[Editor's Note: Regular readers will notice I've decided to drop the "Law Buckeye" handle in favor of writing under my real name. Don't worry, I'm still the same old commentator. I think...]
If Big Ten Media Days was really a petri dish for the same old generic Q&A, than the persona non grata had to be Jim Tressel who showed up in an uncharacteristically dark suit and tie and answered questions with an air of confidence rarely seen in Columbus. It's almost as if Tressel knows something we don't.
One thing we do know is that Tressel, entering his 10th season in charge of the conference's flagship program, likes what he sees on the offensive side of the ball. That's why he didn't hesitate to suggest Ohio State could be a "25 to 35 pass [a game] team." As Doug Lesmerises at The Cleveland Plain Dealer pointed out, anything close to 30-35 pass attempts a game could make Pryor the most prolific passer in Ohio State history.
Seriously? This from a guy whose spirals have been compared to arm punts and who, until recently, looked about as comfortable in the pocket as a spider in a toilet bowl.
Eleven Warriors attributes the shift in offensive play calling to three things: 1. A philosophical change aimed at preventing high risk fourth quarter situations, 2. Insurance for an emerging defense which could take time to gel, and 3. A sign that Pryor has earned Tressel's trust -- much like Troy Smith did entering his senior season.
I think they hit the nail on the head. First, with regard to the tendency of low risk ball control offenses to produce nailbiter endings, I'm reminded of last year's meeting with USC. Ohio State's defense pinned the Trojans within the shadow of their own goalpost for most of the second half, smothering drives from the Trojan 20, 10, 21, 14, and 18 yard lines. The offense, by virtue, enjoyed excellent field position, starting three of five second half drives within Trojan territory. The result? One lousy field goal, three punts, and a turnover on downs that graciously kept the Trjoans in the game. USC responded by putting together a 14 play, 86 yard drive that pulled the rug out from under the Buckeyes.
Had Ohio State's offense scored even a single touchdown in the second half the game would have literally been out of reach for a young Matt Barkley.
Fan outrage in the wake of the loss got to Tressel. So much so that he seems willing to trade a little ball security for points early in games. I think that's striking a better balance from the no-risk no-reward model we saw too often last year.
The second and third points Eleven Warriors makes are good supporting characters. Although Ohio State fans are accustomed to counting on the defense to "bail us out," a thin (but admittedly stout) defensive line and green secondary could take time to settle in. Time is one thing the coaching staff doesn't have, as Ohio State will meet an elite out of conference opponent in September for the third year in a row.
If Jacory Harris has enough time to air the ball out, an explosive Hurricane attack could prey on the scarlet secondary. It's not hard to imagine a three to four touchdown performance. If Ohio State can't score touchdowns early, they could face an insurmountable deficit. Passing helped the Buckeyes jump out to a 10-0 lead against Oregon. Although the Ducks quickly tied the game, the points were invaluable from a psychological standpoint.
Finally, the trust element cannot be overlooked. Pryor is officially an upperclassmen, with almost two full years of experience under his belt. Tressel's statement is evidence that his command of the playbook and ability to read coverages has finally reached a critical mass.
Still, it's not as big of a change as some are making it out to be. As Buckeye Football Analysis explains, the OSU coaching staff have grafted a number of passing plays onto their signature "Dave" power package. In other words, it's more of the same for an offensive line that must be ready from Day 1.