Youth Served As Buckeyes Dismantle NU

Quartet of young players -- Justin Zwick and Ira Guilford on offense and Marcus Green and Donte Whitner on defense -- come up big as Buckeyes roll over Northwestern in Big Ten opener.

Ohio State's 20-0 win over Northwestern in Saturday's Big Ten opener afforded head coach Jim Tressel a chance to get a number of young players some appreciable playing time.

Redshirt freshmen Marcus Green and Quinn Pitcock each made their first career starts at defensive tackle, while starter Darrion Scott was sidelined with an injury. Redshirt freshman Justin Zwick got his first appreciable playing time at quarterback, while true freshmen Ira Guilford, a tailback, and Donte Whitner, a safety, also saw a great deal of time.

"I think any Big Ten experience you get is a good one," Tressel said. "We all know that the remaining seven games that we're going to need the whole crew. You don't know who's going to stay healthy the whole year. You don't know who is going to be called on in the heat of battle in the fourth quarter sometime."

Here is how some of these youngsters fared on Saturday:

* Justin Zwick -- Zwick relieved quarterback Scott McMullen, who started in place of the injured Craig Krenzel, in the first quarter with OSU ahead 10-0. He completed his first career attempt with a 4-yard swing pass to Maurice Hall.

"It was exciting," said Zwick, who ended up 3 of 7 for 20 yards. "Coach Tressel told me about one play before I was going in that I was going in. I just went and grabbed my helmet. I was really worried about getting the snap. I was worried about fumbling it.

"He told me on third down, `If they punt, you're going on.' So I just went and tried to stretch out. I was just there giving some dummy calls with Craig (Krenzzel). It caught me off-guard.

"I just wanted to get in there and stay calm, like in practice. That's really what you need to do. You have to take it like a practice situation -- get the snap, make the read and lead the offense. You always want to be in there when it matters. It‘s fun to get in at the end of the game, but you still think as an athlete and as a competitor that you want to get in and be a factor in the outcome of the game. We didn‘t really put any points on the board while I was in there as a quarterback, but it was fun to be in there with the guys and get some experience."

Zwick's day was marked by the one big pass he didn't complete. In the fourth quarter, he had tight end Louis Irizarry wide open down the right sideline for what have been a 47-yard touchdown. But the ball glanced off Irizarry's hands incomplete.

"Ahh, I already got on him before I left (the locker room)," Zwick said. "Louis is a great young athlete. I don't know what I would have done in the same situation. You see the ball coming and you're wide open. It's tough. He'll have that and we'll go from there.

"I don't think they were ready for him to go downfield like that. We were just trying to stretch the field with four wide receivers. That was a surprise that he was wide open like that. I just put the ball out there. He didn't come up with it, but that was all right. I was there last year making dumb plays like he did."

Zwick took several snaps, but did not throw a pass in the season opener against Washington. He was happy to have his first prolonged stint.

"I had great protection when we were throwing the ball," he said. "You can't be unhappy when you get a chance to play in front of all of these people."

Tressel also assessed Zwick's play.

"I thought he had some good throws," Tressel said. "I think the one down the sidelines, I think Louis was a little off-balance as he was going. But if we had completed that one, that would have been a big one. I thought he threw a couple nice squares or curls in there, made a good decision, dumped one off to Mo Hall."

* Ira Guilford -- The freshman logged eight carries for 29 yards, with a long carry of 15 yards. He had not played since getting 2 yards on five carries in the opener against Washington.

"It was good to go out and get some carries," Guilford said. "I was pretty much relaxed. I got the jitters out in the first game. I was not too nervous. I just wanted to hold on to the football and do what I can do."

Guilford, a 2,000-yard rusher last year at Hoboken (N.J.) High School, was recruited as a defensive back. But a lack of tailbacks led him to begin his OSU career on offense.

"I had a lot of success last year in high school as a running back," he said. "If I go to defense, then I'll be a DB. But I just came here to play football."

* Marcus Green -- Green subbed in for Scott, sidelined with an ankle injury. He did well with a career-high seven tackles and a fumble forced.

"I'm really excited about that," Green said. "I took it as an opportunity. Darrion is a great player and a hard guy to replace.

"It was exciting. They said it was our first shutout since 1998. I'm really excited that we played well. Hopefully, we can go back out in two weeks and get another one."

* Donte Whitner -- Whitner was one of the key signees in last year's recruiting class. He enrolled early and won a spot in the two-deep in the spring. But a hamstring injury kept him out of practice in the preseason and relegated him to a reserve role.

But he was on the field for as many as 30 plays or more as the nickel back against NU.

"It was exciting for me to be out there early," Whitner said. "That was one of the reasons I came to Ohio State, to be on the field early. I'm just living out a dream right now.

"My first week of camp, I had a great week. Then, at the start of the next week, I hurt my hamstring and strained it. That set me back. I feel I would have played a lot more in the first four games. But I know the defense pretty well and that's why I'm getting in there now.

"I was working with the first-team nickel at the end of spring, but then I got hurt. I probably missed two weeks of the preseason. It was very frustrating when you know you're probably going to be on the field early and contributing to the team. We have seven games and I'm taking it day by day. If I practice well, I should get to play.

"The main thing I got out of today was proper preparation prevents poor performance. If you practice hard all week and watch film, game day is a piece of cake."

Whitner made one of the key plays of the game for the OSU defense. Cornerback Chris Gamble whiffed on a tackle of an NU receiver while going for a strip. Whitner converged and kept the play from going for big yardage by making the stop.

"I have to make those plays," he said. "When he went for the strip, I knew what he was going for and there was a chance he would break off. I knew I had to be there to make that play."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories