OSU offense has one more shot

The Buckeye offense has been maligned all season. They will have one more chance to prove themselves tomorrow in the Fiesta Bowl.

Is Ohio State's offense really this bad, or did it underachieve this season?

Most believe it's the latter, and the Buckeyes have one more chance to prove that they actually have a decent offense, never mind the statistics.

Oh yes, the statistics. If you have an uneasy stomach, you might want to turn away.

OSU closed the regular season ranked 93rd nationally in total offense (331.8 yards per game), 70th in pass offense (207.5) and 87th in rushing offense (124.3).

Those are among the worst figures in the modern history of the program, but something just doesn't add up. The Bucks clearly have more talent on offense than those numbers indicate.

Against Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, don't expect OSU's offensive scheme to change all that much. It is still going to try and run the ball and hope to connect on a few big pass plays. Fans hoping to see a more "wide open" offense will be disappointed. Jim Tressel is not going to coach for next year, or to impress a few recruits. He's also not going to change the way he calls a game after winning five national titles.

"As far as our offense goes, we still need to develop our run and keep having the big plays through the air that we've been able to do," tight end Ben Hartsock said.

Hartsock thinks that the Buckeyes will be able to flex some muscle against the Wildcats. They are known for their defensive speed more than anything else.

"Kansas State is considered to be one of the most physical teams in the Big 12," he said. "But here at Ohio State, we're not going to say that a team in the Big 12 is going to be able to hang as much with a physical-style team from the Big Ten, so we have to be ready to prove that. They are a fast defense, a talented defense, and we have to be the more physical team on the field if we want to win."

* Junior tailback Lydell Ross capped the regular season with 744 rushing yards (4.3 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. However, his durability, vision and ability to break tackles have come into question.

"I think Lydell had a real solid year for us," Hartsock said. "He got rolling later on in the season and I know he wants to come out and prove something in the Fiesta Bowl."

Ohio State's offensive line also drew a lot of criticism this season, but it's actually a pretty solid group.

This will be the last game for senior starters Alex Stepanovich (RG), Shane Olivea (RT) and Adrien Clarke (LG/LT), as well as backup Bryce Bishop (G).

Also in the starting lineup are sophomores Nick Mangold (C) and Rob Sims (LT).

Junior Mike Kne (G/T) will miss the game with a foot injury.

Judging by Hartsock's statements, the O-line has definitely made it a point to show everyone that OSU has a physical offense. Can it open up holes for Ross against a good K-State defensive front? That remains to be seen, but this space thinks that the O-line is going to play its best game of the season on Friday.

Mangold does not believe that the running game is a lost cause. In fact, he thinks it might be coming around at just the right time.

"It's looking pretty good," he said. "We've been able to break things down and get back down to our basics, as far as drive-blocking and things like that. We're getting the time to go over plays several times and give different looks that might come up, so I think the running game is coming along like it should."

* When the Bucks really wanted to move the ball this season, they relied on the passing game. It wasn't great by any means, but it was much more effective than the running game.

Senior quarterback Craig Krenzel finished the regular season with 1,851 passing yards (55.9 completion percentage), 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

It was a solid year for someone that missed two games, and parts of others, due to injury.

"I think he had a similar year as he had last year, he just had a lot more pressure on him this year," Hartsock said. "He was much more under the microscope. If things didn't go as well for him last year, they were kind of overlooked. But this year, after the success he had last year, you're a little bit more under a vice grip and that caused a little bit of a controversy, but I think he still made great decisions and was able to lead the offense."

Wide receiver Michael Jenkins had another fine season, leading the team with 50 receptions, 738 yards and five touchdowns.

Jenkins, who was voted OSU's MVP by his teammates, needs just 54 yards to break David Boston's career receiving yardage record of 2,855.

The one player on the offense that emerged as a future star this year is redshirt freshman receiver Santonio Holmes. After a mid-season knee injury to Drew Carter, Holmes took advantage of the situation and proved to have good hands and a very fast first step. He also has good straight-ahead speed, as well as lateral quickness.

Holmes finished the regular season with 30 receptions for 512 yards and five TDs. His 17.1 yards per catch led the team.

Hartsock went out with a career year, grabbing 33 balls for 290 yards and two TDs.

Backup tight end Ryan Hamby also proved to be a reliable target, hauling in 18 passes for 190 yards and three scores.

* Placekicker Mike Nugent didn't have as many opportunities this year, but still finished with a very good season. "The Nuge" connected on 16 of 19 field goals and drilled all 33 of his extra points.

The Buckeyes would love to get in a low-scoring, field goal contest with the Wildcats.

Will it happen? Probably not. The Bucks will probably have to pass more than they want to, but have to be careful not to get down by multiple scores (like the Michigan game). This offense simply is not built to play catch up. It might be a good idea to establish the passing game early in the game, but no one in Columbus is holding their breath

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