Starters Seeking Four Quarters

All teams enjoy being on the positive side of a blowout victory, but Ohio State might be experiencing too much of a good thing. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor and his teammates have not been tasked with going the distance much this season, and it could have had a hand in their lone loss this year.

Did Ohio State's wide margin of victory in nearly every game this season help doom the Buckeyes to failure two weeks ago against Wisconsin? Badgers head coach Bret Bielema thinks so.

Speaking to reporters following his team's 31-18 home victory against previously unbeaten and No. 1 OSU, Bielema said he felt his team had an advantage going into the game based on how its schedule had played out to that point.

"At halftime, I went in and told coaches, the players, approach the second half the same way as if the score is 0-0," he said. "But I did point out right before we left the locker room that we've been in four-quarter games this year – whether by choice or not, we've been in them – and I didn't really think Ohio State had been."

The numbers leading into the game bear examining. Throwing out a 70-3 victory against FCS opponent Austin Peay, the Badgers' average margin of victory in their first four games heading into the contest with OSU was 6.0 – a figure that included a 10-point loss at Michigan State.

Conversely, the Buckeyes entered their date with the Badgers with an average margin of victory of 29.7 points. Junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor had seen fourth-quarter action in three of those games, one of which was a first-week win against Marshall in which the coaches allowed him to finish a drive that began in the third quarter.

The other two games that saw Pryor take fourth-quarter snaps were Miami (Fla.) in week two (36-24) and at Illinois in week five (24-13). Following last weekend's 49-0 thrashing of Purdue – another game in which Pryor was relieved during the third quarter – the quarterback said he found himself discussing the situation with junior wideout DeVier Posey on the sideline.

"We said it's rare that we play in the fourth quarter," Pryor said. "That worries us in a sense. We've got to get better at that and be ready for a four-quarter game."

It is a case where the Buckeyes have been victims both of their own success and the ineptitude of some of their opponents. OSU's foes are a combined 31-28 this season, with Wisconsin's 7-1 record skewing those stats a bit. Marshall and Eastern Michigan are at the other end of the spectrum with a combined record of 2-13.

This weekend figures to be more of the same. Although the Buckeyes have struggled away from home this season with an 11-point win at Illinois and the Wisconsin loss, 1-7 Minnesota is not expected to give OSU much of a challenge.

Head coach Jim Tressel said the situation has not adversely affected his team.

"I guess you could look at it one of two ways," he said. "It could end up being a detriment to you. It could end up if you go a bunch of long games and a bunch of guys get hurt, and, ‘Oh my gosh, it might have been nicer if we didn't have so many plays.' Who cares?"

As Tressel pointed out, the positive side of the coin is that the Buckeyes have not seen any key players go down with late-game injuries suffered in contests that were well in hand. In addition, a number of young reserves have been able to see valuable game action that should pay dividends down the road.

Although it might be an odd feeling to spend so much of the game on the sideline, senior running back and captain Brandon Saine said he does not think it is having an adverse effect on this year's team.

"I've never thought of it like that," he said. "It's kind of weird just sitting on the sideline during the game. I think the coaches know what they're doing. They definitely don't want to get anybody hurt when you have the game under control."

Against the Badgers, OSU performed better as the game went on. The Buckeyes scored 15 of their 18 points and accumulated 218 of their 311 yards of total offense in the second half

While the defensive side of the ball rotates players on a consistent basis, the OSU offense does not. Senior right guard Bryant Browning pointed to the fact that his side of the ball boasts only two starters who are younger than juniors as reason why the unit will be fine when asked to go the distance.

"I think our guys with a veteran bunch, definitely if we have to play four quarters we're ready for it," he said. "It's also a good thing for us to start games off early, get up ahead and get some younger guys some reps so we can just keep working on being a unit. That way if injuries happen, guys can easily step in and perform."

Saine said the situation has been a blessing and not a curse.

"I think it's good," he said. "It's been a lot of fun to be able to go out there and put up big points in the first half."

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