Buckeyes' lament: 'Every big game we end up blowing it'
By Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES — Ohio State senior left tackle Alex Boone was one of the last players to leave his locker room following his team's 35-3 loss to No. 1 Southern California, but he was still steaming on full boil.
"I can't believe we screwed up so badly," Boone said. "I feel like this is the national championship all over again, stupid penalties, stupid mistakes, roughing the passer, holding, offsides, personal fouls."
The Buckeyes lost the last two national title games to speedier, more athletic Southeastern Conference teams, including last year's mistake-filled loss to LSU. Saturday, the Buckeyes were undone by miscues in the second quarter and scored the fewest points in coach Jim Tressel's eight-year tenure. They also might have fumbled away a chance at their third consecutive Bowl Championship Series title game.
"Every big game we end up blowing it for ourselves, not to say they weren't a great team," Boone said. "I think it must be nervousness. …. Guys come out here and see 100,000 people and they start to get antsy. We can't play that way."
With a remaining schedule which includes only two teams currently ranked, the No. 14 Buckeyes (2-1) will need plenty of help to get back into national title contention by season's end. Next week, they host Troy before beginning their Big Ten schedule Sept. 27 against Minnesota. They face No. 10 Wisconsin in Madison on Oct. 4, host No. 17 Penn State on Oct. 25 and travel to Illinois on Nov. 15.
Last year, in one of the most tumultuous seasons in college football history, the Buckeyes were able to overcome a loss to Illinois in November to climb back to the title game. Even if OSU wins the remainder of its games, it might face longer odds this fall. Since the Buckeyes once again faltered on the biggest of stages, voters might be more reluctant to place Ohio State ahead of a team from the SEC with the same record.
"The only difference between this one and that one (to LSU) is we have a season ahead of us," said linebacker Marcus Freeman. "We have to turn it around and still try to win the Big Ten championship."
In the second quarter, trailing 14-3, a holding penalty on OSU guard Ben Person nullified quarterback Todd Boeckman's 21-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie. On their next offensive possession, Boeckman's pass was cut off by USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, who returned the interception for a 48-yard score.
"We just shot ourselves in foot with penalties and turnovers," Boeckman said. By halftime, it was 21-3, and the locker room was as quiet as study hall.
"At halftime nobody was saying anything," Boone said. "I mean what the hell? We're Ohio State. We should be screaming and swearing everything you can think of, and guys were hanging their heads. You don't know what to say to them. You start screaming, and they just put their heads down even more."
The play of freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor was one of the Buckeyes' few bright spots. Pryor, who alternated snaps with Boeckman through most of the game, competed seven of nine passes for 52 yards and rushed 11 times for another 40. USC was forced to respect Pryor's running ability, containing him better in the second half. "They started putting everyone outside the box so I couldn't get it outside," Pryor said.
Boeckman (14-for-21 for 84 yards) was intercepted twice and sacked four times. When asked if he would consider changing his starting quarterback, Tressel didn't seem inclined to replace his fifth-year senior with a freshman. "There's always competition for playing time," Tressel said. "I don't know about the starting spot or any of that business, but obviously we'll go back and evaluate everything."
"I thought Terrelle did a good job from a composure standpoint," Tressel said. "Being thrown in a stage like this, he probably played more than the first two weeks combined. Overall, he did a lot of good things. Obviously he's got a lot of talent, not just running. He can throw the ball in there hard."
The Buckeyes were without star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells who has an injured right foot. Redshirt freshman Dan Herron started in Wells' place and had 51 yards on 11 carries. Afterward the Buckeyes refused make excuses, but USC coach Pete Carroll said that without Wells the Buckeyes were forced to run more laterally than powering down the field.
As they headed to the bus, Ohio State seemed more resolved than defeated. "This team is (as upset) as we'll ever be," Boone said. "We're going back to work tomorrow. I won't be surprised if guys go home straight to watch film for four hours."
Added Pryor: "We'll pick it up and be fine … From now on, we won't get stopped. We won't. We're going to work hard, study more in the film room, because I don't want to feel like this again and I'm sure nobody else wants to."