William Floyd) only increases the pain in my neck from agreeing with such vigor. Brown is also noted for dispassionate, technical prose, so when he breaks out lines like this:
When I previewed this game, I said that mobile quarterbacks presented Pete Carroll with a math problem: How do you cover all of a team's receivers, guard the box for the run game, and account for the mobile quarterback? Fortunately for Carroll, he didn't have to solve this tricky arithmetic problem because Jim Tressel can't count.
and this:
Jim Tressel is the closest thing we have to that Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler style. This is not to say power running is gone, but the absolutely ridiculous idea that you can beat Southern Cal by running the same power play -- what Tressel calls "dave," with a pulling guard and a fullback who kicks out the defensive end -- over and over again, is to "live in the deep dark past." Jim Tressel is a dinosaur, and like all dinosaurs, not like for this world. And if I was the multi-talented Terrelle Pryor, stuck in the straitjacket of the OSU offense, I'd be thinking long and hard about where I might transfer to.
the insults have extra impact. Brown has done a great job over the past year of betraying no agenda or rooting interest, so when he unloads on the Buckeye offense, he has credibility because he isn't coming from a place of obvious bias.

I can't remember whom I was talking to when watching the Ohio State-Navy game, but I remarked to a friend that Jim Tressel's use of Terrelle Pryor reminds me of a 13-year old boy confronted with his first bra strap. Jim knows that he has something awesome there and he'd really like to unlock it, but he doesn't have the first clue how to do so. As a result, he fumbles around tediously, pushing and pulling in every direction without ever releasing the bounty that's right in front of him. Brown's post explains Tressel's failings perfectly. To briefly summarize:

  1. Ohio State never used the zone read play that was its only effective weapon against Ohio State in 2008, not to mention the play that Texas and Oregon relied upon in beating the Trojans in 2005 and 2007.
  2. Ohio State was predictable that USC was able to ignore the Bucks' slot receivers altogether, except when Tressel called for his idiotic formation that places a bubble screen threat in a position where a bubble screen is his only option. In other words, Ohio State gave away its plays by its use of formations, demonstrating that Tressel has no idea how the various plays that form the basis of the spread 'n' shred fit together.
  3. Ohio State never deployed Pryor as a running threat to negate backside pursuit. Tressel has a quarterback who allegedly runs a 4.33 40 and yet he doesn't use the threat of Pryor running on the bevy of conventional iso plays that he calls. As a result, he makes life more difficult on an already taxed offensive line.
After reading Brown's article, I have never felt stronger about the comparisons between Tressel and Lloyd Carr. Carr, like Tressel, was noted for predictable playcalling that led opposing defenders to comment after games (especially bowl games) that they knew what was coming. Carr, like Tressel, shied away from deploying some very talented players unless his team was trailing. (Don't get me started about some of the first half gameplans in the 1999 season when Carr had Tom Brady throwing the ball with four future NFL starters blocking in front of him.) Carr, like Tressel, often had specific formations for certain plays, as opposed to having a set of constraint plays from the same formation. Carr, like Tressel, was criticized by program insiders for failing to develop offensive linemen. (Carr, unlike Tressel, was very good at developing quarterbacks, whereas Tressel is very good at putting out consistently productive defenses.) Carr, like Tressel, is an honorable man and was an impeccable representative of his state and university, but he was often found wanting against top opposition.

I had a lengthy debate with a commenter about Tressel's merits during the offseason. My points were that Tressel is behind the times offensively and that the losses to Florida, LSU, and USC were indictments above and beyond the small sample size that they represent because they were the few games in which the Bucks didn't have pronounced talent advantages. This seems like as good a time as any for this clip:


Jesse said...

Haha, that was a good find Michael. Pure win!

And I completely agree w/r/t Tressel and Ohio St. Would this not be a perfect example of a coach recuiting a player that really doesn't fit his system?

Michael said...

Pryor ought to fit the system that Tressel used with Troy Smith, although he would need to be more run-heavy with Pryor. Ohio State is going hard after Braxton Miller, who is going to be the #1 player in Ohio next year and is similar to Pryor, so Tressel clearly thinks that big, mobile quarterbacks are good for...whatever system it is that he runs.

Speaking of systems, going back to our Paul Johnson vs. Rodriguez comparison, do you think that Johnson's offense could make use of a guy like Tate Forcier?

One more thing: I have some thoughts on creating a spreadsheet looking at yards per play differentials over the past several years. We should discuss when the season is over.

Coach Automobile said...

Trying to remember back to 2006 - was the Michigan game the only time Tressel broke out the 5-wide set, or did he try to take advantage of Smith's running ability before that game? I don't follow tOSU much, but that's the only example I can think of in recent history of Tressel actually coming up with a wrinkly game plan. Semi related, would he maybe be saving some stuff for the Michigan game this year, explaining in part that sleep-inducing gameplan against USC?

Jesse said...

This is true, Tressel should clearly be more run-oriented with Pryor than he ever was with Smith, and not only because of Pryor, but also because the overall quality of WR was much greater during Smith's time than it is now. At least, in my opinion it was.

Oh absolutely Forcier could be used in Johnson's system. I think it would lead to a much more balanced offense than what we see now. Quite frankly, I'm not sure what to think about the passing game right now because Nesbitt has been and should be better than what we saw in the Clemson game. Having Forcier back there might have led to a better showing in the passing game.

What Johnson ran last year, and the majority of what we'll see this year, is supposed to be the base of his system. From here, he can adapt it to the strengths and talents of the players available to him. If he can recruit a more prototypical passer and better WR's, then we would see more run & shoot, or the common "spread", style sets. I think Forcier is a better passer, while Nesbitt is the better runner. Though I really like what I saw from Forcier...

And w/r/t the spreadsheet, I'm am most definitely interested in that. I know in one of my previous comments I rambled on about returning starters and their respective offensive and defensive production. Well, I'm still trying to find a way to automate the extraction without paying a service, but I assume that it would just take time. I just really think that there's something of value to be had from evaluating the returning production percentages versus simply looking at the number of returning starters. So by all means, let's dive into those spreadsheets.

Jesse said...

Coach Auto, he very well may, but why would he? To me, and it seems to most everyone else, that the USC game should have been a bigger priority win than the Michigan game would be. Or at least it was before this weekend, because looking at the their performances now makes it clear that the OSU-Mich game will not be as easy as they may have originally thought it would be.

Anonymous said...

No, you weren't right. Tressel had a rough game, but you can't just ignore the quality and effectiveness of his 2005-2006 offenses. (Also, that article wasn't very good; that bubble screen formation was used as a decoy numerous times in 2005-2006, pretty effectively too. But that's a good discussion for a different day). They were some of the best in the country, and he obviously knew what to do with a mobile QB; Smith ran for 600 yards in 2005, they used spread formations and the read-option play, and Smith constantly recognized openings. Its less likely that Tressel forgot how to coach qbs or design offenses than it is that Pryor is just a dud. If Tressel's giving Pryor good coaching and Pryor just isn't learning, that isn't Tressel's fault. His fault in this situation is not recruiting a Troy Smith to compete for the spot with the new version of Zwick (Pryor).

Aside from all that, 1) Johnson does have a player who is somewhat similar to Forcier; Jaybo Shaw, the backup QB who broke his collarbone before the season started. When he takes over the offense, you'll see a decent increase in its efficiency. 2) you put Frank Beamer 6 spots ahead of Tressel on your list. Beamer is doing far worse with Tyrod Taylor than Tressel is with Pryor. Frankly, Beamer's lost almost every big game he's coached in, and he's even more conservative (in some ways) than Tressel.

Michael said...


Your defense of Tressel amounts to a claim that he has had two above-average offenses in nine years at Ohio State. I did like the offenses that he deployed with Troy Smith, but he is totally squandering Terrelle Pryor's talent. I refuse to believe that Pryor is the reason why OSU cannot run a bubble screen when USC has eight in the box against a shotgun formation. The fact that USC would do so is evidence that they looked at film and knew that Ohio State had no constraint plays. And what do you make of Gallippo's quote that USC knew that OSU had a "bootleg formation?" Regardless of Pryor's intelligence, Tressel is making his life harder by deploying formations that allow a team like USC to guess plays before they happen. Michigan was similarly predictable under Carr/Debord, but Michigan would do so to establish a tendency that they could break later on. If there was ever a time for OSU to break an established tendency, it was against USC.

Jaybo Shaw doesn't have Forcier's passing ability. There's a reason why Johnson was able to peel Shaw away from Middle Tennessee State as opposed to a good program.

Beamer is like Tressel in his disregard for moving the ball. The difference between the two of them is that one is at a top ten program and the other is at Virginia Tech.