When I last wrote on Ohio State's offense, I had basically run out of ways to say, "They are stinking up the joint worse than Pigpen on Charlie Brown."
Four weeks later, the Buckeye offense finds itself on the upswing.
The reasons for this are numerous and are systemic. They range from the emergence of Santonio Holmes, improved play from Craig Krenzel, better blocking by the offensive line, the return of Brandon Joe at fullback, nifty running by Lydell Ross, and even some more varied play calling (allowed by the improved play of the players).
Shane Olivea seems to think that the offense has been building from success.
"It's sort have been a momentum from the Indiana game…we've just kind of been playing better and better every week," he said.
When asked, Lydell Ross acknowledges that his improved health has had an impact on his running abilities.
"That is a factor," he said. "I've been staying healthy. I've rehabbed and gotten past those little dings early in the season that I had, and I am full go."
Adrien Clarke attributes the resurgence to something else entirely, saying, "I think it was 114th in the country…I mean that is not a stat that we want to go out with."
Was it wounded pride?
"Definitely, definitely," he said. "It is just pride in everything; doing everything right."
Additionally, Clarke maintains the mindset of the offensive unit has changed.
"Honestly, our attitude now is just better towards it," he said. "I mean, before we knew we had to go out week by week and work hard, but it is just like now Lydell is running the ball harder than he has all year, and as far as the offensive line – it is making those holes just a little bit bigger so he can see them a lot better. It is a collective effort; everybody is involved."
No matter the cause, the Ohio State Buckeyes appear to be gelling on offense at just the right time. The next two weeks are critical in their postseason hopes for a return to the national title game.
"Last year, we did not have the game we wanted to against them," remarked Clarke.
Not having the game they wanted offensively is an understatement.
A year ago, the Buckeyes went to Ross-Ade Stadium and fumbled three times, tossed an interception that led to three Boilermaker points, rushed for less only 94 yards as a team, passed for only 173, were forced to punt eight times, and only came out with a victory because of the now famous "Holy Buckeye" play where Michael Jenkins connected with Craig Krenzel on a 37 yard bomb on 4th and 1.
This year, the Ohio State offensive unit must do a better job if they want to win this game.
Clarke continued, "But you know, right now, things are going well for us. The only thing we can do is keep going up from that, not so much think about what things we did wrong last year but what things we could do better this year from last game and the game before and the game before that."
If the Buckeyes are able to build on the last three weeks, then Saturday will likely be a great send off to the Ohio State senior class. However, don't look for Purdue to just let that happen.
Buckeye Offensive Personnel
The Ohio State offensive line is finally starting to gel. This is in fact where Lydell Ross places the bulk of the credit for his improved running.
"I think the offensive line is a big factor," Ross said. "I think they are starting to get more confident in our running game, and that's helping out."
Tressel has seen the improvement as well.
"I think our offensive line has worked extremely hard to get better and better and play lower and play mistake-free and all those kinds of things that you better do if you want to be there when November rolls around," he said.
How much has the offensive front improved?
In the last three games, Ohio State has rushed for more yardage (551) as a team than in the previous five (499). While those numbers did come against less than stellar defenses, so did the pathetic 69 yards against Wisconsin and the woeful 44 yards against NC State.
Additionally, the return of Brandon Joe at fullback has helped immensely.
"Obviously he's a good fullback and -- in the traditional sense that he'll go there and block," said Tressel at this week's press luncheon. "I think he's a good one back kind of guy. I think he's a good receiver. And having Branden Joe back -- someone's earlier question was about the offensive line. I didn't do a good job; I should have thrown Branden Joe in there. I think Branden Joe helps being back in there and I hope will continue to help. Every capable person you have that can add to the cause helps each other. And I think Branden is important."
With the Buckeyes once again able to run the football, the passing game has opened up as well. It should come as no surprise that since the second half of the Iowa game when the running attack began to improve, the Ohio State quarterbacks have thrown for almost as many yards and more touchdowns (809/7) than they threw for in the previous five and a half games (923/6).
In particular, Craig Krenzel and Scott McMullen have been finding the tight ends for big yardage.
What, according to Jim Tressel, is the reason for this rediscovery of the position as an offensive weapon?
"I think you like to have in your repertoire the ability to attack across all fronts," he said. "Then you have to find out what people are doing against you. I think as last season wound down and this season began, it became very apparent that Michael Jenkins was going to get a lot of attention and that he might not be the guy you could throw it to 80 times unless you wanted to throw it 600 times for the year, and that you better have some other people doing what you have to do to be successful. And that's where I think the tight ends have done a good job of being where they need to be and making plays when they have chances."
At wide receiver, the emergence of Santonio Holmes as a credible threat cannot be overemphasized. He has three of the seven touchdowns (Hartsock and Hamby having one each) and would have had another were it not for a fumble while crossing the goal line. If it continues, his play – along with that of the tight ends – will eventually Michael Jenkins greater opportunities and keep teams from double covering him at all times.
Finally, there are the two fifth-year senior quarterbacks of Ohio State, Craig Krenzel and Scott McMullen. Krenzel, the consummate leader, is 22-1 in games that he has started and been allowed to finish. Injured for part of this season, there have been questions about his health, but last week he silenced the critics with a 213 yard, three touchdown afternoon through the air and an additional 33 yards on the ground. When accurate, he provides a dual threat to rush or toss the pigskin for a big play. McMullen, described as a having a ‘Devil may care" attitude in gunning the football, has earned himself playing time this season with his clutch performances in relief of Krenzel. After getting only one snap against Washington, he started and won the Bowling Green and Northwestern games and brought Ohio State from behind to defeat Penn State in Happy Valley. Teams must now scheme for both of these players and their differing styles, knowing that Jim Tressel might try to catch them unprepared.
What to Expect This Week…
As always, the Ohio State Buckeyes will look to establish the run. Lydell Ross' improved rushing coupled with the improved play of the line and fullbacks sets up a showdown with a statistically stout Purdue front seven. The Buckeyes will probably struggle to consistently gain more than 3 yards per carry, but it is possible that Ross could break a big play if he can make it through the first wave of defenders.
The luxury of two experienced quarterbacks and weapons at wideout and tight end will also allow Jim Tressel to work against the Purdue secondary. Jenkins, Gamble, and Holmes will all line up at wide receiver. Expect Krenzel to try and hit them deep to force Purdue to back up if they are crowding the line. If Purdue is simply sitting back, trying to prevent the deep pass, look for Jenkins and Holmes to run underneath routes.
In essence, the Purdue defense is in trouble if the Buckeyes continue to execute as they have been in previous weeks. If they play the run, then the Buckeyes will throw it deep. If they play the pass, then the Buckeyes will cram the ball down their throat. Tiller's defense is superb this season, but they cannot and will not be able to defend the entire field if the Buckeyes are consistent and opportunistic.
Tomorrow: The Boilermaker Defense