At first glance it might seem like this team is not nearly performing up to expectations, but the reality is that the Buckeye offense has been so inept that they have put the defense in near-impossible situations. What can we expect to see this week against Minnesota?
It's practically impossible to radically change your offense, both strategically and personnel-wise, midway through the season and be effective, but that's exactly where the Buckeyes are today.
The addition of Terrelle Pryor, Michael Brewster and freshman tailback Boom Herron left Ohio State extremely inexperienced right up the middle of this offense. Even with the new faces, Ohio State was better offensively against Troy than they were in the first three games. That tells you just how bad the Buckeye offense performed in those games.
Defensively, in the three wins the Buckeyes have given up 0 points, 3 points and 10 points. Admittedly those weren't against great competition, but Troy will score points on every other team on its schedule in 2008. What about the USC game? While that performance wasn't a great one, a closer look shows that USC had three long drives for touchdowns, while the Buckeyes committed two turnovers that led directly to two Trojan scores. While the defensive effort was average to below average, the offense was criminal. In the second half alone the Buckeyes gained 30 yards. Clearly the main problem facing the Buckeyes this week, and in the coming weeks, is finding a way to jump-start this offense.
What can Ohio State do to improve offensively? There's no easy answer, but number one has to be eliminating the turnovers that consistently put the defense in tough spots. It's hard to believe that inserting a true freshman quarterback is a cure for turning the football over, but last week against Troy, Terrelle Pryor protected the football extremely well. Add in the expected return of Chris "Beanie" Wells, and all of a sudden a stagnant, boring offense becomes explosive and unpredictable.
The offensive line has been sub-par so far this season, but the hope is that Pryor and Wells are that type of players that can do so much on their own that there won't be as much pressure on the line to be perfect. Having Todd Boeckman drop back to pass is much easier to defend, via the blitz, than going against Pryor. Make a mistake defending Pryor and it could cost you 30 yards. Beanie Wells has the ability to make people miss or break tackles, and take the ball 60 yards to the end zone. Without those two playmakers it was apparent the Buckeyes had nobody that could make something out of nothing.
Against Minnesota, the key will be to punish them with Wells mauling them on the ground, thus opening things up for Pryor to do damage on the outside with his arm, and his legs. It's hard to understand just how important Wells is to this offense. There is an old saying in sports that great players make their teammates better, and there is no better example of this than Beanie Wells. His return is coming at just the right time, with several tough games looming in the distance.
For Pryor, he needs to limit his mistakes and continue to learn the offense. He is being forced to learn the college game on the fly, and there is going to come a game where he's going to struggle greatly. When that day occurs, it will be imperative that the Buckeye defense finds a way to step up and win a game 13-9. Will that day come this Saturday? Probably not, as Minnesota is still a long way from being good, but if the Buckeyes come out flat and overlook them, there could be problems.
I will be anxious to read about the pre-game comments of honorary captain Glen Mason, a true Buckeye at heart. Mason is a great speaker and the return to Columbus as a former Buckeye, not an opposing coach, should have Mason in rare form. Add in the fact that he was dismissed by Minnesota two years ago, and the setting is ripe for a legendary pep talk from a guy whose whole life was spent in preparation for being the head coach at Ohio State. This might be Glen Mason's last chance to speak to the team he's dreamed about coaching since he played for Woody nearly 40 years ago. I fully expect an emotion-filled Glen Mason to deliver a pre-game speech that would make the Old Man proud. You can take THAT to the Bank.