On losing to USC

Submitted by blueloosh on September 16th, 2009 at 12:26 PM
I find it pretty absurd that Tressel now has an angry mob on his hands for losing to USC at home, by 3, on a last-second drive.  You may remember a certain other coach did exactly this in 2005 and was promptly rewarded with a 10-year contract.  But the fallout from this latest loss raises a larger point: what does it mean if you are not able beat USC?

Answer: it means you are a college football team other than USC.

Let's put one particular stat to rest, or at least in perspective--any team or conference's recent record against USC.

USC OOC - 2003-2009
Here is how USC has fared against out-of-conference opponents in recent years.

2003 (5-0)
Auburn - BYU - Hawaii - Notre Dame - Michigan

2004 (5-0)
V. Tech - Colorado St. - BYU - Notre Dame - Oklahoma

2005 (4-1)
Hawaii - Arkansas - Notre Dame - Fresno State
--LOSS Texas

2006 (4-0)
Arkansas - Nebraska - Notre Dame - Michigan

2007 (4-0)
Idaho - Nebraska - Notre Dame - Illinois

2008 (4-0)
Virginia - Ohio State - Notre Dame - Penn State

2009 (2-0)
San Jose State - Ohio State

Overall record: 28-1

Conference records:
Big Ten: 0-6
Ind.: 0-6
WAC: 0-5
Big 12: 1-3
SEC: 0-3
MWC: 0-3
ACC: 0-2

Lessons to be drawn from a 3.6% winning percentage (not many)
The Big Ten (and ND) is the worst.  The reason?  We have played them more.  If some other team or conference was taking every other game--or even one in three--from USC, then maybe I would do some soul searching upon losing to them.  But other than the game of Vince Young's life, they have not lost to any team from another conference since 2002.

As much as Michigan fans may enjoy hearing some loud, overly-decisive talking head blather about how USC owns Ohio State or Notre Dame, remember that the same is true for us.  And further, for everyone.  So I think we should hold off on declaring OSU less-than-stellar, Pryor a bust, etc.  The pundits, as always, are over-punditing.  Losing to USC does not mean OSU is not very good, or that the Big 10 is weak.  It means they played USC during Pete Carrol's reign of NCAA terror.



September 16th, 2009 at 12:29 PM ^

Just once, I'd like to see USC play Michigan, or Penn State, or Wisconsin (yeah, I know they're not that good this year) in November, in the midwest, in snow, or in 40 degree rain, or on a windy 10-degree day. I know that what with schedules being the way they are, it'll never happen, but still.

Fresh Meat

September 16th, 2009 at 12:56 PM ^

I have to admit, I borderline dislike the Rose Bowl (blasphemy I know) because it is a clear advantage to Pac-10 teams, especially USC and UCLA. Just look at the NFL, those warm weather teams almost always play terrible when they have to play in cold weather during the playoffs. Places like Green Bay, New York, Chicago typically do much better in the playoffs because of their home field advantage over warm weather teams. I too would like to see those sunshine boys come to Michigan in November. (I realize that Tate is from California, but hopefully his being around it everyday during the week as well will help)


September 16th, 2009 at 1:11 PM ^

late October and November can see rain and 40 degrees in Seattle, Pullman, Corvallis, Eugene, Berkely and Palo Alto. Pullman often gets into the 20s on gamedays in November. USC has done pretty well in games at all those places during the Pete Carroll era; but failure to win all their conference games has kept them out of the BCS Championship Game the last three years. The USC loss last year to oregon State in Corvallis was on a very nice evening clear with temps in low 50s - high 40s, IIRC.

Eye of the Tiger

September 16th, 2009 at 12:37 PM ^

Was almost a win. Carroll went for it on 4th and 2, and ran LenDale White for no gain. Had he run a pass play or punted, Texas might not have won.

Totally agree with the sentiments of this diary. It's ridiculous to call for Tressel's head because of this, and totally unrealistic to think he'll get fired because of it.


September 16th, 2009 at 12:38 PM ^

It seems like 80% of the media, fans, etc. are getting a little too carried away about last weekend, although it could just be that the displeased few are the ones causing a ruckus -- sounds familiar as we were in this boat only a few weeks ago. Yes, last weekend couldn't have been better. But if you put Tate out there against USC's defense, he's likely going to struggle too. Thanks Brian for your post today about keeping our expectations at Alamo Bowl level.


September 16th, 2009 at 12:49 PM ^

That is a great breakdown; thanks for the link. But I have to point that even the article you provide contains the type of foolishly overstated conclusions I am talking about (i.e. "I'm convinced the situation in Columbus is nearly hopeless"). Do you truly agree they are "nearly hopeless?" I do not.


September 16th, 2009 at 1:44 PM ^

the Brown piece isn't that he thinks OSU is doomed. Rather, when up against elite teams like SC, Florida, Texas, OU, etc., OSU's equitable talent will not likely overcome bad offensive schemes and play calling. In other words,they'll continue to do well in B10, overmatching most teams, but that Tressel has been made a dinosaur by elite teams whose coaches are utilizing the same kind of talent much more effectively by putting them in calls/positions that exploit defenses.

I'd love to hear what Tressel might to say to Brown's points about the bootleg play fake, or the simple check down to the bubble screen when the slot goes uncovered.


September 16th, 2009 at 12:48 PM ^

I guess your comments prompt the question, what will beat USC? Hopefully in Coach Rod we have the answer. There's like no way it could happen this year, for crying out loud we have walk-ons in the secondary, but once we can field a defense of mostly 4 stars, we'll be on track. There's like no way it could happen this year. Right? Could Tate works his wonders this year?? This year???


September 16th, 2009 at 1:02 PM ^

I can't predict the future but I'm gonna go ahead and say no. No it can't happen this year. First that would require one of two things to happen: (1) Michigan makes a BCS bowl and USC doesn't make the national title game-they play in the Rose Bowl or (2) They play in the National Title game. The intersection between Pac 10 and Big 10 in bowls dictates that they simply won't play each other if either of those doesn't happen.

So put me on record as saying it won't happen this year.


September 16th, 2009 at 12:52 PM ^

is only the most recent failure against top 10 teams; SweaterVest is being pilloried for failure to win big games with national implications.

Your argument that everyone else loses to USC won't carry much weight with OSU fans who expect to win now with the #1 QB prospect in the history of college football. They're riding emotion, not logic.

Hemlock Philosopher

September 16th, 2009 at 12:54 PM ^

OSU fans are pissed is because they see Tressel-ball as a way to not lose as opposed to winning. It's the same gripe many of us had with Lloyd Carr's 4th quarter conservatism. OSU fans saw Carroll playing a riskier game in an attempt to win. They know that field goals are fine against lesser opponents, but against the top teams, it will likely make you lose.


September 16th, 2009 at 1:08 PM ^

OSU fans saw Carroll playing a riskier game in an attempt to win.

Kind of funny, because what Charlie Weis did this past weekend can certainly be described as "playing a riskier game in an attempt to win", and...remind me how that is working out for him. It's all about the outcome, and there are always going to be people that swoop in for the kill to argue their side (risky vs. conservative) based on that outcome.

(I guess the point could be made that what really upsets fans is a coach for whom the conservative vs. risky strategy becomes dogmatic and inflexible.)

Tha Stunna

September 16th, 2009 at 1:26 PM ^

Are you just referring to the last ND drive? Because other than that, I think he did a very impressive job. Considering that Armando Allen, from most perspectives, is not very good, yet got a sick game in against us, means that he called his plays well.

If you'd told me ND would put up 34 points against us, I would have been sure that we lost, and throughout most of the game I would have thought we'd lose too. He was only thwarted by Tate Forcier's awesomeitude.

Not a Blue Fan

September 16th, 2009 at 1:10 PM ^

That's very much a component of it. On the other hand, you can't fault Jim Tressel for Terrell Pryor going 11/25, no TDs, and a pick. Certainly Jim could have been a lot more aggressive, but given the lack of production it's hard to fault him for not being more aggressive.

Being aggressive when you clearly have a reasonable chance of success is one thing, but being aggressive when you're averaging

Not a Blue Fan

September 16th, 2009 at 1:45 PM ^

I read it, and I think it has some merit. That being said, I think Brown was a little gung-ho in his assessment. I agree that the game plan left a lot to be desired (after the game I described it with the phrase "train wreck"), and I'd even argue that Tressel should strongly consider bringing in an offensive coordinator. However, I can't fault him specifically guy for missed reads or poorly thrown passes.

I'm very conflicted. After watching that game, I don't think that USC is one iota more talented than OSU (save at the TB position). USC looked far better coached and confident, though, and that's a real area of concern. Is it an issue of Tressel being overly conservative? I have no idea. I do know, however, that given the field position that the offense had as a result of - and let's be honest here - a dominating defensive performance, they should have scored quite a few more points. "2 or 3 touchdowns, easy" might be stretching it (I'm not sure it is, if the offense didn't repeatedly soil themselves), but that game was more than winnable.


September 16th, 2009 at 3:21 PM ^

USC, in spite of several training camp injuries, looked to be at about the same talent level at the BuckEyes. Brown, ( who was uncharacteristically gung-ho ) in his analysis, laid the defeat at Tressel's feet.

USC's confidence, based on their success in game like Saturday's, is the topic of this thread, no?

The Ohio State defensive performance was impressive.


September 16th, 2009 at 10:38 PM ^

You get a point for being a good poster on a UM fan site, but that's not the reason for my comments on your comments in response to ... Oh, never mind.

"Conflicted" is a great word to describe OSU under JT and UM under Lloyd.

I get the sense that Tressel is constraining TP. I used to have that feeling about Lloyd Carr, too. Carr's QB coaching (and Carr's game planning overall) was simply, "don't f--- up". Consequently, the QBs at Michigan produced very few turn-overs except on a few occasions. Just playing error-free (i.e. "execution") is enough sometimes to win. JT has won enough to earn the right to call the game like he sees it.

The flip-side of that approach is a young QB gets wrapped around the axle, unable to get out of his own way and just play the game. It also means (to rabid fans in places like Ann Arbor and Columbus) that the play book was written by Woody Hayes himself.

Hard to second guess Lloyd, (and Bo and Mo before him) though: he's sent a whole lotta well-prepared and electrifying QBs to the NFL.


September 16th, 2009 at 1:01 PM ^

your fooling yourself if you think that the Big Ten would not perform better with home field advantage for a Rose Bowl equivalent game. USC basically plays a home game for the Rose Bowl.


September 16th, 2009 at 2:12 PM ^

that B10 results would be better. Certainly SC and UCLA in the Rose Bowl enjoy de facto home games (literally a home game for the Bruins).

But to me, that 26-1 record suggests that it really hasn't mattered who USC has played OOC or where they've played in this run. Of note, they've now won in Columbus, South Bend, beat VaTech in Landover MD, shut out a top 10 Auburn team in Jordan-Hare, and put up 50 against Arkansas in Fayettville. I'm not a fan of the Trojans but I got to admit they schedule Big Boy OOC games, go play them, and typically win no matter the location.


September 16th, 2009 at 1:05 PM ^

The reason Buckeye fans are on Tressel is not because of this loss, but because of a long string of losses to top-tier opposition. Just about anybody would be an underdog to USC these days, but the feeling in Columbus is that Tressel can't beat any elite school. His play calls are very much of the "play not to lose" variety. When you go ahead and lose anyway, it's awfully frustrating.

But Michigan fans can relate to this. For many years, Bo and Carr did the same thing. Don't forget Bo's long string of bowl-game losses against foes he was supposed to beat.


September 16th, 2009 at 1:30 PM ^

I think this speaks far more to the dominance of USC than any flaws with Tressel. That said, his recent inability to win against top-flight competition (outside of Texas) certainly gives ammo to those who think Tressel is a little too conservative for today's game.

My take on USC is that they are a supremely talented team that almost wins in spite of their coach. Carroll is a great recruiter, and in college that is 9/10ths of winning. Carroll was a pretty bad pro coach, and his offense started to lose its steam a bit once Norm Chow left. My guess is that USC will continue to be a top-10 team because of the talent brought in, but they'll struggle to win any more MNCs unless they happen to play a team they are significantly more talented than, and even then it might be more a coin flip that people expect.


September 16th, 2009 at 3:38 PM ^

Carroll isn't an offensive guy. He needs to have a top-flight OC. But he is a fantastic defensive coach - probably the best in the business. It's not just a function of talent. SC had eight new starters and a new DC in their second game against OSU, and you'd have never known it the way they played.


September 16th, 2009 at 3:34 PM ^

Two things:

1. It's not just a result of this one game. OSU has now lost six consecutive games to top 10 opposition. It's become a pattern for them to find ways to lose against good teams.

2. This SC team may not be as good as those of recent years. Never before has Pete Carroll started a true freshman QB, and this one (Barkley) is far from polished. I was not very impressed with his play. I will not be surprised if this SC team drops a couple of games.