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Published: Sunday, 10/19/2003

Only Tressel's eyes see Bucks improving

COLUMBUS - When Ohio State's defense plays the way it did yesterday, the Buckeyes are unbeatable.

When Ohio State's special teams play the way they did yesterday, the Buckeyes are unbeatable.

When Ohio State's offense plays the way it did yesterday, well, the defense and special teams had best be unbeatable.

This is nothing new, of course.

The Buckeyes entered Ohio Stadium ranked 109th in total offense out of 117 Division I-A teams.

A 19-10 victory over Iowa may have vaulted the Buckeyes all the way up to 108th.

If you care to call that progress, feel free.

Coach Jim Tressel did.

The Buckeyes had 185 net yards of offense. They ran the ball 42 times for 56 net yards. Quarterback Craig Krenzel completed 11 of 22 passes for 129 yards. OSU won for the second time this season despite not scoring an offensive touchdown. In fact, the offense accounted for three points and Mike Nugent had to pound a career-best 53-yard field goal to get that.

Tressel watched the same game the rest of us watched and said he saw progress. Well, he has to say something.

“I think the Ohio State Buckeyes got better today,” he said. “I thought we ran the ball in tough conditions in the second half. I thought we made some big plays in the pass game. I thought we pass protected fairly well. Considering the outfit we played against, we made some progress. Now, I might change my tune tomorrow after watching the film, but based upon what I saw I thought we improved.”

This has been a season of discontent for the Buckeyes. It began with the ongoing Maurice Clarett scandal that cost OSU a good deal of its squeaky-clean image, not to mention the ground-game balance that made its offense at the very least respectable. That finally caught up with the team a week ago at Wisconsin when its 19-game winning streak was snapped and linebacker Robert Reynolds badly tarnished his and his team's reputations by choking Badger quarterback Jim Sorgi. Tressel suspended Reynolds from yesterday's game, but he is justifiably catching grief for not having made the punishment more severe.

Despite it all, the Bucks are 6-1 and, offense or no offense, will likely be 8-1 after games the next two weeks against Indiana and Penn State.

Then comes the gauntlet run - Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan - to the finish line.

It would figure the Buckeyes' offense must come to life by then or face some unpleasant consequences. Regardless of what spin-master Tressel claims to have seen yesterday, that unit doesn't seem equipped to make the necessary strides.

It starts up front with, oddly enough, the same offensive line that helped produce a national championship last season.

OSU had Clarret then, however, and he made the line look good with vision and instinct that only the great ones have. He could turn a sliver of daylight into a runway and his mental make-up was that he could not be stopped. Those slivers and cracks don't produce much now and you can read between the lines to figure out what that says about the current gaggle of backs.

Krenzel would ambush opponents with his legs, but he is constantly keyed on now and his arm isn't good enough to make the offense hum.

The Buckeyes can tinker with personnel all they want. Yesterday, center Alex Stepanovich moved to right guard and his backup, Nick Mangold, was the starting snapper. Freshman tailback Ira Guiford, who had only 13 carries during OSU's first six games, got eight chances against Iowa.

The results? The line was still ineffective. Mangold was man-handled on a goal-line play and pushed back into Krenzel, who was trying to score on a sneak. A play later, Krenzel tried again, went high and extended the ball and had it knocked loose short of the end zone for a turnover. Guilford, meanwhile, netted 18 yards, which was better than position mates Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall managed.

The Buckeyes tried a flea-flicker, a shovel pass and an end-around. They keep searching. But almost half of their 42 non-passing plays yesterday - 20 to be exact - went for no gain or for negative yardage.

That Tressel watched all of this and found reason for encouragement is either good news or very, very scary.



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