August 21, 2014

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Ohio State: Offense still searching for room to move

 COLUMBUS — Until 1992, Ohio State went 58 years without playing an opponent from its home state. On Saturday, the Buckeyes’ offensive performance against Akron made that former policy appear shrewd.
For the second week in a row, Ohio State’s ability to move the football was limited to brief spurts, all too often riddled with inconsistency. The running game, headlined by sophomore tailback Chris Wells, was punchless for the better part of three quarters. And fifth-year junior quarterback Todd Boeckman didn’t exactly distinguish himself, making several misreads that resulted in two first-half interceptions.
So while Ohio State’s 20-2 victory over Akron at Ohio Stadium was certainly notable for the lockdown performance by the Buckeye’s defense, which limited the Zips to just three first downs and three yards rushing, it was the dubious play offensively against an inferior opponent that casts a shadow over the coming week.
On paper, it would be hard to find fault in either Wells or Boeckman. Wells tallied 143 yards on 20 carries, gashing holes in Akron’s defense which steadily wore down in the second half. But like last week, Wells’ numbers can be misleading.
Last week, in Ohio State’s 38-6 win over Youngstown State, Wells ran the ball 16 times for 46 yards — a total which was boosted by gaining 20 yards on his 12th carry.
On Saturday, 71 of Wells’ total yards came on one drive in the fourth quarter in which the second-year burner ripped off runs of 25 and 40 yards, to set up the Buckeyes’ final touchdown of the day, a Boeckman strike from 13 yards out to Brian Robiski.
In fact, if three of Wells’ longest runs are subtracted — accounting for 89 yards — he averaged just 3.1 yards from scrimmage for the rest of his carries.
Afterward, the Buckeyes struggled to explain why it took until the fourth quarter for the team to flex its offensive muscles.
“Everything we saw on film, they did,” said Boeckman, who completed 14 of 23 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns. “I guess we didn’t make the right reads or the right decisions. I didn’t put the team in the right situations sometimes. It’s those little things — like turning the ball over.”
It took 7 minutes and 34 seconds before Ohio State registered a first down in the opening quarter. Three of the Buckeyes’ five turnovers came in the first half – a fact that made coach Jim Tressel wince.
“We cannot turn the ball over like that,” said Tressel. “We’ve got to execute a little bit better than we did throughout the course of the game. We just didn’t play consistently.”
In the first half, Ohio State registered just three points on seven first downs and 115 total yards. Some of that had to do with the creative scheming of Akron’s defense. But more of it, said Boeckman, was the shoddy execution.
On several occasions, Boeckman said he didn’t recognize the need to change the running play at the line of scrimmage.
“We don’t want to run straight into the blitz and sometimes that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “That left the backs out to dry. I’ve got to read it better.”
Still, the season is young and much of the offense is still acclimating itself.
“We can win 38-6 and still feel terrible the next day,” said right tackle Kirk Barton. “That’s Ohio State — it’s not good enough. You want to win 100-6. You don’t want to give up anything: no missed assignments, no poor technique. You want to do it perfectly. And if you don’t do that, it’s not good enough.”
When one reporter attempted to ask Tressel how settled he was with the current quarterback situation, Ohio State’s coach expertly deflected the inquiry with a philosophical parry.
“Oh, I feel settled,” said Tressel. “You never arrive — you can never discuss arriving until the journey is over — that goes for a team and that goes for a position. The minute you think you’ve arrived, you’re in trouble. I know what we’re doing and what we’re trying to do. We’re working to become better.”
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or at palpern@chroniclet.com.