Ohio State heads into week 10 sporting the ninth-ranked offense in the Big Ten, averaging 316.9 yards per game (191.3 passing, 125.6 rushing).
Of course, the big story of the week is the sudden rise of Scott McMullen from "emergency quarterback," to "sparkplug off the bench."
McMullen led the 21-20 comeback victory at Penn State last week, going 12 of 17 for 112 yards. He also tossed two touchdowns and no picks.
Earlier this week, OSU head coach Jim Tressel stopped just short of saying that McMullen would definitely play Saturday against Michigan State. He seemed to indicate that McMullen would play, but didn't come right out and say it.
"The thing I like about our situation is it's become even more obvious that Scott McMullen can contribute," Tressel said. "And I'm sure if the situation is right, that that will happen on Saturday with both Craig (Krenzel) and Scott having a chance to help this football team."
One thing is clear: Krenzel will start. He deserves as much if healthy (bruised sternum; possible concussion). And maybe all this talk about McMullen will light a fire within him and we will see a new CK on Saturday.
Actually, two things are clear: Krenzel will start and if the Bucks get out to an early lead, McMullen is going to have a tough time getting in the game. "Having a chance to help this team out" might include calling the plays in from the sideline and not much else. Tressel is not going to pull Krenzel if things are going well.
But, odds are that the offense will sputter at times and McMullen will get a shot. Don't look for a lot of playing time out of him, maybe just a couple series.
Tressel has never been a fan of the two-QB system, so the fact that he's even saying that McMullen might play is a drift from the norm.
In 15 years at Youngstown State, and three at OSU, Tressel has only used a two-QB system once. Barely.
"You know, there was probably one year (at YSU) where we played two guys and it might have been like 80/20 type thing," Tressel said. "I don't think I've ever had a 50/50 type situation."
As for the rest of the Buckeye offense, the O-line and one of the tailbacks are finding their stride at just the right time of the season.
Lydell Ross broke off his second-straight 100-yard game against Penn State and now has respectable stats of 518 rushing yards (4.4 per carry) and nine touchdowns on the year.
You still cringe every time Ross is hit, wondering if his body can take it, but when healthy, he's proven to be an explosive player.
"I thought Lydell played hard last weekend," Tressel said. "I thought the guys up front did an excellent job of giving him an opportunity. And Lydell's going to need to continue to grow if we're going to be a group that meets our goals."
Like Tressel alluded to, a big reason for Ross' recent success has been the improved play of the offensive line. Guys like right tackle Shane Olivea and right guard Alex Stepanovich are playing their best ball of the year.
"Our offensive lineman of the week was Shane Olivea," Tressel said. "Shane graded 93 percent, I think it was, which was extremely high. We felt he was going to have an excellent game, because if you recall, he didn't get a chance to play against Penn State a year ago. He had that appendicitis. And he was looking forward to that match-up a year ago and didn't get to take part and he made sure he played a good game. And I thought he did a great job of leading that offensive football team. When you lose one of your leaders like the offense lost Craig, Scott was focused in on the task at hand, and I thought Shane did an excellent job of leading that offensive football team, and he was the offensive lineman of the week."
Olivea knows that he has just four games left in his college career and wants to leave everything out on the field.
"We kind of just said to a man, ‘Play your last five games like it is your last game,' because for many of us it is," Olivea said. "I think we stopped pressuring ourselves and stressing ourselves and went out there and played hard. That's one thing coach Tressel and coach (Jim) Bollman always stress is go until you hear the whistle. You look at film on Sunday, you see a lineman giving Lydell a little extra help or linemen getting down field and taking someone out. So I think we're trying a lot harder and sort of been relaxing and letting the run game come to us instead of stressing and doing things we weren't accustomed to before.
"But for whatever reason, I think we just sort of got into a rhythm with Lydell, and he's sort of seeing some of the same things that we are, and it's taking a lot of pressure off the defense, and some of us being able to control the clock and putting points on the board. We had two impressive opening drives this past weekend opening third quarter to start the game with. Anytime you can do that, start the game on that kind of a note, it's always going to help you out."
At receiver, Santonio Holmes continues to come along. He followed up his breakout game at Indiana with a solid performance at Penn State. For the season, Holmes now has 14 receptions for 283 yards (20.2 per catch) and two touchdowns.
He might get his first career start this week against MSU (Chris Gamble started both ways last week).
"I think Santonio has done a great job of stepping up when the team needs him," Tressel said. "Drew Carter was having an outstanding year which limited Santonio's opportunities a little bit. Santonio now has had more opportunities. I think he's made the best of them, and he's a redshirt freshman guy that came in and helped a little bit early. But when you don't play as much, that means you don't get as many practice reps, and you maybe don't progress as fast. All of a sudden now he's getting more reps. I think Santonio has done a great job myself."
All split end Michael Jenkins does is continue to make tough catches in the clutch. Not enough has been said of his game-winner last week. It took a strong receiver to hold onto that ball… and a lot of concentration.
Jenkins is not going to break David Boston's OSU career receiving yardage record like we thought, but there is still nobody better in the clutch than Mike Jenkins.
As for Gamble, he played a little bit more on offense, but not all that much. Maybe we will see him more this week, but against a passing team like the Spartans, maybe not. The Bucks might want to save Gamble for the 50 or so pass routes he's going to be covering.
"(Against Penn State) we played Chris 68 plays on defense, 17 on offense, and another handful, 10 or so, on special teams," Tressel said. "So he was somewhere in the 90 to 95 range, I believe, of his plays, which was a lot. Too much if it's 80 degrees. Whether a team's passing a lot or running a lot, it takes a little energy to tackle guys, too, just like it does to cover them. I think we'll get a feel for the flow of the game and just see how he's feeling. I talked to him a little bit on Monday about how a hundred plays felt. He hadn't done that for a year, and he felt like he was fine. He felt like he was fresh. I think as the weather cools, that will help him a little bit. But, again, I think Chris has earned a chance to play some on offense, but I'm not ever going to say it's going to be X amount, because things really are based upon the practice week and then what goes on during the course of the game at every position."
Other notes on the offense…
* Fullback Branden Joe is coming off his best game of the year. He had a crushing block to spring Ross' touchdown. Joe missed the first half of the season with a torn pectoral muscle, but his healthy return is proving to be a nice boost to the offense. He also has the skills to be a decent receiver out of the backfield.
* McMullen isn't shy when asked if he likes running the spread offense. The Bucks seem very effective when they go to the shotgun spread, but chances are we won't see much of it this week against MSU.
"Oh yeah, I like when we spread it out," McMullen said. "I think most quarterbacks probably do. Kind of get the defense on their heels and they're not sure what's coming next."
*But the Gunslinger also knows that the Bucks are going nowhere without a solid running game. He's glad to see it finally coming around.
"I have a lot of confidence in our running game," McMullen said. "We've ran the ball really well the last two weeks and we just have to continue it. The line is playing great and so is Lydell."
* Ross is one of OSU's players that seems to be OK with a two-QB system. Olivea also thought it might provide a spark.
"I think Scott deserves a shot," Ross said. "He's shown he can make plays. And big ones."
* Senior tight end Ben Hartsock continues to have a great year. In addition to being one of the best blocking TEs in the country, Hartsock is second on the team with 27 receptions (sorry Penn State fans; that's 27, not 26) and also has 214 yards and one TD.