That could mean big trouble for an Ohio State offense that has all but been declared D.O.A. with their weekly play this season. Aside from their 28-point "explosion" against Washington and the points they scored in overtime against NC State, their totals have been anemic at best. They put up 9 against mighty San Diego State, 24 on NC State, 24 on MAC program Bowling Green, 20 on Northwestern, and just 10 against Wisconsin. If you average those totals, the offense is not even reaching 18 points per game, and worst of all is many of those points were not the result of an impressive drive but because the defense gained a turnover and put them in perfect position to score.
The Ohio State offense must rebound from their unfocused and undisciplined play and decide that this season is worth the effort to concentrate. That means no more blown blocks up the middle and fullback whiffs on the linebackers of defenses. It means no more sloppy routes by the wide receiver so that when Craig Krenzel tries to deliver the football, he either has to throw an interception or throw it away. It means that the running backs must find the holes and not just run into the rear end of their blockers. It means that the coaching staff must go back to the drawing board and find ways to nurse offense out of this unit that is currently underachieving with regard to their abilities.
The recipe for success…
First, the offensive line must begin blocking. It is the middle of October, and the line is still not able to get a consistent push. Injuries or no, this is unacceptable from any team at Ohio State University. The reason it is unacceptable is that it is not that pure and simple, the line is not executing, and the players will admit as much. They have to establish that they are going to win at the line of scrimmage.
"We just have to line up and get physical," said Alex Stepanovich. "We just have to line up and use our techniques, and those allow us to pick up things. Up front we have to work more as a unit and get guys going a little bit better…we have to get back to wearing people down and realizing that late in the game that is when we start getting more and more yards."
He went on to say, "We just have to go out there and do what we do, be it guys blocking better, be it guys holding their blocks longer, be it whatever. We have to go out there and give our guys the opportunity behind us to do what they need to get done. We can't have let downs up front. I think hat is a big thing. You know, sometimes it is just the littlest thing. Maybe one guy just slipping off his block a little bit can really mess up a play, and but like I said – we have to stay in the right frame of mind and be ready to attack this weekend."
Indeed he is more than correct here. Either the Ohio State line will dictate the pace of this game or the Iowa defensive line will. It will be one or the other. Whoever wins the battle up front will win the game. Last week, Wisconsin took it to Ohio State. Will the Buckeyes up front decide to play tough physically and mentally, or will they let Iowa make them their punching bag?
Second, the skill players must work in tandem and produce consistently. The wide receivers, quarterback, and running backs have to step it up. The tailbacks only managed 45 yards on 13 carries against the Badgers, and when it came time for the Buckeyes to stick the ball in the end zone, they were forced to pass. Thus far, Craig Krenzel's numbers are a bit off of last year's, but he has been a bit more efficient with the ball when called upon. The real story is that only Drew Carter has been consistently playing above his level from last season at wideout.
Third, the Ohio State players must take care of the football. Though the coaches have been preaching about this since before fall camp even convened, the Buckeyes gave Wisconsin three opportunities to get a turnover last weekend. Two of those were fumbles and one a pass that was intercepted when the referees did not call interference on the man who held back Jenkins from getting to the football Krenzel had thrown up for grabs. OSU is seventh in the Big Ten in turnover margin with a –1 this season. They are shooting themselves in the foot on a weekly basis and putting their defense in brutal situations.
What Ohio State must do…
First, Ohio State must have a balanced offense. How that is achieved is not important, but the fact that it IS achieved is critical. One-dimensional offenses are doomed to failure against excellent defenses.
"It gets to be tough at any level of football if you are one dimensional," remarked Stepanovich. "You really don't pose a threat to the other team to do something, so they are just going to pin their ears back as a defense. If you are not running the football real well, they are going to pin their ears back and come after your quarterback. We have to force teams to respect our run which will open up the pass and make bigger plays for us in the long run."
This means that even if Ohio State has to include more play variations with tosses, sweeps, reverses, and the like – they must be able to establish the run as a credible threat. The Buckeyes could even use the pass to set up the run; it makes no difference in the end just so long as the offense is able to be balanced.
Second, the Buckeyes need to be consistent in the passing game. Saying the Buckeyes need to pass to set up the run is all fine and dandy, but teams have to believe OSU can actually move the ball and score this way.
Third, and the bottom line, is that Ohio State players must play together as a team. They are halfway through their season, and with the exception of the opening game have never looked in sync. Craig Krenzel stated, "There are a lot of different problems that we had Saturday night offensively. It does not stem from one player or one position or one aspect of the offense. Different plays it is a variety of different problems, guys not blocking their assignment, maybe not being on the same page in terms of running a different route than what we thought might have been run. Maybe I am just missing a throw or dropping a pass. You know, all sorts of different things went wrong for us."
This might be something that could be dismissed as a single bad game except for the fact that reporters have been given this answer for the last five weeks when they inquired about the offense. On the Tuesday following the Northwestern game Ben Hartsock noted, "It has been frustrating. Nobody wants to be the weak link or the slow wheel. It's not a lack of talent or effort. It's just that we're not clicking. Hopefully now that guys like Branden Joe, Alex Stepanovich and Craig Krenzel are back we'll start clicking."
After beating NC State in triple overtime, Michael Jenkins said, "We like to see the running game go. We like to be downfield blocking for those guys and it's frustrating because we want to be more consistent, but we're working on that. We'll get the offensive line together, and we'll get the running backs in the hole and we'll have a consistent running game."
After putting up only nine points against San Diego State, Adrien Clarke told the media, "Naturally we were not proud of our performance last week, but we just need to put that behind us and learn from it. Any time there is room for improvement it is a good thing. It was a stepping stone for the team. We have a lot to prove to ourselves this week."
In other words, it is time to stop talking about improving and actually get it done if Ohio State actually wants to win any sort of championship (Big Ten or otherwise) this season. More talk is not going to fix the fact that Ohio State is dead last in the Big Ten in total offense, tenth in rushing offense, ninth in passing offense, seventh in scoring (ahead of four teams below .500), eighth in turnover margin (despite the fact that the defense has forced the third most turnovers in the league), eighth in pass efficiency, last in first downs, and last in third down conversions…
Tune in Saturday to see if the Buckeye offensive players are just talking or actually performing this week. Perhaps that sounds a bit harsh, but then again – in looking at those numbers one might argue that words with even more bite are warranted and are likely being delivered by the coaches and players themselves.