Buckeye offense steps up against MSU

The Buckeye offense continued to take steps forward today as they turned in a quality performance against the Michigan State Spartans. Dave Biddle has a wrap-up of the offense's performance today.

A balanced offensive attack led Ohio State to a 33-23 victory over Michigan State.

The Buckeyes piled up 395 yards of total offense, including 213 passing and 182 rushing.

Senior quarterback Craig Krenzel had a very solid game, going 12 of 23 for 213 yards. He had three touchdowns, one interception and also rushed 14 times for 33 yards.

"I think it was a textbook Krenzel performance," OSU tight end Ben Hartsock said. "Comes out, checking plays at the line, scrambling when he needs to, finding open guys… he fired the ball in there a couple times. Sometimes, he's been known as the guy to maybe not take that risk and throw across the middle, but he took some risks today and they paid off for him. It's just something where he was able to bounce back from some of the things he's been hearing and play well."

Some of the things Krenzel has been hearing are calls (from fans and media) for backup quarterback Scott McMullen. But Krenzel says he was not concerned about losing his job. He just wants wins, baby.

"I wasn't motivated by being replaced," Krenzel said. "I was motivated by offensively we haven't done as well as we should have all year long. And we know coming into the downstretch of this season that we're going to need to put some points on the board to help our defense out and special teams out because we're playing some great football teams."

The Buckeyes came out throwing against the Spartans and were effective. They surprised some people by going three and four wide and really testing MSU's secondary.

But the running game also made waves. As the game went on, the running attack got better and better. Junior tailback Lydell Ross finished with 24 carries for 125 yards - his third consecutive 100-yard game.

"It seemed like I was seeing things better and it seemed like the offensive line had a lot more confidence in the second half and it felt like we were just playing football," Ross said. "At the half, we talked about what we had to do in the second half and everybody took that and ran with it."

Ross' confidence is at an all-time high after three straight productive weeks.

"It is," he said. "Just how good this offense has been doing as a whole, it feels good to be at this level now. Having our confidence up is very important for these last few games."

Head coach Jim Tressel preaches balance offensively and he got want he wanted Saturday. He wants to see touchdowns and not field goals, but he was pleased with the way the Bucks were able to move the ball against a decent defense.

"We want to be balanced," he said. "We want to run for 200 and threw for 250. We want to score 40 points, but we were forced to kick four field goals, which means we've got a lot of work to do. I think it was four. Thank goodness (Mike Nugent) made them. We scored enough points to win, but it's good to see us getting a little more balance."

Tressel said OSU's offensive gameplan was to attack through the air early in the game, then rely on the running game.

"We came out in those first couple drives maybe throwing it a little bit more than normal balance, but we just thought there were some things there that we wanted to go after," he said. "And I think once we settled in to our pattern, our pattern was a little more balanced and I thought our guys up front did a good job and they got a feel for what they needed to do to block Michigan State and Michigan State's got good athletes on defense. They're physical and they run to the ball. So we felt good about being able to move it a little bit."

With the Buckeyes trailing 7-3 early in the second quarter, Hartsock reeled in a 17-yard touchdown pass from Krenzel on third down. It was probably the biggest play in the game.

Then, on OSU's next drive, Krenzel hit freshman wide receiver Santonio Holmes for a 37-yard TD. That gave the Bucks a 17-7 lead and they were in control the rest of the way.

"Whenever I have an opportunity to play, I always try to make the most of
it," Holmes said. "I beat the defensive back inside and Craig hit me with a nice
throw for the touchdown."

Hartsock thinks that the offense has finally found its stride. It has taken a lot of heat the entire season, but seems to be playing its best ball at the right time.

"We're definitely peaking at the right time," Hartsock said. "The way things worked out, to get the ball rolling against Indiana - against maybe not as strong a team - it gave us a little bit of momentum. And to carry into Penn State against a bigger, physical defense, and now Michigan State, this was a quality defense we went up against. To be able to execute pretty readily against them is huge."

Hartsock continued to prove that he is one of the top tight ends in the Big Ten, leading the Buckeyes with three receptions for 54 yards.

Holmes finished with two grabs for 51 yards, Michael Jenkins had two for 50 and Ryan Hamby had two for 31.

"We spread it around nice today," Hartsock said. "This is the type of offense we can play when we don't kill drives with stupid mistakes and penalties."

And how about the much-maligned OSU offensive line? The group continues to play better and Hartsock believes he knows why.

"I think it's a momentum thing," he said. "It's a little bit of a swagger that we're starting to develop on the offensive line. It's started the past several weeks and we've just got to really continue to carry it on.

"And the running backs have really put their nose down and gutted out some yards. Maybe where they might have bounced around a little bit more and gone for a loss, now they're going ahead for three, four yards and that little pickup can make a big difference for us."

The seniors on the O-line - like Hartsock, Shane Olivea, Alex Stepanovich and Adrien Clarke - seem to be playing up to their capabilities now.

"I think all the upperclassmen have really stressed that we've got to get something started and it started against Indiana and it's continued on and we've got to continue it," Hartsock said.

Another bright spot for the Bucks against MSU was the play of fullback Branden Joe, who actually lined up at tailback in some one-back sets.

Joe finished with six carries for 28 yards and seems fully recovered from his torn pectoral.

Branden is healthier now," Tressel said. "He would have been involved long ago if he was healthy and he missed the first, I don't know, five games or so, totally, or seven games, six, then he got in and got about a dozen plays and was banged a little bit more. I think this was an important game for Branden because I don't know how many he played, but let's say 25 or 30 snaps of hard-hitting. We're going to need him down the stretch."


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