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Conservative Tressel gets the last laugh

Kenny Greer / The Lantern

Streams of scarlet-clad crazies flocked to midfield, creating a stir that hasn’t surrounded the Ohio State football team in quite some time.

The Buckeyes finally won a big game, albeit in the comfortable confines of Ohio Stadium against a conference foe missing its starting quarterback.

Still, OSU hasn’t won a contest of this magnitude since Nov. 18, 2006, when the No. 1 Buckeyes handed No. 2 Michigan its first loss of the season and earned a spot in the BCS Championship Game.

But those showering the team with roses hadn’t been giddy for long. Just minutes earlier, while the Buckeyes were losing their grip on a two-touchdown lead, the 104,455 in attendance collectively joined in on periodic groans, upset with OSU’s passive offense.

Coach Jim Tressel embellished his conservative style of play, calling for 51 runs against just 17 passes, refusing to allow the slightest chance of a Terrelle Pryor turnover.

With a 24-17 lead and possession of the ball at Iowa’s 29-yard line, the Bucks called three consecutive Dan Herron rushes to the right side. On the three runs, Herron lost one yard, gained two, then lost two, leaving backup kicker Devin Barclay in a precarious situation for fourth down.

Barclay’s 47-yard field goal sailed wide left, and Iowa regained possession, needing a touchdown to tie the game.

Just one week earlier, Tressel felt too uncomfortable to allow Barclay to attempt a 46-yard try in the first quarter against Penn State. Yet, with the game, season, conference title and trip to the Rose Bowl on the line, he was too afraid to let Pryor pick up some yards and ease the burden on his walk-on kicker.

Regardless of how close to the vest Tressel played things, for once, they worked in his favor.

Florida’s athleticism overwhelmed the Buckeyes’ submissiveness in the title game three years ago. LSU had too much talent for Tressel’s passive style a year later. And Texas’ offensive firepower proved too much for a conservative approach in last season’s Fiesta Bowl.

But against Iowa, for one night, Tressel’s no-risk, slim-reward technique proved successful.

So the Buckeyes could have beaten Iowa by three touchdowns? Tressel doesn’t care. That’s not his style.

When Ohio State won the national championship in 2002, they did so by the skin of their teeth, constantly avoiding upsets and eking out close victories. That’s just the way Tressel prefers it.

Media and fans can nitpick every opportunity missed because of conservative playcalling, but the game’s end result speaks much louder in Tressel’s favor.

After the Hawkeyes failed to score in overtime, Tressel knew a field goal would send the Bucks to Pasadena. Then, on the first three downs, Herron rushed up the middle, totaling three yards on the trio of carries. No way was Pryor going to be given an opportunity to advance the ball.

Even though Barclay had already misfired from 47 yards, Tressel refused to budge. Play it safe, rely on the kicker, and don’t turn it over.

Critics can bash the coach all they want, but he gets the last laugh, at least on this occasion.

We don’t know how the game would have played out if Pryor was give free reign to air it out a little more. But we do know that the Buckeyes earned a Rose Bowl invite by playing it Tressel’s way.

 

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