Watching Saturday night’s 24-10 win over Wisconsin was certainly frustrating at times. In the end, it’s hard to find too much fault with a two-touchdown win over the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison, especially considering the history of the Buckeyes at Camp Randall since 2002. Ohio State had played six games in Madison entering Saturday night’s contest. The Buckeyes had lost two of those games and their four victories were all decided by seven points or less.
The victory on Saturday night had me thinking that this year’s team is closer to playing Tressel Ball than what we saw over the last few years with Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud at quarterback. Not that there’s a problem with that, since in the end, all that matters is the Buckeyes keep stacking wins ahead of the showdown at the end of November in Ann Arbor with Michigan. Hell, Tressel Ball won Ohio State a national title against one of the most talented teams in college football history.
After seeing Ohio State put up 30 points or more on a regular basis, this year has been a bit of a change for the Buckeyes. Already this season, Ohio State has scored 24 points or less in four of their wins. In the 17-14 win at Notre Dame at the end of September, the Buckeyes saw their record streak of scoring at least 20 points in over 70 games snapped. In the end, fans are going to remember the win over the Fighting Irish, not the streak of scoring at least 20 points in games.
When it comes to quarterbacks, Buckeye Nation has been spoiled. Fields, Stroud, and the late Dwayne Haskins were all NFL first-round draft picks. Just before them, J.T. Barrett set pretty much every school passing record. The recent lineage of quarterbacks might have set expectations a little too high for Kyle McCord. So far this season McCord has been largely fine. We have seen the first-year starter improve throughout the year, but there are also periods of inconsistency from the quarterback. McCord has more of a Craig Krenzel feel to him than that of Fields or Stroud.
One player that would have been fun to transport to some of those Jim Tressel teams would be Marvin Harrison Jr. Even though Tressel did bring some great wide receivers to Columbus, Harrison is better than Ted Ginn Jr., Santonio Holmes, and Michael Jenkins. While Ginn had speed like we had never seen from a receiver when he came to Ohio State, and Holmes and Jenkins possessed great hands and could make some of the clutchest catches ever seen, it’s like Harrison has the best traits of all three, along with the size to go up and grab the football.
There were two areas that really drove home the Tressel Ball similarities when I was watching Saturday night’s game. The first was what we saw from TreVeyon Henderson. You can tell how badly Ryan Day wants his team to be able to run the football so people like Lou Holtz don’t criticize the toughness of Ohio State. The Buckeyes can do just that when they have a healthy Henderson lining up in the backfield. The junior running back carried the football 24 times for 162 yards and a score against the Badgers.
Nothing against Chip Trayanum and Miyan Williams since those two running backs certainly run tough, they just don’t have the vision or the speed of Henderson. The Ohio State offense operates at a whole different dynamic when Henderson is on the field. Somehow Henderson can take the smallest hole and turn it into a 20 or 30-yard gain. When he is on the field, just the presence of Henderson can take a lot of pressure off of McCord, since opposing defenses have to respect Henderson a lot more than they did Trayanum or Williams.
The other area for Ohio State that gives this team more of a Tressel Ball feel is the defense. While there was one drive where the defense looked clueless in the third quarter, other than that they gave up pretty much nothing to Wisconsin, holding the Badgers under 300 yards of offense. After a number of years of fans clamoring for the return of the “Silver Bullets,” now it’s pretty obvious that the group is back.
Unlike past years where the Bosa brothers and Chase Young were the stars of the Ohio State defense, this year’s defense is driven by the secondary. After closing out last year by giving up big plays to Michigan and Georgia, this year’s team has yet to give up a play of at least 40 yards. There are moments when the defense bends, but they have yet to break. So far this season, Ohio State hasn’t given up more than 17 points in a game.
Can this Ohio State win the national championship? Did anybody really think the 2002 team could win the title at this point of the season? If there was ever a year that the Buckeyes could win a championship with new-age Tressel Ball, this would be the year. We still don’t truly know what Michigan was since the Wolverines haven’t played anyone, and things could be a little different now that they don’t have Connor Stalions attending every game he can to try and steal the signs of opponents. So far this year, no team has truly stood out as the dominant team in college football, which works in the favor of the Buckeyes, who have already won two games against top-10 teams and won under the lights in Madison.
Much like teams under Jim Tressel, there are going to be some frustrating games. At the time Buckeye Nation (myself included) will act like the sky is falling. We just have to trust that the team will get things figured out in-game. They did in the win at Notre Dame, and they were able to respond when Wisconsin tied the game in the second half. Responding to adversity is the Tressel Ball way. We just have to learn to embrace it again.