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NO. 1 USC VS. NO. 5 OHIO STATE

Buckeyes can't play man-to-man

September 10, 2008|Bill Plaschke

The leader of the Ohio State program fell all over his sweater vest spouting admiration for the USC program Tuesday, Coach Jim Tressel claiming he believed that the Trojans played football "the right way."

We know better.

We know what the Buckeyes really think.

We know, because a few days ago, one of their players told us.

His name is Ray Small. He is a junior wide receiver in his third season with the program. He leads the team in receptions, and has scored a touchdown on a punt return.

He has a reputation for being a bit of a flake, but he is not some wide-eyed freshman or bitter benchwarmer.

He is an Ohio State veteran who, in a locked-down program where everyone seems to look and sound the same, is probably not speaking only for himself.

In an interview with ESPN.com last weekend, Small said he believed USC lacked class, discipline and integrity.

"I took my visit to USC, I'm like, 'How are they successful? They're not even serious about the game,' " Small said. "Before the game, they're all going crazy. Me and [defensive end] Rob Rose was on the visit and I'm looking like, 'Wow.'

"And then the coach said, 'You better get out of here. It's 'bout to get hectic.' "

He compared that to his recruiting visit to Ohio State.

"And then I come on the [Columbus] visit and before the game, it's all quiet, everybody getting taped, coaches talking, it's the total opposite," he said.

Then he gave his evaluation:

It's "a class thing. Here at Ohio State, they teach you to be a better man. There, it's just all about football."

A better man, perhaps, unless you are Ohio inmate Maurice Clarett.

Don't get me started.

I'm still furious at the Buckeyes for ruining the last two national championship games by failing to show up in either.

I'm sick of annually watching them awkwardly slog their way to the top of the polls by winning a conference that has become college football's version of the International League.

And, yeah, at the end of that 2002 national championship game against Miami? Bad call. That was not pass interference. Period.

It's not that slow, boring, overrated football bothers me. Hey, during the Pete Carroll era, I've sat through entire bowl games featuring Iowa, Michigan and Illinois.

Sumo football, I can handle.

But when those wrestlers and their fans show up with the attitude that this is the right way to play football? That this is the only way to play football?

That's another story. And when it comes to Saturday's game in the Coliseum, that's the story.

In varying forms, I've been hearing Small's comments since Tressel and Carroll were both hired eight years ago.

It's as if Ohio State folks believe they invented the game, while USC has only exploited it.

Ohio State plays football, USC entertains with it. Ohio State teaches football, USC taunts with it.

Blah, blah, blah.

This condescending attitude is so prevalent in Ohio that this summer, even former Trojan Carson Palmer, who works in Cincinnati and never criticizes anybody, couldn't help himself.

"I cannot stand the Buckeyes," he said in an interview on 570-KLAC.

The words of Palmer and Small echo the perceptions of thousands.

This game is about those perceptions.

It's more than a football clash, it's a culture clash.

It's about a Buckeye nation not used to giving respect against a Trojan nation that cannot stand to be disrespected.

"They'll come out here on Saturday and find out who we are," said defensive tackle Fili Moala.

It's about a button-down program that feels entitled against an open-collar program that eats entitlement.

"We don't care what anybody thinks," said USC safety Kevin Ellison. "We're gonna play football against them on Saturday."

Carroll refused to enter the Small scrum, saying, "He's just one kid, what does he know?"

Tressel, in his conference call with USC reporters, also downplayed it Tuesday, saying, "Obviously it wasn't a good thing, but he's a good kid."

But this will not be forgotten. The Trojans won't talk much about it, but they also won't forget it.

Just ask Nebraska defensive back Andre Jones, who ripped USC before the 2006 game, and was promptly challenged on the field by Dwayne Jarrett, who beat him for a touchdown in a 28-10 Trojans win.

Or just ask Cal receiver DeSean Jackson, who ripped USC or its players in consecutive years, and was manhandled both years, seven catches total.

The Trojans will take this personally. Ohio State will see. Small will see.

What that unnamed Trojans coach told him on his recruiting trip three years ago, it will be true again Saturday.

It's 'bout to get hectic.

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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