Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What's Wrong With The Big Ten: The Bitch Mentality

You won't be needing these kidneys anymore.

The Bitch Mentality, you ask? If you aren't a college football blogosphere illiterate you read EDSBS, you should have a general idea of what I'm talking about. I'm not freely ripping from the inimitable Orson, I have my reasons. The Bitch Mentality, the state of bitchness personified by Tommy Bowden's tenure at Clemson, sorely affects the Big Ten's upper tier . In my estimate, the bitch mentality refers to Bowden's inability to utilize his talent being a genuine bitch and crawling into a hole when the going got tough.

This may seem a little generic at first; most coaches will tell you that being down fourteen or more is not the time to panic, it's the time to make sure your "execution" is perfect on both sides of the ball, that you're "winning your battles", so on and so forth. You'd get coach-speak, something Big Ten coaches seem to have down to a science. Across the board, Paterno, Tressel, Ferentz, and Dantonio all suffer from a similar problem. They're guys who project a quiet, contemplative, conservative persona in public and, for the most part, on the sidelines, while likely being fiery, angry leaders within the walls of the locker room. This is all well and good, for the most part, but I can't help but get the image that their players are not buying into the fiery exterior exhibited by the ol' softies once the camera is off. They think it's an act, to be blunt. This may seem like pure conjecture, but when these teams play games against teams with a pulse OOC, I think it shines through.

It is often observed that a team's demeanor reflects that of their head coach. The aforementioned coaches pride themselves on running "business trips" during big away games and bowl games. They wind their teams tight, telling them not to make any mistakes on and off the field. More often than not, it spills onto the field with negative effects - personal fouls, turnovers, etc. The apogee of Tressel's "business trip" mentality came one year after he ran a relatively loose ship in the desert in '06. After that debacle, the adjustment was understandable. He fired them up with a highlight tape of Mark May doing what Mark May does, and they came out tightly wound and angry, so angry they committed multiple game and drive-killing penalties, including personal fouls. This must be frustrating for Tressel, I'm sure, because it didn't seem like there was a right way to run things. Texas, USC, and LSU were all loose and carefree prior to their big games and bowl games against OSU, the Buckeyes and the Gators were the tightly wound ones. Urban Meyer channeled that anger into a largely penalty-free ferocious effort in which Buckeye dreams of glory died and hope ultimately failed. Jim Tressel could not. This makes him no less of a coach; 115 other teams probably would have lost to that LSU team, especially at the level of health it had reached prior to the bowl game.

Jim Tressel's struggles in the postseason were largely laid at his feet and his feet alone; while the Big Ten struggled overall in postseason play, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan all could point to victories over reasonably good SEC teams. As usual, the truth lay somewhere in the middle of "It's all Ohio State's fault" and "the Big 10 is irredeemably bad and will be so forever and ever anon". The reality was, the Big Ten's stubborn defiance of this newfangled "21st century" and its commie faggot football was killing it from within.

Ohio State under John Cooper, for all its failures, rolled up into joints like gangbusters more often than not (and probably rolled plain old joints with gleeful aplomb, too). While conservative at heart, John Cooper fielded arguably some of the best offenses in the history of Ohio State football, with talent unheard of in the Bruce years: George, Boston, Glenn, Hoying, Pace. Cooper was a recruitin' demon, recruitin' demons who ran an offense that was genuinely difficult to stop more often than not during the mid-to-late 90's. With the hiring of Jim Tressel, Ohio State knew what it was getting; in the Big Ten, Tressel's formula for success sounded like a winner: ball control, little-to-no-mistakes, play defense, and punt. With the possible exception of 2006, this is Jim Tressel football. If the defense can hold the opponent under 17 points - not a particularly tall task given the state of offenses in the Big Ten - "Tresselball" usually gets the job done. The problem is that against solid opponents, this has proven to be stupid, stupid gameplanning. I say this with no coaching experience whatsoever, but the results speak for themselves. As much as it may make me seem like the average Scout board denizen, the offense needs to put points on the board, many of them, in any way possible. Offenses powered by Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, even Chris "Spotless Jersey" Leak are difficult to hold under 24 points with any consistency. Playing it tight - running the ball twice before a desperate, hopeless lob to a streaking WR, lining the corners up 10 yards off the LOS - simply doesn't work against teams who have been preparing for you for a month.

Iowa, not exactly a talent haven, has its issues with the Bitch Mentality. This past year, it had good reason; it had Shonn Greene, a force of nature, in the backfield. It had no need of a "passing game". But as we saw in 2007 and 2006, when Greene was either benched, ineligible, or wandering the Tibetan wilderness, searching for the meaning of life and the secret to pwning any and every foe you'll ever face, Drew Tate and Jake Christiansen lobbing up desperation bombs to Iowa's shockingly fast white dude (they always have one, ONE I TELL YOU) does not work with any consistency either. In case you were sleeping through the early part of this decade, Iowa has always been tagged as an up-and-coming team, and more often than not, when it plays good competition, it plays relatively well, but is ultimately done in by the inadequacies of its offense. Its defense is traditionally stellar; and it should be with guys named Humpal, Klinkenborg, and Angerer routinely suiting up in the admittedly badass black and gold. But outside of its miracle, come-from-behind, pulled-straight-out-of-the-ass victory against LSU in the Capital One bowl a few years back, the Hawkeyes have precisely one "elite" win in the last six years: a 33-7 dick-kicking of Ohio State in 2004. The Bitch Mentality is strong with this one, but when it works, it's shaming Ohio State in one specific category: the Hawks have three wins over SEC teams in bowl games in the 2000's alone. That being said, Iowa on its present course is due for bowl game shitkickings, many of them, if it can get over the hump, beat Ohio State, Penn State, and make the BCS using its offensive system. I don't think it will, and thus will have to settle for beating meh SEC squads (again, nothing I can criticize as an Ohio State fan) for the time being.

Penn State actually deserves a lot of credit for breaking away, for the most part, from tired old Woody-and-Bo-and-probably-Joe-too mentalities. In debuting its magooly (second definition)-named "Spread HD" offense, the Nittanies actually seemed to be attempting to bring the Big Ten, kicking and screaming of course, into the 21st century well before RichRod got the chance to. Instead, in pressure-packed situations, the call from the zombie booth seemed to override the need for a diverse, creative offense, and Penn State folded up and reverted to the good, Christian 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality. See the Ohio State game for future reference. If Penn State placed a premium on moving the ball through the air, and if Darryl Clark was a little more accurate, the Nittanies could have had the same success through the air that Colt McCoy and Texas had with arguably less talented receivers than PSU. Nonetheless, the game ended 13-6 and offensive football in the Big Ten was set back another forty years. Another game like that and Paterno will be debuting the dazzling new "Swinging Gate" formation come September. It was ugly. In what could have been a showcase for Big Ten talent and innovation on Saturday Night on ABC, in front of Musberger and Herbie, both teams laid an offensive egg and it ended 13-6. The final touchdown was, in true Woody-and-Bo fashion, a QB sneak. It was also by a back-up who most assumed would eventually transfer, making the game even less compelling than it had been. Against USC, Penn State maintained a rather efficient blend of Paternoball and the Spread HD, but again, in clutch moments, seemed to revert to bitch status, doing the Big Ten proud in that regard. Penn State needs badly to pick and offensive gameplan - ideally the one that has the most success, the Spread SOMETHIN' OR OTHER I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU DIRTY SPANIARDS, and stick with it, through good and bad times. In the second half against USC, I'm not entirely convinced Penn State's relative success was entirely due to USC letting up on the pedal, given that USC almost never lets up on the pedal once it's up by 20 or more.

Michigan dealt a potentially fatal blow to the perception of the Big Ten as a collection of old hat programs bitterly clinging to 60's mentalities by hiring the spread-option guru Rich Rodriguez. While 3-9 is not how he or anyone else (outside of Michigan's rivals) wanted the first season to go, an unmistakable seed for success was planted. In my mind and the minds of these furries, at least. It will not be easy taking Michigan to the heights I still feel it is capable of achieving after the 2007 nadir of the Lloyd Carr era. If Woody Hayes was the God of the Big Ten's backward ways, Bo was the Holy Ghost and Lloyd was the Son. Great guy, with an excellent taste in literature and whatnot, and for the most part a good coach, but not someone who was moving the program forward. Sounds horribly cynical, I'm sure, but it's true. You saw Michigan's offensive line, it's utter lack of safeties, it's terribly thin situation at quarterback, and its utter inability to make up for the talent deficit on the field - due to transfers, early departures and a truly shocking amount of guys who simply quit football. Lloyd Carr was an old man, tired, and beaten down from years of providing consistent excellency on the field. Unlike his relatively young counterparts at Ohio State and Iowa, he had reasons for his staunch football conservatism. Michigan has done all it can to allay its bitch mentality. Now we must merely wait and see.

Next, I discuss the conference's dead weight; coaches who probably aren't taking their teams anywhere of importance.


chathd00d said...

Good stuff Pouge.


Dex said...

Nice post. I think OSU gets a really unfair rap for that LSU game. I know a lot of M fans do the whole "lol it was sooo close you lost by 30" thing or whatever, but that game was closer than the score indicates, I think. Considering OSU probably shouldn't have been there (not their fault, who turns down a BCS title game bid?) in the first place, they acquitted themselves ok.