Saturday, November 1, 2003

Ross soldiering on as OSU's rushing threat

No. 8 Ohio State at Penn State

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Melvin Ross recalls the look his son, Lydell, had the night four years ago when rushing for 272 yards for Tampa (Fla.) Gaither in a game against a Sarasota rival school.

"I happened to make eye contact that night and I said, 'Lord, he is ready to run,' " Melvin Ross said.

He saw the same thing last Saturday, during a TV close-up of his son's face early in Ohio State's game at Indiana. Melvin informed his wife, Francine, that Lydell was again "ready to run," and a career day of 200 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns provided validation.

"I told Lydell before that game: 'You are a diesel engine. The longer you run, the better you get,' " Melvin said.

Maybe the coaches heard that. Trying to avoid a pitfall today at Penn State (2-6, 0-4 Big Ten), the eighth-ranked Buckeyes (7-1, 3-1) might ride Ross as long as they can.

PSU leads the nation in pass defense at 128 yards a game, but that's largely because its run defense is so poor - allowing 216 yards a game, ranking 107th of the 117 Division I-A teams - that no one needs to go to the air.

This is the time of year OSU needs its running game to step forward, as passing games traditionally suffer in cold weather.

The key is Ross, who finally has ended the Buckeyes' tailback derby. Previously sharing carries with Maurice Hall and Ira Guilford, Ross carried the load last week - 167 yards on 23 carries in 2 1/2 quarters. He also caught three passes for 33 yards this season for the Buckeyes.

"I've always been confident in my abilities," Ross said. "I'm just glad Coach (Jim Tressel) let me demonstrate them."

Before last week, OSU's rushing offense was ranked last in the Big Ten, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Ross had only one game with more than 43 rushing yards. Yet he totaled 67 on the opening drive at IU, 113 by the end of the first quarter.

The belief that a running back performs better with more carries holds true for the 6-foot, 200-pound junior.

"It helps, because it gets us in a flow and him in a flow," offensive lineman Shane Olivea said, "instead of playing musical chairs back there."

Melvin Ross said his son was dejected when then-freshman Maurice Clarett won the tailback job last fall.

Melvin, a 26-year Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, said he tried to instill the discipline that kept his son competing.

"He might have felt (last season) he didn't fit in at Ohio State any longer, but he's not a quitter," Melvin said. "I told him that back in the Air Force days, once we committed to a frontal assault, that's the way we went - we never gave up. Maybe a little of that rubbed off."

No. 8 Ohio State at Penn State

Kickoff: 3:36 p.m. today, Beaver Stadium (101,282), State College, Pa.

Records: OSU 7-1 (3-1 Big Ten), PSU 2-6 (0-4).

TV: Ch. 9, 2.

Radio: WBOB-AM (1160), WPFB-AM (910).

Series: PSU leads 10-8.

Line: OSU by 7.

What to watch: The Nittany Lions will have a different look depending whether pocket-passer Zack Mills or option QB Michael Robinson starts. Mills, second on the school's completions list, has a gimpy knee. Look for OSU two-way threat Chris Gamble to get more time on offense today. The Buckeyes haven't won in Happy Valley since 1995.

OSU Team stats PSU
318.9Offense avg.308.0
122.1Avg. by rush138.1
196.8Avg. by pass169.9
251.8Defense avg.344.0
51.5Avg. by rush216.4
200.2Avg. by pass127.6
24.5Avg. points for18.0
13.8Avg. pts. against21.1

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