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Ohio State offense needs identity check

Andy Gottesman / The Lantern

In a Season Three episode of “The Office,” prankster Jim Halpert imitates rival Dwight Schrute’s appearance and antics for one day, mocking Dwight’s infatuation with bears and random facts. Dwight threatens Jim, saying, “Identity theft is not a joke, Jim. Millions of families suffer every year.”

But to be a victim of identity theft, one needs an identity, something distinct, a desirable characteristic that can be captured and mimicked.

No need to secure credit card information or Internet passwords — the Ohio State offense has no identity.

Expectations have never been higher for the No. 2 Buckeyes. Many forecasters will be irked if they are forced to erase OSU, penciled into the BCS Championship game with Alabama by most, from their projections.

Should the Crimson Tide reach college football’s summit, it will be on the shoulders of their running back tandem, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and explosive sophomore Trent Richardson.

The Buckeyes’ rushing duo, Dan “Boom” Herron and Brandon “Zoom” Saine, is under-used and far less talented.

OSU breezed through its non-conference schedule, racking up 49.2 points per game in a 4-0 start. It piled up yardage through the air as quarterback Terrelle Pryor averaged nearly 27 passes per contest.

So with Pryor in the locker room suffering from a quadriceps strain during Saturday’s 24-13 win over Illinois, what happened to the Buckeyes’ playbook?

Coach Jim Tressel doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have the same trust in backup Joe Bauserman that he does in his Heisman-hopeful signal-caller.

Therefore, OSU’s offense dried up like a prune.

Even when Pryor returned under center after missing seven snaps, Tressel continued to call Herron’s number. OSU rushed on 11 straight plays at one point, and for good reason, with Pryor not feeling up to the task.

“The worst thing was when I came back and the guys said I was all right and they were saying, ‘Come on, Terrelle, lead us,'” Pryor said. “It was hard because I knew I couldn’t do anything about it. There’s no way I could do anything about it, except to hand the ball off and get a couple passes. But it kind of hurt even dropping back.”

No team can be fully dependent on one playmaker as its entire source of offense.

The Buckeyes ran around like chickens with their heads cut off when Pryor was sidelined. Bauserman threw two passes — one completed for a 1-yard gain and the other completed to the wrong team.

Last year, OSU relied heavily on its running game during the challenging conclusion to its Big Ten schedule. The Buckeyes piled up at least 225 rushing yards in five consecutive games — all wins.

Before that commitment to smashmouth football, OSU flirted with the inconsistency that plagued it Saturday. Just ask Purdue what kind of offense it faced when it beat the Buckeyes last October.

In the Boilermakers’ 26-18 upset, Pryor had a hand in 52 of OSU’s 59 plays. Saine carried the ball the other seven times, six of which came in the first half.

Every team faces adversity. The Buckeyes dealt with their first road trip and their first conference test. They didn’t expect to lose the centerpiece of their offense at a critical juncture of the game.

But it’s how teams adapt to such misfortunes that determines which squads are cut out for hardware at season’s end.

Adaptation comes easier for teams with balance.

Take a perennial 50-home run hitter out of a power-starved lineup and the club’s offense will struggle. Remove one of a lineup’s three 25-home run batters and the team shouldn’t skip a beat.

The Buckeyes have that top-tier slugger. But they also have complements capable of contributing to the offense’s production.

Tressel needs to strike a balance between a Pryor-centric approach and a Woody Hayes-esque, run-only style.

Over-reliance on Pryor is a recipe for disaster.

Yes, he can change the complexion of a game every time his number is called. But he becomes more effective when defenses have to worry about Herron and Saine as well.

Dwight from “The Office” has attributes that are easily identifiable, namely, a mustard-colored shirt, beet-stained teeth and a fervent love of authority.

Take a look at the OSU offense, and the only characteristics you’ll find are inconsistent and unidentifiable.

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