Buckeyes winning but offensive numbers down

Published 4:05 am Thursday, September 25, 2008

The most important numbers attached to a football team make up its record.

No. 14-ranked Ohio State is 3-1 in that regard.

But four games into the season the Buckeyes are way, way down the list when it comes to the numbers that make up most NCAA offensive categories.

Email newsletter signup

They stand No. 92 in total offense, 56th in rushing and are 104th (of 119 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, or Division I-A) in passing. Averaging 25 points a game, the Buckeyes rank 73rd in the nation.

Offensive tackle Alex Boone said he wasn’t a bit surprised that Ohio State is ranked so low in those key statistical categories.

‘‘Would it surprise me? No. I don’t want to make excuses,’’ he said this week during preparations for Saturday’s Big Ten opener against Minnesota. ‘‘Obviously, we just haven’t been playing well.’’

Then he did offer an excuse, albeit an understandable one that plays tailback, stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 237 pounds.

‘‘You lose Beanie and a lot of the rushing yards kind of fall down,’’ he said. ‘‘I know that we need to pick it up on offense. We’re hurting our defense. We’ve got to keep going.’’

The Buckeyes have been in a three-game swoon offensively — ever since they lost tailback Chris ‘‘Beanie’’ Wells to a foot injury midway through their season opener.

Part of the problem has been the transition to unproven redshirt freshman Dan Herron as Wells’ replacement. Part of it is the even bigger transition from fifth-year senior Todd Boeckman at quarterback to even more unproven freshman Terrelle Pryor. The wide receivers, thought to be a major strength of the team, have gotten off to a slow start with several dropped passes. Topping it all off, the line has been porous at times.

‘‘We know we have to get better,’’ guard Ben Person said a few days after a 35-3 whipping administered two weeks ago by top-ranked Southern California. ‘‘We kind of just laid an egg, I guess.’’

It hasn’t just been the USC game, however. The Buckeyes romped over Youngstown State 43-0 in their first game, but lost Wells. In the three games since, they’ve had two fewer first downs than the opposition and have averaged a little over 4 yards per play.

A year ago, with almost the exact same offense — the only graduation losses were at fullback and offensive tackle — they averaged seven more first downs a game than the opposition and almost 6 yards per play, a 50 percent decline.

At least Wells appears to be close to returning. Tressel listed him as probable for the game at Ohio Stadium against Minnesota. Reports from practice, which is closed to reporters, say Wells is doing everything the other Ohio State backs are doing in workouts.

If the falloff hasn’t been apparent in the team’s record, it has certainly been evident to the coaching staff.

Maybe that explains why coach Jim Tressel suddenly strolled down to where the offensive linemen were working out early last week and started yelling at them at the top of his lungs.

He told them that they had to play faster, that they had to work harder, that they had to start blocking for their teammates.

And, yes, Tressel was yelling — something that seems almost unimaginable to those who have seen him quietly counseling a player during a typical practice.

‘‘I like him yelling,’’ Boone said. ‘‘A lot of us need to get yelled at to get going or to get motivated or to get fired up. Him yelling now is putting a fire under us.’’

Tressel was his usual hard-to-pin-down self when he was asked what he knew about his offense through four games.

‘‘We’re trying to play with a little bit more velocity and quickness than I felt we were playing with earlier in the year,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re learning a little bit more about who we are.’’

He’s just hoping who the Buckeyes are is not 92nd-best offense in the country.