Ohio State’s Offense Makes Its Point
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ At the start of the season, Ohio State’s offense _ depleted by graduation and the NFL draft _ posed all sorts of questions.
The question now: How many points can this team score?
``If I didn’t know better and I didn’t know Ohio State,″ Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz said, ``I’d say they’ve been practicing since they lost the Citrus Bowl last year.″
The No. 4 Buckeyes, who play the No. 5 Irish on Saturday, have the nation’s most productive offense, scoring at least 70 points in each of their first two games. And the cast is altogether different from last year.
Gone is Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Eddie George, who gained 1,927 yards and scored 25 touchdowns last year. Gone, too, is three-year starting quarterback Bobby Hoying, who owns just about every school record.
Star wide receiver Terry Glenn? Gone. Tight end Rickey Dudley, like George and Glenn a first-round NFL draft pick? Gone. Same for solid offensive guard Jamie Sumner, who started every game the last two years, and first-team fullback Nicky Sualua, an academic casualty.
Ohio State returned 10 starters on defense from last year’s 11-2 team, but the offense appeared to be hurting. Just 23 percent of the rushing yards, 28 percent of the receptions and 31 percent of the points from 1995 were put up by returning players.
So the Buckeyes promptly went out and smoked Rice 70-7 and Pittsburgh 72-0, scoring on 20-of-26 possessions, piling up a 57-16 difference in first downs and averaging 617 yards a game.
``I think everybody to a certain extent has been a little bit surprised by the points we’ve put up,″ said Ohio State flanker Buster Tillman.
Granted, Rice and Pitt won’t be mistaken for Florida and Florida State any time soon.
``It could be a junior college and it doesn’t matter. It’s still 70 points,″ Notre Dame defensive end Melvin Dansby said.
Ohio State coach John Cooper expected his offense to be better than many did, but even he didn’t foresee what has happened. Still, he recognizes that the Buckeyes are far from having the proven firepower they had a year ago.
``Offensively, I don’t know yet,″ Cooper said. ``It’s going to be hard to repeat what Eddie and Terry and Bobby and Rickey and those guys did last year.″
Cooper is most pleased that Ohio State hasn’t had many penalties and hasn’t had a turnover. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t take 70 points in the next three games combined.
``I like that at least we look like we know what we’re doing,″ he said.
So far, Pepe Pearson has scored six touchdowns and is averaging 111 yards rushing in George’s stead, while Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine have each completed 13-of-18 passes for a combined 548 yards and eight touchdowns while replacing Hoying.
Glenn set school records of 1,411 yards receiving yards and 17 touchdown catches a year ago. This year, the Buckeyes have spread the action, with 12 players catching passes. Freshmen David Boston and Michael Wiley each have two TD catches, while Boston has added a punt return and Wiley a reverse for scores.
The line, anchored by 6-foot-6, 330-pound tackle Orlando Pace, has surrendered only one sack. And the Buckeyes have had to punt only twice.
``You find it hard to believe that they would be as effective as they are on offense,″ Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Davie said. ``I’ll be honest, I don’t see any drop-off at all. If anything, they look better.″
But Cooper said Notre Dame is better at every position than anyone the Buckeyes have seen so far.
Ohio State noseguard Luke Fickell has practiced against the revamped Buckeye offense since last spring. He expected it to be good, but the fifth-year senior also knows that two weeks don’t make a season.
``They still have a lot of tests to come because I don’t think they’ve faced any defenses like they’re going to face,″ he said.