Buckeyes look to build off of last week#039;s offensive output

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 29, 2003

COLUMBUS - Never has an Ohio State team been so relieved to move ''up'' to the 99th best offense in the nation.

The No. 8 Buckeyes padded their offensive statistics against overmatched Indiana last weekend with 608 yards in a 35-6 win that wasn't nearly as close as even the lopsided score might indicate. That output allowed the Buckeyes to barely crack the top 100 in the ranking of the nation's I-A programs in terms of total offense, after standing 114th of the 117 teams a week ago.

''We can definitely build off it, build off the positive things we've done,'' tailback Lydell Ross said Tuesday as the Buckeyes prepared for Saturday's game at Penn State (2-6, 0-4 Big Ten).

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Ross, who set career highs with 167 yards rushing and three touchdowns against Indiana's open-door policy on defense, confirmed that the Buckeyes (7-1, 3-1) have officially turned the corner.

But many wonder: Did the Buckeyes truly solve several recurring problems on offense? Or did those 600-plus yards say more about Indiana's defense (or lack of it) than it did about Ohio State?

''We may feel a little bit more confident. The bottom line is the Indiana game is the Indiana game,'' quarterback Craig Krenzel said. ''We need to come out and prove we can do it twice in a row. It's a challenge for us to go to Happy Valley.''

The Buckeyes rushed for 216 yards after failing to hit even 150 yards in six of their previous seven games. Krenzel had one of his biggest passing days, throwing for 272 of Ohio State's 387 passing yards.

''Truthfully, I feel that pretty much we've made a U-turn,'' offensive lineman Adrien Clarke said. ''We're going back to our football: just hitting people and opening up holes and just running the ball hard.''

Ross said about the only thing that can stop the Buckeyes is themselves.

''If we continue to not make too many mistakes and get better, it looks pretty successful,'' he said.

Penn State, it should be noted, ranks as a worse defensive team against the run than Indiana was.

The Nittany Lions lead the nation in pass defense but haven't stopped anybody from running the ball. They are 107th against the run - 106 spots and 165 yards per game behind Ohio State's top-ranked effort of just 51.5 yards a game.

Despite the offensive explosion in Bloomington, Ind., there was still some troubling news for Ohio State.

''Lost in the 600 yards and all that stuff is the fact that we still turned the ball over three times,'' coach Jim Tressel said. ''And that won't win at State College.''

Santonio Holmes had six catches for 153 yards and two TD receptions, but fumbled away another potential score at the goal line. Ross also lost a fumble deep in Indiana territory and Krenzel threw an interception.

''Three turnovers against Penn State (and) we're going to have a problem,'' Tressel said.

The giveaways are nothing new for the Buckeyes; all season they have coughed the ball up with regularity. They already have 19 turnovers - two more than they had in last year's 14-0 run to the national championship.

Ohio State can ill afford such continued carelessness, with games against No. 9 Michigan State, No. 18 Purdue and at No. 11 Michigan to finish the regular season.

Michigan State (4-0) and Michigan (4-1), who meet this weekend in their annual neighborhood rivalry, are ahead of the Buckeyes and Purdue (3-1) in the Big Ten standings.

Perhaps more daunting, the Buckeyes lost second-leading receiver Drew Carter. The team's fastest wide out, Carter injured a knee and will be sidelined for the rest of the season. Tressel declined to be specific about the nature of the injury, citing student privacy rules.

A senior who had bided his time for his breakthrough season, Carter was averaging 16.4 yards on his 25 catches.

Holmes, Bam Childress, Roy Hall and starting cornerback Chris Gamble will likely be in the mix as Tressel attempts to find a way to replace Carter's contributions.

''We're going to be out there this afternoon without No. 8 (Carter), and someone's going to have to step up and do all that he's been doing if we want to keep getting better,'' Tressel said. ''We're going to be rotating some other guys into Drew's vacant position.''

Holmes regretted the injury to Carter but said he was willing to try to pick up the slack.

''Right now I'm not really worried about who's going to play,'' he said. ''It's all consisting of who's going to make plays for our team. That's what our coaches are looking for - receivers who can get the job done and win the game.''