Sunday Morning QB: What Was That?

This is our weekly look at Ohio State as well as the rest of the Big Ten and college football. In this edition, we look at a win that didn't feel like a win, Craig Krenzel's performance, the running game (or lack thereof -- again), the Alex Stepanovich injury that never should have happened, the rotation at middle linebacker and more.

Welcome to Sunday Morning Quarterback, a column I intend to stand each week as a quick read of news, notes and opinion on Ohio State's weekly game as well as the Big Ten and the college football nation at large.

Here are a number of thoughts I have stored up after Saturday‘s game with San Diego State:

* Where to begin?

Well, it looked like an Ohio State home game and it smelled like an Ohio State game. Yeah, they won and they did sing the alma mater after the game. Other than that, it felt a lot like 1987 or 1988 or 2001. It certainly did not look like 2002.

Scratch that, a redcoat I ran into said it did look like 2002.

"What's the big deal? They won four or five games like that last year," the wizened redcoat of many OSU seasons reasoned.

But then the guy next to me added: "But they never won like that at home."

Then, the guy next to him chimed in: "And they didn't do it against a team as bad as this."

Bad, of course, is a relative term. Let's just call what we saw downtown at the stadium Saturday -- on a Chamber of Commerce Day, otherwise -- as a style clash.

Jim Tressel's body language said it all. He was there signing the alma mater with everybody after the game. He did the "O-HI-O" part at the end and was practically halfway up the tunnel before he'd finished the last "O".

"You are always concerned going into a game, especially with this scenario," Tressel said. "We spent the whole off-season and everybody was telling us we were wonderful. We came out and won our first game and it was human nature. The wonderful stuff continued."

San Diego State gave OSU's next 10 opponents a textbook on how to stay in a game with the Buckeyes. The Aztecs did a great job of bottling up OSU's receivers, leaving Craig Krenzel staring at a whole lot of nothing. They also did a great job of containing the OSU running game.

Of course, a lot of the teams OSU will play the rest of the way will not have the same caliber of corners. I dare say that Jeff Shoate and Jacob Eliminian could play for a lot of teams across this great land.

This was not OSU's finest hour. In fact, I have to go back to the UCLA game of 2001 almost two full years ago to find a game where the Buckeyes played this poorly, at least on the offensive side of the ball.

A nail-biter win over San Diego State, a robust 4-9 a year ago, was not what anybody had in mind.

"It was discouraging today," tight end Ben Hartsock told WBNS-AM's Ian Fitzsimmons after the game. "Yeah, we sang Carmen Ohio, but nobody wants to win games this way and give everybody heart attacks. We know we need to be more dominating."

Offensive guard Adrien Clarke, speaking after the game, added, "There was a sense of relief, but also a sense of disappointment. San Diego State, let's take our hats off to them. They played a good game."

It did get a little scary there for just a moment or two. San Diego State had a first down at the OSU 46 with about three minutes left. They were one or two nice pass plays away from putting kicker J.C. Mejia, who had already made a 46-yard field goal, in position to force the game into overtime. But the OSU defense stiffened and did not surrender another yard.

"They knew the game was tight," said defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio. "We've been able to succeed when the game was tight. That is a credit to the character of our players."

* What a difference a week makes. A week ago, I was touting quarterback Craig Krenzel as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. Today, after a rough showing against San Diego State you wonder if this is the same steady guy who led the Buckeyes to the national championship.

Krenzel just never got comfortable against the Aztecs. Other than his third-down completion to Michael Jenkins to ice the game, his best pass all day was the interception he threw to Eliminian. He hit the SDSU corner right in the numbers with that one.

Maybe chalk it up to the Sports Illustrated jinx: Krenzel was on the cover for the third time overall and second time in four weeks.

He was asked afterwards if OSU was fortunate to escape its own massive stadium with the win.

"I don't know if fortunate is the word," Krenzel said. "We knew we were playing a good football team. They did a good job of breaking on the ball. It was a little bit of their scheme and our lack of execution. But great teams have to find a way to win ugly. We say every week we want to take a step forward. I think this was a step backward from the first week. So now we need to take two steps forward this week."

Krenzel's body language was telling as well: His shoulders slumped, almost in relief, after he got that last sentiment out.

Later he added, "I'm not leaving here dazed or mad or upset. Obviously, I know I didn't play well. The most important thing is we have to prepare to play another very good football team next week."

In Krenzel's defense, I think it was hard for him to get into any kind of rhythm. Because of the penalties and all of the incomplete passes, the first quarter lasted 52 minutes. In terms of clock time, OSU had the ball for just five minutes, 53 seconds in the first quarter.

Over the last 9:54 of the first quarter, San Diego State ran 14 offensive plays to OSU's three -- and none of those three were a pass. Included in that sequence, of course, was safety Will Allen's interception return for a touchdown, which put the SDSU offense back out on the field.

When you look at this way, you see that Krenzel may have gone as long as 45 minutes of "real time" before he attempted a pass early in the second quarter.

The smart money is on this guy getting his act together sooner rather than later.

And that's good, because I think every OSU opponent from here on out will load up to stop the run and dare Krenzel to try and beat them with the pass.

* Conspicuous by his absence, of course, was Maurice Clarett. After being front and center for last week's win over Washington, Clarett was nowhere to be found for the SDSU game.

Obviously, the hope is that OSU and the NCAA will resolve Clarett's status early this week and the focus can return to football. OSU athletic director Andy Geiger is holding up well under intense media scrutiny and criticism from, among others, Clarett adviser Jim Brown.

But Geiger was still taking the high road.

"I do what I think is right, I do the job I'm supposed to do," Geiger said prior to the SDSU game. "I respect other people's opinions. And I don't wish to elevate or denigrate or do anything else with any of those things. I just stand up, take the heat, and that's what's expected."

The Buckeyes could have certainly used Clarett on the field. Maurice Hall broke one 33-yard run, but was largely bottled up by the Aztecs. Lydell Ross, bothered by a foot injury, finished with 16 yards on seven carries.

Afterwards, reporters asked Tressel point blank if his team missed Clarett's ability to break tackles and get extra yardage.

"A year ago, we had the luxury of three experienced guys down the stretch," Tressel said. "I tip my hat to Mo Hall because he carried the burden when things weren't going great. It wasn't the time to maybe ease Ira Guilford into the fold more because it just wasn't the proper situation that you wanted to do that. But obviously when you've had two less of the three you've had in the past, obviously, the answer's yes."

But a reporter, sensing Tressel did not want to discuss Clarett, pressed the matter further. The reporter asked: "Does Maurice Clarett give you a tackle breaking dimension for that one guy that comes free that your other backs don't have?"

Tressel, clearly peeved, simply said, "I don't know."

Clarett's teammates also seem to be tired of the questions.

"It's getting a little repetitive and a little redundant," said safety Will Allen. "We know the questions are going to come. We just have to deal with it. Our team is preparing to play without him. He was part of our team last year and he made some plays when we needed it. But we've got a lot of games left and we've got other guys in there. We have to go with what we've got."

Offensive guard Adrien Clarke admitted he would like to have Clarett back, but he said the Buckeyes must move on.

"Maurice has his own battle to fight right now," he said. "Our thing now is winning games. I don't think we're struggling with the running game. We're developing it right now. We have a great player who is not playing for us, but we have two great backs that can step up as well."

* Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman looked like somebody had shot his dog in the postgame interviews.

The exhausted Bollman came into the room and sat down on a window ledge to share his perspective on what happened -- more appropriately, did not happen -- for the offense.

"I don't have an answer for you," Bollman admitted. "We've got to take a look and start over and get it fixed. We need to feel lucky that we came out of here today with a win."

* One of the raging questions surrounding this team has been the middle linebacker spot, where Fred Pagac Jr. and Mike D'Andrea are splitting time. Dantonio was asked about the linebacker rotation.

"We go with two linebackers in the nickel (pulling the MLB)," he said. "We have rolled our Mike linebackers with Fred (Pagac Jr.) and Mike D'Andrea. We also have Bobby (Carpenter) playing Sam and Robert (Reynolds) playing Mike as well. We've got the ability to do that and those guys are playing well. We'll probably continue to do that until somebody moves ahead. We're going to give everybody opportunities, and I was happy with how those guys played. They played very hard and tackled well."

* Before the game, I heard John Fricke, formerly of CNN and now the SDSU radio guy, on the radio. He predicted that when SDSU returns to Columbus in 2005 there is no reason why they can't be on the same level as Colorado State in the Mountain West.

Of course, former SDSU (and OSU) athletic director Rick Bay sold this game to Ohio State (and denied me an all expenses paid trip to San Diego in the process) for $2.4 million. OSU then turned around and grossed $5 million or more by hosting the game.

Had the game been played in San Diego, OSU would have made about $320,000 after paying $80,000 for travel expenses.

Reporters were joking that Geiger may be inclined, after two close calls against the Aztecs in the Horseshoe over the last three seasons, to cut SDSU a check for $2.4 million just so they won't come back in 2005. (Mark your calendar now: The next OSU-SDSU classic is set for Sept. 17 of that season.)

* There was no immediate word on the severity of Alex Stepanovich's ankle injury. He suffered the injury on the final play of the first half, a play that never should have been run.

OSU got the ball back on its own 5-yard line with 1:44 left in the half. Two running plays netted 3 yards. It was clear the Buckeyes weren't going to move it down and score. They called a timeout to stop the play clock with 17 seconds left.

SDSU was out of timeouts. All Ohio State had to do was fall on the ball on the upcoming third down play and that would have ended the half.

Instead, Krenzel handed to Hall, who was swarmed under for a 2-yard loss. In the unnecessary pile-up Stepanovich suffered his ankle injury.

Then, to make matters worse, everybody -- all of his teammates and coaches -- left the field, while he was still laying there writhing in pain. Finally, a trainer spotted him.

Stepanovich, either in disgust over the injury or the circumstances surrounding it, slammed his helmet down angrily. As the band prepared -- and even began its halftime show -- Stepanovich was finally helped to the bench.

Things like this are not supposed to happen at a football program like Ohio State.

* That was one of the worst officiated games I have ever seen. And that's hard to imagine because the referee, Jim Lapetina, and I assume the rest of that crew, did a fine job on last year's Michigan game.

For starters, they seemed to have a double standard. If OSU's DBs breathed on an SDSU receiver, a flag was thrown. But OSU receivers on at least two occasions (Michael Jenkins on a stop-and-go down the SDSU sideline and Drew Carter on a go route in the end zone) were clearly held and no flag was thrown.

Then, you had the umpire throw a flag on an SDSU lineman for wrestling Will Smith to the ground, then pick it up and wave it off. Then, you had the back judge throw a flag for a chop block on OSU, then pick it up and wave it off. Did you see a penalty or not?

Then, you had Lapetina calling roughing the punter on Carter, who was guided into the punter by an SDSU blocker.

And, the topper of it all was, the flag thrown six seconds late in the end zone, where Jenkins was clearly being held again. After a powwow, the official who threw just one flag ruled holding on SDSU and pass interference on OSU. Excuse me, once the receiver has been held, what do you expect him to do? Doesn't that taint the play? Maybe the two penalties were separate from each other, but that made no sense, either.

Now, for around the Big Ten:

* The weekend of Sept. 6 will not be one that followers of Big Ten football will look back on fondly. Ohio State barely beat a second-division Mountain West team on its own field. Penn State looked lost at home against Boston College. Purdue dropped a home game to Bowling Green. Northwestern fell to Air Force and Indiana lost at Washington after being tied at halftime.

* Iowa dealt Buffalo a 56-7 defeat. Buffalo has the nation's longest losing streak at 12 straight.

* Penn State was done in by a former player, Horace Dodd, who transferred to BC after he spent 2000 on defense and special teams. He got to score a touchdown as a running back in Beaver Stadium for the Golden Eagles, though, in a 27-14 win. That touchdown was set up by an interception of PSU QB Zack Mills. The murmurs must already be under way in Happy Valley about Joe Paterno.

How bad is Penn State? Temple, which stayed with PSU a week ago, lost to Division I-AA Villanova in overtime this week.

And Florida State's Bobby Bowden is closing on in JoePa's career wins record, too. Egads.

* Bowling Green got its first win over ranked opponent since 1972 with its 27-26 win at Purdue. Ironically, Purdue was the ranked team BG beat 31 years ago as well. QB Josh Harris' 32-yard scoring strike to Charles Sharon with 2:08 left lifted the Falcons to the win.

"If Josh Harris isn't a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, I don't know who is," said BG coach Gregg Brandon.

I'm sure the OSU reserves, reading that are saying to themselves, "Great, here's another guy who will keep me from getting on the field in two weeks."

* Michigan's Chris Perry had 184 yards and two touchdowns in an easy 50-3 rout of Houston. The Wolverines have outscored their first two opponents 95-10. Notre Dame is next, though.

* Wisconsin also put up some big numbers. Lee Evans had 214 yards receiving and Anthony Davis had 247 yards rushing as the Badgers downed Akron 48-31. It was the first time in the 114-year history of UW football that the Badgers had a running back and receiver eclipse the 200-yard mark in the same game. Jim Sorgi hit Evans with a school-record 99-yard TD pass. He must be healthy.

Akron's Charlie Frye was 31 of 49 for 372 yards and a touchdown for the Zips.

* Indiana has now traveled close to 4,000 miles with road trips to Connecticut and Washington and only has two lopsided losses to show for it.

* Northwestern QB Brett Basanez threw four picks in a 22-21 loss to Air Force.

* Michigan State QB Jeff Smoker kept it going with 351 yards and three TDs in a 44-28 win over Rutgers.

Now, on to the nation at large:

* I think we have our first ESPN "Instant Classic" of the young season. Last night's 38-33 come-from-behind victory by Miami (Fla.) over Florida at the Orange Bowl will go down as one of the top games of this or any other season.

That was clearly the Game of the Week.

Brock Berlin threw for 340 yards and two TDs as the Canes rallied from a 33-10 deficit to post the win. Of course, Berlin was going against his former teammates at Florida.

"I can't explain it," said Berlin, who threw the ball high at the final gun then turned and did a mock Gator chomp at the Florida crowd. "My emotions are just sailing right now."

The Canes benefited from the most timely TV timeout in college football history. As Miami was driving for the winning touchdown, which turned out to be a Frank Gore 12-yard run, Berlin went down with cramps after rushing for a first down on fourth-and-1. Miami called timeout. Luckily, ABC needed a commercial, so Berlin got extra time to work out the cramp and was ready to go when the ball was marked for play.

A pair of Ohio guys got into the act for Florida. Whitehall product Keiwan Ratliff returned an errant Berlin lateral for a touchdown, while former Cincinnati Wyoming star DeShawn Wynn (wouldn't he look good in Scarlet and Gray right now?) ripped off a 65-yard TD run.

* N.C. State's 38-24 loss at Wake Forest is reminiscent, at least to me, of what happened in 1995. Everybody was pointing to the Ohio State-Notre Dame game that year. But the Irish dropped their opener to Northwestern 17-15.

The Demon Deacons jumped on N.C. State for a 28-3 lead before a "crowd" of 35,741, the third largest in Groves Stadium history. Nobody could remember the last time ABC broadcasted a game from there.

In defeat, N.C. State's Philip Rivers completed 38 of 49 passes for 433 yards. He had three touchdowns against two interceptions.

"There are no excuses," said N.C. State coach Chuck Amato. "That team you can still hear celebrating gave us as good a butt-whipping as any team we've played."

* In one of the wildest games of the week, Notre Dame fell behind Washington State 19-3 at halftime, rallied to take a 26-19 lead late before prevailing 29-26 in overtime. ND won on a 40-yard Nick Setta field goal. Setta kicked five field goals for the Irish.

"We're lucky," said ND coach Tyrone Willingham. "We're fortunate."

WSU had 14 penalties for 118 yards in Bill Doba's debut as head coach.

* Auburn fell to 0-2 after a 17-3 loss at Georgia Tech, where they tore down the goal posts at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Freshman QB Reggie Ball threw for one TD and set up two others. Ball had been recruited by Auburn before his scholarship offer was pulled. Sounds like a big mistake by Tommy Tuberville, whose seat must be feeling really hot about right now.

That's two games with one field goal and no touchdowns for the Tigers.

* Colorado spoiled the head coaching debut of UCLA's Karl Dorrell, a former Buffs assistant, by rallying for a 16-14 win at Boulder.

* Top-ranked Oklahoma rode its stellar defense to a 20-13 win at Alabama, marking the first time a No. 1 team had ventured to Tuscaloosa.

* Syracuse's Walter Reyes (wouldn't this Struthers standout look good in Scarlet and Gray, too?) had 191 yards and three TDs and scored on a two-point conversion in the third OT to help the Orangemen down North Carolina 49-47.

* It was weird to see deposed Alabama coach on ESPN, adding some analysis on both the Washington State and Alabama defeats. Weird indeed.

* Florida State fell behind visiting Maryland 10-0 before roaring to a 35-10 win, marking the first time for consecutive losses for the Terps under Ralph Friedgen.

* My new top 10: Oklahoma, Miami (Fla.), OSU (accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative), Michigan, USC, Florida State (quietly going to have a nice year), Texas, Kansas State (plays nothing and nobody until a visit to Texas in a few weeks), Georgia, Virginia Tech.

* Here are some key match-ups for next week: Toledo visits Marshall Friday night in a key MAC game. Then, on Saturday, Arkansas at Texas (former Southwest rivals lock up), Purdue at Wake Forest, Iowa at Iowa State, Notre Dame at Michigan (always a classic), Illinois at UCLA (both need a win bad) and Penn State at Nebraska (I sense revenge), South Carolina at Georgia (key SEC match-up) and Georgia Tech at Florida State.

* We will wrap up each week with a look at how OSU's opponents fared and check out who they face next week.

Date (Time, TV), Opponent (Record), This Week's Result, Next Week's Game

Aug. 30 (8 p.m., ABC), Washington (1-1), beat Indiana 38-13; idle, Sept. 13; vs. Idaho, Sept. 20

Sept. 6 (12:10 p.m., ESPN-Plus Local), San Diego State (1-1), lost to Ohio State 16-13; at UTEP, Sept. 13

Sept. 13 (noon, ABC), N.C. State (1-1), lost to Wake Forest 38-24; at Ohio State, Sept. 13

Sept. 20 (12:10 p.m., ESPN-Plus Local), Bowling Green (2-0), beat Purdue 27-26; vs. Liberty, Sept. 13

Sept. 27 (TBA), Northwestern (1-1), lost to Air Force 22-21; vs. Miami (Ohio), Sept. 13

Oct. 11 (9 p.m., ESPN), at Wisconsin (2-0), beat Akron 48-31; vs. UNLV, Sept. 13

Oct. 18 (3:30 p.m., ABC), Iowa (2-0), beat Buffalo 56-7; at Iowa State, Sept. 13

Oct. 25 (TBA), at Indiana (0-2), lost to Washington 38-13; vs. Indiana State, Sept. 13

Nov. 1 (TBA), at Penn State (1-1), lost to Boston College 27-14; at Nebraska, Sept. 13

Nov. 8 (TBA), Michigan State (2-0), beat Rutgers 44-28; vs. Louisiana Tech, Sept. 13

Nov. 15 (TBA), Purdue (0-1), lost to Bowling Green 27-26; at Wake Forest, Sept. 13

Nov. 22 (noon, ABC), at Michigan (2-0), beat Houston 50-3; vs. Notre Dame, Sept. 13

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