Sunday Morning QB: One More Classic In The Valley

Ohio State's dramatic win at Penn State was one more great chapter in what is becoming one of the Big Ten's best rivalries. We discuss the significance of the comeback win, OSU's quarterback "situation," the controversial catch by Ben Hartsock and more. Plus, we go around the Big Ten and look at the rest of college football in the wake of Survival Saturday.

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

Here‘s what we have after yesterday's win over Penn State:

* After one more fantastic finish -- all this one missed was a Will Allen interception to end the game -- Ohio State remains in position to repeat as the Big Ten champions and possibly even attempt to defend its national championship.

The Buckeyes gutted out a thrilling 21-20 win at Penn State on Sarurday. Some will say this OSU team is destined to a fall after being extended to the final gun by what is now a 2-7 Nittany Lions team. Others will point to the way OSU has won so many tight games over the last two seasons and simply say the Buckeyes appear (once again) to be a team of destiny.

And we don't have months or even weeks to wait until we get the answer to this question. OSU's trial by fire begins next Saturday when it hosts Michigan State, then continues Nov. 15 with Purdue at the Horseshoe before the Buckeyes close the regulat season at (suddenly tough again) Michigan.

The neat thing about this is, Sarurday's near disaster aside, is the Buckeyes play the three teams they are tied with the next three weekend. Believe it or not, three straight wins would give Ohio State its first outright Big Ten championship since 1984. And, incredibly, after losses by Georgia and Miami (Fla.) on Saturday, the Buckeyes may be just two or three losses by, say, Oklahoma, USC and/or Florida State from playing for the whole thing.

But, at the same time, OSU could very easily drop two of the next three games and end up at the Capital One or Outback bowls in Florida.

And, while some may pooh-pooh the fact OSU barely won, I say any victory on the road in the Big Ten is always a good one, particularly in a hostile environment with 108,000 looking on.

"A win is a win, no matter how we do it," said OSU split end Michael Jenkins, who caught the game winning touchdown pass from Scott McMullen with a scant 1:35 left. "Last year it was a little bit different. But to win by one here at Penn State, it's just a great feeling."

* Speaking of feelings, OSU coach Jim Tressel sensed something was in the air when he visited with Penn State coach Joe Paterno prior to the game.

"Before the game, he said, `We really need an emotional game,' " Tressel said. "I said, `So do we,' and we looked at each other and said, `I think it's going to be one of those,' and it was. It was a hard fought, emotional, tough game."

OSU guard Alex Stepanovich was relieved to leave Happy Valley with a W.

"This is just a great effort and great leadership tonight," he said. "We came out in the second half and knew it would be a dogfight. Penn State is always tough at home. I give a lot of credit to the guys on this team."

Tressel was asked what Paterno, who suffered a fifth straight loss for the first time in his 38-year reign at PSU, had to say after the game.

"We just exchanged the fact it was a great game," Tressel said. "Both teams fought extremely hard. He's a first class guy."

* McMullen, of course, was a big topic of discussion in the postgame. He saved the day with his strong second-half performance after starter Craig Krenzel went down with an injury. McMullen looked right at home directing the two-minute offense -- usually out of the empty backfield set -- in the closing minutes.

"That is Scott's type of game," Tressel said. "He would just as soon have no backs and five wides and throw it around. He did a great job."

McMullen, after leading OSU to wins over Bowling Green and Northwestern earlier this year, was hitting on all cylinders as the Buckeyes rallied for the win. He said he and his teammates were not to be denied.

"We worked too hard," he said. "We moved it down the field. With me being a senior and a lot of the other guys on offense being seniors, we didn't want to lose this game."

There will be much discussion in the days ahead over who should start for OSU against Michigan State. Tressel took a pass on answering that question, jokingly saying he will let that dilemma percolate until he meets with the media on Tuesday.

Of course, the point could be moot if Krenzel is unable to gain medical clearance. All the media was told was that he had suffered a "head bump" on the crushing hit by PSU's Deryck Toles late in the first half. Krenzel did not enjoy one of his better performances before the injury, throwing an ill-advised floater that PSU‘s Alan Zemaitis easily picked and returned for a touchdown.

It would be easy for Tressel to switch to McMullen. After all, he delivered the goods in the second half, making an array of neat throws -- the deep ball to Santonio Holmes and the late TD to Jenkins, most notably.

It seems obvious his quick delivery and strong arm make him a most serviceable Big Ten quarterback. He even ran the ball effectively as well.

It is my inclination, however, that Tressel will stick with Krenzel, provided he is 100 percent. He has done too many great things for Ohio State to be passed over in this manner. But I also believe McMullen now deserves a chance to play. Perhaps they will put him in for a series in the first half or use him in two-minute drill situations, where his abilities seem to be so strong.

I don't think Ohio State has a quarterback controversy, per se, because McMullen has so readily accepted his role as Krenzel's backup. What they have instead is maybe a quarterback situation. And I think Tressel will be able to manage it going forward.

* Of course, many wondered if OSU would have been able to pull off such a stirring win without a gift third-down conversion just before the touchdown. Tight end Ben Hartsock appeared to trap a McMullen pass. But none of the officials made a definite signal until the linesman, about eight or 10 seconds later, stopped the clock and gave a half-hearted first down signal.

"Things happen so fast on the field," Hartsock said. "I knew the ball was coming my way and I just did the best I could to come up with it. I knew once I ended up the ground, it was in my hands. What happened before that, we'll have to review."

McMullen, himself, was skeptical about the reception call, although he felt Hartsock had been interfered with.

"Ooh, I wasn't sure," he said. "At first, I was yelling for interference because I didn't see the flag. But then I saw them signal for the first down."

While OSU rarely replays controversial plays on the massive video board, PSU operates under no such restraints. When that play was shown again, the entire stadium exploded in boos.

Paterno, who's had his share of battles with Big Ten officials over the years, offered this: "You saw the replay. You write about it. I've got enough problems of my own."

* What is it about Zack Mills and Ohio State? As Bobby Knight once said about Jamie Skelton, "He would be an all-time All-American if he played every game against us."

Mills hasn't shown anything like Saturday's performance against OSU this season. It hasn't entirely been his fault as PSU has had coaching and offensive line issues all season.

He just needed another 10 or 15 yards or 10 or 15 seconds and he probably would have led PSU to another impromptu win over the Buckeyes.

* This win conjured up so many memories of past OSU triumphs, particularly the 1995 game at Penn State, where Bobby Hoying, Rickey Dudley and Eddie George rallied the troops to a 28-25 win with a similar late drive and touchdown.

* And, as always, we practically overlook the play of the OSU defense. They gave up some yardage through the air, something OSU's next three opponents will certainly take note of. But they delivered with the game on the line.

Now, for a look around the Big Ten

* Michigan's Chris Perry ran for 219 yards and a touchdown on a school-record 51 carries in the No. 11 Wolverines' 27-20 victory over No. 9 Michigan State. The loss dropped MSU, hurt by a late personal foul penalty as it tried to get the ball back from UM, into a tie for first in the Big Ten with one loss.

"I need a hot tub. And we've got one in our apartment," Perry said after his record setting day.

From my vantage point, UM outplayed MSU -- on its home field, no less -- most of the day. UM outgained MSU 216-36 on the ground. A fluky turnover by UM quarterback John Navarre, which was returned for a touchdown made it a closer game than it probably was.

* Iowa's Fred Russell moved over the 1,000-yard mark with 94 yards and two TDs in his team's 41-10 pounding of Illinois in Iowa City.

* A week after getting blasted at Michigan, Purdue rebounded and feasted on four Northwestern fumbles in a 34-14 win.

* As expected, Minnesota lined up and ran right over Indiana, winning 55-7. Laurence Maroney had 164 yards and Marion Barber III added 107 in this lopsided rout at the Metrodome.

And a glance at headlines nationally

* The game of the week was from Lexington, where Arkansas outlasted Kentucky 71-63 in a record-tying seven overtimes. DeCori Birmingham ran for 196 yards and two touchdowns for the Razorbacks.

The Razorbacks also won the only other seven OT game in 2001, beating Mississippi 58-56. Arkansas also played a six-overtime last year, losing to Tennessee, and beat Alabama earlier this year in a two-overtime game. The Razorbacks have played six overtime games, winning five times, since Division I-A adopted the tiebreaker in 1996. Arkansas scored 47 points in overtime, breaking the record of 41 it set against Ole Miss. The 86 combined overtime points also broke the record of 80 set in the 2001 game.

* There wasn't a bigger game or bigger win than Virginia Tech's 31-7 triumph over No. 2 Miami (Fla.) in Blacksburg. No. 10 Virginia Tech snapped Miami's 39-game regular season winning streak and its 27-game winning streak in the Big East with a 31-7 victory. The Hurricanes hadn't lost in league play since 1999 against the Hokies. Saturday's win was Virginia Tech's first in 40 games against teams ranked No. 8 or higher.

* There was no such upset as No. 1 Oklahoma snapped a two-game losing streak to in-state rival Oklahoma State, blistering the Cowboys 52-9 in Norman. Jason White threw for two touchdowns and ran for another for the Sooners, who improved to 9-0 and 5-0 in Big 12 play.

* No. 3 Southern Cal put itself in position to move into the two spot in place of Miami as it won its 13th straight home game, 43-16 over No. 6 Washington State.

* Eli Manning threw for 391 yards and three touchdowns to help No. 20 Mississippi beat South Carolina 43-40. Ole Miss is 5-0 in SEC play for the first time since 1963.

* Florida State's Craphonso Thorpe had seven catches for 217 yards and two TDs in the No. 5 Seminoles' 37-0 demolition of Notre Dame in South Bend. Notre Dame was held scoreless at home for the first time since 1978, losing to Florida State 37-0. The Irish have been shut out twice in a season for first time since 1960.

* N.C. State took the upper hand in the battle for second in the ACC as Philip Rivers was 29-of-34 for 410 yards and four touchdowns in the Wolfpack's 51-37 victory over Virginia.

* Larry Fitzgerald set an NCAA record with a touchdown catch in his 14th straight game in No. 25 Pittsburgh's 24-13 victory over Boston College. The catch, a 35-yard halfback option pass late in the fourth quarter, was his 28th TD in his first two seasons, also an NCAA record. The Panthers get Virginia Tech next.

* Texas Tech's Wes Welker set a Division I-A record with his eighth career punt return for a touchdown in the Red Raiders' 26-21 win over Colorado.

* Matt Leach became the first Florida kicker to nail a game-winner against Georgia since 1967, hitting a 33-yard field goal with 33 seconds remaining in the Gators' 16-13 win over the Bulldogs in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, Fla. The Bulldogs were effectively eliminated from the national title hunt with the loss and the SEC East race is wide open again and may come down to a vote of SEC athletic directors. Florida won the rivalry game for the 13th time in 14 years.

* John Gagliardi tied Eddie Robinson as college football's career victory leader, guiding Division III St. John's to a 15-12 victory over St. Thomas. Gagliardi is 408-114-11 in 55 years as coach at St. John's and Carroll College. That's right, I wrote 55 years. That means JoePa has to go another 17 seasons to catch him. Think about that.

* My new Heisman Trophy ballot (subject to change, of course, before I have to send it in): Oklahoma's Jason White (they may begin engraving now), Virginia Tech‘s Kevin Jones, Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald, Ole Miss‘ Eli Manning.

* My new top 15: Oklahoma, Southern California, Florida State, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, LSU, Miami (Fla.), Michigan, TCU, Texas, Georgia, Purdue. Tennessee, Minnesota, Bowling Green.

* Games to watch next week include: Bowling Green-Miami (Ohio) (Tuesday night on ESPN2; great showdown between 2 of the Midwest's best QBs), Michigan State-Ohio State, Iowa-Purdue (Boilers owe the Hawks), TCU-Louisville (Wednesday night), Texas A&M-Oklahoma, Tennessee-Miami (Fla.), Florida State-Clemson (would younger Bowden be written out of the will if he derails daddy's BCS hopes?), Texas-Oklahoma 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 (5-4), beat Oregon 42-10, Nov. 1; at Arizona, Nov. 8

Sept. 6, San Diego State (4-5), idle, Nov. 1; vs. UNLV, Nov. 8

Sept. 13, N.C. State (7-3), beat Virginia 51-37, Nov. 1; idle, Nov. 8; at Florida State, Nov. 15

Sept. 20, Bowling Green (7-1), idle, Nov. 1; at Miami (Ohio), Nov. 4

Sept. 27, Northwestern (4-5), lost to Purdue 34-14, Nov. 1; vs. Penn State, Nov. 8

Oct. 11, at Wisconsin (6-3), idle Nov. 1; at Minnesota, Nov. 8

Oct. 18, Iowa (7-2), beat Illinois 41-10, Nov. 1; at Purdue, Nov. 8

Oct. 25, at Indiana (1-8), lost to Minnesota 55-7, Nov. 1; vs. Illinois, Nov. 8

Nov. 1, at Penn State (2-7), lost to Ohio State 21-20, Nov. 1; at Northwestern, Nov. 8

Nov. 8 (noon, ABC), Michigan State (7-2), lost to Michigan 27-20, Nov. 1; at Ohio State, Nov. 8

Nov. 15 (TBA), Purdue (7-2), beat Northwestern 34-14, Nov. 1; vs. Iowa, Nov. 8

Nov. 22 (noon, ABC), at Michigan (8-2), beat Michigan State 27-20, Nov. 1; idle, Nov. 8

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Michigan (8-2, 5-1)

Ohio State (8-1, 4-1)

Michigan State (7-2, 4-1)

Purdue (7-2, 4-1)

Minnesota (8-2, 4-2)

Iowa (7-2, 3-2)

Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2)

Northwestern (4-5, 2-3)

Penn State (2-7, 0-5)

Indiana (1-8, 0-5)

Illinois (1-9, 0-6)

Nov. 1 Results

Purdue 34, Northwestern 14

Iowa 41, Illinois 10

Michigan 27, Michigan State 20

Ohio State 21, Penn State 20

Minnesota 55, Indiana 7

Nov. 8 Schedule

Penn State at Northwestern, noon (ESPN2)

Wisconsin at Minnesota, noon (ESPN)

Michigan State at Ohio State, noon (ABC)

Illinois at Indiana, noon (ESPN-Plus)

Iowa at Purdue, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Buckeye Sports Top Stories