OSU A Passing Team? Try Balanced

Since Ohio State defeated Indiana by primarily throwing the football, the hot topic around the program was whether or not the Buckeyes had grown into a pass-first team. As it turns out, they might simply be transforming into a more balanced team than fans have seen in recent years.

Ohio State's ability to throw the ball might be no passing fancy.

The numbers are there: compared with this point one season ago, the Buckeyes are throwing for an average of more than 80 more yards per game. In less than three quarters of action last weekend against Indiana, junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor threw for a career-high 334 yards.

Throughout his coaching career, OSU head coach Jim Tressel has often been criticized for running a conservative offense. He will be the first to tell you that his offense is a reflection of the talents he gets to work with.

When the Buckeyes won the 2002 national championship game, they did so with a heavy reliance on the rushing attack and freshman tailback Maurice Clarett. Four years later, they again reached the title game with an offense that featured a Heisman Trophy winner under center who was able to sit back in the pocket and lead the offense through the air.

Both approaches were successful. This year's plan of attack seems to incorporate both a maturing quarterback and a surrounding cast capable of doing more than in previous seasons.

"I think that goes along with not just Terrelle but the whole offense growing up in the past three years," senior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. "We were all young too. We talk a lot about Terrelle's development and everybody who's in the game right now was young growing up in that time too. We all grew up together in the system so I think the more you're around together the more you get that chemistry going."

The win against the Hoosiers marked the fifth time in six games Pryor had eclipsed the 200-yard passing mark, making him the first OSU quarterback to do so under the direction of Tressel.

Still, the coach was not set on describing his team as a pass-first offense.

"We would have to mark it down, October the 12th that we were called pass first," he said with a chuckle. "I hope that we can be called balanced, you know, that you're not sure on any down which we're going to do. So you may say it's pass first, but the D-line coach on the opposing team that we're playing probably says, ‘Now, you better, on first down, not just go rush the passer or they'll go screaming out of there on a draw' like we did for the long touchdown to start the scoring there against Indiana.

"I hope people have to play us balanced."

Tressel will often point out that games are won and lost in the trenches, and as the weather turns colder teams must be able to run the ball in order to be successful in the Big Ten. It stands to reason that the rushing attack will take on more importance as the season progresses, but like the passing game it is also putting up more yardage than a season ago.

This year's team is averaging 217.3 rushing yards per game, which is an improvement on last year's midseason average of 172.2 per contest. The Buckeyes are just shy of two of their primary offensive goals each week: 250 yards passing and 200 yards rushing. For the season, OSU is averaging 248.5 passing yards per game.

But the development of the passing game has been a pleasant surprise for a few of the players. Freshman wide receiver Corey Brown, who goes by "Philly," said he did not know a lot about the Buckeyes while being recruited but that he knew they liked to run the football.

"It (has) shocked me," he said of the passing attack this season. "I didn't think we were ever going to come in and pass this much, but it's good. Everybody is excited because we're passing the ball well this year. Nobody is looking at the past."

For that, the Buckeyes have a number of players to thank but none more than Pryor.

"He's definitely come a long ways," junior center Michael Brewster said. "I think every week he's getting a little bit better and watching more film and seeing what they do. When you know what they're going to do and you see it as it's happening, it makes things a lot easier."

Pryor did not attempt to run against Indiana after injuring his left quadriceps the week prior at Illinois, saying he wanted to make sure he could attack the Badgers with his arm and his legs this weekend.

After the game against the Hoosiers, Pryor was asked about the prominence of the passing attack in the game plan. Each time, he avoided calling the Buckeyes a passing team while deflecting credit for the team's success to the players around him.

"We can have that success throwing the ball anytime but it's not the style of play we always want to play," he said. "We like to move the ball and run the ball. It just shows you that if we want to throw the ball, we can do that.

"All week we had the plan that we were going to throw the ball down the field. I'm sure I'll be running next week."

After all, the Buckeyes have to keep things balanced.

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