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Published: Thursday, 10/6/2011

OSU offense struggling to hit stride

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS -- There were 120 minutes of football played in Ohio State's recent games against Miami and Michigan State. For 119 minutes and 49 seconds -- all but 10 seconds in those two games -- the Buckeyes did not have a touchdown.

Throughout the modern era, Ohio State has never been a place where free-wheeling offenses hummed along at breakneck speeds. Most likely, the Buckeyes had adequate punch, scored enough points with physical play more than finesse, and played great defense.

But the 2011 Buckeyes are stuck in an offensive quagmire. They break the huddle, only to muddle along. The wheels would be spinning, if they were moving at all.

If Ohio State was a patient awaiting test results and asked "Doc, how bad is it?" the answer would be grim.

Of the 120 college teams playing big boy football (Division I/FBS), the Buckeyes rank 108th in total offense. That puts them behind Eastern Michigan, Minnesota, and Akron. Ohio State's offensive output ranks the Buckeyes 93 places below rival Michigan.

Following four quarters of flailing away in a morass during last Saturday's 10-7 loss to Michigan State, in which the Buckeyes produced 35 rushing yards in 39 attempts, sophomore running back Carlos Hyde was clearly frustrated.

"We've got to get better," Hyde said as new Big Ten member Nebraska looms next on the schedule. "I told the coaches some plays we should've run, but I don't get paid to coach, so I guess they don't listen."

In rushing numbers, Ohio State (3-2) is 54th in the nation with 154.20 yards per game -- numbers that are clearly bolstered by 224 against Akron and 226 against Colorado. The 35 yards rushing against Michigan State is the giant sore thumb sticking out of the stat book.

Ohio State coach Luke Fickell, a defensive guy throughout his career, said the Buckeyes have an abundance of issues beyond those created by the seemingly endless player suspensions.

"You can't just point a finger and say, well, it's the quarterback, well, it's the offensive line, or it's the wide-outs not getting open or it's the call," Fickell said. "It's a combination of everything, but it still comes down to that we have to figure what it is that we do well and continue to do those things."

One thing the Buckeyes are certainly not doing well is passing the football. Ohio State ranks right near the bottom in the nation in passing (111th) with 154 yards per game. Iowa and Wisconsin lead the Big Ten teams with about 280 passing yards per game each.

In scoring, Ohio State has had its numbers bolstered by the 42-0 pounding of Akron and the 37-17 win over Colorado, but the Buckeyes still rank 91st in the country with their 23.8 points per game scoring average. Wisconsin leads the Big Ten with just over 48 ppg.

Ohio State senior defensive back Tyler Moeller avoided piling on the struggling OSU offense following its close call with a shutout in the 10-7 loss to the Spartans.

"I'm not on the offensive side of the ball, so I don't know what goes on with them," Moeller said. "I do know they do a lot better job than I could at throwing the ball."

Fickell said that despite the slogging along the Buckeyes did against Michigan State, he will stick with freshman Braxton Miller at quarterback and use senior Joe Bauserman as needed.

"Braxton is the guy that right now is our starting quarterback," Fickell said. "We told both of those guys we are probably going to need them both throughout the course of the year. How are we going to do that? I don't know."

Fickell said he wants Miller to feel confident enough to play loose and not be constantly looking over his shoulder or fearing that one mistake will mean he gets yanked.

"We don't want a guy going in thinking that by any means," Fickell said. "We just have to know that we have to get better, and we have to be able to put them in some [good] situations. But I don't want them to think that, hey, you've got a short leash, or we don't have enough confidence or faith in you."

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @MattMarkey.



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