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Published: Wednesday, 10/10/2001

Buckeyes need shot in arm to get leg up in Big Ten race

BY DAVE WOOLFORD
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Now that Ohio State's football team appears to have the proper defensive prescription for success, it's time for a shot in the arm offensively.

A good case of the heaves would help.

At some point soon, maybe as soon as Saturday when the Buckeyes entertain Wisconsin, the passing game is going to have to get well and carry its share of the load.

Right now, it's on wing-and-a-prayer status. A completion rate of more than 50 per cent by quarterback Steve Bellisari would be an upgrade.

“It needs to be improved. We've got to become a better passing team,” OSU coach Jim Tressel admitted yesterday. “Our running game showed signs that it's coming along, but without the passing game making the same strides, it affects our offensive abilities and puts pressure on the defense.

“We've got to make improvements in the run game, but we also have to take a step forward in the passing game.”

Ohio State is 3-1 and leads the Big Ten, along with Michigan and Purdue, at 2-0. The Buckeyes have leaned heavily on their defense.

The running game appears to be on the up-tick with tailback Jonathan Wells rushing for 179 yards and three touchdowns in OSU's manhandling of Northwestern Saturday. That followed a 124-yard rushing effort by freshman Lydell Ross the previous week in a victory over Indiana.

OSU is third in rushing offense, averaging 210.2 yards per game. Wells has moved up to fourth in rushing in the Big Ten with an average of 103.5 yards per game.

But the Bucks still rank eighth in scoring offense and ninth in total offense, both burdened by the inability to pass with consistent accuracy for meaningful yardage.

“We need to throw the ball more effectively, there's no question,” Tressel said. “That's not to say we're not going to be a good running team. We're going to work hard at running, but we've got to throw better and come up with more big plays.”

Three of Bellisari's four completions led to Ohio State touchdowns against Northwestern, including some short-yardage dinks.

“I don't think you can discount that,” Tressel said. “You can have little passes being dropped off that gain five yards, but what's the difference between that and running off tackle?

“Big plays are what we have got to make sure we continue to get and we've got to get better at spreading the ball around. We have to do a better job of throwing. No one will discount that.”

Ohio State is 10th in passing efficiency in the Big Ten. Bellisari's total of 594 passing yards and two touchdowns are both the lowest among conference quarterbacks.

He ranks eighth in passing average with 148.5 per game. His completion rate of 50 per cent is the lowest.

The Buckeyes are last in pass offense in the Big Ten with a 159.2-yard average per game..

It's been suggested that maybe Ohio State can be the college equivalent of the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL, who won the Super Bowl last season with defense and a good running game.

Tressel admitted it's conceivable.

“There have been teams that have had success doing a lot of different things,” he said. “I would like to be one of those teams that does everything well and that's what we're shooting for. If I could pick two they would be great defense and being able to run the ball.

“A third would be extraordinary special teams. That doesn't mean we don't want to throw the ball and we aren't going to throw the ball. To win the Big Ten championship we're going to have to throw better than we're throwing it now.”



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