Offense looks to get rolling against Indiana

Will this be the week that Ohio State gets the offense rolling? The Buckeye offense hopes so as they will take on the struggling Indiana defense.

It is no secret that Ohio State is ranked 114th in the country in total offense, averaging just 278.3 yards per game (169.6 passing, 108.7 rushing).

But, with a game this week against Indiana – arguably the worst defense in the Big Ten – could it be time for the Buckeye offense to get rolling?

"We hope so," right guard Alex Stepanovich said. "We know we can play a lot better and we know we will, but it has to start right now. We can't continue to rely on our defense."

On a positive note, senior receiver Drew Carter is having a career year. He has 22 receptions for 335 yards, good for second best on the team in both categories behind Michael Jenkins (28 receptions for 395 yards).

In the 19-10 win over Iowa last Saturday, Carter grabbed six passes for 95 yards and had a long reception called back on a questionable pass interference call.

"For the second week in a row, Drew Carter was our offensive player of the game," head coach Jim Tressel said. "Iowa was going to make sure that Mike Jenkins had two, sometimes three people surrounding him when it was an apparent pass situation and Drew Carter as allowed to have single coverage and really came up with some plays. Came up with one that was called back that could have been huge for us, but he went up and he made plays, and I think he gets better and better and better each and every day."

Although Jenkins doesn't like it, he knows the fact that he's getting double-covered is a sign of respect.

"I guess it is," Jenkins said. "You really don't want it to be that way, but if they're going to put two, or three guys on me, then the other receivers have to step up and Drew is doing a good job of that. Drew is having some good games these last few weeks and that needs to uplift everybody else as a unit to do well."

With Carter stepping up and proving to be a playmaker, teams might be more hesitant to double Jenkins in the future.

"Hopefully," Jenkins said. "We'll see. It's not fun for me when you have two or three guys all over me, but it's fun to see the other receivers step up and make plays."

Jenkins is glad that Carter has been able to shake off the injury bug this year and play up to his potential.

"He's had it in him all along," he said. "He just had some injuries along the way and now he's finally getting his chance to shine as a senior."

As for quarterback Craig Krenzel, he is still struggling to find his form, but his teammates haven't lost any confidence in him.

"We aren't worried at all about Craig," Stepanovich said. "We all know what kind of player he is and what he can do for this team. He is going to play well for us down the stretch. We all have improvements to make and hopefully we can get things to click this week against Indiana."

Jenkins thinks that Krenzel is still knocking off some of the rust from his elbow injury.

"Craig was out for two weeks and that kind of hurt us with timing and chemistry with the receivers and everything," Jenkins said. "But, he's in there still watching film everyday and he wants to make the best throws possible. But it's coming. It will be back slowly, but surely."

Past the midway point of the season, Krenzel has thrown for 883 yards and is completing just 54.2 percent of his passes. He has five touchdown passes to go with five interceptions.

In the Iowa game, Krenzel had some opportunities in the passing game, but was errant with too many of his throws. No one is ever going to confuse him with a great passer, but he needs to be more consistent and efficient.

Even Tressel admitted that Krenzel had a down game against the Hawkeyes. But he also knows the offense as a whole needs to play better.

"I don't think we executed in the passing game nearly as well as I would like to have done on Saturday," Tressel said. "I think Craig would be the first one to tell you that there were some times when his feet really didn't allow him to deliver the ball where he would like to have delivered it. I'm sure the receivers would tell you there were a couple times, if they would have gotten to where they needed to go, we would have certainly had a better opportunity. I'm sure there were some moments, from an offensive line protection standpoint, that they would like to say that they could have done a better job, but I did not think we executed in the passing game on Saturday nearly as well as I would have liked."

Looking at the running game, your first reaction is to close your eyes. And after you hide the children and take a close look at the stat book, you realize it's even worse than you thought.

There's probably not a Buckeye fan on this Earth that ever thought they'd see the day that seven games into a season, OSU's leading rusher would have just 300 yards (Maurice Hall).

Hall is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and the same is true for the ever-fragile Lydell Ross (241 yards).

True freshman Ira Guliford is going to get more and more opportunities, but he hasn't been able to get much going either. The "Hoboken Kid" has just 49 yards and is averaging just 2.3 yards per carry.

But, if ever the running game was going to get rolling, the Hoosiers are the team to do it against.

"We'd like to," Stepanovich said. "With Drew (Carter) and Mike (Jenkins) stepping up, that really helps us out. Against Iowa, they played a lot of cover two against us, which keeps the safeties out of the box and which kind of frees us up a little bit to run and gives us more confidence to run. We just have to execute better.

"But, this week, I think we'll be able to show that we can move the ball on the ground much better than we have."

"I think we're definitely going to try to run against Indiana," center Nick Mangold added. "That's the basis of our offense. So, I think we're definitely going to attack and try and pound them and hopefully we be to get something done through the running game."

It's easy to blame the rushing woes on the running backs (and the absence of Maurice Clarett) but the offensive line has obviously not been without blame either. However, with the move of Mangold to center and with the improved play of right tackle Shane Olivea, the O-line could be on the verge of playing up to its potential.

Olivea had his best game of the season in the win over Iowa.

"Our offensive lineman of the game was Shane Olivea," Tressel said. "I thought not only his performance was important for us, especially down the stretch, but I thought his leadership was crucial for us. And when a group is somewhat disappointed in its performance and frustrated with its performance, it's really the job of some people to step forward and say, ‘Hey, we're going to get this thing done,' and I thought Shane did a good job of that on Saturday afternoon. He was graded 83 percent and was our offensive lineman of the week."

Although Olivea is stepping up as a leader, the true leader of the group is Stepanovich. He is still bothered by an ankle sprain, but is getting healthier each week.

"The ankle's good. It feels pretty good," he said. "I'm the best I've felt in a while. I was able to go out there and play a whole game on it. Not saying I was 100 percent, but it's the best I've felt in a long time."

Stepanovich played the whole game against Iowa a week after re-aggravating the injury at Wisconsin. He was seen limping off the field at Camp Randall Stadium.

"Yeah, sometimes with those injuries you step the wrong way and maybe that tweaked it a little bit," he said. "They just wanted to be careful with it so they pulled me a little bit (against Wisconsin). But it's feeling better now."

Stepanovich thinks the O-line has made improvements the last few weeks – especially in pass pro.

"I think in some areas we're doing better," he said. "I think we did a great job against Iowa pass blocking. I think we gave Craig a lot of time."

Stepanovich was asked if the offense needs to show dramatic improvement in order for the Buckeyes to win out.

"Well, I think we've been close all year," he said. "I think what we have to do a better job of is turnovers and penalties. I think if we eliminate more and more of our penalties, we are finding our stride. We just keep shooting ourselves in the foot. We talk about sustaining drives and a lot of our drives are short because we've had penalties. When we have our opportunities, we have to take advantage."

Stepanovich has a great attitude. He doesn't get frustrated with all the "What's wrong with the offense" questions that need to be asked.

"Well, it goes with the territory," he said. "I'm sure if it was reversed and our offense was putting up 50 points a game and our defense was letting points on the board, you guys would be questioning them. But, if we keep putting them in the left hand side of the column, we're fine. We know that we have to get better and we can't shoot ourselves in the foot as much, but if we keep working hard, good things are going to happen."

Mangold thinks the O-line is ready to break out. He is especially glad that Stepanovich has returned to the lineup.

"Yeah, it's nice having Alex back in there because he's such a leader," Mangold said. "It definitely helps having him in there. It's kind of like having, I don't know, kind of like the ‘dad' in there. It's just something I have with him. I can't say for other guys, but for me personally, it's definitely nice having him in there because it give us cohesion, I guess."

Mangold has now been a starter for a few games, but still isn't used to seeing his name atop the depth chart.

"No, not yet," he said. "I don't think that will happen for a long time. It definitely is still a new thing for me to be in there with the starters."

Mangold likes the depth that the Buckeyes have been able to develop on the O-line. They can go seven deep down, and maybe as much as 10.

"Great depth," Mangold said. "Great ability to have someone come in and step up when things aren't going right. I think that's a real plus that we have on the line. On top of the starters, we have Mike Kne, B.B. (Bryce Bishop) as those sixth and seventh guys and we also have Adam Olds, (Tim) Schafer and (Doug) Datish ready to roll in."

Overall, the players claim they are not losing confidence in the offense as a whole. They say there is still time to prove that it can be a good offense and that the first seven games were just an aberration.

"We're still confident in our offense that we can go out there and score points," Jenkins said. "It's just that things haven't happened to fall our way this year. We're still fighting. We're keeping our confidence up and trying to go out there and try and score touchdowns. We know we are much better than we have shown through the first half of the season."

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