Cus Words: How Do You Like Me Now?

Capping a week full of deserved but yet somehow often off-the-mark criticism of Jim Tressel and his quarterback, the Buckeyes came out in an offense that would have been more familiar to people who only watched the Buckeyes' first three games than anyone who tuned in for the first time at the start of Big Ten play.

What we learned this week: Apparently Ohio State's coaches have some kind of clue of how to use their players on offense.

After spending about a month almost exclusively in the shotgun, Terrelle Pryor was under center quite a bit as Ohio State dismantled bumbling Minnesota, and the embattled quarterback did pretty well for himself no matter what formation his team was in or how close he was to the center when he received the ball.

This performance was far from perfect, and an assist surely should go to Minnesota for making plenty of mistakes, but at the end of the day there is nothing wrong with looking back and feeling good about what the Buckeyes were able to accomplish.

Yes, two touchdowns came on short drives, but Ohio State also had a couple of extended drives that yielded only three points, so I'm inclined to say those things are a wash.

After the way the offense looked against Wisconsin and Purdue, this was an obvious step forward. Even during a 33-point game at Indiana, a relatively competent team, the offense went in fits and starts, and I believe that will be the rule rather than the exception for the rest of the season, but that's better than nothing.

The dusting off of the I-formation was a welcome development for a traditionalist such as myself, but so was the success of the handful of shotgun zone read plays Pryor ran (including a 15-yard touchdown run, the second in as many weeks on that kind of play).

Watching Pryor operate on bootlegs and other rollouts was interesting, too. The times he still did not quite set himself up to throw are reminders he is still developing, but the plus plays he earned from those situations had to give defensive coordinators at Penn State, Iowa and Michigan some cold sweats.

They know to look for him to run when Pryor is in the shotgun, but it's harder to scheme to stop him as a runner from under center, especially if Ohio State is actually executing its bread-n-butter power plays, as was the case on a regular basis against the Golden Gophers.

The Buckeyes were able to run against stacked fronts for the first time all year, and there were clear instances when the Gophers assumptions the Buckeyes wouldn't throw out of the I-formation burned them, too.

Pryor's last touchdown pass to DeVier Posey came on a play-action I-formation play, and the quarterback ran for a first down on another instance when he found no one open downfield but no one watching him on the edge, either. Why was there no one watching him? Because the linebacker who might have been there had to drop back to cover the slot receiver, Dane Sanzenbacher, who had already been open several times on out routes on the same or at least similar plays.

Of course the fact Pryor did not get the ball to Sanzenbacher every time he had him open on the play is a reminder the quarterback is still developing, but the fact he hit it at all serves the prove the makings of a good quarterback are inside Pryor, no matter how bad he looked at Purdue.

All in all, what Ohio State showed Saturday was the kind of multifaceted offense that should quiet the people who wonder if the Buckeyes have an offensive "identity". That is a silly charge if I've ever heard one.

For one thing, there should be no doubt that if Tressel and his staff had their druthers, they would like to be a power-O team first. Even in the shotgun, they were mostly a downhill running team. The starting point was just a little different.

Second of all, as has been true around here more years than not, it's hard to have anything to hang an offensive hat on without good blocking up front. That the big fellas came through with one of their best games last Saturday should not be overlooked. When they have their thing going - and they did, including on the touchdown runs by Jordan Hall and Jermil Martin as well as a couple of short-yardage situations they converted when everyone in the stadium knew what was coming.

That the Buckeyes had that in them against any Big Ten opponent after struggling in short-yardage situations against MAC and even I-AA teams the past couple of seasons is an important lesson in itself, but it turned out to be just a footnote on a day the quarterback made enough big plays to override his mistakes and the coaching staff showed it not only had some tricks in its sleeve, it also had some idea of when to use them.


We we should expect to learn this week: A two-part lesson: What's next for the offense and, what have the Buckeyes learned about keeping their focus?

Such things should be givens in major college football, but they are not with young teams, as we have already seen this year.

Formations aside, there are three keys to success for this Ohio State offense: the line opening holes, the running backs making smart cuts whether there is room or not and Pryor making accurate throws.

No matter how good the opponent turns out to be (or not to be), the Buckeyes should take it upon themselves to do their individual jobs just right this week, because they are going to need to play at a high level to clear the hurdles that await in November.

I'm thinking specifically of the offensive line being able to hold its own against talented defensive lines from Penn State and Iowa, not to mention Michigan's Brandon Graham, one of the best pass rushers in the country.

From a mental standpoint, they Buckeyes must continue to get comfortable with how they want to block whatever an opponent throws at them, and individually, every rep is precious for honing technique when the matchups turn into one-on-one affairs that often went to the bad guys from Wisconsin and Purdue.

Pryor, too, must continue to smooth off the rough edges in his decision-making, footwork and mechanics while continuing to build a rapport with his receivers.

And the young running backs, every foray into the line of scrimmage is a chance to get a better feel for the speed of the game and anticipating where the holes are going to open up.

I suppose taking those issues as a whole, this matchup with New Mexico State could be more important than it first appears for a team that still controls its own Rose Bowl destiny.

All-Buckeye Beater Nominees
Slim pickings this week after a mistake-filled performance from Ohio State's opponent. I am sticking with a trio of Golden Gopher defenders: cornerback Marcus Sherels was credited with seven solo tackles and broke up a deep pass from Pryor to DeVier Posey, end Barrett Moen (six tackles, one for loss) was a constant force on the edge against the run and as a pass rusher, and tackle Eric Small (six tackles, 0.5 for loss) was tough to move inside.


DVR Directions
The 17th-ranked Buckeyes tip off at Noon, EST, on the Big Ten Network with the only other game at that time of much consequence being No. 4 Iowa's trip to Indiana (ESPN). I will have my DVR set to record both games to get yet another look at what the Hawkeyes bring to the table.

Scout next week's opponent, No. 12 Penn State, at Northwestern on ESPN at 4:30, then in the evening there are two big national games on ABC, one that should include some interest for Ohio State fans. No. 3 Texas plays at No. 14 Oklahoma State at 8 p.m., while No. 5 USC visits No. 10 Oregon. If Ohio State wins out, there is a good chance the Buckeyes will face the Trojans or the Ducks in the Rose Bowl.


Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (Previous week ranking)

1. (same) Iowa
2. (same) Ohio State
3. (same) Penn State
4. (same) Wisconsin
5. (same) Michigan State
6. (same) Michigan
7. (9) Northwestern
8. (7) Minnesota
9. (8) Purdue
10. (same) Indiana
11. (same) Illinois

Marcus Hartman is a staff writer for BuckeyeSports.com and Buckeye Sports Bulletin. He can be reached for comment, cursing or questions via email at mhartman[at]buckeyesports[dot]com

For more from this author, read his blog about Ohio State football and whatever else crosses his mind .


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