Hartsock continues to impress

Ben Hartsock (Getty Images)

Senior tight end Ben Hartsock is closing his OSU career with his best season yet.

Of all the players on Ohio State's offense this season, tight end Ben Hartsock has been the most consistent.

Each game, he grades a "winning performance" as a blocker, and he's also done a lot of damage as a receiver. The 6-4, 260-pound senior has 30 receptions for 268 yards and two touchdowns on the year.

In the win over Michigan State last Saturday, Hartsock led the Bucks with three catches for 54 yards and also hauled in a TD.

"Luck, I guess," Hartsock joked. "Whenever us tight ends get the opportunities to get the ball, we just try and make the most of them. (Saturday) I felt a little quicker than usual and I don't know if I ate anything or not, but I need to go back and think about it and eat it again next week."

Fellow tight end Ryan Hamby also caught a TD pass in the win over the Spartans.

"Hamby and I both said that it's a big day for the tight ends," Hartsock said. "Something must be going on and it must be a good day if both of us get a touchdown."

Hartsock's score came on a crucial third-down play in the second quarter with the Bucks trailing 7-3. He admitted he didn't think the ball was coming his way.

"I guess you always run a route anticipating to catch it, but I was running an underneath route, so I knew I had to get across, and one of my main concerns was to try to pull the corner off our receiver," he said. "But, the corner dropped with him and it gave me a chance to get the ball in the open field. (Craig) Krenzel put the ball on the money."

Overall, it was another solid performance from OSU's offense. That makes three in a row after sputtering for much of the season.

"Offensively, we were very well rounded," Hartsock said. "I think we were able to move the ball up front, we were able to run some play-action pass and try to get the ball pushed down field a couple times. And there were a couple instances where we had opportunities to put even more points on the board, but we settled for field goals."

Hartsock, never at a loss for words, says that the confidence of OSU's offense is at an all-time high.

"I think it's as good a feeling as we can have as an offense," he said. "It started with Indiana and we took a small step. They weren't the greatest defense that we've gone up against, but each week it's gotten progressively better and it's hopefully going to continue next week.

"We can really take heart that we have moved the ball against a good defense (Saturday). This was a sound Michigan State defense. They were tough up front; they were solid. Purdue is going to be a little different physically, but it's nice to have a little momentum going into the game."

For a change, the Buckeye offense bailed out the defense. It's not that the defense played all that bad, but the offense was the story of the day.

"It's good to keep progressing," Hartsock said. "The offense is finally getting the ball rolling and guys on the defense are coming up after the game and saying, ‘It's so nice to get a break.' Those guys want to come off the field and not have to worry about every play being the biggest drive in the world for them.

"We're peaking at the right time offensively and we need to because as good a game as we had this week, we're going to have to be that much better next week."

As for Kreznel, he was under some pressure this week as some were calling for backup QB Scott McMullen. Hartsock was asked if Krenzel responded to a challenge.

"Oh, it's kind of hard to say," he said. "He's under a huge amount of pressure. When you look at the two situations – (Scott) McMullen coming in as the backup – he's kind of in a similar situation as Craig was in last year. You know, not a whole lot expected of him, but he's done well.

"Craig has an enormous amount of pressure on him and he welcomes that and he's dealt with it extremely well. A lot of people would have buckled under this kind of pressure, where you go out and maybe not have the game you were hoping. So, it's a huge credit for him that he was able to bounce back and have a good day."

Hartsock brushed off the notion that Krenzel was playing for his job.

"No, I don't think anybody buys into that as much as everybody that reads the papers does," he said. "Craig is the guy that goes out there and everybody listens to and everybody knows that he is going to do what he can do to win the football game. (Saturday) he did what he needed to do: he threw the ball; he ran the ball again.

"Something that I noticed was that he hasn't scrambled as much the past several weeks. But, (Saturday), he was able to get some step ups and get some nice yards for us.

"He just goes out and plays the game. I don't think he's worried about stuff like that. He wasn't worried about losing his starting position. He doesn't play for those reasons. He just wanted to beat Michigan State and he did."

On a lighter note, Hartsock told a story of a woozy Krenzel the previous at Penn State.

"It was funny," he said. "Whenever you get a concussion, they ask you questions like, ‘Where are you from? What state are you in now?' Craig is a smart guy and they started asking him questions and he came up to me and said, ‘They weren't questions I could answer when I was normal in the head.' They were asking him to count backwards from 100 by sevens and spelling words backwards and things like that. It's like they had to go above the learning curve to make sure his concussion was legit."

Against MSU, Krenzel proved once again how mobile he can be. Not just rushing the ball, but throwing on the run.

"I think he does play his best under a lot of pressure," Hartsock said. "The ability to move out of the pocket and throw the ball on the run like that is something that a lot of quarterbacks can't do and it's maybe easily overlooked. But, the guys on the team really see that and know he played well."

Michigan State came into the game leading the Big Ten in sacks, but the Buckeyes were able to neutralize the Spartan pass rushers for the most part.

"We didn't run as much of that empty backfield," Hartsock said. "I'm not really sure, but I think they got us a couple times in a row on the empty backfield stuff and we didn't run that quite as much. I think it just got down to a point of knowing the assignments and executing. I think the big guys up front really took it upon themselves to execute that and they did."

Led by tailback Lydell Ross and an ever-improving offensive line, the running game got stronger and stronger as the game went on.

"I don't know why we were more effective in the second half," Hartsock said. "I don't think we ran any different formations and I don't think we had any different personnel in, it's just maybe their adjustments weren't quite as good as they should have been. Or, maybe they should have stayed with what they had the previous half.

"I know we came out in the second half fired up. The past couple weeks, we've been able to come out in the second half and have good drives and really start things quick and get on top of them. That really sets the tone for the rest of the game and anytime you're able to do that, that really helps things out and keeps things moving."

It seemed like OSU's O-line was getting a better push against MSU's defensive line in the second half. The Bucks were able to wear out the Spartans a little bit.

"I think anytime you're going to go up against our offensive line, you're going to get worn down," Hartsock said. "We've got 320, 330-pounders across the board and it's hard to be able to put up a sustained effort against those guys play, after play, after play.

"And we started using Branden Joe at tailback and he's a bruiser. Anytime he gets the ball he lowers his head and he's going to punish someone. He delivers blows.

"And the big plays. You know, when you have a big play, those linebackers have to chase things down from behind and that will get you winded quickly."

The versatile Hartsock lined up at tight end, fullback and "H" back against MSU.

"Whatever is needed that day, I guess," he said. "Hamby and I both, and Stan White's been doing some fullback stuff, but he still plays a little tight end. That whole area of fullbacks and tight ends and slot backs, they're all kind of the same kind of people. You've got to be able to everything that everybody can do on that. So, it was a good day for us."

One of the reasons the Buckeye offense was so successful was the fact that it cut down on mistakes. It had less turnovers and penalties than usual.

"That was huge," Hartsock said. "Only one turnover – that's something we still need to work on though – and far fewer penalties. That was huge. To have a drive not get killed by a stupid penalty – a hold, or a false start – is huge. And they (MSU) had tons of them."

For OSU's seniors, they have just one more game at Ohio Stadium. As Hartsock was going through pre-game preparations for Michigan State, it kind of hit him.

"Everything I went through (Saturday), I was thinking, ‘There's only one more chance to do this. One more walk through the skull session, one more walk over to the stadium, one more time running out on the field.' It's in the back of your mind and you start to wonder and feel how lucky you are to be here and how you want to finish on a good note."

After being told of Miami's loss to Tennessee, Hartsock was asked about the BCS. Keep in mind, we were still a few hours away from losses from Florida State and Virginia Tech.

"It's something that's going to be in the back of your mind," he said. "You're going to look at the poll and wonder about it, but we still have Purdue and Michigan and those are going to be the two toughest games we're going to have to face this year. So, it's totally cliché, but we have to take care of what we have to take care of and just hope things work out. It's lining up pretty good right now. If a couple more things go our way, stranger things have happened in college football. But, we can't let ourselves become overly concerned about that right now."

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