Open date lets Buckeyes get valuable rest break

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 1, 2003

COLUMBUS - Almost halfway through the 2003 season, the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes take a week off to heal and take a deep breath for what lies ahead.

The Buckeyes get the weekend off after opening Big Ten play with a 20-0 win over Northwestern. They return on Oct. 11 at Wisconsin (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) for their first road game of the season.

''Making sure that we get better and better and better when we're not playing a game is going to be important,'' Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said Tuesday. ''Wisconsin gets to play a game. They get to get better by playing Penn State. They get to experience something this weekend that we won't get to experience. So we've got to make sure that these four days that we work … that we improve.''

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Ohio State (5-0, 1-0) is right where it wants to be in the standings. But the Buckeyes know they have a lot to work on this week.

''There are some areas that we think we are making some improvement, but there are also some areas where we feel like our improvement needs to accelerate if we're going to meet the challenge of what lies ahead in Madison, Wisconsin,'' Tressel said.

The Buckeyes remain last in the Big Ten in total offense with 298 yards per game.

There is plenty of good news on the injury front for the Buckeyes. Quarterback Craig Krenzel missed the last two games with a hyperextended right (throwing) elbow. He will most likely return to full-contact workouts this week.

Starting center Alex Stepanovich will return from a sprained ankle and tailback Lydell Ross is 100 percent after a slight knee injury. Fullback Branden Joe returned last week after recovering from a torn chest muscle that sidelined him the first four games.

Tight end Ben Hartsock said it's not a coincidence that the offense has been struggling while those front-line players have been out.

''The guys that are coming back are all guys that have had experience, and a lot of the problems are coming from consistency. We've had trouble moving the ball,'' Hartsock said. ''It seems like offensively, once we get a 6- or 7-yard gain and then a couple short routes down the field, things just really start moving. And when we get guys back that have that experience, hopefully they can bring another little bit of a spark to maybe have a little bit more consistency.''

Defensive tackle Darrion Scott is still nursing a sprained ankle.

Scott McMullen filled in for Krenzel, while the injuries to Stepanovich, Ross and Scott opened the door for players such as Nick Mangold, Ira Guilford and Quinn Pitcock to pick up some playing time.

Tressel said the bye week comes at a good time.

''I think this could be good. This will give us a chance to move forward,'' he said. ''We know a little bit more about ourselves.''

A week away from game preparations is particularly valuable to a young tailback such as Guilford. The freshman saw his first playing time against Northwestern since the season opener. He totaled 29 yards on eight carries, including a 15-yard run.

''I want to get in all the time,'' Guilford said. ''(Tressel) said it's a matter of me learning the offense. He wanted to put me in a position where I could have success the first time out.''

Tressel said Guilford would get a lot of chances to show what he could do during practice.

''He got in the game and now he knows what it's like. He got excited about it,'' Tressel said. ''He knows he can do it, and I'm sure he wants to come out and compete. So this will be a good week for him.''

Krenzel has been taking it easy with his arm since getting hurt against North Carolina State when his elbow was pinched between two tacklers. He threw before Saturday's game and had no swelling or pain on Sunday.

After the bye week, Krenzel will have been sidelined for a month before regaining his starting spot against Wisconsin.

''He'll practice like crazy,'' Tressel said. ''I sure hope he's not rusty.''