Dinosaur Schematic Advantage

Submitted by Brian on September 22nd, 2009 at 2:52 PM

devilsfootball jim-tressel-yo lloyd-carr-gogogo

Earlier this year when one Ohio State blogger who pops his head up around here from time to time invoked what must be the second most-dread name in coaching* to an Ohio State fan considering the leadership of his favored program, I basically scoffed at the comparison:

I'm not saying Jim Tressel is Lloyd Carr, but... what separates Lloyd Carr in say, 2002 or 2003, from Jim Tressel right now? This is a line of thought I've been seriously following for the better part of a year now. I'd like some input from Michigan fans on this.

Here's my input: that's way hasty.

Though Jim Tressel shares many of Lloyd Carr's philosophies, he's been much better at making sure his unwavering belief that he has a kick-ass defense, great special teams, and pounding ground game is accurate. This made his philosophies actually work on the field. It makes way more sense to play Lloyd/Tresselball when your quarterback is Craig Krenzel and your middle linebacker is AJ Hawk than when your quarterback is Tom Brady and your middle linebacker is Zack Kaufman.

And Tressel has consistently displayed an aptitude for pulling out the stops when it comes to The Game. The single play that leaps out to me from Tressel's oeuvre that demonstrates his mastery of Michigan came midway through 2006's Football Armageddon. Ohio State rushed to the line after a nine-yard gain, aligned in a power formation, snapped the ball almost as soon as it was set, and ran play action that sucked Ryan Mundy up and led to an easy touchdown. That touchdown represented the four points separating a win from a loss and spoke of meticulous, wily preparation. (And, of course, the fact that Michigan safety play was consistently awful for ten years.) Jim Tressel is only a dinosaur when it suits him, which is usually but not always.

"Usually" is fine when you're going up against teams you've out-recruited for a decade. It's not when you're going up against USC or Florida or Texas, and in the aftermath of Ohio State's six straight failed attempt to prove themselves something other than a local bully, Ohio State fans got antsy, even angry. Then Chris Brown of Smart Football unloaded on Jim Tressel in a guest post at Doctor Saturday. You've probably seen it already. It instantly became an internet sensation everywhere from here to Ohio State message boards to, apparently (and possibly apocryphally), Tressel himself on Columbus radio. It's remarkable in a number of ways, but mostly for the strident tone Brown adopts. Brown has established himself as the blogosphere's most knowledgeable and perceptive observer of football, and he's done so without depressing a key in anger. The effect of the piece was similar to Bill Cosby calling someone you hate a stupid caveman:

[Tressel] is not good enough of a tactician to win against the national elite who, unlike practically everyone he schemes against in his conference, have the talent to match Ohio State's, and those are the only games where coaching really matters. With his facilities, talent, and resources, winning the Big Ten is not the test.

Look at the numbers. Ohio State's failure to beat a quality opponent since defeating Michigan to punch a ticket to the national championship game in 2006, Tressel's teams have been outclassed, outsmarted, outplayed and outprepared in every big game they've played.

If you haven't read it already, stop everything immediately and do so. The thing is pure porn for Wolverines, especially because the counter-example to stupid is the guy currently calling the plays for Tate Forcier.

You'll note that the other side of the ball was ahead of USC's curve. This seems like less of an accomplishment than it did a week ago, but this kind of statement from an offensive lineman…

We spent all night trying to adjust to what they were doing up front. They did not come with the stuff we practiced against.”

…is the precise opposite of what Michigan fans will remember hearing and loathing whenever Michigan made a Rose Bowl against teams that would bash their heads in with a stick. That's high praise for the coaches and something that keeps Ohio State afloat even when they've got wonky quarterbacking—which, by my count, has been all but two years of Tressel's tenure.

This is about adaptation. In Michigan's win over Notre Dame, Tate Forcier threw 33 times, which was eight more attempts than Pat White ever had at West Virginia. Meanwhile, Tressel attempts to pound a square peg into a round, arm-punting hole. This goes beyond just the playcalling, though you'd never think it given the postgame reaction.

There was a minor hubbub about Tressel dropping something analogous to Rich Rodriguez's infamous "get a life" quote, albeit in exquisitely Senator Tressel fashion:

"When I read some of them I feel terrible for them because there's no way they're happy," he said. "They've got to be some of the most unhappy people in the world, and I feel bad because we just made them less happy, and I hate to be a part of making someone less happy. I mean, they're already miserable."

Exact same sentiment as "get a life," but respun in a way that defuses the hubbub. Yea, truly, Jim Tressel is a brilliant politician. But Holy God the only person to not totally ignore the big story from that press conference was Adam Rittenberg, who spent a bunch of his post on the matter detailing the ridiculous decisions Tressel made en route to defeat:

Tressel, who said he makes most of the play calls even though Jim Bollman has the title of offensive coordinator, disdained going for a touchdown in favor of an easy field goal on fourth-and-goal at the USC 1 early in the second quarter. He also favored punting on fourth-and-1 at the USC 45 in the third quarter.

With around 8 minutes left in the game and Ohio State gripping a 15-10 lead, the Buckeyes drove to a first down at the USC 35. After a run gained 3 yards, quarterback Terrelle Pryor threw an incompletion and then was sacked for a 4-yard loss that meant kicker Aaron Pettrey would have a 53-yard attempt on fourth-and-11 at the USC 36. Tressel elected to punt again.

That punt led to the Trojans taking control for an impressive 86-yard drive that won the game.

Ohio State is going toe-to-toe with a program they consider their equal. They're actually a significant underdog, with USC favored by seven. And Tressel kicked a field goal from the one yard line, punted on fourth and one on USC's side of the field, and punted from the USC 36. All of these things are insane by the numbers and more so when you've recruited a 6'6" beast of a quarterback who can fall forward for a first down behind the swamp-beast of a guard who you stole from Michigan. Tressel shriveled up and reduced variance in a game he is the underdog in because he finds it extremely hard to shift gears. By doing so he set his team up to lose a narrow lead late. His decisions can be directly blamed for the loss. Ohio State should never have been up only five points in that game. Engineering students of Ohio State, welcome to the same level of hell I was on after the 2005 Ohio State game. May you reside here long and painfully.

This is a failure to adapt. For twenty years Tressel has operated at a significant talent advantage relative to almost all of his peers. With the relative collapses of Michigan and Penn State—who has beaten OSU of late when the talent scales approach even—there has been no local program fit to challenge Ohio State recruiting star to recruiting star, and he's rolled up conference championships and victories only to be smacked down when the big guys from elsewhere roll into town. Tressel is fixed in his ways and has not been challenged sufficiently to re-evaluate his philosophy. At this point it's hard to imagine him doing so simply because of inertia. And the big games continue to roll by without victories. Tressel, at this point, is not a version of Carr waiting to happen. He's Bo Schembechler. 

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POSTSCRIPT: The exercise of comparing Rodriguez to Tressel, Carr, and Schembechler is largely left to the reader, but I'll refer you to an earlier piece that has been reinforced by the first three weeks of this season and the Smart Football article above. Money (ha) graf:

Rodriguez comes from a wholly different background than Carr, coming up through the ranks at NAIA schools and Tulane and Clemson and West Virginia. Until Pat White showed up he never had a significant talent advantage against the vast majority of opponents. He never, ever had the luxury of lying back and thinking to himself "if we out-execute the opponent we will win," and it shows. He invented a whole new offense and used it to exploit inefficiencies in recruiting. To seal the Sugar Bowl against Georgia he called a fake punt, exploiting inefficiencies in fourth-down playcalling. For the past seven years he has played Moneyball at West Virginia.

*(Number one.)

Comments

Erik_in_Dayton

September 22nd, 2009 at 3:07 PM ^

...I'm glad we have Coach Rod. Against EMU, as the defense struggled, I remembered happily that his offense (unless you count running out of a one-back set w/ Vincent Smith or Mike Cox) doesn't have a lower gear a la Debord. The offense at all times is looking to find a weakness in the defense and exploit it until the other team is as dead as a possum on a six-lane highway.

Old School

September 22nd, 2009 at 3:10 PM ^

After 3 games it is obvious that Rich Rod is a coaching genius. Take note you unconverted - M's offense is 3rd in the nation, the team has stopped beating itself, and the defense has been shutting teams down in the third quarter as the offense rips their defense wide open. They are back in the national polls. And, unless Forcier and Robinson are kidnapped, look out Big Ten because spread has changed the atmosphere of our stodgy league - forever. Look out Tressel and Jo Pa - this year's games will test everything your vaunted defenses have!

jamiemac

September 22nd, 2009 at 3:15 PM ^

So, like, all those insipid jokes I heard as a kid about Bo losing his cereal because it's in a bowl, I can just transfer to Tress? Sweet. Thanks for the heads up.

Ziff72

September 22nd, 2009 at 3:16 PM ^

You can say what you want about Lloyd but don't go near Bo...it's internet war!!!!

Seriously though I think it is unfair to compare today's football to coaches from pre-80's. Football was played a different way and recruiting and everything was different.

1 bone of contention to stick up for Bo was that he was willing to adapt...wingback, power I, Option I, Wishbone, Pro Set, I. He used running Qb's and when he got Harbaugh a pro QB he let him pass.

Also, Michigan may not have won all the big games but they were never(I'm at work putting that on the line with just my memory) humiliated in one either and made to look unprepared. Many times when Bo was "undermanned" he sprang or nearly sprang the upset. He beat #1 Miami in 84. In 88 he played #1 Notre Dame and #2 Miami in consecutive weeks and outplayed them both, before losing late with inferior talent if you look at a pro draft board.

I love "Smart Football" but every and I mean every coach worth a shit will tell you scheme is overrated and it is preparation and players that rule the day. I like Chris's Tressel Ball post because it pointed out how his scheme actually hurt his players. Conservative is not a bad thing as long as it is not predictable.

stubob

September 22nd, 2009 at 4:18 PM ^

"every coach worth a shit will tell you scheme is overrated and it is preparation and players that rule the day"

And having a history of success allows you to recruit the best players, and not have to worry about scheme. Scheme won't win games for a massively overmatched team. However, scheme can win games for an evenly or slightly undermatched team. That's the point of the scheme: to exploit relative weakness and to use your relative strengths. That's what brought about the spread, answering the question "We've got a couple good players, and a bunch of mediocre ones. How do we take advantage of the skills that the good players have?"

Conservative, in this case doesn't mean pounding 3 yards up the middle. Conservative means punting on 4th down in the opponent's end or kicking a field goal from the 1 yards line.

Ziff72

September 22nd, 2009 at 6:34 PM ^

What Boise St did was prepare with strategy not scheme. Scheme is saying the spread is better than the I formation. What you need to say is that Peterson prepared well and created a strategic advantage in the game......no Peterson would never say that out loud. He would say all the credit goes to the players and coaches and their preparation.

dakotapalm

September 22nd, 2009 at 11:27 PM ^

Sadly, fans only seem to remember the trick plays at the end. First, Boise played power football for 3.9 quarters, going toe to toe with Oklahoma. Second, if Zabransky (a Jimmy/Joe, not an X or O) doesn't throw a pick six in the fourth, Boise wins in regulation, sans tricks.

Njia

September 22nd, 2009 at 3:25 PM ^

I once read a book about business ecosystems (sue me, I was on a plane having a tough time sleeping in coach). About the only thing worth remembering from the book was an extended allegory about Hawaii. If you squint hard enough, it kind of looks like an isolated industrial model that is well-balanced until something (usually predatory) invades and everything goes to hell.

It fits with the Big 10. tOSU has been the biggest, baddest MoFo for nearly a decade. But, when leaving the ecosystem (out-of-conference play, including bowl games) they don't quite measure up. They get hammered, even by a rebuilding USC. The reason is that in the B10 ecosystem, tOSU's recruiting, training and game planning have evolved to beat the other teams in the conference.

What RR seems to be doing is creating a hybrid species at Michigan: optimized to challenge for conference domination, but with the best traits of the true national powers.

Hannibal.

September 22nd, 2009 at 3:33 PM ^

Even at West Virginia, Rodriguez didn't have a big talent advantage over his opponents. If he did, he created that gap by recruiting it. West Virginia's in-state base is shit.

tbliggins

September 22nd, 2009 at 3:34 PM ^

Watching the recap show in the BTN after the ND game Brandstatter asked RR about the 4th and 3 play that Tate scored on. RR said something to the effect of "well, we certainly weren't going to punt there", as if it was a ridiculous question. Regardless of whether it was confidence in the offense or lack thereof in the defense, that one statement gave me a lot of hope for the future simply because he was playing to win, opposed to playing not to lose.

NoNon

September 22nd, 2009 at 4:45 PM ^

to hear "Well, we certainly weren't going punt," than hear "Why would you ask a stupid question like that." (anyone remember? anyone?)

Agreed, it gives me a lot of hope and a needed change in philosophy. If they read Brown's articles, folks at tOSU should be shaking in their boots as soon as they realize the godfather of the same offense that laid them the "smackdown" (and yes, I believe I'm right using it there) the past two trips to the NC game is getting his system in place in "that school up north."

WinWithPeople

September 22nd, 2009 at 3:36 PM ^

...but I think you overreach when you say "only to be smacked down when the big guys from elsewhere roll into town." Smack down is a little much. If you're speaking literally about rolling into Columbus, no top team has manhandled Ohio State in the horseshoe during the entire Tressel era--USC won by 3 in 2009, Texas by 3 in 2005. If you are speaking about the recent string of top team losses, the last three have all been extremely close contests--USC in 2009 (3 points), Texas at the Fiesta Bowl (3 points), and PSU in the Shoe (7 points). Of course, the 2008 USC and Florida games are rightfully termed as smack downs, and the LSU game to a lesser extent.

WinWithPeople

September 22nd, 2009 at 4:13 PM ^

No, I'm saying if you care about the argument then details matter. It's easy to say HURR HURR HURR OSU GETS !1 BEATDOWN!1!! by pointing to 2007 Florida or 2008 USC, but when you examine the losses--a 3 point loss to a USC team that despite its epic fail in Seattle remains a top 5 team with Taylor Mays and Barkley in the line-up, a 3 point loss to a 2008 Texas team that probably should have played for the national title, and a respectable loss to 2008 PSU that happened because an overeager freshman QB eschewed a first down for a chance at a 60 yard touchdown run and fumbled in the process--you see that OSU is progressing, not regressing.

You are the equivalent of a Buckeye fan that points to the 2008 beatdown of Michigan, 42-7, and says LOL MICHIGEN SUCKS AND CANT HANG WIT BUCKS!1! EVER!!#! when in reality Michigan gave a reasonably good effort in 2007, narrowly lost in 2006, and inexplicably lost in 2005 in a comeback that no one but Troy Smith saw coming.

Not every loss is created equal and careful analysis demands better than lumping them all in together.

BleedingBlue

September 22nd, 2009 at 7:02 PM ^

Snap judgement there WWP. Too bad it will be to your peril. Mess with the Trojan, get the sword.

Observe:

OSU Record since 2005 in “Big Time” national out-of-conference games:

2 wins and 5 losses

Big Wins:
Texas twice-
2006 Texas in Austin – see full analysis for more notes – Colt McCoy’s 2nd game. Texas team coming off national title – OSU should have won this big and did.
2008-09 BCS bowl - Beat an Texas team with the 111th ranked defense by 3 points.

Obvious Beat Downs:
2006 FLA
2007 LSU - see full analysis. This was a beat-down.
2008 USC

Close Losses, or “Non-Beat-downs” in question (really only 2):

USC 2009: USC just lost to Washington who had lost 19 straight games, then beat Idaho, then beat USC. I think it is safe to say the USC is not that good and OSU should have destroyed them like the beat down OSU received in 2008 in L.A. This qualifies as a ‘bad-beat’ at least, if not a full beat down due to the sheer magnitude of the USC follow-up loss.

2005 #1 Texas @ USO: OSU was down 10-0, after 1Q, and outscored 9-0 in 4Q) School record 5 field goals made by OSU. "A.J. Hawk had an interception, two sacks, a team-high 12 tackles (including three for loss), a forced fumble and a fumble recovery." also "In the game, Ohio State had 255 yards of total offense, Texas 382." also "With his seventh career interception, Hawk doubled back and returned the ball 24 yards to the UT 18-yard line, but Ohio State could not pick up a first down and settled for the go-ahead field goal." "Hawk fell on a fumble on the ensuing Texas possession to give the ball back to Ohio State. OSU defensive end Jay Richardson forced Texas tailback Selvin Young to fumble and Hawk pounced on the ball at the UT 30-yard line. Nine plays later, Huston kicked his third field goal of the night to build the Buckeye lead to 16-10 with 35 seconds to play before intermission. Texas pulled within three points on a Pino 37-yard field goal with two seconds left in the opening half. In the second half, another Texas turnover led to another Huston field goal. On the Longhorns’ second play of their first second-half drive, Vince Young threw his second interception of the game as safety Nate Salley picked off a ball tipped by linebacker Bobby Carpenter. Six plays later, Huston booted his fourth field goal of the game, this time connecting from 44 yards to give the Buckeyes a 19-13 lead with 11:46 to play in the third quarter." Despite the score - that was a smackdown, spectacularly punctuated by Smith taking a safety while down 1 point with 2 mins to go. Without two linebackers currently starting in the NFL, and Vince Young being generous with the ball, it is a blowout.

Goblue89

September 22nd, 2009 at 7:20 PM ^

"Big Wins:
Texas twice-
2006 Texas in Austin – see full analysis for more notes – Colt McCoy’s 2nd game. Texas team coming off national title – OSU should have won this big and did.
2008-09 BCS bowl - Beat an Texas team with the 111th ranked defense by 3 points."

I was at the 2009 Fiesta Bowl against Texas and I am pretty sure Texas won that game. I could have been really drunk, but I swear Colt McCoy threw a late TD to Quan Cosby.

Ohio State did however beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl back in 2004 or something.

Seth

September 22nd, 2009 at 3:45 PM ^

The most glorious part of that article is when he says Pryor should think about transferring.

The dinosaur analogy is kind of irksome. Dinos lost out after a major cataclysmic event that changed the entire game; they would be more analogous to, say, the introduction of the forward pass.

If you put T-Rex back on Earth today, he'd do just fine. In fact, I'd wager on Big T against any Big Ten team.

Neanderthal may be more appropriate. We called him stupid, but really, he was just as smart as us, just better adapted to living in a world that no longer existed, and set in ways learned from tens of thousands of years of working just fine thnkuvrymuch.

Like Tressell, there were signs that Neanderthal Ball only worked up North in Europe -- while other human groups were showing up all over the place, Neanderthal features never had any success out of their continent.

He was hardy. He was tough. Neanderthal would have been a short, stout fullback who would break his nose while trucking you over, and think he came out ahead. He would never fumble. He wouldn't be very fast on a dead run, but he'd be ridiculously agile, compact, hard to bring down, and have a burst of 10-yard speed like you wouldn't believe.

His adaptations were for the Ice Age, and like Tresselball, the attributes he used to survive were related to physical talent, not so much cunning (although he was more cunning than any creature ever before us). When the Ice Age ended, his strategy remained the same: keep moving, find a cave, keep families small and feedable, and kill us some fuckin' wild beasts. Thing is, with the skinny guys from Africa arriving with their "holy shit guys let's populate this place like crazy" strategy, the wild beasts were disappearing faster than the warming climate could repopulate them.

So the stout, thick, able-to-laugh-at-pain bodies, built for surviving cold weather and taking down very heavy animals, were not as adept at, say, inventing new resources or incorporating new, high-tech tools to compensate for weak bodies. As the landscape changed, the smaller, nerdy, techhie, exploitative, rabidly reproducing newcomers were better suited. And one day, there were no more Neanderthals around.

Sound like Tressell?

Of course we probably should beat him first before planning his extinction party?

Seth

September 22nd, 2009 at 4:09 PM ^

P.S. Before the Caspari/Wolpoff contingent goes off on me, remember this is mostly about football, and I'm not some Tatersoll-inspired Neander-hater who thinks old man 'thal must have stooped because that's how they do it in La Chapelle. I'm down with multi-regionalism (to a point) and big-hearted, light-skinned, red-haired, lactose-intolerant warrior poets.

All I'm saying is SCOREBOARD BITCHES! And no, you don't get to count Scotland.

Njia

September 22nd, 2009 at 4:32 PM ^

They were certainly competitive species, (resources, food, etc.). However, there is some evidence that there may have been some level of social interaction.

Homo neanderthalensis, (more commonly referred to as "Buckeye") may have also attempted to mate with Homo sapiens, but were likely rebuffed as a result of the unibrow look and lack of social grace.

Seth

September 22nd, 2009 at 4:40 PM ^

That, my friend, is a nerd battle that you and I want no part of.

In short, yes, there is definitely a period when both were alive and in Europe at the same time.

As to whether during this time the two groups battled, shagged, or played a football game, that is a debate that has put many an anthropological pantie in many a bunch, and somehow racialism and Evangelical Christians have gotten involved, and...whoa.

We're relatively certain they didn't play Magic: The Gathering. All else is up for debate.

BaggyPantsDevil

September 22nd, 2009 at 3:46 PM ^

Tressel is fixed in his ways and has not been challenged sufficiently to re-evaluate his philosophy.

Additionally, I feel this is an instance where early and big success—Mythical National Championship in year two—makes reevaluating his philosophy even less likely. Bob Stoops—although he does not seem to have a philosophy as distinct as Jim Tressel—looks as though he’s also in the same boat (great early success followed by years of repeated and similar failures). He’s also very likely glad that Ohio State gets all the attention for losing BCS Championships games.

It’s as though that initial success has blinded them to their own flaws and not even repeated exposure can convince them to make changes. One could even argue that Pete Carroll has been infected with this ailment (hence the inexplicable losses to unranked PAC-10 teams each year).

And--of course--our beloved Lloyd Carr may have had it, too.

papabear16

September 22nd, 2009 at 3:59 PM ^

As much as I used to hate seeing SEC or Big 12 teams pound some patsy 72-0, I wonder if those wins were good for those programs.

My reasoning is thus: coaches need practice, too. If you're going to something innovative and tailored to beat USC (or Florida, or Texas, or...) then you need practice doing that innovating and tailoring. So, when you play a patsy, you could just go conventional, run your base stuff, and beat them on talent. But that gives your coaches no practice. Instead, maybe the coaches should prepare for Delaware State the way they prepare for USC, tailoring and innovating into all hours of the night, just so that when they get to the Big Game, they're practiced at how to do it.

I'm not sure, maybe Nebraska used to talent their way to 72-0 wins in the 90s, but maybe not.

Steve in PA

September 22nd, 2009 at 4:12 PM ^

Maybe it's not all Tressel? The word on Pryor when he was still a HS Qb was that he was mega-talent, but not very bright. Not to say I wouldn't have been thrilled to see him in Maize and Blue. Maybe Pryor isn't mentally up to using the whole playbook?

I'd like to think that it's both. Especially after reading the Wolverine pron.

wiscwood

September 22nd, 2009 at 8:13 PM ^

Everybody can be not too bright. Everyone may not understand. Everybody can be wonderful and glorious. You have take the bitter with the sweet. All people can be... whatever. No slights are intended sometimes. It is not always about race. Sometimes it is. I'd hope people aren't caught up in that old junk.

During Tom Brady's first start, Donovan Mc Nabb kicked Michigan's butt! He is still a good QB. I comment on talent and character. I see Pryor not putting things together sometimes as a QB.

tricks574

September 22nd, 2009 at 4:47 PM ^

The Solid Verbal, a college football podcast, discussed this with Chris Brown himself last thursday. I'd recommend listening, sadly I do not have a link to it, so google away. Also, there is an MgoBlog mention, about UFR and the Picture Pages about the scrape exchange.

UMFootballCrazy

September 23rd, 2009 at 2:19 PM ^

The point is one that Bo himself made over and over, his firm belief in execution, that he could run the same play again and again, even when the other guys knew it was coming, and simply out execute them.

Although Lloyd ball had a certain predictability, it more malaise that had gripped the program than an almost pathalogical resistance to adaptation.

Tressel seems more gripped by a philosophy of doing things that traps him, rather than malaise. In that regard, he does bear a lot of resemblace to Bo.