One of two things had to happen in the first five games: Joe Bauserman step up because of experience, or Braxton Miller step up because of sheer athletic ability. Neither happened. Now, Columbus is on edge. The Ohio State University has a full-scale, deeply troubling issue at quarterback. And five games into the season is an unpleasant time to be questioning a signal-caller.
But despite the quarterback issues that are key to Ohio State’s disappointing fall from grace and 3-2 record, there are a multitude of other problems that need fixing before the Buckeyes will be able to put another tally in the win column.
In the Big Ten opener against Michigan State, the Ohio State offense scored just 7 points – on a very late touchdown pass from Bauserman – and had just 178 yards of total offense. That is a number more commonly seen as a first half stat for the Bucks in recent years.
Miller and Bauserman obviously both struggled, but the run game did little to aid them. Jordan Hall – in his third game back from a two-game suspension and likely last game filling in for suspended back ‘Boom’ Herron – ran 18 times for just 45 yards. Carlos Hyde added 33 yards, but had just 5 carries on the game.
Facing sloppy, wet conditions, the Buckeyes would have needed a solid ground game even without the quarterback issues. Dantonio prepared his Spartans well, however. Knowing the run game would be key, the MSU defense locked in on the ground game.
“They (Michigan State) got to the point where seven or eight guys would play to the run,” Hyde said. “It was more than we could handle. It’s frustrating. I know our offense is good and capable of scoring points and making plays.”
The real reason OSU struggled offensively? The offensive line was on its heels the entire game. Credit to Michigan State for forcing that, but the OSU offensive line was supposed to be one of the strong points entering this season. In the Big Ten opener, it simply wasn’t there.
“Obviously they didn’t do a great job,” Luke Fickell said of the offensive line. “We just gotta do a better job. That’s ultimately what it comes down to. You don’t give your quarterback much of a chance if he’s getting sacked nine times. But that goes all around. If you can’t run the football really well, then you put your quarterback in a situation that he is a sitting guy back there.”
According to Michigan State defensive lineman Jerel Worthy, that was key to the Spartan’s game plan.
“I have to credit my defensive coaches with coming up with a good game plan,” Worthy said. “We had a lot of pressure early. Once you get into that rhythm, you realize the offensive line is on their heels a little bit, you kind of want to keep the pressure on.”
And pressure they did. Ohio State’s offensive line gave up nine sacks on the day, and Miller and Bauserman racked up -43 yards combined on the ground.
Neither Bauserman nor Miller is likely to flip on a switch, and lead the Buckeyes to a complete turnaround. Instead, a turnaround will require small gains in the passing game, and huge improvement running the football.
“We want to see [the quarterbacks] get better. Their confidence level has got to pick up,” Fickell said. “But we gotta do a better job of giving them some confidence and having that ability to run the ball and do some things to put them in a better situation as well… Really the blame falls on a lot of times on the quarterback and the head coach, and we understand that. But we all know that we’ve all got to get better.”
The time frame for improvement is unfairly short. Ohio State heads on the road to Nebraska this week to take on a Huskers team that will likely be angry after the blowout loss to Wisconsin. The Huskers can be expected to come out fired up with a chip on their shoulder, and if Ohio State isn’t prepared, it could get ugly fast.
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