Buckeyes Tinkering With Offensive Changes

Ohio State's offense could never get untracked vs. Michigan State last Saturday as the Spartans posted a Big Ten-opening win. What did the film study show about that performance in the eyes of the coaching staff, and are any changes on tap this week?

After Ohio State put up 37 points in Braxton Miller's first start to easily dispatch Colorado on Sept. 24, fullback Zach Boren and center Michael Brewster raved about the offensive plan the Buckeyes unleashed on the Buffaloes.

"I felt like the plays we were running today were similar to the plays we were running the past two years in terms of protections and running (isolations) and that type of stuff," Brewster said. "I felt really comfortable with all the plays called today. It felt like it was our bread and butter all the way across the board, and I feel like it paid off for us."

Boren added, "I feel like we're back to Buckeye football and we have that swagger back that we've had for however long and we're just going to run with it."

What a difference a week makes.

After the Buckeyes needed 59 minutes and 50 seconds to put a single point on the board during a 10-7 loss to Michigan State on Saturday, the general consensus among those who follow the team is that the offensive plan was hopelessly ill-designed.

But football coaches tend to believe execution rather than scheme is the culprit when a plan goes awry, and at least one Buckeye mind seems to fall on that side of the debate as well.

"The reevaluation was this isn't a game of plays and X's and O's," running backs coach Dick Tressel said. "This is a game of participation and functioning well and doing your thing, so make sure you work on your fundamentals and do what you're asked to do well, Then go compete and get that under control."

Casting the coachspeak aside, the moral of the story in the mind of Tressel – the only offensive coach made available since the game against the Spartans – is the Buckeyes need to get back to basics. Simply put, the Buckeyes aren't going to get any better by adding things to an equation already beset by problems.

That doesn't mean adjustments won't be made, as they are on a week to week basis. After Michigan State showed a blitz-heavy game plan that pressured the Ohio State offense into numerous mistakes, the Buckeyes will have to come up with a countering strategy should opposing defenses copy it.

"I think we have to be able to make adjustments," head coach Luke Fickell said. "There are open receivers and guys that we have to find. Don't take any credit away from what those guys did against us, but if you pop it on and you watch, you can definitely see that there are some things that, man, might not be real sound right now, but pressure can do that to you.

"A lot of times that ball gets rolling and you don't make the plays you need to make. That's ultimately what it comes down to. Guys are going to bring that kind of pressure. There's still some things you have to be able to attack, and you have to be able to make a couple of plays. And I promise you, if you make a couple of plays, they stop bringing the pressure, and we just didn't do it."

To beat that pressure, Ohio State appears to be looking at a few changes to the play-calling to upset that strategy, which affected both rushing and the passing game. The Buckeyes couldn't get traction on the ground for the most part and struggled mightily in the passing game, as the team was below 100 yards before two late drives run under the hand of backup quarterback Joe Bauserman.

"We're going to run some different stuff as well, try to combat that," Brewster said. "I'm kind of excited to see how that turns out on Saturday. It's maybe not new stuff but stuff we ran in the past."

The whole goal of the operation will be to put the offense into better situations to succeed, a common theme of Fickell's press conference Tuesday afternoon.

"We have got to put ourselves in those situations that we can give ourselves a little bit more help, and I just mean in a situation where whether you can run the football a little bit more or have the ability to take advantage of some of the things guys are doing against us, it's a whole," Fickell said. "You can't just point a finger and stay well, it's the quarterback, well, it's the offensive line, or it's the wideouts not getting open or it's the call.

"It's a combination of everything but it still comes down to that we have to figure what it is that we do well and continue to do those things and find out how we can get better at those things that we can do well."

Another focus will be eliminating the mistakes that dogged the team against the Spartans. The drive-killing errors included nine sacks, three false starts and single penalties for holding, an illegal block, sideline interference and offensive pass interference.

"I think the things that bothered us the most were some unforced errors," Tressel said. "We had some unforced errors when we started to get a little bit of momentum, a couple of silly penalties and some things like that. When you're battling a good team and you're struggling a little bit, if you create your own issues – let alone the ones they're creating – that's hard."

Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman hasn't been made available to reporters but has taken the brunt of the criticism for his role in Saturday's loss. However, Fickell didn't throw the coach – who is working with a true freshman quarterback and inexperienced backs and receivers – under the bus.

"We all don't like where we are," Fickell said. "But you can't let it affect you. You have to continue to get better. He understands what we need to do. We just have to do a better job of figuring out what our guys can do and what our guys can handle, and we will.

"There's going to be growing pains and there's going to be things, and nothing that a good offensive performance or a good win won't make up for."


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