With just four remaining games left on the schedule, the Buckeyes still have some tough questions to answer. How they answer those questions will ultimately decide the outcome of the year and of the future. Let's take a look:
Question #1 - Will the Buckeyes remain healthy enough to win the Big Ten?
One of the biggest story lines of the 2009 season has been the accumulation of injuries for the Buckeyes. This week's game against New Mexico State is a microcosm of the season as a whole, with the offensive line in shambles and the top two running backs trying to recover. Each week the Buckeyes have seemed to deal with someone going down, and it has killed consistency and momentum. Like it or not seasons are defined by injuries, just ask Oklahoma, and staying healthy is top priority as they face three tough games to close out the season. Guys like Dexter Larimore, Boom Herron, Brandon Saine, and the entire offensive line need to get off the injury list.
Question #2 - Can the team handle the tough road test against Penn State and at home against Iowa?
Following this week's game against New Mexico State, the Buckeyes get ready to take on two of their toughest tests on the year. First, on November 7th they head to Happy Valley to take on the Nittany Lions. Luckily for the Buckeyes it is not a night game, but the environment will be hostile regardless. I really believe this is the hardest game left for the team. Penn State has started to get into a groove the last several weeks, and looked very impressive in a 35-10 beatdown of the Wolverines. They are a hot team right now, and the Buckeyes play them in Beaver Stadium! Then the Buckeyes host the Hawkeyes, who sit atop the Big Ten standings. Unfortunately for them they have lost starting running back Adam Robinson for the season, but Iowa has been winning games on the defensive side of the ball. They seems to be a team of destiny this season, and knocking them off will be a challenge.
In these games the spotlight will especially be on Terrelle Pryor and the offense. The defense has done enough to win every game this season for the Buckeyes, and now Pryor and the offensive must show they have what it takes against a top tier defense.
Pryor and the play calling have both taken the bulk of criticism in 2009, but the offensive line has been the source of many problems too. The Buckeyes have not been able to run the ball with any consistency, and Pryor has struggled to have time in the pocket. Last week the line looked as motivated as it had been all season long, which allowed Pryor and the backs to utilize their athleticism. Still though, it was Minnesota. The Buckeyes get ready to face two very tough defenses in Iowa and Penn State, and nothing short of stellar offensive line play will suffice. Obviously injuries have not helped this unit out, but there is too much talent on the depth chart to be as lackluster as they have been at times this season.
Question #4 - Will the play calling tighten up in the toughest moments?
The play calling has taken a major hit this season, as it should have. My biggest beef with it is that Tressel tightens things up when the Buckeyes play better teams. It is easy to sling the ball around against the Toledos and New Mexico States of the world, but it takes more courage to let your young quarterback do that against better opponents. Super conservative play calling isn't going to help the Buckeyes win the remaining big games or win the Big Ten. The offense is loaded with athleticism and big play potential, and Tressel needs to let them shine on the big stage. I know he has posted a sign in the locker room that says "It's okay to punt," but I can tell you punting may be okay but it isn't good. You don't beat top tier teams by punting, you just postpone the inevitable (Example: Games against Texas and USC). Instead Tressel must allow his offensive to be hungry, not settling for field goals or stalled out drives.