The narrative going into the 2016-17 Warriors season was how unfair it was that one of the best teams of all time added one of the best players of all time to become unstoppable. And after the Warriors posted the best winning percentage in NBA postseason history and their star acquisition won the NBA Finals MVP, the narrative coming out of the season is much the same, only louder. But easy to lose in this narrative is the simple fact that the Warriors probably didn’t need Kevin Durant for the team to be this good — or at least almost this good. While adding Durant has been a success, it didn’t end up breaking basketball any more than the Warriors had broken it already.Counting the regular season and playoffs, the Warriors won 84 percent of their games this year — up from 83 percent last year and 81 percent the year before. Teams have only won 80+ percent of their combined season games 11 times in the 70-year history of the NBA.1The Bucks (1970-71 season) and Celtics (1985-86) have done it once each; the 76ers (1966-67, 1982-83), Lakers (1971-72, 1986-87), and Bulls (1995-96,1996-97) have done it twice each. The Warriors have now done it three years in a row.2The Warriors won 18 of the 22 games — 82 percent — that Durant didn’t play in this season.But the Warriors’ mission isn’t just to win titles, it’s to guarantee them. And Durant is both icing and insurance policy — a guarantee that the Warriors will always have an MVP-caliber, one-man offense available. Though he makes them a little bit better in his own right, his main value comes from making what happened to them in the 2016 playoffs less likely.So what does make them so good? And, more broadly, is greatness a matter of refining all aspects of a discipline, or does it stem from being freakishly good at one thing? The Warriors are the first dynasty in the ball-tracking era,3Tracking cameras have been installed in every NBA stadium since the 2013-14 season. which gives us an opportunity to measure their greatness in ways that we couldn’t for dynasties past.This, in turn, may also help answer the question of just how likely the Warriors are to regress to the mean. If their greatness is a confluence of factors, then there’s a whole lot of things that could go wrong to bring them back to earth. On the other hand, if their greatness is more about one thing, then maybe they can keep crushing the game indefinitely.The most dominant three-year dynasty everThe Warriors are an offensive juggernaut — but they’re more than that as well. We can see how much they’re contributing to their margins elsewhere by comparing their offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) to their SRS (margin of victory adjusted for strength of schedule), like so: This uses the SportsVu optical tracking data to judge offensive and defensive shooting versus league averages — it’s pretty similar to offensive and defensive ratings, but with rebounding and fouls taken out so we can concentrate on just shots taken and defended. Over their three-year run, the Warriors have been the best on both ends of the floor when it comes to both making and defending shots. Even so, their offensive prowess is particularly absurd.Another thing we can do to compare their offense and defense is to break them down two-dimensionally: by the quality of the shots taken or allowed (based on each shot’s modeled expectation), and then by how good a team was at scoring or preventing each shot, given that expectation. This relies heavily on my shot-value model, which accounts for shot type, shot location, shot clock, dribbles, time held, home court, defender position, defender distance, defender height and more.4The “more” is that I include one of STATS/SportsVu’s proprietary “shot difficulty” metrics as a variable in my model, though it isn’t weighted very heavily. The Warriors are respectable at shooting inside the arc, but have been more than twice as good as the next-best team at shooting 3s in this period. They’re so good at it that there’s an argument that they should be doing it even more often, and that Curry — still the best shooter the game has ever seen — should be doing it way more often.You can throw more defense at them, and teams have done so — as you see in the breakdown chart above, they’re pretty close to average in 3-point shot quality already. But the Warriors are still better at shooting 3s than any other team is at anything — 3s, 2s or defense. And diverting more and more resources toward keeping them from scoring 130+ points per game (as they would if they got off a typical Warriors dynasty-era 3 on every possession), comes at a price. Opponents are working so hard to stop the 3 that they’re almost certainly losing something from their offense or 2-point defense, which likely helps explain why the Warriors get so many open looks inside the arc.Part of being good at lots of things is being really good at a couple of things. Curry’s ridiculous shooting opens up the Warriors’ offense. Not only are his shots incredibly efficient, but he also draws so much of his opponents’ attention that he makes his teammates look amazing — and makes his team immensely better. Looking at NBAWowy, which tracks how teams perform with a given player on the court versus on the bench, the Warriors outscored their opponents by 3.1 points per 100 possessions when Durant was playing and Curry was not; that number jumped to 16.1 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the court and Durant on the sidelines.5And 19.5 points per 100 possessions when they were both playing.While Durant may be the story of the season, the Warriors’ dynasty was built and is still being propped up by Curry’s ability to throw the ball into the hoop from great distances. Provided he keeps being able to do that, expect Golden State to keep the game broken. This shows that the Warriors appear to have a lot of players who are better at defense than they should be. Perhaps being free to focus on defense more than rebounding and offense helps. Perhaps they play bigger than their size in part because they’re typically in better position than you would expect from players on a more conventional offense whose goal is literally to get behind the other team. Perhaps opponents have to play offense with an extra eye on defense, or with more defenders than they would usually play.Also, having people like Stephen Curry and Durant as the offensive centerpieces may allow you to surround them with players who are more defense-oriented. Much like Rodman, someone like Draymond Green’s value may be fully realized precisely because he isn’t required to carry his offense. For a power forward, his responsibilities don’t include that much penetrating and collapsing the Warriors opponents’ defenses. Thus, despite being somewhat undersized for his position, Green has thrived — and indeed, may be one of the most valuable players in the league — in his current role.And Curry’s shooting makes the offenseWhile the link between Golden State’s offense and defense is speculative, the relationship between their 3-point shooting and their other shooting is easier to track.Golden State’s relentless barrage of 3s tends to make people forget that the Warriors are also good at 2-point shooting. The difference is that much more of their value on 2s comes from getting good shots, while more of their value on 3s comes from making the shots they get. Typically there is a relationship between how good a team is compared to expectation for both 3- and 2-point shooting, which is unsurprising since we’d expect good shooters to be good shooters, no matter where they’re shooting from. But the Warriors are not only unusually good at 3-point shooting, they’re also better at 3-point shooting than other shooting by an unusual margin. Comparing the two directly, we can see where the Warriors really butter their bread: While they’ve scored about 7 more points per 100 possessions than league average, they’ve also been 10.6 points better than their opponents overall — so about a third of their edge seems to come from something other than offensive efficiency.But it isn’t rare for teams with stronger-than-average offenses to also have stronger-than-average defenses. This is a bit counterintuitive — it seems like a great offensive team would be more likely to be weak on defense, since those are two very different skillsets and trade-offs must be made. And teams do, in fact, have to choose between more offense or more defense, so it’s significant that the relationship isn’t negative at all.The offense can make the defenseTo understand the sometimes complicated relationship between offense and defense, take the case of Dennis Rodman. Despite being known as a great defensive player, Rodman’s teams defended just about as well with or without him. And despite him being unable (or unwilling) to score himself, his teams were significantly more efficient on offense when he was on the court (even after accounting for his offensive rebounding). I suspect this is because having Rodman in the game allowed his teams to devote fewer resources to defending and rebounding, diverting those energies to offense instead. Similarly, having a highly efficient outside offense may allow a team to divert resources to the other end of the floor — not to mention that having your offensive players hang out more in the space between their opponents and their opponent’s basket can make their defensive job easier.So let’s compare the Warriors’ offense and defense a bit more directly:
Phil Jackson is no longer leading the New York Knicks’ front office, agreeing to leave the organization Wednesday. In the video above, Neil Paine discusses Phil Jackson’s legacy with the Knicks.Read more: At Least Phil Jackson Didn’t Leave The Knicks In Ruins
2Peter ThomsonAUS5683.3 Koepka is in extremely rare — and international — companyFor men’s golfers with at least 3 major championships since the PGA Tour was founded in 1929, share of total PGA Tour wins that were majors 5Seve BallesterosESP5955.6 10Jordan SpiethUSA31127.3 When Brooks Koepka outdueled Tiger Woods (and Adam Scott) to win the PGA Championship Sunday afternoon, he joined an exclusive group of golfers with three career major championships to their name. In all of golf history, going back even past the days of Tom Morrises both young and old, only 46 players have ever won three majors. Fewer still have won three in the span of 14 months the way Koepka has, having captured the 2017 and 2018 U.S. Opens on top of his win at Bellerive Country Club this weekend. Koepka may still have trouble getting recognized by the general public, but he is getting plenty of recognition in golf’s history books.One weird thing about Koepka, though, is that he hasn’t really done much winning outside of golf’s most prestigious events. Other than that pair of U.S. Opens and this recent PGA Championship win, the only official PGA Tour event Koepka has won was the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open. You don’t have to win a ton of events to make a good living in golf, of course. Koepka has done plenty well for himself, earning nearly $20 million in official money and ranking among the top 20 in FedEx Cup points for four years running. But it’s still striking how much of his success has been concentrated in major championships.Since the PGA Tour was founded, only two golfers with at least three career major wins — Henry Cotton and Peter Thomson — have had a greater share of their total career PGA Tour wins come in majors than Koepka’s 75 percent mark: 3Brooks KoepkaUSA3475.0 9Rory McIlroyNIR41428.6 10Payne StewartUSA31127.3 * Cotton’s victories were from an era before the PGA European Tour was founded, but were all at events located in Europe.Source: Wikipedia, PGA Tour 7Gary PlayerZAF92437.5 8Larry NelsonUSA31030.0 1Henry Cotton*ENG33100.0% RankPlayerCountryMajor WinsPGA Tour WinsMajors as Share of Wins 4Nick FaldoENG6966.7 6Pádraig HarringtonIRL3650.0 It’s no coincidence that the leaderboard above is littered with foreign-born players who didn’t regularly play on the PGA Tour. For instance, Thomson, an Aussie, won an impressive 84 professional tournaments in his career, but almost all of them were in Europe, Oceania or Asia. Particularly in the early days of pro golf, great non-American players seldom came over to the States to ply their trade, so this metric is a bit skewed for them. That’s why Koepka stands out as the only American remotely close to the top of our list; the next-highest is Larry Nelson at just 30 percent.One reason for Koepka’s odd ratio: His path to greatness contained detours. It included a stint on the second-tier European Challenge Tour out of college — where Koepka won a lot, enough to gain automatic promotion to the main tour within roughly a calendar year. Once there, he remained a card-carrying member of the European Tour through the end of the 2015 season. Since he didn’t play a full season of PGA Tour events until three years ago, he hasn’t had quite as much time to pile up wins in America as we’d expect just from eyeballing the span of his pro career.Still, Koepka owns one of the oddest — and most enviable — major records of any golfer ever. The way he’s playing, he’ll probably rack up ordinary PGA Tour wins before too long, but for now he has saved almost all of his winning for the tournaments that matter most.
Those of you who are my age might only remember Old Kareem and his skyhooks and might not know what a phenom he was when he entered the league as Lew Alcindor. Abdul-Jabbar/Alcindor was the sixth-most productive young player in NBA history — despite, like Duncan, playing out his full college career. In his rookie season with the Milwaukee Bucks, he averaged 28.8 points and 14.5 rebounds per game. Two years later, at 24, he averaged 34.8 and 16.6. No player in the other major sports stands out so much from his competition. Babe Ruth is the top-ranking baseball player (counting his days as a pitcher and using wins above replacement; note that the systems we’re using for the various sports are not directly comparable to one another). Still, many of the all-time great baseball players have had extremely long careers. Ty Cobb ranks second and isn’t all that far behind Ruth.You might assume that the top NHL player by this standard absolutely must be Wayne Gretzky, or if not Gretzky then Gordie Howe. But it’s Ray Bourque. Gretzky was the best young player in NHL history by leaps and bounds, and Howe was the most productive old one. But Bourque had the best balance over his career, and he comes out slightly better when you take the harmonic mean of his point shares. I’m not sure that I totally buy that ranking — hockey analytics are behind those in baseball and basketball. But Gretzky was a somewhat specialized player late in his career. He notched tons of assists, but never ranked in the top 10 in goals in the NHL after his age 28 season, and he was limited defensively, with a -93 plus-minus from his age 33 season onward.Last is the NFL, which is the least interesting of the leagues to evaluate in this way. That’s because NFL careers start late due to the league’s strictly enforced age limit and end early because of the wear and tear on the players. And it’s hard to measure what goes on in between and to compare players at different positions.Still, according to Sports-Reference.com’s approximate value system, the closest thing the NFL has had to a player for all seasons is Fran Tarkenton. As a rookie, at age 21, Tarkenton was the principal quarterback for the expansion Minnesota Vikings. By 24, he led the Vikings to their first winning season, in 1964, and made his first Pro Bowl. After a stint with the New York Giants, he returned to Minnesota, and won an MVP award at age 35 and led the NFL in passing yards in his final season at age 38. Dan Marino, Ray Lewis and Peyton Manning rank next after Tarkenton. (Note that approximate value figures are incomplete for the 2013 season; I had to make an educated guess for how Charles Woodson and Tony Gonzalez performed last year according to the system.)Manning could take over the top slot with one or two more good seasons. It seems like he should be ahead already. Approximate value is … approximate. And like the other measures, it doesn’t account for the post-season. I have trouble ranking Peyton Manning behind Fran Tarkenton in pretty much anything.But I don’t have a problem with ranking Manning, or Duncan, behind Abdul-Jabbar, who won a national championship as a teenager at UCLA and an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers in his 40s. No player in American team sports has had a career quite like his. Tim Duncan turns 38 on Friday. On Saturday, he’ll resume his quest for a fifth NBA championship when the San Antonio Spurs travel to Dallas to face the Mavericks in the third game of their first-round playoff series. Duncan is still an extremely effective player, in part because his masterful coach, Gregg Popovich, limits his minutes in the regular season. We might not have seen a career quite like his since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.Duncan has been a force since he entered the league at 21. In his debut season, 1997-98, he won the Rookie of the Year award and made the All-NBA team. The next year he was named NBA Finals MVP and won his first championship.I wondered which other players in the NBA, and in the other major team sports, have had so much impact over their full professional lives. In other words, which of them were both very effective as young players and as old players?To study this for the NBA, I looked up the number of win shares each player has generated up to and including his age 24 season, and also from his age 33 season onward. (From this point forward, I’ll define an NBA player’s age-season by how old he was as of Feb. 1, as Basketball-Reference.com does.) Then I took the harmonic mean between the two figures. The harmonic mean differs from a regular average in that it tends toward the lower of a set of numbers. That will help us to identify players who were outstanding both when they were young and when they were old, as opposed to just one or the other.Duncan generated 47.8 win shares through his age 24 season. That’s very good, especially considering that he stayed all four years at Wake Forest University before entering the league. But it’s still just the 17th-highest figure in NBA history. He’s also generated 40.2 win shares, and counting, since his age 33 season. That’s the 15th-highest figure in league history.It’s having accomplished both of these things in the same career that makes Duncan so extraordinary. The harmonic mean between his early-career and late-career win share totals is 43.7. That’s the third-highest figure ever in the NBA.You can probably guess the two players who rank ahead of Duncan. One is Michael Jordan, who achieved this feat despite retiring for his age 35 through age 37 seasons. (Jordan came back to play seasons with the Washington Wizards at 38 and 39.) But the player who laps the field, and who in many ways was the predecessor to Duncan, is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.Abdul-Jabbar played into his 40s. By win shares, he was the third-best old player in NBA history, after Karl Malone and John Stockton.
No strangers to bold moves, the Houston Rockets appear to have executed another one over the weekend by acquiring guard Ty Lawson from the Denver Nuggets for a protected 2016 first-round draft pick and a handful of veterans with nonguaranteed contracts.It’s been a turbulent year for Lawson, who was recently arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence — his second DUI arrest since January. The guard will enter a 30-day alcohol treatment program by order of a Denver judge.Despite his baggage, Lawson improves Houston’s roster. Two weeks ago, we ran preliminary preseason projections for the reloaded San Antonio Spurs and their top Western Conference foes using Real Plus-Minus (RPM) and Rotoworld’s depth charts; the Rockets graded out as a clear pick for fourth in the West behind the Spurs, Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder.The addition of Lawson changes that, essentially pulling Houston even with Oklahoma City for third. Here’s how the Rockets’ roster looks now, according to Rotoworld:Rated the ninth-best offensive player in the NBA by projected 2015-16 RPM, Lawson is a major upgrade over backup Patrick Beverley. His presence figures to give Houston one of the best projected offenses in the West — perhaps even equal to the firepower of the mighty (when healthy) Thunder.Lawson does come with defensive limitations. His projected RPM at that end of the floor is nearly 2 points per 100 possessions below the NBA average. Because of this, our projections say he’ll add only between 2 and 2.5 wins to Houston’s bottom line despite more than doubling the Rockets’ offensive rating relative to the league average.And, of course, Lawson’s personal issues could easily curtail his ability to help the Rockets. Furthermore, small point guards (Lawson is 5 feet 11 inches tall) have a reputation for aging poorly, though it also bears mentioning that more than a few of Lawson’s most similar comparables according to our CARMELO system — players such as Andre Miller, Kevin Johnson, Rod Strickland and Mark Jackson — enjoyed a number of solid seasons after age 27. (Lawson is signed through only the 2016-17 season anyway.)Assuming he plays to form next season, though, Lawson will likely help Houston slide into the tier right below the powerhouse Spurs and Warriors in the Western Conference.
And here’s what to expect from Chicago’s key players: To try to predict anything about Derrick Rose‘s career seems fruitless at this point; notice the category CARMELO puts Rose into: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Although the Bulls hope Rose’s body has finally recovered after three knee surgeries in the past three years, even the most ardent Rose supporters know they don’t know anything for sure. Rose fractured his left orbital (basically his eye socket) in the first practice of training camp, and it’s unclear whether a new protective mask will affect his game. Doug McDermott did not play well in his rookie campaign and could not find a spot in Thibodeau’s rotation after a knee injury early in the year. He is playing with much more confidence in the preseason and enjoys the working environment that Hoiberg has formed. With McDermott’s renewed confidence, the Bulls expect big things from the former Creighton sharpshooter. CARMELO … does not expect big things.Read more:All our NBA player projectionsAll our 2015-16 NBA Previews Pau Gasol proved last season that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank by averaging 18.5 points and 11.8 rebounds a game and earning the first All-Star starting nod of his career. It’s hard to believe the 35-year-old Gasol will be able to play in 78 games again (as he did a season ago), but he hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down after leading Spain to a EuroBasket championship in September. We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here. The Chicago Bulls are hoping that a new coach and a new system can help them do what they weren’t able to do during Tom Thibodeau’s five-year reign in Chicago: Beat LeBron James in the postseason. There is a lot of optimism surrounding new coach Fred Hoiberg and the offense he is putting in place. But with almost the exact same roster coming back — along with the addition of talented rookie Bobby Portis — the fear within the city is that the Bulls’ championship window may have already closed. Former MVP Derrick Rose hasn’t been able to stay healthy the last few years, and the Bulls understand that no matter how much talent is on the roster, they won’t be able to get over the hump in the playoffs unless Rose returns to his All-Star form on a consistent basis. On the other hand, FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projection system has Jimmy Butler on track to be the Bulls’ top performer this season.CARMELO pegs the Bulls to go 47-35: The emotional soul of the Bulls, Joakim Noah, did not play well last season as he dealt with the lingering effects of offseason left knee surgery. He also struggled to find his way alongside Gasol. He is feeling good to start the season and believes he is healthy enough to put up big numbers again. Nikola Mirotic had an up and down rookie season, but he showed flashes of offensive brilliance. The Bulls hope he will thrive in Hoiberg’s new system. Jimmy Butler is the Bulls’ best all-around player and feels even more confident after signing a max extension in the offseason. He is on record as saying he wants to prove last season wasn’t a “fluke,” and CARMELO doesn’t think it was, projecting Butler as an All-Star-caliber player this season.
Over the years, bullpens have eroded the workloads of starting pitchers. This season, relievers have accounted for the greatest share of pitching workload in Major League Baseball history: They have completed 41.1 percent of total innings through Wednesday, up from last year’s record of 40 percent. There are a variety of reasons for this trend, including teams becoming more aware of how starting pitchers tend to do worse each time through the opposing lineup and the increasing specialization of the sport.For more than 40 years, relievers had outperformed starters on a per-inning basis. But this season, through Wednesday, starters’ ERA is 0.02 points lower than that of relievers. Starters have not posted an ERA superior to that of relievers since 1973, but that gap has shrunk rapidly, and this year it could be potentially erased. As recently as 2012, the overall ERA of relievers was half a run better than that of starting pitchers.Perhaps this suggests that the sport has reached the limits of bullpenning and specialization — there are too many relievers employed. Through Tuesday, 492 different pitchers who primarily serve in relief have appeared in games this season.1At least 90 percent of games pitched as relievers. That already breaks the record set last season (488) and is up from 381 relievers in 2010 and 297 in 1998, the first season that MLB had 30 teams.This change in personnel may explain relievers’ decline in performance the first time through opposing lineups, relative to starting pitchers, a trend that Ben Clemens at FanGraphs documented in May and has continued into the summer. For the first time this century, starters have been better than relievers in their first time through the order in back-to-back seasons. Craig Edwards, also of FanGraphs, found there have been more low-leverage innings this year and poorer performance within them,2According to Leverage Index (LI), which is a measure of the relative “pressure” a player has faced. speaking to less meaningful baseball and more poor teams. Those innings have presumably been pitched by lesser relievers, diluting the group’s overall performance. There have been fewer meaningful innings this season — and also a greater volume of lesser-skilled relievers.A key decision for managers in today’s game is deciding whether to stick with a starter a third time through the lineup or to use the bullpen. And the gap between starters in that position and relievers has shrunk to its lowest level since 2005, as relievers have an advantage of only 49 points of opponent OPS this season compared with a 64-point edge last season and a century-high, 88-point difference in 2007, according to Baseball-Reference.com.Another reason for the convergence between starters and relievers is that starting pitchers are gaining relative skill. For the first time in the pitch-tracking era, which dates to 2007, the average fastball velocity of starting pitchers (93.3 mph) is less than 1 mph (0.8 mph) slower than that of relievers (94.1 mph). In 2012, relievers’ average fastballs were 1.7 mph faster than those of starters, and the difference has generally been shrinking since. Relievers’ overall fastball velocity has even declined this season, for the first time since 2008. Moreover, starters so far in 2019 have posted a higher difference between their strikeout rate and walk rate (14.5 percentage points) than relievers (13.9 percentage points). This is the first time starters have had a greater difference than relievers in the two rates since 1986.New technology is also allowing pitchers to improve the efficiency of their pitches. Starting pitchers also generally have a greater variety of pitches — and better command — than relievers, which is arguably one reason why they are starting pitchers and not relievers. If starters close the velocity gap, where relievers have traditionally held an advantage, they are closing a significant portion of the performance divide.Perhaps the game has swung too far in favor of relievers. Managers might want to wait a little longer on that call to the bullpen, or at least consider whom they are calling upon.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
There was no Hurricane hangover for Ohio State. One week after dismantling Miami (Fla.), the No. 2 Buckeyes (3-0) poured it on in-state rival Ohio (1-2), holding the Bobcats to 158 total yards in a 43-7 victory Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Two years ago, Ohio gave OSU a major scare, taking a narrow lead into the fourth quarter before the Buckeyes pulled away for a 26-14 win. Saturday’s game bore little resemblance. OSU scored on its first six possessions, racking up a 34-0 lead midway through the second quarter. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor set a school record by completing 16 consecutive passes, breaking Jim Karsatos’ mark of 12 that stood for 25 years. Pryor finished 22-for-29 for 235 yards, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for another. He and the first-team offense sat out the fourth quarter. “When you feel more comfortable, things start to slow down for you and you can make those passes,” receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. “Being able to throw those passes so comfortably, it led to all those completions.” On the second play from scrimmage, safety Tyler Moeller intercepted a pass by Ohio quarterback Phil Bates. OSU converted the turnover into a field goal. The day never got easier for the Bobcat offense. Ohio punted on its next three possessions and before the first quarter was over, OSU led 24-0. “Defensively, we shut them down in the first half for sure,” coach Jim Tressel said. Pryor threw a strike to running back Brandon Saine across the middle for a 9-yard score to give the Buckeyes a 10-0 edge. Minutes later, Pryor scampered 13 yards to the end zone to add to the lead. “Pryor got out of the pocket a lot and we can’t let that happen,” Ohio linebacker Noah Keller said. “He’s a hard guy to tackle. He has a deadly arm and a killer stiff arm.” When the Bobcats weren’t punting, they were committing turnovers. The Buckeyes forced three fumbles, two interceptions and once stopped Ohio on downs. OSU picked off four passes by Miami quarterback Jacory Harris last week. “We had a lot of problems,” said Bates, who finished 4-for-9 for 13 yards and two interceptions. “We didn’t execute plays, hit people when they were open or get key blocks. We have a lot of work to do.” The Buckeyes out-gained Ohio in the first half, 290-47. The Bobcats didn’t move the chains for a first down until midway through the second quarter. They promptly fumbled the ball away on the next play. The Buckeyes stretched the lead to 34-0 following a touchdown pass from Pryor to tight end Jake Stoneburner and a 2-yard touchdown run by Dan “Boom” Herron. Despite the lopsided score, Tressel kept the first-team offense on the field through the end of the third quarter. The unit looked out-of-sync with the sizeable lead, as Pryor threw his second interception of the game into double coverage. “Interceptions ruin a quarterback’s day in their own mind,” Tressel said. “Sometimes you forget about the 22 completions and all you do is think about the two that didn’t work well.” Herron capped off the first-team offense’s final drive with his second touchdown to provide the Buckeyes a 43-0 advantage. Ohio finally got on the board with a touchdown with 6:11 remaining in the fourth quarter on an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Boo Jackson to receiver Terrence McCrae. While OSU flourished on offense and defense, the persistent problems on special teams plagued the Buckeyes yet again. Ohio cornerback Julian Posey, who covered his younger brother, OSU receiver DeVier Posey, most of the game, had a first-quarter kick return touchdown brought back because of a penalty. The Bobcats also blocked an OSU punt in the third quarter. “We just flat out missed a guy,” Tressel said. “You can’t do that, not if you want to win.” Still, the Buckeyes were able to put away Ohio early and avoid a repeat of the 2008 matchup. “We were thinking about the OU game two years ago,” said defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, who recovered a fumble and made a tackle in the end zone for a safety. “We didn’t want to let down our fans. I think everybody took the challenge.” OSU plays Eastern Michigan, winless since Nov. 28, 2008, next Saturday at 3:30 p.m., at the Horseshoe.
A week after suffering a quadriceps strain that caused him to miss playing time, quarterback Terrelle Pryor put up career-high passing numbers against Indiana. Pryor threw for 334 yards, topping a previous career high of 266 yards against Oregon. “Obviously it means something, I’m human,” he said. “We all have statistics we want to get.” Pryor reached the milestone in less than three quarters of work, as he exited the game when the Buckeyes led 38-0. Despite its significance, Pryor was more concerned with adding to the number in the win column than piling up yardage, he said. The team was quick to share the praise. “I think the combination between the (offensive) line protecting well, Terrelle making his reads and knowing his coverages and the receivers running great routes, it’s all going well,” center Mike Brewster said. Coach Jim Tressel agreed it wasn’t all Pryor’s doing. “The key to the passing game is protection,” he said. “I thought our guys up front did well. I thought our blitz pickup was good.” The leg injury to Pryor, the team’s leading rusher entering the game, might have factored in to the gaudy passing numbers. “I wasn’t comfortable running at all. I really wanted to stand in (the pocket),” he said. “I threw some good balls.” The team did not call any designed runs for Pryor and encouraged him not to scramble. “We did talk a little bit more this week in some film session about hanging on (to the ball longer) … because we did feel like we could protect,” Tressel said. The extra time allowed Pryor to complete 24 of his 30 passing attempts. “He was putting the balls on the money,” running back Brandon Saine said. “I think he was going through his progressions and doing what he knew how to do.” Preparation was also important. “From the film, it looked like we would get a lot of zone coverage from them and not a lot of man coverage,” wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. “We knew what was coming and how to prepare.” That film study allowed OSU to take what the defense was giving them en route to three touchdowns through the air. “The pass was working well, so we felt like we were (going to) pass it more,” Brewster said. That won’t always be the case. “We can have that success throwing the ball anytime, but that’s not the style of play we always want to play,” Pryor said. When the Buckeyes do play that style, teammates trust their quarterback. “When Terrelle is passing as good as he’s passing,” lineman Justin Boren said, “we’ve got a Heisman trophy candidate in the back field.”
The Ohio State men’s volleyball team struggled to find its footing against some of the nation’s elite teams, which gathered at the Outrigger Invitational in Honolulu this past weekend. While OSU improved to 2-0 on the season with a 3-2 win against host the University of Hawaii Warriors Thursday, the Buckeyes (2-2) dropped back-to-back showdowns against No. 7 Penn State and No. 5 UCLA. Against the Nittany Lions, OSU was swept 3-0 (24-26, 17-25, 22-25) Saturday as an evenly-matched first set was not enough in the end for the Buckeyes, which failed to take advantage of leads throughout the match. But in their contest with the Bruins, victory seemed to be within reach for OSU. During the deciding fifth set, the Buckeyes led multiple times, including a 12-9 advantage that left three points away from pulling off the upset. UCLA, though, stormed back, winning six of the next seven points, and handed OSU its first defeat of the year, 3-2 (25-17, 22-25, 25-18, 18-25, 13-15). The Buckeyes had better luck against the unranked Warriors, which took OSU to five sets before finally conceding the match, 3-2 (22-25, 25-23, 20-25, 25-17, 15-12). Redshirt sophomores setter Peter Heinen and opposite Andrew Lutz and sophomore outside hitter Michael Henchy led the charge against Hawaii to help put the team at 2-0 on the season heading into the top 10 matchups that stood ahead for the Buckeyes. Next weekend the Buckeyes will look to stop its current losing streak when they travel to Loretto, Pa. to take on Saint Francis (PA) at 3 p.m. in a rematch of the first game of the season, a 3-0 victory for OSU.