Tressel Ball. It is a phrase that Ohio State fans have come to like, love, or loathe during Coach Jim Tressel's first decade at Ohio State.
There is an old cliche about a team taking on the attitude of its coach. Like, love, or loathe Tressel Ball, but Coach Jim Tressel is unflappable and stoic on the sidelines, never showing any signs of distress or concern, and that calm approach has been a mainstay of Ohio State football since 2001.
A few years ago, I met two former Youngstown State players, and we began to talk about a typical game at Youngstown State when Coach Tressel was there. Both men said Youngstown State were usually in close games, decided on superior special teams play, solid defense, and a dependable ground game. Neither man was surprised that Coach Tressel used the same formula at Ohio State, as it was tremendously effective for him at Youngstown State.
I believe Rusty Miller of the Associated Press may have articulated Coach Tressel's nature best - "Pouring a bucket of ice water on this guy brings his temperature up."
This article is going to focus on ten close games that took place between 2001-2010. Just to put a little more pressure on myself, I purposely did not include any games from the 2002 national championship season, as almost any Ohio State fan will recall that just about every game that season seemed to come down to the wire (@ Cincinnati, @ Wisconsin, Penn State, @ Purdue, @ Illinois).
Just to make it even more challenging, I deliberately omitted any of the games between Ohio State and Michigan that were close calls. Not to worry - a future article in this series will discuss Coach Tressel's success against That Team Up North.
My criteria? Margin of victory, time remaining, and if the game was down to the last play or overtime. Enjoy.
Honorable Mention: @ Michigan State, 2004 ~ This one wound up 32-19 for the Buckeyes, but victory appeared from far certain. Ohio State trailed 19-17, until Troy Smith hooked up with Ted Ginn, Jr. for a 58 yard touchdown with only 1:37 left in the game. I will never forget Ginn's acceleration after the catch in this game.
10. Bowling Green, 2003 ~ Ohio State seemed to have this one well in hand, until Bowling Green clawed their way back into it late in the fourth quarter. Will Allen's late interception of Bowling Green quarterback Josh Harris helped Ohio State avoid the upset.
9. San Diego State, 2003 ~ Ohio State was favored by 32 points, yet barely survived the Aztecs, winning 16-13. Will Allen had a 100 yard interception return that gave Ohio State the lead late in the first half. San Diego State were driving late in the game, yet failed to convert on downs, and Ohio State ran out the clock.
8. Navy, 2009 ~ The 2009 season opener came down to the wire. All summer long, I told friends that Navy's option attack would not be easy to stop, and it came down to a Brian Rolle interception off a two point conversion attempt with only a little over two minutes remaining that prevented the game from possibly going into overtime.
7. @ Iowa, 2010 ~ 4th and 10 to go, 4 minutes left, Ohio State trailing 17-13. Ohio State loses, and their chances at a sixth share of the Big Ten and a BCS bowl game are done. Terrelle Pryor scrambles for 14 yards, hits Dane Sanzenbacher for a clutch reception, and "Boom" Herron scores the winning touchdown with only 1:47 left. Iowa's Ricky Stanzi's 4th down pass to WR Marvin McNutt wound up two yards shy of the first down marker, and Ohio State ran out the clock.
6. @ Wisconsin, 2008 ~ Ohio State trailed Wisconsin 17-13. Behind true freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State drove down the field into scoring position. Pryor ran the option, Wisconsin committed to playing Chris Wells off the pitch, and Pryor sprinted into the end zone with only about a minute remaining. Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins intercepted on Wisconsin's next possession to seal the victory.
5. @ Penn State, 2003 ~ Playing for the injured Craig Krenzel, backup quarterback Scott McMullen found Michael Jenkins in the end zone with only 1:35 on the clock. Penn State attempted a 60 yard field goal that did not make it, and Ohio State escaped with a 21-20 victory.
4. Marshall, 2004 ~ "The Nuge" nailed a 55 yard field goal on the last play of the game for Ohio State to defeat Marshall 24-21.
3. Purdue, 2003 (OT) ~ I was in attendance for this game. Ohio State held on against Purdue 16-13 in its last home game of the season, despite not scoring an offensive touchdown. Mike Nugent kicked a field goal in overtime to give Ohio State the win, and Purdue's Ben Jones missed a field goal that would have sent the game into a second overtime period.
2. Iowa, 2009 (OT) ~ Ohio State held a 24-10 lead over Iowa as the 4th quarter began, but the Hawkeyes battled back to tie it and force overtime. Ohio State's defense forced Iowa to turn the ball over on downs in the overtime period, and PK Devin Barclay kicked a 39 yard field goal to clinch a fifth straight Big Ten championship and send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl.
1. North Carolina State, 2003 (3OT) ~ I was in attendance for this one, with several members of my family, including my lovely wife. At one point, it looked like Ohio State had this one in the bag, when Philip Rivers rallied North Carolina State to send this game into overtime.
Both teams scored in their opening possessions, forcing a third overtime period. Craig Krenzel hit Michael Jenkins to make it 44-38, in favor of Ohio State. Philip Rivers had North Carolina State near the goal line, ready to tie or win, when T.A. McLendon was stopped short of the goal line by a foot by Will Allen and A.J. Hawk. What a tremendous game to witness in person.
Part Four: The Defeats
Part Three: The Seasons
Part Two: The Recruits
Part One: The Speech