Here are a number of thoughts I have stored up after Saturday‘s game with N.C. State:
* I'm driving home after another ESPN Instant Classic -- we have our game of the week right here in Columbus, by the way -- and I hear the usual sentiments.
"We can't run the ball … who's calling the plays … this offense stinks … they need a tailback … this offensive line is terrible … I like the defense, but what happened today? … Dustin Fox can't play corner … Chris Gamble can't play corner … why was Holmes returning that punt? … thank God for A.J. Hawk … blah, blah, blah."
You get the picture. We had just witnessed one of the great finishes in the 82-year history of Ohio Stadium, and everybody is caught up in what went wrong. But at least one person I talked to last night echoed this sentiment, "They won, enjoy it. I'm not going to blast them until they lose."
Granted, Ohio State should have put that game on ice after Craig Krenzel scored to put the Buckeyes up 24-7 with 11:25 left. But they left just enough of a crack in the door for sure Heisman finalist Philip Rivers to walk right in and make himself at home.
What happened next was one of the most heart pounding, frenetic finishes in the history of the old Gray Lady on the banks of the Olentangy.
Ohio Stadium is a special place, and that was proved again yesterday with a game that would wear well in any generation, certainly.
Ohio State won that game on the backs of people like Chic Harley, Esco Sarkinnen, Hop Cassady, Les Horvath, Vic Janowicz, Jim Stillwagon, Chris Spielman, Bill Willis, Jim Parker, Orlando Pace, Archie Griffin, John Hicks and hundreds of others who helped make Ohio State football what it is today.
That was Ohio State football, not Pittsburgh football or Wake Forest football or Kansas State football or any other Johnny-come-lately program.
The crowd and, as Jim Tressel would say, that band helped will the Buckeyes to victory.
There were two moments, above all others, that stood out for me.
When N.C. State scored to go up 38-31 in the "top" of the second overtime, the band launched into one of the loudest and brashest renditions of "Buckeye Battle Cry" I think I've ever heard. The sentiment was "OK, you scored, well we're going to tie the game in just a minute because we're Ohio State."
Then, when this four hour, 17 minute classic was over and the stunned Wolfpack players and coaches headed for the southwest ramp, they were serenaded with a standing ovation -- something you rarely see the OSU faithful do for a visiting team.
Yeah, I agree, they should have won easily. And, yeah, they are giving everybody a heart attack. But you have to agree with me that Ohio Stadium has been and continues to be a special place.
OSU is now 3-0 in overtime games, showing the Buckeyes are capable of going that extra mile when they have to.
"The college overtime, I think, is extraordinary," Tressel said. "It's great football."
But, while I've chosen to dwell on the spectacle we saw Saturday, Tressel admitted his team remains a work in progress.
"I feel good about our team, certainly," Tressel said. "I also know that we've got a lot to do to become a very, very good team. We have some goals and to have the chance to reach any of those goals, we've got a lot of work to do. But our guys are willing to do it. No one's going to walk out of Ohio Stadium today saying, `You know, everything's perfect and everything's wonderful.'
"But I feel good about they played and we're going to go back to work on Monday."
* Well, obviously, one of the things Ohio State will be working on is the running game.
Things have gone from bad to worse for the OSU running game. The Buckeyes ended up with just 44 yards on 32 carries.
I think some things are notable here before we throw out the baby with the bath water.
First, the Buckeyes missed All-American candidate Alex Stepanovich's presence at center. Nick Mangold filled in and I didn't notice any snap problems. Maybe he'll be an A-A candidate one day, but Stepanovich is one today. I have to think if he'd been in there, it would have helped a little.
Second, OSU did rip off another big run with Maurice Hall, a 30-yarder that would have helped put the game away with eight minutes to go in the game. But, alas, the officials threw a flag for holding -- the second time this year Hall has had a run of at least 30 yards wiped out by a hold -- and the Buckeyes turned the ball over on a bad Krenzel interception moments later.
Third, I had a firm belief that OSU would be able to run right at N.C. State. That's what Wake Forest did with much success. But it seemed like every time OSU tried to run inside, a free defender was standing there in the hole, waiting on Hall. Maybe the Wolfpack schemed differently against OSU than it did against Wake.
Fourth, I don't think Lydell Ross is fully healthy yet. He only had four carries, all of them near the goal line. I think if they can get him healthy, he will add the power component. That would certainly help.
Add it all up and I think OSU is back to the drawing board with the running game. Kirk Herbstreit made the point late Saturday on ESPN that Robert Smith and Eddie George wouldn't get much yardage behind this line. How have they gone from so good last year to so poor this season? Does Maurice Clarett make this big of a difference?
Lots of questions and not too many answers. I'm sure Jim Bollman is pulling the rest of his hair out as we speak.
* It was certainly a blessing that Krenzel rebounded from his career worst performance against San Diego State and played one of his best games against N.C. State. Yes, he threw three interceptions. But you can scratch two of those -- the first one was the same as a punt, a 40-yard pass down the sideline on third-and-long, while his second one was the Hail Mary to the end zone on the final play of the first half.
I'm not exactly sure what he was thinking with the pick he under threw in Michael Jenkins' direction in the fourth quarter. He may have been under some heavy pressure and not seen the defender, perhaps.
But look at what Krenzel did in OT: He accounted for all 75 of OSU's yards in the overtime, 70 passing (on a 10-of-12 effort) and 5 rushing.
The victory makes him 18-1 all-time as a starter, 18-0 if you discount that Outback Bowl against South Carolina where Steve Bellisari went most of the way. That mark includes eight wins over ranked teams, including two over Michigan.
He deftly found tight ends Ben Hartsock and Ryan Hamby for the first two TDs in overtime. Then, his rifle shot to Jenkins that stood up as the game winner, was one of the best throws I've seen him make. He threaded the needle between two defenders to hit Jenkins, who got smacked around pretty hard and held on.
"That kid (Krenzel) is a winner," N.C. State coach Chuck Amato said, "just like Philip Rivers is a winner for our team."
* That brings us to Rivers, who is the genuine article and a surefire 10- or 12-year NFL starting quarterback. He is big (6-5, 230) and possesses great pocket presence, command of the offense and an absolute cannon for an arm.
Why does that offense work? Because Rivers puts the ball on those receivers' fingertips, where they can quickly move up field and make big things happen. That offense is a team effort, certainly, but he makes it really go.
Ohio State held that team to 336 yards total offense, including 74 in the overtimes. I would say that may be the fewest yards N.C. State will accumulate this year. They are going to give ACC opponents fits all year long.
I am inclined for giving the OSU defense credit. They made plays and put the offense in position to put the game away for 3-½ quarters. Then, after the Pack had scored on five straight possessions, they stood tall at the end with Hawk and Will Allen turning T.A. McLendon back a foot from the goal line.
The teams exchanged hugs after the final play. Allen made an effort to seek out Rivers.
"I said, `You're a great competitor, keep playing hard and I hope to see you at the next level,' " Allen said. "He's one of the best quarterbacks I've ever played against. I would compare him almost to a Drew Brees."
* I'm sure OSU fans everywhere were laughing when former OSU recruits Tramain Hall and Richard Washington had that little mix-up on the kick return, leading to Allen's recovery and an OSU touchdown that put the Buckeyes up 14-0.
(By the way, did you notice how neither one of them were back on the next one. College football coaches are nothing if they aren't consistent.)
But those two guys are still nice weapons, aren't they. They would look good at Scarlet and Gray, particularly Hall because he can run and catch.
As I walked back to the press box after the game, I overheard an OSU wide receiver who does not get into the games say to a friend of his on the N.C. State team, "They rotate those receivers in and out, don't they?"
Tressel always remarks that the best schemes in football are usually stolen from other coaches. I hope he and his offensive assistants will spend a spare hour taking notes on how that N.C. State offense conducts itself. It certainly would not be wasted time. They made that game into a root canal for the OSU defense.
* I said this last week and I'm afraid I have to repeat it this week: That was one of the worst officiated games I have ever seen. There seemed to be some bias because that was an ACC crew assigned to cover the game.
Again, we had a double standard on pass interference. Two such calls on Fox were absolutely ridiculous: Once he came around the receiver and clearly got a clean bat, then, as everybody knows, the play where Darrion Scott clubbed Rivers and sent the ball up in the air was a total joke. That was not a catchable ball and, if that standard didn‘t apply, you could argue that Scott perhaps tipped it, negating interference downfield.
I know, they were bad both ways. Brandon Mitchell did not have an interception, but Santonio Holmes didn't fumble that punt return, either. (By the way, why was Holmes fielding the punt anyway? A 17-point lead against Rivers with 10 minutes left is not enough. Season Holmes on punts some other time. If Gamble was available, he should have been back there.)
The whole world saw Krenzel go on the field and scream at the official who called the Holmes fumble. Jenkins also called out an official in the third overtime for not calling pass interference on an NCSU defender. He angrily pointed to the north end zone, where the officials had all but awarded the Wolfpack a touchdown after repeated interference calls.
In both cases, the OSU captains were lucky they weren't flagged for a personal foul.
It seemed every time NCSU needed a call, it got it.
The Buckeyes are lucky, however, that those same officials had the character to call the final play correctly. It took them about eight seconds to get it right, but they did get it right. It looked like the head linesman (coming from the NCSU sideline) was sure McLendon had not scored and he was trying to convince the line judge of the same.
* I am not abandoning Ohio State by any means. But after watching Michigan annihilate Notre Dame, I'm wondering what might happen if both teams run the table until they meet Nov. 22 in Ann Arbor.
If that happens and they are both 11-0 going into that game, it would be my feeling that both teams would be guaranteed BCS berths. The winner would obviously go to the Sugar Bowl and play for the national championship. The Rose Bowl, especially after what happened with Iowa last year, would step in and grab the loser.
I know everybody has their sights set on New Orleans. But Pasadena would be a good consolation prize for whichever of these great teams comes out on the losing end in Ann Arbor.
Of course, there are eight other games to be played before that scenario would come into play.
Now, for around the Big Ten:
* Nine of the last 11 Notre Dame-Michigan games were decided by a touchdown or less. But this year's rendition of this annual classic was over early as UM grabbed a 17-0 lead and cruised to a way too easy 38-0 victory. It was the most lopsided win in the history of the rivalry.
Tailback Chris Perry had 133 yards and three touchdowns rushing and another receiving, while ND was held to just 140 yards total offense. The shutout was UM‘s first against ND since a 23-0 win in 1902. The 38-point loss was ND‘s worst since a 58-7 pasting by Miami (Fla.) in 1985.
"In a way, I'm shocked," Perry said. "In another way, it's expected. We're on a mission."
UM has now outscored its three opponents 133-10, making the Wolverines the early favorite for the scoring defense title this year. Look out below (Toledo).
* Wisconsin, ranked 14th, had not lost at home with this high of a ranking since a 1959 loss, when the seventh-ranked Badgers fell to Illinois 9-6. But Nevada-Las Vegas capitalized on a number of UW mistakes and cruised to an easy 23-5 win in Madison. The Badgers failed to score a touchdown in a game at Camp Randall Stadium for the first time since a 3-3 tie with Illinois in 1995.
UW tailback Anthony Davis suffered a sprained ankle on his team's second series and was lost for the game. QB Jim Sorgi was sacked eight times.
UNLV's Jamaal Brimmer had quite a performance with a fumble return for a score, two interceptions, two sacks and a game-high 11 tackles. I think they can close the balloting for Mountain West defensive player of the week.
* Louisiana Tech stunned Michigan State 20-19 as Luke McCown torched the Spartans for 436 yards, including the game-winning TD on an 11-yard pass to D.J. Curry with two seconds left. LaTech, a WAC team if anybody cares, recovered an onside kick in the final 1:09 to set up the winning score.
* Miami (Ohio), a MAC team, improved to 6-1 all-time against Northwestern with a 44-14 win over the Wildcats. Ben Roethlisberger was 28 of 37 for 353 yards and three touchdowns for the RedHawks.
* Iowa got a nice 40-21 win at in-state rival Iowa State, avenging the Hawkeyes' lone regular season loss from a year ago. It also snapped a five-game losing streak against the Cyclones.
* Purdue rebounded from a loss to Bowling Green with a 16-10 win over No. 20 Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C. Kyle Orton threw for 227 yards and a score for the Boilers. The win spoiled Wake‘s first game as a ranked team since 1993.
* Ohio U. welcomed a Big Ten team for the first time ever in Athens, but Minnesota had no problem with the Bobcats, posting a 42-20 win before a crowd of 20,227 at Peden Stadium.
* Nebraska avenged a 40-7 loss at Penn State last year with an 18-10 win over the Nittany Lions in Lincoln. Nebraska, which threw just six passes, saw Josh Davis go for 179 yards and QB Jammal Lord carry for 100 in the win. A fumbled snap by PSU quarterback Zack Mills midway through the fourth quarter led to NU's game-clinching field goal.
* Indiana ended an eight-game losing streak with a 33-3 win over Division I-AA Indiana State.
* UCLA outlasted Illinois 6-3 as John Gockman's potential game-tying 43-yard field goal sailed wide with 27 seconds left. A crowd of 51,118 watched the "action" at the Rose Bowl. That was Carl Dorrell's first win as the UCLA coach.
Now, on to the nation at large:
* Top-ranked Oklahoma downed upstart Fresno State 52-28 as QB Jason White threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns.
* Mississippi's Eli Manning stayed on the lead lap in the Heisman race after completing 22 of 26 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns in a 59-14 win over Louisiana-Monroe.
* Fourth-ranked USC won its 11th straight game with a 61-32 triumph over Hawaii.
* Miami extended the nation's longest home winning streak to 24 games with a workmanlike 38-3 win over East Carolina.
* Arkansas stunned No. 6 Texas 38-28, ending UT's 20-game home winning streak. QB Matt Jones threw for one touchdown and ran for another early in the game, then helped seal it with a 60-yard run that set up the Razorbacks‘ clinching score. The game was the first for the schools in the regular since 1991, when Arkansas left the old Southwest Conference for the SEC. Arkansas routed Texas in the 2000 Cotton Bowl.
* Cincinnati and West Virginia combined for 14 fumbles in UC's 15-13 upset win in Morgantown.
* My new top 10: Oklahoma, Miami (Fla.), OSU (two quality wins), Michigan (one great team), USC, Georgia (impressive win over South Carolina), Florida State (needed late rally vs. Georgia Tech), Kansas State (cupcakes, anyone?), Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh (cupcakes, anyone?).
* Here are some key match-ups for next week: Arizona State at Iowa, Colorado at Florida State, Miami (Ohio) at Colorado State, Tennessee at Florida, Georgia at LSU, Marshall at Kansas State, Miami (Fla.) at Boston College, Michigan at Oregon, Michigan State at Notre Dame, UCLA at Oklahoma, Pittsburgh at Toledo, Texas A&M at Virginia Tech (Thursday night), Texas Tech at N.C. 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), idle, Sept. 13; vs. Idaho, Sept. 20
Sept. 6 (12:10 p.m., ESPN-Plus Local), San Diego State (2-1), beat UTEP 34-0; vs. Samford, Sept. 20
Sept. 13 (noon, ABC), N.C. State (1-2), lost to Ohio State 44-38 (3 OT); vs. Texas Tech, Sept. 20
Sept. 20 (12:10 p.m., ESPN-Plus Local), Bowling Green (3-0), beat Liberty 62-3; at Ohio State, Sept. 20
Sept. 27 (TBA), Northwestern (1-2), lost to Miami (Ohio) 44-14; at Duke, Sept. 20
Oct. 11 (9 p.m., ESPN), at Wisconsin (2-1), lost to UNLV 23-5; vs. North Carolina, Sept. 20
Oct. 18 (3:30 p.m., ABC), Iowa (3-0), beat Iowa State 40-21; vs. Arizona State, Sept. 20
Oct. 25 (TBA), at Indiana (1-2), beat Indiana State 33-3; vs. Kentucky, Sept. 20
Nov. 1 (TBA), at Penn State (1-2), lost to Nebraska 18-10; vs. Kent State, Sept. 20
Nov. 8 (TBA), Michigan State (2-1), lost to Louisiana Tech 20-19; at Notre Dame, Sept. 20
Nov. 15 (TBA), Purdue (1-1), beat Wake Forest 16-10; vs. Arizona, Sept. 20
Nov. 22 (noon, ABC), at Michigan (3-0), beat Notre Dame 38-0; at Oregon, Sept. 20