Commentary

Buckeyes, The Vest do it their way

Originally Published: November 14, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jim Tressel, this is your life:

You sing "Carmen Ohio" with the band after glorious triumphs. You listen to the victory bell ring. You watch the field at the Horseshoe become a teeming sea of celebrating scarlet as fans pour from the stands after beating Iowa 27-24 in overtime to win a Big Ten title.

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
Andrew Weber/US PresswireJim Tressel and Ohio State can look toward the Rose Bowl after beating Iowa in overtime.

And when you walk into the postgame news conference in your trademark vest and tie, the personification of Midwestern primness, you are greeted with a bouquet of roses.

You are Rose Bowl-bound. You have done it again -- clinching a fifth straight BCS bowl bid, your seventh in nine years at Ohio State. You will demolish Michigan next Saturday, extending a record winning streak over your hated rival to six. You are a relentless, perennial, inevitable winner.

You might be the most conservative coach in America, but you don't care. You obsessively play not to lose, instead of playing to win, but you don't apologize. You often allow less-talented teams to stay in games -- like the gutty Hawkeyes -- because of your buttoned-down dogma, but that's who you are.

You don't worry about your three-game bowl losing streak, or your recent futility against ranked nonconference opponents, or the fact that being the best team in the Big Ten means being a cut below the best teams in the nation these days. You don't listen to the people who squawk about the squandering of quarterback Terrelle Pryor's talents, or the people who howl at your affinity for punts, or the people who wonder what unholy circumstance would force you to ever take a certifiable football gamble.

You shrug when critics wonder why your team is 10th in the Big Ten in passing offense, attempting the fewest passes per game of any team in the league. You prefer the stats that show your team at the top of the league in rushing defense, total defense and turnover margin.

You point to your record -- now 92-21 at Ohio State -- and let it speak for itself.

Your 92nd victory was TresselBall in a microcosm. All that was good about it. All that was bad.

Your team pounded between the tackles for 229 rushing yards. Your team did not commit a turnover, while forcing three. Your defense made the last stop, when it had to. And your kicker made the last kick, when he had to.

But this is TresselBall, too:

Your team blew a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter in part by crawling even deeper into your familiar offensive shell. You were conservative in coming from ahead at home against USC, too, but this took it to another level.

The longest of your team's three passes in the final quarter went for 3 yards. Your final three offensive possessions of the game featured 12 runs and two passes, gaining a total of 31 yards and resulting in three points.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesTerrelle Pryor threw for only 93 yards against the Hawkeyes.

You recruited the No. 1 quarterback in the country two years ago, a player of lavish physical gifts. Yet here at the end of his 21st career start, with the Big Ten title on the line, you trusted the sandlot sophomore about as much as you'd trust a felon to be your house sitter.

You sat on the ball in the middle of the fourth quarter with great field position, starting on Iowa's side of the 50. You ran up the middle six straight times and left your backup kicker with a 47-yard field goal try to clinch the game. He missed. And then Iowa drove 70 amazing yards to tie the game with 2:42 left.

You got the ball back with plenty of time to go for the win. But from the moment you gave Pryor his most urgent instruction ("Don't turn the ball over") it was obvious that going for the win was hardly the first priority.

You took 1:38 to run five tentative plays, then punted it back to the Hawkeyes. You ignored the boos emanating from the 105,455 fans in Ohio Stadium, because you adhered to the TresselBall dogma: you avoided mistakes.

Your conservatism was rewarded when Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz responded in kind, running out the clock and playing for overtime. This suddenly seemed like the famous 10-10 tie between Michigan State and Notre Dame -- a game played in 1966, when the hurry-up offense was far from its current modern science and the passing game was rudimentary.

You and Ferentz are kindred spirits. Good coaches. Successful coaches. Yet your combined management of the end of this game is why the rest of the nation rolls its eyes at the bland Big Ten.

But do you care? No. You don't care. Because here in this tunnel-visioned, tradition-addicted conference, going to the Rose Bowl is just about as joyful a result as playing for the national title.

And you don't care because even after the fans voiced their dismay, hyper-conservatism triumphed in the end. Your painful-to-watch pragmatism was rewarded. The Vest knew best.

Your tight end, Jake Ballard, said this: "Tressel's way usually works out. He's our leader and we'll follow him everywhere."

To Pasadena now. But not after some tension Saturday night.

You should have heard the guy walking out of the stadium when it was over, shouting repeatedly, "Jim Tressel is a genius!" Twenty minutes earlier, when the lead had been squandered and overtime was upon us, he might well have been shouting, "Jim Tressel is an idiot!" But not at the end.

[+] EnlargeDevin Barclay
AP Photo/Mark Duncan Devin Barclay's game-winning field goal set off a celebration in Columbus.

You were a genius at the end because your backup kicker had a fantasy moment. Devin Barclay, a 26-year-old former Major League Soccer player who just became your No. 1 kicker two weeks ago after an injury to Aaron Pettrey, won the game with a 39-yard field goal in overtime. Then Barclay lost his mind.

"I just took off running," said Barclay, who accidentally mimicked a soccer-goal celebration by sprinting away from his onrushing teammates. "I don't really know where I was going, or what my plan was. Apparently I took my helmet off."

In the postgame scrum, someone ripped Barclay's name off the back of his jersey. It is the souvenir of the night in Columbus.

You cherish the kicking game, so you loved seeing it come down to a successful field goal. It helped you forget that 99-yard kickoff return your coverage unit surrendered. That play will have you rewinding the videotape over and over Sunday.

But Saturday was for celebration -- and nobody knows how to celebrate like you, Jimmy T. When last we saw you, your wife was driving a very sensible, pragmatic Toyota Venza underneath the Ohio Stadium stands. You were sitting in the passenger seat, placidly eating a sandwich.

Surely, there was a glass of milk waiting for you when you got home.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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