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No. 8 Buckeyes came around to ground game

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Most teams' offensive playbook grows into an encyclopedia as a season wears on.

Ohio State's became more like a pamphlet.

The Buckeyes reverted to the hallowed tactic of "three yards and a cloud of dust" to win their final five games, capture a fifth straight Big Ten title and earn a berth in the Rose Bowl against Oregon.

Who would have thought that Woody Hayes' was ahead of his time?

"I guess you can even look at it statistically," coach Jim Tressel said. "Particularly in the back half of the year, we did a much better job taking care of the football and a much better job running the football. Therefore, we did a much better job winning."

Hayes, of course, relied on an offense as subtle as a sledgehammer to pound the ball between the tackles for 28 years while glowering from the Buckeyes sidelines.

Before the season's first snap, the strength of the current Ohio State offense was thought to be Terrelle Pryor, a state-of-the-art quarterback in the mold of Tennessee Titans hybrid Vince Young.

But when Pryor threw eight interceptions as the Buckeyes went 5-2 to start the year, Tressel and his offensive staff changed gears. They downshifted to the running game.

"Earlier in the season, we didn't get the running game going like we wanted to," said tailback Dan "Boom" Herron. "We tried something different in the middle of the season and continued it at the end of the season, and it worked out pretty well."

What Ohio State tried was running first, running second and running third, and passing only when necessary.

In each of those last five games, the Buckeyes rushed for at least 200 yards a game.

After rushing for just 66 yards in a stunning 26-18 loss to Purdue (which would end up 5-7) on Oct. 17, the Buckeyes averaged 258 yards in the five-game sprint to the finish. It was the first time an Ohio State team rushed for at least 200 yards in five games in a row in 17 years.

"After the Purdue game, we really got our act together and played well," said Brandon Saine, who shared the tailback workload with Herron. "The offensive line started to play with a little bit of a chip on its shoulder."

The line began to get healthy at about the same time the Buckeyes offense took off.

"We knew what was at stake," said tackle Jim Cordle. "We just didn't have that we-can't-lose-a-game attitude at Purdue and we lost. We carried that through and picked up and got healthy. We went back to some formations and plays that are our identity."

Pryor has been the Buckeyes' go-to guy under center for the last 22 games, but he's still only a sophomore and occasionally tries to do too much. But with the ground game churning out yards, he was able to concentrate on handing off or running the option. The Buckeyes didn't need to rely on his throwing.

Over the last five games, he had just two interceptions and rushed for 340 yards and three touchdowns.

So in the age of spread offenses, five wide-outs and the wildcat formation, the Buckeyes turned back the clock to the 1960s and 1970s.

"What did we do better?" Tressel said rhetorically. "We rushed for over 200 yards a game in the last month or so and if you can do that you're going to have a chance to be your conference's champion. And that we are."