October 01, 2011
Michigan State 10, Ohio State 7.
Let's start with the bright side: At least the Buckeyes completed a pass for a first down today, an achievement they failed to unlock until the dying, irrelevant seconds of a 24-6 debacle at Miami two weeks ago. They completed six of them, in fact.
Now, the reality: With another putrid effort against an opponent with a pulse, it's time to break out the record books and put this shambling wreck of an offense in its place among the worst in Ohio State history.
The numbers against Michigan State were distorted by a late, basically meaningless drive that covered 62 yards and accounted for the Buckeyes' only touchdown with 19 seconds to play, staving off OSU's first shutout in Ohio Stadium since 1982. Prior to that every offensive possession had ended in a punt, turnover or turnover on downs. Even including that epic march, though, 178 total yards is Ohio State's lowest output in a regular season game since 2004. Ditto their average gain of 2.8 yards per play. After subtracting sacks — quarterbacks Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller were sacked nine times… again, nine times — 34 yards net rushing is the worst number in more than a decade. Through five games, two of them against ostensible pushovers from the MAC, the Buckeyes are now averaging 23.8 points per game, the lowest number since 1992. With Nebraska, Illinois and Wisconsin on deck over the next three games, don't expect that to hold for long.
Maybe the wretchedness was already official. I don't think many Buckeye fans had any illusions about the downward trajectory of the offense in the absence of exiled quarterback Terrelle Pryor and three other key senior starters who were dealt five-game suspensions last December. But whatever they were imagining as the worst-case scenario, the reality so far is worse. The running game isn't picking up the slack. Bauserman isn't making clutch plays to extend drives. Miller isn't moving the chains with his legs. The only positive (or non-negative, if there's a difference) is that they're not committing a ton of turnovers. At least not yet.
There's no point now in rubbing in how different the attack might look with the presence of the best player on an offense that easily averaged more points per game last year (38.8) than any Buckeye team since the mid-nineties. For all his faults as a passer, leader or teammate, Pryor remained a nearly unmatched talent under center (or in the shotgun) with 36 consecutive starts under his belt; his stand-ins, obviously, are not. But Bauserman and Miller have also been working without the benefit of Boom Herron in the backfield, DeVier Posey stretching the field or Mike Adams at left tackle. All three will be back next week at Nebraska, carrying the last shred of hope for salvaging respectability, if not interim head coach Luke Fickell's job on a permanent basis.
As for the six-year Big Ten championship/BCS bowl streak, well, there are still seven games left on the conference slate. Based on the first, though, it's a good bet the conference standings are going to be a lot less compelling in December than the lists of potential coaching candidates.