Is this the type of uninspiring play we have to look forward to if Chris "Beanie" Wells can't go vs. USC next Saturday? Ohio State's offense looked anemic, its defense vapid -- and it all came against a MAC team that was a 33-point underdog.
In the end, the Buckeyes' talent and depth won out as they survived Ohio with a 26-14 victory, but Saturday's performance was alarming with that much-anticipated showdown with the top-ranked Trojans looming. Ohio State has a history of taking MAC teams lightly (beating Marshall 24-21 in 2004, Bowling Green 24-17 in '03 and Akron 28-14 in '01), but in those other slim wins, OSU had never been ranked third in the nation, had never struggled so much on both sides of the ball and never had so much riding on the next week's game.
Ohio State trailed the Bobcats for most of the game until early in the fourth quarter with the offense unable to establish a running game without its Heisman contender. The absence of Beanie seemed to take a toll on the unit as a whole. Todd Boeckman passed for 111 yards and no touchdowns and he bumbled a snap into the Buckeyes' end zone that gave Ohio a 14-6 lead in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes finally restored order in the fourth quarter with a rushing touchdown from Brandon Saine and a punt return touchdown by Ray Small, which gave Ohio State the final 12-point advantage. But three quarters of struggles vs. a MAC team doesn't bode well for a team with aspirations of winning a national title.
It did come as a surprise that Jim Tressel didn't utilize freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who supplied some punch in the opening win over Youngstown State. But Tressel's not one to step away from the conservative route, and that meant riding his fifth-year senior at QB and hoping his offense simply woke up. Pryor appeared in one series in the first quarter and didn't see the field again until Ohio State was up by 12.
While the offense was bound to lose some of its firepower without Beanie, the defense seemed to just get caught taking a bunch of guys who weren't recruited by the state's mother school too lightly.
The nation's top-ranked D from a year ago had trouble bottling up Ohio's spread and its dual-threat quarterback Boo Jackson. The spread has been Ohio State's Achilles' heel of late -- most famously against Florida in the national championship two seasons ago -- and it's made their pass rush almost non-existent (they had just two sacks today).
Ohio State's defense eventually came through, thanks to some Bobcats miscues. Jackson had a pass intercepted by James Laurinaitis in the middle of the fourth and the Ohio quarterback just couldn't hook up with his receivers in the clutch.
It's still a win and it still sets up the Game of the Year (for now) in L.A., but this performance wasn't the statement the Buckeyes were looking to make. Last we saw of the Trojans, they were lambasting a Virginia team that won nine games in 2007. Today's performance by the Buckeyes is a definite cause for concern. If the OSU team that put up just 287 total yards of offense against Ohio is the team that shows up in the Coliseum, things will get far uglier than they did against the Bobcats.