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Published: Wednesday, 10/22/2003

Buckeyes offense stuck in doldrums

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS - Late this summer, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said he hoped his offense could average 200 yards rushing a game, 250 yards passing and 40 points.

Talk about wishful thinking.

The Buckeyes are barely averaging half of that - 108.7 yards rushing, 169.6 passing and 23.0 points - while plummeting to No. 114 among 117 Division I-A schools in total offense.

No. 8 Ohio State (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) is averaging just 278.3 yards per game, better than only Eastern Michigan, Buffalo and Southern Methodist, which are a combined 1-22.

“It's definitely frustrating - I'm not going to lie,” offensive tackle Shane Olivea said yesterday. “When you have a three-and-out, you've got to put your defense back on the field and they look at you like, `Man, help us out a little bit.'”

Ohio State, which plays Big Ten cupcake Indiana (1-6, 0-3) on the road Saturday, has been winning with a championship-caliber defense. The Buckeyes rank sixth in the nation in total defense (269.0) and second against the run (60.57).

Their defense allowed 13.1 points and 321 yards per game last season, compared to 14.9 and 269 through seven games this year.

But what about the anemic offense, which would drive Woody Hayes crazy?

“I'm almost positive no one on the defense really gets frustrated,” middle linebacker Fred Pagac Jr. said. “Just like Shane said, it's a team sport, and we just need to pick up the offense when they're down and try to help them out.”

Ohio State's offense needs all the help it can get.

The Buckeyes have won two games this year in which the offense has not scored a touchdown. And the unit has produced just three offensive touchdowns in three Big Ten games against defenses rated 10th, eighth and fifth in the conference.

“You want to go out there and help out the defense,” Olivea said. “You want to go out there and be able to put points on the board and take pressure from them. But for some unknown reason this year, we just have a guy missing a block or we've been unable to break away from one tackle.

“It's been one thing after another.”

The Buckeyes are averaging 83 yards fewer rushing per game as a team than they did last season and four fewer than suspended tailback Maurice Clarett averaged by himself in gaining a freshman-record 1,237 yards.

Tressel refuses to blame his team's offensive woes on the loss of Clarett.

“I don't know that our coaches or players have given any thought to what we could have done or wouldn't have done [with him],” he said.

OSU's leading rusher, No. 3 tailback Maurice Hall, has rushed for just 300 yards on 89 carries, a 3.4 average. That projects to 557 yards for the season, which would be the lowest output for the Buckeyes' leading rusher in 16 years.

Ohio State is averaging as paltry 2.9 yards per carry as a team and 6.6 yards per pass.

“Offensively, we've got to improve,” Tressel said. “We've got to improve dramatically if we want to reach our goals in order to win on the road.

“We know we have a lot of work to do. There's no one in our quarters that feels any different about that. Our guys have been willing to continue to work and search to have our offense become a part of a very successful football team.”

Tressel said he didn't consider lifting starting quarterback Craig Krenzel from Saturday's 19-10 victory over Iowa. Krenzel completed just 11 of 22 passes for 129 yards against the Hawkeyes and appears to still be hampered by the strained right elbow that forced him to miss two games last month.

“You make decisions based upon what you think is best for the team,'' Tressel said, “And I didn't think it would be best for the team to make any switches. Not that I lack confidence in [backup] Scott McMullen. I hope that doesn't infer a lack of loyalty to Scott - I think Scott's done a good job. But I thought the team needed Craig Krenzel to be in the game.”

However, Tressel said, “If there was ever a moment where I thought Scott could give us something that Craig wasn't, I have every confidence in Scott.”

Tressel indicated Krenzel - 19-2 as OSU's starter - may be trying to force the issue, which is not his game.

“I think sometimes when you're struggling and when you get frustrated and so forth, you can press a little bit,” Tressel said.



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