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COLUMBUS - Seven games into the 2008 football season, Ohio State might be the biggest enigma in the country. The Buckeyes are motoring along, but it seems like they've got a five-speed transmission that can't get out of low gear.
Ohio State, ranked as high as No. 2 in the polls this season and sporting an offense that returned nine starters from last year's Big Ten champion that played in the national championship game, has been winning.
But they also have been struggling with forward progress.
The Buckeyes rank near the bottom of the Big Ten in many offensive categories and are 95th in the nation in total offense. There are only 25 Division I teams that have been less productive than Ohio State so far this season, and that group
includes the long-suffering folks at Syracuse, Temple, and now, Michigan.
The Buckeyes' conference wins have come against three opponents with a combined 2-6 Big Ten record, and Ohio State has beaten them by an average of just nine points per game. In their six games against Division I opponents, the No. 12 ranked Buckeyes have outscored the opposition just 127 to 100.
"I hate to say it, but we're not executing," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said yesterday as his team continued preparation for Saturday's game at No. 20 Michigan State. The Buckeyes went without an offensive touchdown in last weekend's win over Purdue, and had just 222 yards of offense against the Big Ten's worst defense.
"Probably the poorest thing we did on offense was our lack of consistency, and it showed in our grades," Tressel said. "We didn't have anyone [on offense] grade a winning performance. Therefore there must have been enough errors by guys through the course of the time that you were going to have a hard time putting together a string of first downs."
Tressel said that following the Purdue game he felt that the Buckeyes' blocking up front had been deficient, and he did not want freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor to shoulder the blame for the current offensive struggles.
"Is it human nature to be disappointed when you don't do as well as you'd hoped or as well as we need to be - absolutely," Tressel said.
"But I guess the only way you can avoid finger-pointing is be so focused on what you have to do to aid the cause and get better, and not spend a whole bunch of time analyzing or talking with whomever about what may be the solution. You con-
trol what you can control."
Junior tight end Jake Ballard said the three sacks Pryor took on Saturday, and the fact he completed just 10 passes for only 97 yards, is hardly indicative of what Ballard thinks the Ohio State offense is capable of producing. He said opposing defenses are often stacked up inside to slow junior tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells.
"I know we can do a whole lot better than that," Ballard said. "It is frustrating, because teams are loading up the box against us to stop the run. Maybe we need to throw the ball a little more, but we need to give Terrelle a bit more time to do that."
Ballard said that if the OSU line is not performing at a high level, Pryor can not be expected to lead the offense to gaudy numbers.
"Our whole offense is struggling, and if we're not holding the blocks for him, that just puts more pressure on Terrelle."
Tressel said that after reviewing the film of some of the Buckeyes' offensive futility, there have been multiple cases where Ohio State's execution was hampered by one missed assignment.
"If you have 10 guys doing exactly what you need done, and one guy that doesn't, you're not going to score touchdowns or first downs or any of the above," Tressel said.
SURGERY FOR WILSON: Ohio State junior defensive end Lawrence Wilson, who had his 2007 season end abruptly when he broke his leg in the first game, is now out for this season after injuring his knee in last weekend's Purdue game. Tressel said Wilson will undergo season-ending surgery for a second straight year.
SANZENBACHER BACK: Tressel said yesterday that sophomore wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher from Central Catholic will return to the Ohio State lineup this week after missing one game. Sanzenbacher suffered a concussion after making a pass reception against Wisconsin Oct. 10.
Freshman running back Daniel "Boom" Herron, who also missed last week after suffering a concussion in the Wisconsin game, is still listed as questionable for this week's game against Michigan State. "We're very conservative when it comes to the head things and his hasn't quite cleared up quite as quickly as Dane's," Tressel said. "I think it was a little more severe."
Contact Matt Markey
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