Cus Words: One Piece at a Time

The season-long development of Ohio State's offense could be summed up by Johnny Cash. It's been put together one piece at a time, but is it ready to perform amid the din of the Beaver Stadium crowd against Penn State this Saturday? Time will tell.

What we learned last week: Ohio State is growing in what it can do offensively, and Terrelle Pryor is still a work in progress.

Neither of these things should be surprises.

The OSU offensive package has always, for better or for worse, been one that evolves throughout a season, and some new or different things were on display during the whitewashing of New Mexico State.

The Buckeyes' two first-half touchdown runs came with an unbalanced line to the play side. The first time, New Mexico State did not recognize it and did not adjust, making a score like taking candy from a baby. Not only did Ohio State have better blockers on the edge than usual, they had the Aggies outnumbered, so Pryor kept the ball on the option for an easy score.

The second time they got in that situation, the Aggies shifted but still couldn't cope. A defender took away the run for Pryor so the quarterback flipped the ball to Brandon Saine, who made one cut to make a man miss before scampering into the end zone.

In the passing game, Ohio State attacked the Aggie defense at all levels. Pryor winged more than a couple of deep ones, and he completed a couple over the middle, too. The coaches also gave him more options this week as the tight ends were more frequently in pass patterns as opposed to being kept in to help the offensive line that has at times been overburdened because of youth, unhealthiness or both.

Buckeye running backs regularly were able to release to become safety valves, too, although Pryor never once found Brandon Saine or Jordan Hall in the flat (which is not to say the defense ignored them, either, as linebackers generally picked them up if they left the backfield).

Pryor completed one pass to Jake Ballard and had at least one other attempt go off the mark intended for him, but in this we see the continuing growing pains of the highly regarded sophomore.

? The Ohio State plan of attack lacked no aggressiveness. The Buckeyes went down field early and often, but Pryor's eyes might have been downfield too much (though I can't tell you if that was because he was following orders or acting alone). He had a few times he could have had some shorter, simpler things, but he eschewed those in favor of trying to complete something farther down the field, for better or for worse.

Pryor threw a few passes to folks who weren't open and more than once appeared to wait too long to try to hit an open receiver, allowing the defender time to read him and make a play. So there were obviously some ugly moments but also several nice ones.

The bottom line, I suppose, is the staff gave him plenty of chances to succeed, and he sometimes paid them back with good results and sometimes was not so charitable.

As for the rest of the offense, there were times the quarterback seemed to think his receiver should have been in a different spot or run a different route, and there is no way of determining who was in the right without knowing the play call, but there still seems to be work to be done with this group even as DeVier Posey, Dane Sanzenbacher and Duron Carter all have shown during the course of the season they can get deep on a defense and make big plays.

The running game lacked every-down pop, but that was not as much of an issue as I thought once I went back and viewed the tape. The line seemed to generally handle its job the best it could. New Mexico State's decision to load the box with eight or sometimes nine defenders let the Aggies hold their own at times, but it also lent itself to allowing long runs by Jordan Hall and Dan Herron. Any way you slice it, 310 rushing yards are nothing to sneeze at.

When Saine or Hall went down after a short gain, it was generally because the extra man who can't be accounted for made the stop. What's the solution to this? Well, a great tailback would be able to succeed anyway, but for this Ohio State offense, running the ball seems to be the equivalent of taking a walk, setting up the opponent to go downfield for a three-run homer. The tradeoff the Aggies made was exposing themselves to giving up big plays in the passing game, and that is exactly what happened.

I tend to imagine the Ohio State coaches were content with that agreement, but I also have to think they know that if Pryor and the receivers weren't still so far from being finished products, the results could have been much more spectacular for the Buckeyes. Not that they were bad...

What we can expect to learn this week: Unfortunately, the attack crafted for New Mexico State might not have much to do with what Ohio State does to try to dent a Penn State defense with some gaudy statistical numbers built in part by facing largely inferior competition to this point.

While the Aggies played a lot of man coverage, Penn State loves its zones, presenting a different kind of challenge for Ohio State.

Pryor will probably have to fit some things into tighter spaces than he did last week, but if he can, the home team could be in for a very long night because I believe Ohio State has a significant talent advantage on the outside.

Of course, I felt the same way last year (and watching USC tear apart the Penn State secondary in the Rose Bowl boosted that belief) but Ohio State's struggles to protect Pryor and his inability to execute some of the passing situations when he had time proved to be the Buckeyes' downfall.

That was a shame, because the Ohio State defense toyed with Penn State's vaunted offense for most of the night, handcuffing the Nittany Lions' receivers and eventually knocking starting quarterback Daryll Clark out of the game.

The trouble for the Buckeye stop unit was at the end of the night, the offense compounded a frustrating night in terms of moving the football by violating Jim Tressel's cardinal rule of offense: Pryor's fumble put the defense in a bad position.

Penn State couldn't move the ball the length of the field against the Buckeyes, but the Nittany Lions were up to the task when presented with the idea all they had to do was patiently pound the ball to get into position to score. They were afforded the time to do so thanks to finally getting good field position, and while the Ohio State defense gets a demerit for eventually breaking, I'm not so sure both stop units weren't understandably worn out by that time. On the plays immediately preceding Pryor's fumble, the Buckeyes' maligned offensive line had opened a couple of their best holes of the night.

Distinctly now I remember thinking after Chris Wells ran for eight yards on a first down to get to midfield (after watching him go for five and four on earlier plays that drive that were getting one and two in the first three quarters) that Penn State was on its last legs. Not only did it seem Ohio State would run a considerable percentage of the last 11 minutes or so off the clock, it seemed likely to me the Buckeyes would score because their body shots had finally taken their toll on a good front seven.

Then Pryor made his fateful miscue, overreaching on a simple quarterback sneak, getting greedy on the most conservative of playcalls, opening the door to the Penn State victory.

Pryor had the power earlier in the game to make sure it did not come down to that, but in his early development as a quarterback, he could not do it (and he did not get much help, either).

The ultimate lesson for this weekend is, given the same opportunities, what will he do with them?

All-Buckeye Beater Nominees
The only standout performer of the day for New Mexico State was linebacker Ross Conner, who was credited with only eight tackles but seemed to be all over the field. (As an aside, this is as appropriate a time as any to point out the play of Ohio State fullback Zach Boren, who for the second week in a row proved he has come a long way since struggling early in the season. Boren's block on Conner sprang Hall for a 39-yard run in the third quarter.)

DVR Directions
Before the Buckeyes take on Penn State at 3:30 Eastern (ABC Regional), check out next week's opponent when No. 4 Iowa sees what kind of trouble it can get into then out of as Northwestern pays a visit. Fire up the DVR to get a sneak peak at Michigan. The fast-sinking Wolverines play host to Purdue at noon on the Big Ten Network. Some of you who want a preview of a potential Rose Bowl matchup might consider recording Oregon at Stanford at 3:30, a Fox Sports Net regional broadcast.

Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (Previous week ranking)

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

Marcus Hartman is a staff writer for 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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