COLUMBUS — One of the weekly goals of the Ohio State offense is “no critical turnovers.”
The thing is, it’s hard to find one that isn’t.
A week ago the Buckeyes had five turnovers and struggled to get going before expanding a baseball-like 3-2 halftime edge into a 20-2 victory over Akron.
Sure, 10th-ranked Ohio State is 2-0 on the year, but a balky start for the offense — both this season and in both games — is nonetheless a cause for concern.
“The offense has a lot of room for improvement,” guard Ben Person said during preparations for Saturday’s game at Washington. “There’s a lot of potential, and we’re not playing up to that yet. But we will get there.”
The Buckeyes rank 48th of the 119 teams in the Bowl Subdivision in rushing, 66th in passing and 63rd in total offense.
A lack of cohesion might be expected from a unit trying to replace a Heisman Trophy winner (quarterback Troy Smith), two first-round NFL draft picks (wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez) and several other mainstays. No matter the reason, the offense has played in fits and starts.
“We played poorly at the beginning of the season but we’re starting to come together and play better,” tight end Jake Ballard said. Asked why the offense has been spinning its wheels, Ballard added, “I’m not sure. Maybe new guys in there, learning to all work together. We’ll see how things work out.”
Quarterback Todd Boeckman, seeing his first substantial action as a redshirt junior, has put up relatively good numbers. He’s completing two of every three passes (31 of 46) for four touchdowns with two interceptions. It’s that last number that most troubles the coaching staff.
“No, I’m not satisfied yet. I wouldn’t be satisfied no matter what we did,” said Jim Bollman, line coach and nominal offensive coordinator (head coach Jim Tressel really runs the offense). “It’s turnovers. We can’t have those turnovers. If we didn’t have the turnovers last week, I think things would have been fine. But we did.”
So far, Ohio State has turned the ball over six times and has only one takeaway. A minus-5 in turnover differential isn’t a harbinger of a successful season, to say the least.
Last week against Akron, Boeckman threw two interceptions, although one came when receiver Dane Sanzenbacher fell on the slick FieldTurf and another came on a deep pass thrown into double coverage. The Buckeyes also lost three fumbles, including one by Brian Hartline on a punt return.
Darrel Hazel, Ohio State’s wide receivers coach and assistant head coach, has been impressed with the aplomb Boeckman has shown so far.
“He’s showed a tremendous amount of calmness throughout the first couple of weeks,” he said. “Now, he needs to do that on Saturday. It’s going to be a hostile environment. He needs to play relaxed and go through his reads and make good throws and good decisions.”
The Huskies had seven sacks in its opener against Syracuse. Big and strong, they’ll be unlike anything the Buckeyes have seen so far this season.
“This is a statement game for the offensive line,” center Jim Cordle said. “This week is going to be the gauge for how good our offensive line is.”
Washington coach Ty Willingham said it’s been hard to measure how good the Buckeyes are when they have the ball.
“Offensively, it may seem like they are kind of feeling their way, but they are very, very good,” he said. “You don’t necessarily look at these two ball games as an indicator of their offensive team or skill. They probably haven’t scored as many points as they would like to, but we know the ability to be very productive is obviously there.”
The lead back for the Buckeyes is Chris “Beanie” Wells. He’s averaging 95 yards a game, but he has gotten off to terrible starts in both games and has not been able to find room to run near the opposing end zone.
The Huskies expect Wells to get untracked — and to be a featured player — on Saturday.
“I love that: they are coming right at us,” defensive tackle Jordan Reffet said.
Cordle said the Buckeyes are primed to show what they can do against a team of equal stature, size and speed.
“This week, it will be nice to play a team that doesn’t do anything fancy,” he said. “They are smashmouth. They think they can bully us. That’s a challenge, but we like that because now we can get ready for a physical matchup.”