The Five Questions: Ohio State-Akron

Our weekly look at the five biggest story lines for the Buckeyes as they face their next opponent includes improving the running game, finding a No. 2 wide receiver, getting after the quarterback, forcing turnovers and combating that unique Akron defensive alignment.

1. Will the Buckeyes untrack the running game?

It is no secret Ohio State did not run the ball as well as it was expected to against Youngstown State.

The final total – 147 yards – was puffed up a bit by fourth-quarter stats after the game was in hand, and the Buckeyes struggled in particular in short-yardage situations.

They finished up with an average of 3.6 yards per carry, more than a yard less than the regular-season average of 2006.

Senior co-captain Kirk Barton expressed his displeasure after the game but said he was confident things would get worked out after another week of practice.

Among the issues cited: a lack of intensity, a lack of cohesion for a group starting together for the first time and the Penguins' desire to sell out against the run while using a slightly different attack than the Buckeyes were expecting. OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel played up the familiarity issue Wednesday night.

"Offensive linemen, that's a learning thing and getting to know each other. We had a couple guys out there for their first start in front of 105,000 and it's not easy," he said before telling reporters he was not disappointed in the overall performance of the running game against YSU.

"I'm pretty well convinced that it's a growing process. It's a repetition thing, a whole new deal from where you were a week before you were working against a group of guys you practiced against for 29 practices or whatever and it takes some time to grow into it.

Our kids are pretty smart. They'll grow into it quickly."


2. Will the 3-3-5 Akron defense cause the Buckeyes problems?

The Zips will bring a unique defensive look to Ohio Stadium, that much is clear. What it will do to the Buckeyes is yet to be seen.

With fewer guys up front, it would make sense to think the opportunity is there for the OSU running game to get right. That might not be the case, however. Akron was decent at stopping the run last year (60th in the nation at 136.3 yards per game) and held Army to 58 yards in the two teams' season opener.

Head coach Jim Tressel said Tuesday his team has not faced a similar look since a loss to South Carolina in the 2002 Outback Bowl, and his team will have to concentrate more on getting the right blocking assignments.

His brother, Dick, agreed two days later.

"It presents a problem of them having a lot of people in potentially different alignments than maybe you think, but the biggest piece of the puzzle is they do have eight guys that they can and will commit to the attack, and you better be ready to deal with that," Dick Tressel said before disputing the notion it makes the blocking scheme more complicated.

"It forces them to become simpler, actually," he said.

Rather than trying to anticipate everything the Zips might do, the Buckeyes likely will stick with basic blocking philosophies and techniques to combat the attack.

Meanwhile, the new-look passing game will face its own share of challenge in a five-man secondary that is long on experience.

"I think it's going to present a little bit of a challenge because it's somewhat different but our coaches do a great job breaking down film, explaining to us what they do and putting us in a position where we can be successful," wideout Brian Robiskie said.


3. Will a No. 2 receiver emerge?

Nine different Buckeyes caught passes against Youngstown State, but more than 40 percent went to Robiskie, who finished with nine grabs for 153 yards.

All involved seemed to agree that the disparity was unintentional, but it would behoove the offense to find a reliable No. 2 option as the season rolls on.

Asked if his life would get tougher if no one else steps up to help take the pressure off, Robiskie instead turned the dilemma around.

"I think that whoever gets the attention it's going to really help the other guy because we've got some guys who can really make some plays," he said. "Whenever their number's called, they can go out and do some great things."

Asked if he would try to get more players involved this week, Boeckman said, "We've got four or five guys ready to make some plays. I'm gonna take what the defense gives me. If one guy is open, I'll hopefully get the ball to him."


4. Can OSU ratchet up the pass rush?

The Buckeyes piled up 38 sacks last season but just a pair against Youngstown State.

"Yeah, I think that was an emphasis this week," defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said of the pass rush. "We felt like we got decent pressure but we weren't able to get to the quarterback and that's something we're always trying to do."

But as to just how a team goes about emphasizing the act of getting after the quarterback, co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said he was not quite sure.

"The key to any game is getting pressure on the quarterback, but however you do it –whether you're blitzing or whether you're in the situation of the game and knowing when it's time to rush, it's something we've got to do in order to disrupt the quarterback," Fickell said.

An improvement in this area is likely to go a long way toward answering our final question this week…


5. Is this the week OSU's turnover drought ends?

Ross Homan is the last Buckeye defender to end a play with possession of the pigskin. He did so with an interception in the third quarter against Northwestern, a game in which Ohio State forced five turnovers and ran its season totals to 21 picks and 27 turnovers overall.

Those were impressive numbers, to be sure, but since then three full games have passed since Ohio State recovered a fumble or picked off a pass.

Good luck in finding out just why that is – there may not be an answer.

"The first thing we talk about every week is turnover margin," Fickell said. "I don't know why it's not happening.

"Sometimes they come in droves. Hopefully they'll start coming, but it's not something that doesn't go unnoticed, that's for sure.

Both defensive end Vernon Gholston and cornerback Donald Washington agreed the key is simply persistence.

"Turnovers are big especially coming back from the amount of turnovers we had last year," Gholston said. "It's something we work on in practice. We talk about stripping the ball and things like that, but it's something you can't force. You've just got to go out there and do what you always do. Otherwise you'll make mistakes. They'll come if we're in our right spots."

"We can't go out and try to force a big play to happen," Washington chimed in. "We've got to just do our assignment and continue to try to make the plays that come to us. They'll come, we've just got to be patient and be confident that when they do come to us, we'll make those plays."



Check back this weekend for our review of how the Buckeyes faired in these areas.


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