Here are a number of thoughts I have stored up after Saturday‘s game with Northwestern:
* There are two sides to every story, so let's try and present both here (I know this is how I began this column a week ago, but the same feelings apply).
On the positive side, Ohio State's 20-0 win over Northwestern represented the most lopsided margin of victory for any team in the six games played yesterday by Big Ten schools. And three top-10 teams needed to go to overtime to settle their games. One of them, No. 3 USC, did not survive, instead dropping out of (at least for now) the national title hunt.
But OSU's win certainly didn't have many style points attached to it -- unless you count smothering defense, then OSU gets as many points as you care to award.
The glass-is-half-full-or-half-empty crowd can have a field day for the fourth straight less than impressive victory. And, ultimately, this is the last time OSU games will be judged this way this season. In 13 days, OSU plays at Wisconsin, which blistered Illinois 38-20 in its Big Ten opener Saturday night.
Either the Buckeyes will win that game and the glass will be full (regardless if the score is 6-3) or they will lose and the streak will be over and the glass will be empty.
As I suspected, OSU and coach Jim Tressel did enough to get this victory and, other than a slight knee sprain to Lydell Ross, got out of it unscathed. Afterwards, Tressel said he expects all of his team's missing starters -- Craig Krenzel, Alex Stepanovich and Darrion Scott -- to be back in the lineup for the trip to Wisconsin. It was wise, certainly, for them to sit this one out.
Many people will criticize the coach for inserting young players early and often yesterday. Like everything else, there are two sides to that debate. Leading 10-0, OSU got the ball on its own 41-yard line late in the first quarter. Tressel made the decision to put redshirt freshman Justin Zwick in the game at quarterback for his first real taste of game action.
Some will say that Tressel should have pushed down on the gas pedal, with good field position, and asked starter Scott McMullen to drive the team down and take a 17-0 lead.
But Tressel made the decision to insert Zwick and, accordingly, other young players. I don't have a problem with that decision. Everybody always gets upset when OSU fails to season these young players, particularly the quarterbacks, before their day arrives. Tressel saw a golden opportunity to get Zwick some work and he took advantage of it. Good for him (and Zwick).
I thought Zwick displayed a good pocket presence and a strong arm. His deep ball to Louis Irizarry could have been a neat 47-yard touchdown, but Irizarry could not come up with it.
That decision, while it may have denied OSU an elusive emphatic win over NU, will hopefully pay dividends down the road for the Buckeyes.
* After enjoying a breakthrough running day against Bowling Green, OSU could not sustain much success on the ground. The Buckeyes ended up with 125 yards on 35 carries -- an average of 3.6 yards per carry.
There were two telling sequences in the third quarter. First, OSU drove to a first down at the NU 3-yard line. They took a crack up the middle with Lydell Ross out of a fullhouse look with Branden Joe and Brandon Schnittker with Ross in the T formation. Ross got just 1 yard and also got hurt on the play.
Then, OSU put Joe at tailback and he, too, only could manage 1 yard. Finally, as if to throw their hands up in the air, the Buckeyes had McMullen hit Ryan Hamby on a simple crossing route for the touchdown.
The other sequence came on OSU's next possession as, facing, fourth-and-2 at the NU 37, Joe was stopped for no gain.
These short yardage failures have to be disconcerting. Then again, many seemed to be encouraged by the play of freshman Ira Guilford, who ripped off a nice 15-yard run among his eight totes.
Just as last week, OSU rotated offensive linemen. After the game, Tressel remarked that OSU was playing against a better defensive front, comparing NU to BGSU. Unfortunately, other than Indiana, everybody else on the schedule figures to have a better defensive front that NU.
* As for McMullen, I thought he might get 25 pass attempts after throwing just 18 passes in the win over Bowling Green the week before. I was dead on as McMullen was 16 of 25 for 166 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
I thought McMullen showed decent command of the offense and, largely, executed what he was asked to do. Once again, I felt the package was limited. OSU's passing game seems to consist of nothing by 7- to 15-yard routes. The longest completion on the day was 19 yards.
In my opinion, Ohio State can win some games -- and some big ones, at that -- with McMullen at quarterback. He made one bad mistake throwing back against the grain for an interception just before halftime.
The prevailing sentiment is that Krenzel will return against Wisconsin, although he would likely have some rust to shake off after not playing in the previous 28 days. Maybe he and McMullen will split time at Wisconsin. Hmmm.
I'm not going to hold the limited offense against McMullen. And, again, you won't see me complain too much about a 20-point Big Ten win, even if it was against Northwestern, which wasn't going to score a touchdown in a month of Saturdays.
* That brings us to that defense.
One of Tressel's pet sayings is, "It's an honor to be on the same field as that band."
He should amend it to, "It's an honor to be on the same field as that defense."
Guys and gals, what we saw yesterday was top shelf. That was good stuff.
Northwestern averaged 424 yards in their first four games, but left OSU -- just as so many others (besides N.C. State) have before them -- with 185 yards total offense.
We can moan all we want about the OSU offense, which I think will come together as its players get healthy and the season wears on.
But this defense is the great equalizer, especially after notching its first shutout in 62 games. Providing that the offense and special teams don't put the defense in terrible predicaments, I just don't see many opposing offenses driving 80 yards for touchdowns on that group.
I'm having a hard time coming up with anybody who is not playing well. Again, it was nice to see some young guys come up big like Nate Salley, Marcus Green, Mike Kudla, Donte Whitner, Bobby Carpenter, Quinn Pitcock and others. And, oh yeah, A.J. Hawk, who is bucking for first team All-Big Ten if he keeps this up.
They lose a lot after this season with Scott, Will Smith, Tim Anderson, Robert Reynolds, Will Allen and possibly Chris Gamble moving on at season's end. But the next wave of great young defensive players has arrived on campus.
Does anybody want to bet against Mark Dantonio if he has two weeks to prepare a defense to try and contain Wisconsin's potent offense?
* For reasons unclear, freshman Donte Whitner has apparently supplanted Brandon Mitchell as the nickel back. And, backup cornerback E.J. Underwood could be out a while after undergoing thumb surgery, Tressel said.
And, I didn't really pick up on this, but it looked like Mike Kne started the game at right tackle in place of Shane Olivea, while Quinn Pitcock opened at defensive tackle in place of Tim Anderson. No reasons were given for why the two seniors opened on the sidelines.
Now, for around the Big Ten:
* Purdue completed the Big Ten sweep of Notre Dame, following Michigan and Michigan State, by defeating the Fighting Irish 23-10 in West Lafayette. The win ended a three-year losing streak by Purdue to the Irish.
As we suspected, ND coach Tyrone Willingham threw freshman QB Brady Quinn to the dogs. He completed 29 of 59 passes for 299 yards and one touchdown. But four costly interceptions kept ND from making a meaningful late rally. I picked Purdue third (behind OSU and Michigan) in the Big Ten in Thursday's Buckeye Grove. The Boilers limited ND to 49 yards rushing. They have a defense that can get it done. Kyle Orton was a workmanlike 12 of 24 for 127 yards with two TDs for Purdue.
"Their defense made more plays than us," Willingham said. "This was a major disappointment for us."
Quinn's 59 pass attempts were the second most in ND history: Terry Hanratty threw 63 times in a 28-21 loss to Purdue in 1967. His four picks were the most for an ND quarterback since Ron Powlus in 1994.
* Losing is taking its toll on Penn State's Joe Paterno, who came on the field to argue a disputed interception by a Minnesota player in his team's 20-14 loss to the Gophers at State College.
PSU had the ball at the Minnesota 11 late in the first half when quarterback Michael Robinson, playing in place of the injured Zack Mills, threw a tipped pass with seven seconds left. The field judge originally ruled the pass incomplete. But after huddling, the officials ruled that UM's Terrance Campbell had intercepted the pass. Replays showed the ball hit the ground.
"Everyone on our sideline thought it hit the ground and was not an interception," Paterno said.
Don't look now, but Florida State's Bobby Bowden is just one win away from tying Paterno, stuck on 338 wins, for the Division I-A career wins record.
Minnesota improved to 5-0, but notched its first win over a BCS team. It was also the Gophers' third win in the last five games with PSU, which outgained Minnesota 419-321. Tailback Marion Barber III had 149 yards and a touchdown for the Gophers.
"I talked to them all week about preparing for this to come down to the last play, because that's how it was the last time," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said.
* Wisconsin continued to cruise along without tailback Anthony Davis. Dwayne Smith ran for 193 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-20 win at Illinois. Smith had 34 of Wisconsin's 63 running plays.
The Badgers built a 21-0 lead, but Illinois closed the gap to 28-20 in the third quarter. The Illini appeared close to tying the game, but had an interception return for a touchdown nullified by a roughing the passer penalty.
Before hosting OSU, Wisconsin must travel to Penn State next Saturday.
At 1-4, Illinois needs to go 5-2 the rest of the way just to avoid being shut out of the postseason for the second straight year after winning the Big Ten title outright in 2001.
* Although some view it as an upset, Michigan State walloped No. 13 Iowa 20-10 in East Lansing. They did it behind the play of resurgent quarterback Jeff Smoker, who was 28 of 44 for 218 yards. During the course of the game, Smoker established new MSU career marks for completions (478), attempts (818) and touchdown passes (48).
Smoker hit on all seven his passes on MSU's initial touchdown drive, which was capped with his 17-yard spiral to Ziehl Kavanaght.
"That first drive was a thing of beauty, certainly," said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whose team suffered its first Big Ten loss since 2001.
Iowa tailback Fred Russell had 122 yards against MSU's run defense, which was ranked third in the country coming in. But MSU recovered three Iowa fumbles to turn the game in its favor.
* The next freak at Michigan appears to be Steve Breaston. He had touchdowns on a dazzling punt return and on a catch as the Wolverines rolled to a 34-17 win over visiting Indiana.
UM turned the ball over three times in the first quarter, twice on John Navarre interceptions. But Breaston's 69-yard punt return and Jeremy LeSueur's 60-yard interception return staked the Wolverines to a 14-0 lead. IU trimmed the gap late with two touchdowns, one off a blocked punt -- the second week in a row UM has allowed that, in the final 4:16.
Breaston's punt return for a score was UM's first punt return touchdown since somebody named Charles Woodson returned one for a score against some school named Ohio State in 1997. (For some reason, I had forgotten all about that.)
"Emotionally, we were certainly not at a peak," said UM coach Lloyd Carr, whose team rebounded, somewhat, from last week‘s loss at Oregon.
Now, on to the nation at large:
* With three top-10 teams going to overtime, there is no shortage of Game of the Week candidates. But I am going with Cal's stunning 34-31 triple overtime upset of No. 3 USC as the top choice.
Tyler Fredrickson made a 38-yard field goal to end the game after Ryan Killeen, who tied it with a 33-yard field goal for the Trojans with 16 seconds left in regulation, missed a 39-yarder moments before Fredrickson's kick. The teams played three wild extra periods featuring a fumble, a blocked field goal and outstanding passing by both quarterbacks.
``The overtime was a roller coaster," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford. "It's just so great to see the look in our kids' eyes. They never have a doubt. They play their tails off for as long as it takes."
For Cal, Reggie Robertson relieved starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the third quarter and passed for 217 yards and two scores, while Adimchinobe Echemandu rushed for 147 yards in Cal's first home victory over a top-5 team since upsetting No. 4 USC 28-14 in 1975. It was Cal's first win over a team ranked as high as third since 1951.
USC quarterback Matt Leinart overcame a shaky start to go 21-of-39 for 277 yards for the Trojans, but he threw three interceptions.
``It was very disappointing,'' said USC coach Pete Carroll, who saw his team‘s 11-game winning streak (second only to OSU‘s 19-game streak) go by the wayside. "When you're on a streak, you get to thinking (losing) will never happen to you, but it can. A lot of things happened in the first half. Too many things got away from us.''
The USC defeat could mean another year where the Pac-10 gets shut out of the BCS title game. The Trojans were the conference's last unbeaten team. The Pac-10 is the only BCS league to never send a team to the title game in the BCS' five years of existence.
* My runner-up pick for Game of the Week was Arkansas' 34-31 double overtime win at Alabama. After winning at Texas two weeks ago, the Razorbacks may be for real with this win.
But, just as in the USC game, the losing team missed a makeable field goal in overtime as Alabama's Brian Bostick missed a 38-yard field goal in the first OT. Backup Chris Balseiro kicked a 19-yard field goal in the second overtime and Arkansas came back from a 21-point deficit to beat Alabama. The Razorbacks, who trailed 31-10 midway through the third quarter, tied it on Matt Jones' 3-yard touchdown pass to Richard Smith with 27 seconds to play.
Arkansas' Jimarr Gallon intercepted a pass from Brodie Croyle to open the second overtime to set up Arkansas' winning score. Cedric Cobbs led the Razorbacks with 198 yards on 36 carries.
This game was delayed one hour, three minutes due to rain and lightning in Tuscaloosa. Set for an original 3:34 p.m. Eastern start, the three hour, 42 minute game finally ended at 8:19 p.m. That's a long day at the office.
* Next on the overtime list was Tennessee's dramatic 23-20 overtime win over visiting South Carolina. James Banks caught the 4-yard game-winning touchdown pass from Casey Clausen for Tennessee. Being tied at the end of regulation is the closest the Gamecocks, now winless in 12 trips to UT since 1918, have ever come to winning in Knoxville.
* A strike by cafeteria and sanitation workers at Miami (Ohio) meant the RedHawks' annual rivalry game with Cincinnati would not be televised because the broadcast crew refused to cross the picket lines. That's too bad because a Yager Stadium sellout crowd of 27,512 saw Miami deal Cincinnati its first loss with a wild 42-37 decision.
"This is such a draining game," MU coach Terry Hoeppner said after his team won the latest renewal of the "the oldest rivalry west of the Allegheny Mountains." This was the 109th meeting (fifth-longest overall in Division I-A) and Miami extended its lead to 58-43-7.
The victor claims the victory bell, something Hoeppner said he was taking home with him.
"If you don't believe it, come over to my house," he said.
Ben Roethlisberger completed 31 of 49 passes for 377 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions for Miami, while UC's Gino Guidugli was 17 of 39 for 226 yards two touchdowns with an interception. Former OSU recruit Richard Hall had 161 yards and scored two touchdowns for UC.
* N.C. State's Philip Rivers had his fourth career 400-yard game and also ran for two scores in his team's 47-34 win over North Carolina. UNC has now lost 13 of its last 16 games. The Wolfpack, playing without T.A. McLendon, Tramain Hall and the suspended Richard Washington, won in Chapel Hill for the first time since 1991.
* Texas Tech's B.J. Symons threw for 661 yards -- a school and Big 12 record -- and six touchdowns, in the Red Raiders' 49-45 win over Mississippi. Symons, 44-for-64 with one interception, threw for 586 yards in a loss to North Carolina State last week. His sixth TD pass came with 1:04 left.
* Pittsburgh's Rod Rutherford threw three of his five touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald in the No. 17 Panthers' 37-26 win over Texas A&M.
One of Fitzgerald's TD grabs was a sick Willie Mays style grab against double coverage. A&M had no answer for the Pitt passing attack.
* One week after shocking Pitt, Toledo was drubbed 34-7 at Syracuse. RB Walter Reyes, the nation's leading rusher (and, all together, wouldn't he look good in Scarlet and Gray right now?), had 162 yards and two touchdowns for the Orangemen.
* No. 20 Northern Illinois won its third game this year against BCS competition with a 24-16 win over Iowa State in Dekalb, Ill. Earlier, NIU beat Maryland in overtime at home and won at Alabama.
"I knew we had a real good football team. But in my wildest dreams, I didn't think we'd be 4-0 at this point," said Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak.
Iowa State has now lost 25 games in a row when on the road against ranked teams. That string stretches over 13 seasons.
* One week after shocking Michigan, Oregon laid a gigantic egg with a 55-16 loss to visiting Washington State. Matt Kegel threw three TD passes as the Cougars feasted on a collection of Ducks mistakes, including seven first-half turnovers. WSU led 38-2 at halftime.
* No. 25 Florida scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to rally from an 18-point deficit and beat Kentucky 24-21, the biggest road comeback in school history. Florida's largest previous road rally was from 17 points behind in a 1993 win at South Carolina.
Florida beat Kentucky for the 17th straight time.
* Air Force beat BYU 24-10 for its first win in Provo since 1982. The Falcons were 0-7 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
* North Texas tied an NCAA Division I-A record by scoring three safeties in a 44-23 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. In the first quarter, running back Travis Smothers was tackled in the end zone. On consecutive possessions in the second half, Eric Rekieta was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, and the ball was snapped over punter Grant Autrey's head out of the end zone.
* Quote of the Week award goes to Kansas quarterback Bill Whittemore after his team's 35-14 win over No. 23 Missouri in Lawrence: "We felt like it would be more classy if we just let our fans take care of that." Last year, after the Tigers beat Kansas 36-12 at home, Missouri players helped their fans rip down the goalposts.
* LSU's Matt Mauck passed for 171 yards and a touchdown in less than three quarters and LSU converted three of Mississippi State's four turnovers into touchdowns in a 41-6 win. LSU is 5-0 for the first time since 1973.
* Oregon State's Brandon Browner had three interceptions in his team's 45-17 pasting of Arizona State late Saturday night. ASU had won 21 of its last 23 meetings -- including the last seven -- with that OSU.
* My first Heisman Trophy ballot (subject to change, of course, before I have to send it in): N.C. State‘s Rivers, Virginia Tech‘s Kevin Jones, Pittsburgh‘s Fitzgerald (question: Can he file amicum -- friend of the court -- briefs in the Maurice Clarett v. NFL case? Just asking.) and Michigan‘s Chris Perry.
* My new top 10: Oklahoma, Miami (Fla.), OSU, Florida State, LSU, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Michigan, Arkansas, Texas.
* Here are some key match-ups for next week: West Virginia at Miami (Fla.) (Thursday), Oregon at Utah (Friday), Wisconsin at Penn State (PSU won 34-31 shootout last year), Michigan at Iowa (UM drubbed 34-9 at home last year), Illinois at Purdue, Kansas State at Texas, Tennessee at Auburn, USC at Arizona State, Alabama at Georgia and Oklahoma at Iowa State.
We will wrap up each week with a look at how OSU's opponents fared and check out who they face next week, followed by the Big Ten standings.
Date (Time, TV), Opponent (Record), This Week's Result, Next Week's Game
Aug. 30, Washington (3-1), beat Stanford 28-17, Sept. 27; at UCLA, Oct. 4
Sept. 6, San Diego State (3-2), lost to UCLA 20-10, Sept. 27; vs. BYU, Oct. 4
Sept. 13, N.C. State (3-2), beat North Carolina 47-34, Sept. 27; at Georgia Tech, Oct. 4
Sept. 20, Bowling Green (3-1), idle, Sept. 27; vs. Central Michigan, Oct. 4
Sept. 27, Northwestern (2-3), lost to Ohio State 20-0, Sept. 27; vs. Minnesota, Oct. 4
Oct. 11 (9 p.m., ESPN), at Wisconsin (4-1), beat Illinois 38-20, Sept. 27; at Penn State, Oct. 4
Oct. 18 (3:30 p.m., ABC), Iowa (4-1), lost to Michigan State 20-10, Sept. 27; vs. Michigan, Oct. 4
Oct. 25 (TBA), at Indiana (1-4), lost to Michigan 34-17, Sept. 27; at Michigan State, Oct. 4
Nov. 1 (TBA), at Penn State (2-3), lost to Minnesota 20-14, Sept. 27; vs. Wisconsin, Oct. 4
Nov. 8 (TBA), Michigan State (4-1), beat Iowa 20-10, Sept. 27; vs. Indiana, Oct. 4
Nov. 15 (TBA), Purdue (3-1), beat Notre Dame 23-10, Sept. 27; vs. Illinois, Oct. 4
Nov. 22 (noon, ABC), at Michigan (4-1), beat Indiana 34-17, Sept. 27; at Iowa, Oct. 4
Big Ten StandingsTeam (Overall, Big Ten) Minnesota (5-0, 1-0) Ohio State (5-0, 1-0) Michigan (4-1, 1-0) Michigan State (4-1, 1-0) Wisconsin (4-1, 1-0) Purdue (3-1, 0-0) Iowa (4-1, 0-1) Northwestern (2-3, 0-1) Penn State (2-3, 0-1) Illinois (1-4, 0-1) Indiana (1-4, 0-0)
Sept. 27 ScheduleOhio State 20, Northwestern 0 Minnesota 20, Penn State 14 Michigan 31, Indiana 17 Michigan State 20, Iowa 10 Purdue 23, Notre Dame 10 Wisconsin 38, Illinois 20
Oct. 4 ScheduleWisconsin at Penn State, noon (ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPN-Plus; TBA due to baseball playoffs) Minnesota at Northwestern, noon (ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPN-Plus; TBA due to baseball playoffs) Indiana at Michigan State, noon (ESPN-Plus) Michigan at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. (ABC) Illinois at Purdue, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPN-Plus; TBA due to baseball playoffs)