After two weeks of offensive struggles culminated in Saturday's 26-18 upset loss at Purdue, the Buckeyes returned to Columbus facing a tough question. Would it be more important this week to look at the film of Minnesota – or look in the mirror?
A number of OSU offensive players said that the latter option was the correct one.
"I think this week has to be more about us," wideout Dane Sanzenbacher said. "Obviously Minnesota is a good team and they're going to come ready to play, but I think coming off a game like that, you really need to find yourself as a team. It's gotta be more about us."
The last two weeks in Big Ten play have shown Ohio State that its offense needs plenty of work. The 31-13 win against Wisconsin on Oct. 17 turned out to be ugly foreshadowing given that Ohio State ran only 40 plays and totaled 184 yards of offense. The Buckeyes were saved only by two defensive touchdowns and a kickoff return score.
Saturday's road game against Purdue was even worse for three quarters. Ohio State trailed the Boilermakers 23-7 after three quarters, giving away five turnovers and accumulating 110 yards of offense. A late 11 points in the fourth quarter was not enough to overcome Purdue's lead.
Those numbers are bad enough that wide receiver DeVier Posey agreed with Sanzenbacher that the Buckeyes' No. 1 priority is figuring out how to get out of their offensive funk.
"I feel like it's really about us," said the sophomore, who caught nine passes for 87 yards and a TD at Purdue. "I don't even feel like it's who you play, it's how you play. Especially with a performance like that, we really need to regroup and focus on what we're doing and what we need to get better at."
There are plenty of places to start. The offensive line, especially in pass protection, has struggled to give quarterback Terrelle Pryor time to get through his reads both on intermediate routes and screen passes, resulting in seven sacks and two lost fumbles by the quarterback.
Pryor has completed 50.0 percent (22 of 44) of his passes over the past pair of games with three interceptions against two touchdowns. The sophomore's footwork and decision-making continue to need work as he aspires to excel consistently in both categories.
The answer, Ohio State said, is that those associated with the simply have to go to work and get better, all the way from play-calling to execution.
"You start with what are you going to ask them to do?" head coach Jim Tressel said. "To me that's critical. I've also believed that as much of a success of any unit is making sure they're capable of doing the things you're asking them to do against the people you're playing against and hope that you learn lessons along the way. I have a lot of confidence that our young people will improve. I'm not worried about that much. We just need to get better."
On the other side of the ball, tackle Todd Denlinger held a similar view. Ohio State's defense didn't seem to be its usual smothering self while giving up 26 points to the Boilermakers; in particular, the Buckeyes notched a single sack and couldn't get their usual pressure with the front four.
"It's really about what we do, and that's what the coaches emphasize," Denlinger said. "Even if you look at last week, it wasn't a matter of their offense or defensive scheme that beat us. It was really ourselves with the turnovers and the execution on defense. That's what made us lose the game.
"Giving Purdue credit, they're a great team, but we really beat ourselves. What we have to work on this week is preparing to make ourselves better."
When it came to extra work that might entail, Denlinger said it would be up to the individuals on the team. That takes on added importance after the senior said he noticed fewer Buckeyes putting in extra work a week ago before the loss to the Boilermakers, signs that OSU wasn't taking the game as seriously as necessary.
"If you realize that you need to get in the film room or you need to get in the playbook, that's something you need to take on yourself," he said. "The seniors need to emphasize stuff like that. If you need to work on techniques, maybe you need to spend a little bit more time on the practice field."
Minnesota will enter Ohio Stadium for Saturday's game at 4-3 on the season – much better than the Boilers' 1-5 – but the Buckeyes still say that the mirror comes before the film on a week by week basis.
"I think it's always about us, pretty much," Sanzenbacher said. "Obviously we do things to prepare for the teams that we're playing, but we believe if we play as well as can that there's nobody that can beat us."