Hall, Ross discuss lack of running game

The lack of a Buckeye running game has been the subject of much talk. Dave Biddle has a look now at what Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross think about the situation.

Of all the people that are frustrated with Ohio State's running game, no one is more so than tailbacks Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross.

In the 44-38 triple-overtime win over NC State, Hall finished with 13 carries for two yards and Ross rushed four times for one yard.

There are several reasons why the running game has sputtered so far this season: poor blocking by Ohio State's offensive line; the inability to break tackles by the backs; the inability to find the right holes; and good defense from the opponents.

"I don't know what went wrong out there," Hall said. "I don't know. It didn't look good (Saturday), I know that much. We just have to look at the film and see what exactly happened."

Hall took notice that the Buckeyes called zero running plays with the game on the line in the overtime sessions.

"Yeah, I thought about it a couple times," Hall said. "But coach (Jim) Tressel was going with what we needed and it was working, so we relied on the passing game."

The junior from Columbus left the Horseshoe with mixed emotions on Saturday.

"It's hard to explain," Hall said. "I am very happy we won the game - that's all that matters. But, at the same time, you come to a place like Ohio State to help the team win and I'm just very frustrated with the way the running game went (Saturday). You wonder if there was something else you could have done to help the team."

Hall was quick to point out that NC State's defense was better than advertised. A lot of people figured that since Wake Forest ran the ball well against the Wolfpack, the Buckeyes would be able to as well.

"I thought their defense did a good job shutting down our running game," Hall said. "They did a lot of stunts and slanting with defensive linemen and linebackers. They played well."

In fairness to Hall, he did have a 30-yard jaunt called back due to a penalty. But 13 carries for two yards is probably the worst line you'll ever see from a starting tailback at OSU.

"Is that what it was?" Hall asked. "Yeah, that's not real good. I don't know what to say about that."

As for Ross, he says he is still bothered by a toe injury.

"It's better," he said. "But it's not 100 percent. But I was able to play on it and I was able to play pretty well. I'd say I'm about 85 percent."

The fact that zero running plays were called during the overtime sessions made it look like the coaches were sending a message that they had no confidence in the running game.

"You know, that was coach Tressel's plan in overtime," Ross said. "That's what him and the coaches thought would win the game and they were successful. Those were good play calls."

Ross is taking the realistic approach. He is not looking for a silver lining after such a poor performance by the team on the ground (32 attempts for 44 yards).

"No, it's not where we wanted to be at all," Ross said. "Not even close. We need to be a lot better in the running game. That's an important factor in our offense: to have a strong running game. We can't take anything positive away from this game as far as our running game."

Why was the running game so bad? Was it missed assignments? Missed reads?

"It's everything," Ross said. "Mental mistakes. Physical mistakes at times, and we just need to get better all around. It's something we've got to get better at. We've got to do our jobs and focus on what we have to do."

One of the factors was the absence of senior center Alex Stepanovich, out with an ankle injury. Coming into the season, Ohio State was expected to have seven O-linemen with big game experience. But with the loss of Ivan Douglas, and now Stepanovich, that depth has disappeared.

"He's a veteran; a starter," Ross said of Stepanovich. "Obviously, it's definitely a loss. But, we've got good men to fill his spot."

Nick Mangold got the start at center and Ross thought he fared pretty well.

"He has had a lot of playing time and I think he played solid," Ross said. "He stepped up to the plate and did what he had to do for us to be successful. But, like the rest of us, we have to get better."

Ross is hoping to get Stepanovich back in the fold soon.

"I've been hearing he'll be out a couple more weeks, but hopefully it's less than that. We'd love to have him back as soon as possible."

Cynics might say the Buckeyes' offense is not the same without Maurice Clarett. Does Ross get frustrated hearing talk like that?

"No, all I do is look to the next game and look to get better," he said. "Critics out there, that is their opinion. That's what they think. We're a team and we have a season to play. So, we really don't worry about what outsiders have to say. We just worry about what we have to do."

Whatever you want to say about OSU's offense, it finds ways to win games. It's becoming a habit for the Bucks to pull out close victories.

"We never quit," Ross said. "We have heart. That's what this team is all about."

But Ross says that last year's heroics have nothing to do with this season.

"We go about every game as usual," he said. "We don't really like to think, ‘Hey, we've been here before, let's do the same thing we've done before.' We fight it out. It's a different game, a different atmosphere and we just play hard."

But playing in a multiple-overtime game didn't remind Ross a little bit of the thrilling win in the Fiesta Bowl?

"No, the Fiesta Bowl is in the past," he said. "We're just focused on this season. It wasn't a similar situation."


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