When Jim Tressel jumps up and down like a maniac, his Ohio State players pay attention.
The decorated coach played the part of a world-class football analyst, because he seemed to know exactly when his team needed an extra boost on a cloudy Saturday in Seattle. Inspired by their leader, the Buckeyes dominated the final 25 minutes to claim a hard-fought win against Washington.
The Buckeyes pulled away in the late going, but in the opening minutes of the second half, the boys from Columbus were in big trouble. Washington quarterback Jake Locker was playing emotionally liberated football, and the Dawgs were steadily marching downfield with a 7-3 lead. At the Buckeyes 20, a field goal and a 10-3 advantage seemed to be the very least the Huskies could count on. Momentum that had been elusive for both teams in a mistake-filled first half was about to reside on the Washington sideline and stay there. With Ohio State's offense stuck in first gear, a seven-point advantage promised considerable leverage for the home team from the Pac-10.
Then the game changed on a dime... and Jim Tressel acted like a college student who had just won a car on "The Price is Right."
On the next three plays, the Buckeyes' defense — far and away the pillar of this particular Tressel ballclub — pushed Washington back nine yards, forcing a 46-yard field-goal attempt that demanded more sustained protection and a lower-trajectory kick from the Huskies' field-goal unit. Sure enough, the ensuing kick was blocked. In four plays, the Buckeyes gained new life.
Knowing this more than anyone else in Husky Stadium, Tressel went purposefully berserk to tell his offensive players that they needed to let loose and perform at a higher level. And while Buckeye Nation knew that a golden opportunity lay ahead, it was quite another matter to actually deliver the goods and consolidate the momentum shift.
It wouldn't take long for that to happen.
Just two plays later, struggling quarterback Todd Boeckman hit Brian Robiskie in stride for a 69-yard touchdown pass that gave the Bucks a 10-7 lead. Three plays later — after Washington fumbled the following kickoff — Chris Wells strolled into the end zone on a 14-yard romp to make it 17-7
In four scrimmage plays and just under two minutes of clock time, a game being carried by Washington had turned into a two-possession Buckeye lead. And when OSU's James Laurinaitis made his second spectacular interception of the afternoon to blunt yet another UW drive that went deep into Buckeye territory, the game was all over but the shouting.
Speaking of shouting, Tressel did his bit, and when the usually cerebral man in the sweater vest intentionally displayed his emotions, his offense knew how to take the cue and start performing. After their coach lit a fire, the Buckeyes lit up Washington.
As a result, the 10-ranked team in the country can say that it knows how to take a punch and prevail. That knowledge will help this Ohio State club throughout the rest of the season.