Buckeyes falter again in spotlight
LOS ANGELES -- The Ohio State Buckeyes adapted well to their Hollywood surroundings here this weekend. They provided a town full of screenwriters the perfect script for a blockbuster horror flick.
What exactly should we title the latest masterpiece meltdown delivered by Jim Tressel Productions? The Rocky Pick-off Horror Show? Saw (This Already) III?
Following his fifth-ranked team's 35-3 thumping at the hands of No. 1 USC here Saturday night, Ohio State star James Laurinaitis said, "Obviously, we're going to take a beating around the country and around the world."
Actually, that's already been underway for nearly two years now (at least on domestic soil), but the Buckeyes' latest big-game blowout -- the most lopsided of Tressel's eight-year tenure -- figures to carry far greater consequences.
The past two took place in BCS championship games. This one likely eliminated any possibility of a return trip just three weeks into the season.
While most fans and analysts predicted a Beanie-less blowout for the Buckeyes, even the keenest prognosticator couldn't have prophesized some of the more imaginative facets of OSU's latest disaster.
It's not every day you see a team not only outgain its opponent in the first half, but hold more than a two-to-one edge in time-of-possession -- yet trail 21-3.
It's not every day you see a team have both a touchdown and a 16-yard red-zone pass nullified by holding penalties -- on the same drive.
And it's not every day you see a coach, Tressel, break out what seemed like an inspired game-plan wrinkle -- alternating starting quarterback Todd Boeckman and freshman phenom Terrelle Pryor every other snap -- only to watch it backfire when ... well, when he kept putting Boeckman back in.
"Obviously," said the coach, "we're going to go back and evaluate everything from what we designed to how we executed to what we're going to do going forward."
No word whether those future plans involve avoiding any further matchups with top-two teams.
In their first true test since gaining their No. 1 billing, The Trojans wound up exerting their dominance in nearly all phases Saturday. Tailback Joe McKnight blazed his way to 105 yards on 12 rushing attempts. Quarterback Mark Sanchez threw four touchdowns. And USC's never-ending army of pass-rushers completely overwhelmed Boeckman in the second half.
Yet by midway through the second quarter, it was clear the Trojans wouldn't need any of it to emerge victorious. Not when Ohio State seemed so steadfastly determined to one-up its self-destructive performance against LSU in last January's BCS title game with another mind-numbing clinic in stage fright.
It started with some simple false starts. Then came the first of two roughing-the-passer penalties that helped set up USC touchdowns. Trailing 14-3, the Boeckman/Pryor tag team put together an 11-play drive that could easily have put the Buckeyes back within a score, but, thanks to the aforementioned holding gaffes, culminated instead in a missed 46-yard field goal attempt.
"We shot ourselves in the foot too many times," admitted Boeckman.
And that was before the real fun even began.
Just when the fleet-footed Pryor started getting into a rhythm late in the second quarter -- picking up consecutive 11-yard running gains -- Boeckman threw a pass right into the hands of USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, who returned it 48 yards for a back-breaking touchdown. The Buckeyes' next possession began with another Pryor highlight (a 12-yard run) and ended in another Boeckman lowlight (fumbling on a Clay Matthews sack).
OSU ended the first half on a rare high note -- safety Chmidiwa Chekwa's leaping interception of a Sanchez pass into the end zone. But the miscue seemed only to energize USC's junior quarterback. Following a fairly modest first half (10-of-18 for 89 yards), Sanchez came out and torched the Buckeyes in the third quarter -- 5-of-6 for 79 yards, with scoring strikes of 24 and 17 yards to Damian Williams that put the Trojans ahead 35-3.