COLUMBUS - Many people are starting to go on the defensive about Ohio State's inept offense.
That group includes quarterback Justin Zwick and coach Jim Tressel, who have had everything from their performance to their play-calling questioned since Saturday's stunning 33-27 overtime loss at Northwestern.
"It's definitely not fun to lose,'' Zwick said yesterday. "If you ask anybody on our team, they don't enjoy it, and it's not something they want to go through, or I want to go through.
"It's part of life. I think it's something you have to deal with. I think the biggest thing is how you're gonna come back from a game like that, how you're gonna respond. And that's what we have to do.''
The numbers don't lie, nor do the facts, when it comes to Ohio State's offense.
The Buckeyes' running game - in which the team has taken pride for a long time - ranks 90th nationally among 118 Division I-A teams after four games, averaging a mere 115 yards per game.
Three times this season, and six times in the last 12 games, the Buckeyes have failed to gain 100 yards in a game.
Ohio State, which has kicked eight field goals on its last 12 scoring drives, ranks 56th in passing offense, 84th in total offense and 62nd in scoring offense heading into Saturday's Big Ten game against unbeaten Wisconsin at the Horseshoe.
That has opened up the ultra-conservative Tressel and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman to criticism.
"I don't know that there's anything we're doing right now that is to the level we would like it to be,'' Tressel said. "I think we're improving as a pass protection team, which will allow us to improve as a passing team.
"Run-wise, I think that obviously we're lacking consistency there.''
Zwick, who ranks 71st nationally in passing efficiency, shrugs off the critics who say the Buckeyes' offense has become too predictable.
"I don't even think about that kind of stuff,'' he said. "When you're out there in a game situation, you're just trying to look everything over and put the team in the best situation possible.
"When you don't win a game, like Saturday, people are going to start questioning things like play-calling and being too predictable. We just got to execute - that's the main thing.''
Zwick twice rallied the Buckeyes from 10 points down against Northwestern, and he forced overtime with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 1:54 to play in regulation.
However, for the third time in four starts, Zwick had at least two turnovers, losing a fumble and tossing an interception. The loss caused the Buckeyes to drop 11 spots in the Associated Press poll, from No. 7 to No. 18.
"That is definitely not good enough,'' Zwick said. "It's something that's going to happen, and it's something you have to learn from. That's life. You're not going to be perfect all the time. But I definitely feel bad about putting our team in that situation in the game.''
After netting 220 rushing yards on 43 attempts against Cincinnati in the opener, a 5.1 average, Ohio State has gained just 240 yards on 103 carries the last three games - a 2.3 average.
Lydell Ross, a senior tailback, ranks 68th nationally in rushing, averaging 78.25 yards per game, and he leads the Buckeyes with 313 yards. But he has managed just 172 yards on 60 carries - a 2.9 average - the last three games after piling up 141 yards on 17 carries - an 8.3-yard average - against the Bearcats.
Ross had 31 yards on 11 carries against Northwestern, while freshman backup Antonio Pittman had 32 on 11.
Neither had a gain longer than eight yards, and Ross didn't get a carry in the fourth quarter, while Pittman had six.
Tressel said he expects to play both Ross and Pittman against the 15th-ranked Badgers, as well as Branden Joe.
"I think there's good competition there, and there's not enough production there, and that's not a slam at Lydell or Antonio,'' Tressel said. "Production happens to be a universal issue, and I think Branden Joe adds a little different dimension as we go forward. I hope that competition leads to production.''
The Buckeyes' offense will face another tough assignment Saturday.
Wisconsin, which has won its last two games at Ohio Stadium, is the conference's stingiest defensive team, leading the league in total defense, pass defense and scoring defense, while ranking second in run defense.
The Badgers have allowed just 26 points in five games, and have not yet surrendered a rushing touchdown.
That's not good news for Ohio State's offense, which is averaging a rushing touchdown once every 48.7 carries and a passing touchdown once every 20.2 tosses.
"That's a tough, tough defense,'' Zwick said.
"It will be a big challenge for us. Hopefully, we'll be able to put together a balanced offense - that's our goal every game - and move the ball down the field.''
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Many people are starting to go on the defensive about Ohio State's inept offense. That group includes quarterback Justin Zwick and coach Jim Tressel, who have had everything from their performance to their play-calling questioned since Saturday's stunning 33-27 overtime loss at Northwestern.