Players returning, but OSU QBs must play better
Ohio State gets three suspended starters back on offense this week. That's the good news.
The bad? None of them plays quarterback.
The offensive line was awful and the running attack was invisible in a dismal 10-7 loss at home to stout and sturdy Michigan State on Saturday. Still, the quarterbacks are getting most of the blame.
No one is happy, however, heading into a mammoth challenge at Nebraska on Saturday.
''We're not moving the ball. We're not scoring. We're all going to be frustrated,'' said Joe Bauserman, who did mop-up duty at quarterback in the fourth quarter.
The addition of the players coming off NCAA suspension for taking cash and discounted tattoos - tailback Daniel Herron, offensive lineman Mike Adams and wide receiver DeVier Posey - should help the Buckeyes in some problem areas and add some much needed depth.
But their return doesn't address the huge problem of who will run the offense.
True freshman Braxton Miller completed 5 of 10 passes for 56 yards with an interception and ran the ball nine times, including four sacks, for minus-27 yards against the Spartans. He never was able to spark the offense. In eight full possessions with Miller taking the snaps, the drives ended in seven punts and an interception.
Bauserman took over and hit on 7 of 14 passes for 87 yards. He was sacked five times for 16 yards in losses. In his five series, the first three resulted in punts, the next ended on a failed fourth down and on the final one he threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Evan Spencer.
Interim coach Luke Fickell is unsure what to do next.
In his postgame comments, he first said he might invite Kenny Guiton and Taylor Graham back into the quarterback derby with Miller and Bauserman. Let the best man win.
Then when asked to clarify if Miller was still his starter, he said, ''Yes.''
With a killer stretch of games ahead - after the trip to Lincoln, Neb., the Buckeyes go to Illinois and then are idle before hosting Wisconsin - the No. 1 issue is coming up with a leader on offense.
''This team has some great players. I know some of these guys are doing the best job they can to step up,'' center Mike Brewster said. ''I know Joe came in and did a good job at the end of the game and I know Braxton's doing the best he can. It was a hard day, but you've got to keep fighting.''
The win was an affirmation for Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, who had never beaten the Buckeyes. As a matter of fact, the Spartans hadn't beaten Ohio State since 1999 and hadn't won in the Horseshoe since a historic 29-27 upset of the No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Buckeyes in 1998.
No one was putting this win on the same level as that one. But it was nonetheless a remarkably dominating performance for a team that has frequently come up short in its biggest games over the past few years.
About the only thing that disappointed the Spartans is that they didn't shut out the Buckeyes.
''It was a little upsetting,'' defensive tackle Jerel Worthy said of the late touchdown. ''You work so hard that you want to come in and play the best game you can.''
They did, registering 13 tackles for negative yardage (a career-high three apiece by William Gholston and Chris Norman) in a game that will spur the Spartans as they, too, enter a treacherous schedule which includes a bye week, then home games against rival Michigan and Wisconsin before a big trip to Nebraska on Oct. 29.
Just as the Ohio State coaching staff needs to have faith in the quarterbacks, the candidates need to rebuild their fragile egos.
Asked if the quarterbacks are lacking confidence, tailback Carlos Hyde didn't hesitate.
''Yeah, as I think about it,'' he said. ''The quarterback (job) is not easy. He's the main guy on the offense and playing that role is huge. Somebody has to step up. Braxton and Joe, one of them has to step up.''
Adams will reinforce the leaky offensive line. Herron should help add energy to a running game that netted 35 yards on 39 attempts against Michigan State. Posey instantly improves the receiving corps and provides an experienced target out wide.
All will help make the job easier for the quarterback - whoever it is. But it'll be up to the signal-caller to avoid the disastrous play that led to Saturday's loss.
''That's where it starts,'' Miller said. ''You've got to move the ball to keep the defense going, too. That's on you. You've got to keep pushing.''
Rusty Miller can be reached at http://twitter.com/rustymillerap