Buckeyes searching for answers after first loss in 20 games

Updated: October 14, 2003, 4:06 PM ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The offense was listless, the defense gave up a big play in the final minutes and the bottom line was a 17-10 loss at Wisconsin.

Yet Ohio State doesn't believe that defeat has changed the way the Buckeyes look at themselves or the way they are perceived by opponents.

"The only thing that's changed is we have a loss," receiver Drew Carter said Tuesday. "For an opponent to think they have something up against us is wrong. They have something to look out for because when you lose, it's not like you're down. You want to win again."

The Buckeyes come into Saturday's showdown against No. 9 Iowa vowing that they are the same team that won 19 straight games before watching everything melt away in the rain at Camp Randall Stadium.

"Every team, when they began their preparation this spring and then restarted it in preseason, certainly had their eyes on Ohio State," coach Jim Tressel said. "I don't think the fact that we've lost a ballgame will lessen that. We are always going to get people's best shot. People are going to play against us better than they are."

A lot went wrong for the Buckeyes in Madison. But a lot of what went wrong had been part of ongoing problems covered up by a series of close victories.

The Buckeyes continue to have problems moving the ball. Against Wisconsin, they had just 271 yards on offense.

The running game has been all but missing in action since tailback Maurice Clarett was suspended for the season for accepting improper benefits and then lying about it to investigators.

Ohio State totaled 69 yards rushing, lowering the Buckeyes' season average to just 118 yards per game. That ranks 87th of the 117 Division I-A teams in the nation.

The Buckeyes are averaging 294 yards of total offense a game, better than just eight other major college teams in the country.

Those are hardly the numbers of a juggernaut that returned all 11 starters from a national championship team.

The first question Tressel faced from reporters on Tuesday was, "What are you trying to do on offense?"

Tressel, in typical fashion, answered the question with several other questions and a barrage of words. What it came down to, however, was that Tressel is just as bewildered by the Buckeyes' lack of offense as anyone.

"I don't think we have offensive line continuity right now, and obviously, it goes without saying, we don't have run game continuity at this point in time," he said. "We're certainly searching for that."

It has reached the point where Tressel believes the Buckeyes must use the pass to set up the run. To say the least, this is not the approach the venerated Woody Hayes would take.

"As we went into this football game this past weekend, we felt like if we could establish the pass, that we were going to have a chance to then establish the run," Tressel said.

Ohio State, however, is not going to become Air Tressel even though quarterback Craig Krenzel, tight end Ben Hartsock and wide receivers Michael Jenkins and Carter appear to be the Buckeyes' best chance at moving the ball.

"It may be my archaic belief, but I haven't seen a whole bunch of the 'throw it for 300 (yards), run it for 100 (yards)' teams be champions," Tressel said.

So the Buckeyes continue to try to find the key to restart a ground game that is running on one cylinder. Iowa, by the way, has not allowed its last four opponents to rush for as many as 75 yards in a game.

Even a dirty play came back to haunt the Buckeyes. Linebacker Robert Reynolds poked Wisconsin quarterback Jim Sorgi in the throat and neck while getting up from the pile in the third quarter. Video replays showed Reynolds gouging at a helpless Sorgi.

Sorgi was unable to return to the game. His replacement, Matt Schabert, then tossed a 79-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans with 5:20 remaining to provide the winning touchdown. Ohio State's All-American cornerback, Chris Gamble, gambled and lost on a fake and was burned for the costly score.

Reynolds was suspended for the Iowa game by Tressel. He has apologized privately and publicly to Sorgi and Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, his family and teammates.

Despite the rare loss that has dozens calling radio shows to criticize the play-calling, the Buckeyes remain relatively unfazed.

"It would be wrong for an opponent to look at your team as being down because they lost a game," cornerback Dustin Fox said. "Hopefully we'll come out and play hard and bounce back."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index