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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Another big setback for the Big Ten

Ohio State falls to USC, and coach's conservative calls didn't help.

September 14, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE | ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Ohio State got 86'd again -- right on the number.

Eighty-six was the yardage USC marched on a 14-play scoring drive Saturday night to beat the Buckeyes, 18-15, in Columbus.

Brutus Buckeye went home, climbed in bed, pulled the covers over his giant mascot head and set the alarm for Michigan.

People work hard in Ohio and take football defeat hard and Columbus poured everything it had into the cause of defeating USC. Yet, the Buckeyes still lost a game they absolutely had to win for credibility's sake -- theirs and the Big Ten's.

So close to making things right again, so far from wrapping up USC tailback Joe McKnight.

"Put on the big stage, we wanted to go out there and get the victory," linebacker Austin Spitler said afterward. "We were feeling good and the last drive comes along and they just pounded it down our throats."

How Ohio State and the Big Ten can recover is a question too raw for those involved to answer in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's loss.

"I'm really just physically drained and I know this whole team is just physically drained," Buckeyes defensive back Kurt Coleman said.

If it's any comfort, Michigan did the Big Ten proud with its victory against Notre Dame -- sorry, that probably doesn't help.

Since defeating No. 2 Texas in Austin on Sept. 9, 2006, Ohio State has lost two national title games, the Fiesta Bowl to Texas and been swept away and home by USC.

The risk of playing big games, of course, is losing them.

"We've been in a couple of tough ones in a row, that's for sure," Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel said.

Saturday's loss definitely occurred on Tressel's watch. He got conservative at home against a visiting team that always takes risks.

USC Coach Pete Carroll went for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal and his team pushed it across. Later facing the same situation, Tressel took the field goal and a 10-7 lead and lost by three.

"We just thought that was, percentage-wise, the best thing to do," Tressel explained.

Also, up by five late in the game, Tressel opted to punt the ball back to USC instead of letting kicker Aaron Pettrey attempt a 53-yard field goal that could have given Ohio State an eight-point cushion.

Tressel's punt plan pinned USC back at its 14, and that plus 86 yards added up to the winning touchdown.

Pettrey kicked a 54-yarder last year against Youngstown State, a 51-yarder in last year's Fiesta Bowl and a 52-yarder last week against Navy.

What now?

The Big Ten is coming off a 1-6 bowl season in which the only team that won, Iowa, needed two blocked punts to beat Northern Iowa last week.

Michigan State wasn't as lucky Saturday in a disturbing loss to Central Michigan.

Then, while New York's night watchmen watched on FS West, Purdue played Oregon to a two-point loss in Eugene, its tight end unable to keep his feet in bounds on a late two-point conversion.

Abandon hope, all ye Big Ten players? Enough of this negativity -- time for a kick-in-the-Purdue-pants pep talk.

There is time for recovery -- but the league must act now. Ohio State dropped only three spots to No. 11 in Sunday's Associated Press poll. The Buckeyes have come back from far worse. In 2007, Ohio State lost at Illinois on Nov. 10 and not only rallied back in the Bowl Championship Series standings -- it finished first.

Ohio State has to recapture the killer instinct of its 2002 title squad, which won all the close games. In finalizing deals, those Buckeyes knew how to cross the "t" and dot the "i."

Ohio State still has an outside chance to get a rematch against USC in this year's BCS title game -- and an even better chance of playing USC again in the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl.

And there's always hope for an undefeated Big Ten champion any year Penn State schedules Akron, Syracuse, Temple and Eastern Illinois.

Michigan (2-0) is even back, peeking in at No. 25 in this week's AP poll.

There's no doubt, though: Saturday was a tough Big Ten boot kick at the Shoe.

"All the losses hurt," Tressel said, "but this one hurts the most because it's today."

Weekend wrap

* Second-guessers, gather in the town square and discuss why Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis called two pass plays (both incomplete) while trying to run out a 34-31 lead on Michigan that became a 38-34 loss.

And why UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel, with a six-point lead late against Tennessee, facing third and nine from his own two, did not take an intentional safety and then free kick from the 20. Instead, UCLA rolled quarterback Kevin Prince right in the end zone looking to pass, and he got his jaw broken on a play that ended up being . . . a safety.

* Brigham Young's run to a possible national title berth got a boost Sunday when the Cougars moved up two spots, to No. 7, in the Associated Press poll and three positions, to No. 9, in the USA Today coaches' poll. BYU crushed Tulane, 54-3, in New Orleans and has another chance to impress voters Saturday when Florida State visits Provo.

* Dept. of skewed statistics: Florida has outscored its two opponents, Charleston Southern and Troy, by the aggregate score of 118-9. The Gators are averaging 643.5 yards a game, 9.1 yards a play and have scored 17 touchdowns while giving up none.

* Clip and send to the NCAA infractions committee? After Saturday's win over Notre Dame in Ann Arbor, Michigan Coach Rich Rodriguez said: "We just thought if we could get some possessions and make them play a little bit, then maybe conditioning would be a factor." If you believe allegations about exceeding practice-time limits, what team would be in better shape?

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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