Sunday Morning QB: One More Classic At The 'Shoe

In this week's edition of Sunday Morning Quarterback, we look at the dramatic win over Purdue, how the seniors ended their home careers in style, the various BCS scenarios and how Purdue earned respect Saturday. Plus, we go around the Big Ten and the nation, as always.

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 Purdue:

* Chalk one more up for the Old Gray Lady known as Ohio Stadium.

This was just like the N.C. State game where something just would not allow Ohio State to accept defeat. Every time OSU needed a bounce or, better yet, a kick to be pulled a few feet wide left, the Buckeyes got it.

The Buckeyes have turned the Horseshoe into their own version of the old Boston Garden, where they swore little leprechauns used to knock opponents' shots out of the basket. Maybe the ghost of Woody Hayes … Naw.

"It's amazing the way things work out," said tight end Ben Hartsock. "You start to wonder. I know there were a lot of guys on their knees over there praying. You wonder if there are a couple charms up our sleeve. I think it's a credit to the guys on this team to never to give up and no matter how bad it looks to just keep fighting."

I know after Ohio State went 14-0 and won the national championship a year ago, it would have been hard for anything the Buckeyes did this season to rival that. The loss at Wisconsin puts that tiny black cloud in the back of your head to where you say, "Yeah, this was a pretty good year, but last year was the greatest."

Well, I'm going to ask you to take a broom and brush that little cloud aside. This has, indeed, been a great year. Anytime you get 10 wins and you come down to the Michigan game, playing the Wolverines for an outright Big Ten title and at least the Rose Bowl it has been a great year. Obviously, it can get even better with a win this coming Saturday in Ann Arbor. We know that won't be easy and we'll get into the X's and O's surrounding that titanic struggle in the next few hours, I'm sure.

But I guess I would say accept this season for what it has been: Another great roller coaster ride with a ton of neat moments.

I heard people upset after yesterday's game because the offense didn't score a touchdown. OSU won for the third time this season without the benefit of an offensive touchdown. So what, I say. Purdue was the No. 11 team in the country and had a top-10 ranked defense. Points and yards were going to be at a premium against the Boilers.

"Our guys just keep playing," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "They have a lot of faith that if we play as hard as we can, good things will happen."

These never-say-die Buckeyes are down to two games left. Sometimes you wonder if there is nothing they can't overcome.

"No matter what we put ourselves into, we always believe we'll have some way to get ourselves out of it," Hartsock said."The guys on the team have a genuine faith and belief we can come through these things. We've been there before and we've been through these kind of games. We can come out on top no matter what happens."

Even after Mike Nugent's kick was blocked at the end of regulation – and the Purdue sideline exploded in joy as the game went to overtime – the Buckeyes were steeled in their resolve.

"I know as soon as Nugent's kick got blocked, everybody was like, ‘We've been here before, we know what to do and we just have to handle it,' " Hartsock said.

Offensive tackle Shane Olivea said the game fit the script for OSU.

"It honestly doesn't get any better than that. It wouldn't have been the Buckeye way if it wouldn't have been overtime, everybody standing in the stands and on the edge of their seats at home," he said. "It wouldn't have been the Buckeye way without us making it close. It was a great team win."

* It was quite a scene before the game as the sellout crowd serenaded each of the 26 seniors with a standing ovation. Then, after the game, some of the seniors lingered on the field for a few fleeting moments following another emotional rendition of Carmen Ohio.

"It's kind of an overwhelming feeling," Hartsock said. "You really didn't get the chance to soak in the atmosphere of your last game in until you were signing Carmen Ohio because once again we're going down to a last second game. I can't say enough about the guys on this team and the seniors we have. A lot of these guys are going to be playing on Sunday.

"But on top of that, just the genuine care and passion they have for this university to win games and put out the kind of effort they did, words can't be put to explain that."

It was a day a long time in the making, the seniors said.

"This place has really grown on me," Olivea said. "It's like a bittersweet day. You're happy this day is here, but you want it to last forever. To be able to look back and see my family and the crowd, I remember saying in overtime, ‘This is why I came here for' to be in this situation and be on the field when the game counts."

Quarterback Craig Krenzel was among the group that hung back for just a few seconds.

"We had to get back up to the locker room to sing the fight song," Krenzel said. "But there were a few of us that stayed down on the field more than usual and just kind of looked around and just kind of let it soak in. It was our last game in the ‘Shoe. The senior class, most of the guys, for every game they've started in the ‘Shoe, they haven't lost. It's just a great feeling. It's kind of a sad day. You knew it had to come to an end sometime and to have it end like this couldn't be any better."

Defensive end Will Smith was also emotional.

"I just think it was a great experience," Smith said. "In my four years of being here, we went from being an average team to a great team. We've been a lot of places and seen a lot of people. It's been a great experience for me to come back and end up on this note.

"To be undefeated in the ‘Shoe the last two years is great and we've got another opportunity ahead of us where we can play Michigan and go to the national championship again, hopefully. It's been a great stay. I'm going to miss the ‘Shoe. I'm going to miss you guys and I'm just going to miss The Ohio State University."

The underclassmen said they had to give their all for the seniors.

"We definitely play for our seniors," cornerback Dustin Fox said. "To see them running out to their families today, that gave me chills. We just wanted to play hard for those guys."

Tailback Lydell Ross added, "We came out with a win and that was the best way to send our seniors out. We knew it was a big game with a lot on the line. It was huge."

* Ohio State seems poised, with a win at Michigan on Saturday, to overtake USC for second in the all-important Bowl Championship Series rankings.

There are some interesting dynamics in place. A win over UM may cause some pollsters to move OSU ahead of LSU into third place in the AP and coaches poll. If that happens, OSU's bid to unseat USC will pick up some heavy momentum. But LSU will also benefit from playing Ole Miss this weekend. A win of any substance there would likely keep the Tigers in third in the polls. And, even if OSU does supplant LSU, nothing is permanent. Say the Tigers go on to the SEC title game in December and wallop Georgia or Tennessee, poll voters may move them back to third, hurting OSU's chances of unseating USC in the BCS poll.

It has gotten to where OSU fans are doing a ton of scoreboard watching. An LSU loss – either to Ole Miss or Georgia/Tennessee or anybody, we aren't picky – would be the greatest thing we've ever heard.

In terms of positive results for OSU, Bowling Green kept winning on Saturday and Iowa, whom OSU played, knocked off nine-win Minnesota, whom OSU did not. Those games helped OSU in strength of schedule and the computer rankings, certainly.

N.C. State's heartbreaking double overtime loss to Florida State did not help. That could have made a nice impact on OSU's computer standing. Likewise, Wisconsin's rout of Michigan State is a wash for OSU in strength of schedule, but hurts the computer ranking because it diminishes one of OSU's wins.

Washington's loss to Cal hurts, but only a little because USC also played Washington. (By the way, California set a school record with 729 total yards in that game; I think U-Dub should fire Neuheisel … oh, they already did).

It has gotten so convoluted that OSU fans are rooting against Washington State, a top-10 team that gives USC a "quality win" deduction in the BCS. A Cougars loss would drop Wazzu out of the top 10 and eliminate that deduction for the Trojans.

Likewise, I know you'd love to see OSU pound Michigan. But other than the fact we know that isn't going to happen, a convincing three- or six-point win may be better. OSU needs pollsters to keep Michigan in the top 10 to improve the chances of getting their own BCS top-10 quality win deduction from the Wolverines.

Collegebcs.com, in its latest projections, has USC holding a narrow 0.3 (7.38 for USC to OSU's 7.69) edge over Ohio State for the second spot after this weekend's action – that win over Purdue, coupled with USC's rout of terrible Arizona – really shook up the numbers. If the pollsters ever move OSU to third – even in just one of the two polls – that would be a 0.5 deduction for OSU and maybe enough to get the Buckeyes off to Bourbon Street.

And, as always, we qualify it by saying that none of this matters if OSU does not win Saturday at Michigan.

On the flip side – and I know this is the last thing you want to hear – bowl reps from the Fiesta and Orange bowls were nosing around the Ohio Stadium press box. If OSU loses (did I say that?), I think you're looking at a BCS at-large bid to the Fiesta (they have first choice in the rotation because they would lose top-ranked Oklahoma to the Sugar, plus they know at least 20,000-30,000 OSU fans will want to relive last year's incredible experience in the Valley of the Sun).

Let me float you two scenarios for the postseason (I will narrow it down to one for the Buckeye Grove):

If OSU wins: Sugar, Oklahoma-OSU; Rose, USC-LSU; Fiesta, Texas-Florida State; Orange, Big East champ (Miami, Pitt or WVU)-TCU; Capital One, Michigan-Tennessee; Outback, Purdue-Georgia.

If OSU loses: Sugar, Oklahoma-USC; Rose, Michigan-LSU; Fiesta, OSU-Florida State; Orange, Big East champ (Miami, Pitt or WVU)-Texas; Capital One, Purdue-Tennessee; Outback, Wisconsin-Georgia. In this scenario, TCU gets aced out because Michigan, with a win over OSU, would bump TCU out of the top six in the BCS rankings.

* The Buckeyes had nothing but kind things to say about Purdue after the game. The Boilers gave OSU fits for nearly four hours before the Buckeyes could pull out the win.

"I think they have an amazing defense," Hartsock said. "The guys I faced were the best I've seen all year, by far. Their defensive ends are great players. I told them after the game I hope they're not that good in the NFL because they were amazing. We weren't coming at them. We didn't get the momentum. We started moving the ball, but we just tripped up here and there and couldn't put any points on the board."

Olivea said the usual battle of trash talk took a back seat as the teams developed respect for one another.

"It was kind of fun," Olivea said. "Early on, they were talking a lot of junk. It went from us talking back to a lot of smack to a lot of respect. Then it sort of went to ‘This is fun to be a part of.' After a while, it goes from a hatred kind of thing to respect. After a while, you have to tip your cap to them. They're a good team. They played hard and they're coached well. I felt bad for them they had to lose – well, I won't feel bad for long for them.

"It was like a heavyweight fight. One time, they went down. Then, we went down. It just went back and forth. I was fortunate to be a part of it. It wouldn't have been the Buckeye way to not win it like that."

Tressel said he knew OSU would be in for a fight.

"We watched the film of Purdue all week long," Tressel said. "We knew they were a great team and it would take every ounce of energy we had. Purdue played a great game and we tip our caps to them. Were we surprised it was a battle? No, but we have guys who keep playing."

Now, for a look around the Big Ten

* No. 5 Michigan is clearly poised for the showdown next week. UM used its off week to reenergize, then went out and buried Northwestern 41-10 in Evanston. John Navarre passed for 288 yards and two touchdowns, and Michigan forced three turnovers.

A win next week would give UM a record 41st Big Ten crown and send the Wolverines, barring a spate of BCS upsets, to the Rose Bowl.

Navarre led the Wolverines to a 24-point second quarter with TD passes to Braylon Edwards and Jason Avant, who made a spectacular, one-handed grab to give Michigan a 31-3 lead at halftime. He completed 22 of 31 passes before leaving with the rest of the Michigan starters in the third quarter.

"This is the best I have played and I think it's the best our team has played this season," Navarre said.

Northwestern needs a win at Illinois next Saturday to qualify for a bowl bid, which would be automatic if the Big Ten puts both OSU and Michigan in the BCS because the conference has six other tie-ins besides the Rose.

* No. 20 Iowa cooled off No. 19 Minnesota 40-22, denying the Gophers a chance at their first 10-win season since 1905. Iowa forced five turnovers and Nate Kaeding tied his own school record with four field goals.

Thanks to the turnovers, Iowa won easily despite giving up 563 yards. Minnesota, playing its regular-season finale, lost three fumbles after driving deep into Iowa territory -- one when Laurence Maroney was about to score.

* Wisconsin snapped a three-game losing streak and dealt Michigan State its third straight loss, 56-21 in Madison.

For the second time this year and in school history, Wisconsin had a 200-yard receiver and a 200-yard rusher in the same game. It also happened Sept. 6 against Akron. This time, Lee Evans caught 10 passes for a school-record 258 yards. He also tied a Big Ten record with five touchdown catches. Tailback Dwayne Smith, playing in place of the injured Anthony Davis and Booker Stanley, ran 21 times for 207 yards.

Evans teamed with Jim Sorgi on TD plays of 9, 75, 18, 70 and 18 yards to match the Big Ten mark set in 1993 by Minnesota's Omar Douglas, Sorgi, 16-of-24 for 380 yards, became the first Wisconsin quarterback to throw for four or more TDs in consecutive weeks.

* Penn State snapped a six-game losing streak, its longest since 1931, by routing visiting Indiana 52-7 in the home finale – perhaps for Joe Paterno – at Beaver Stadium. In defeat, BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 203 yards on 42 carries for the Hoosiers. Zack Mills threw for three TDs for Penn State, while Tony Johnson had three TD catches.

And a glance at headlines nationally

* A week after crushing Texas A&M 77-0, top-ranked Oklahoma downed Baylor 41-3. Jason White threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns in the easy win.

* Oklahoma State's Vernand Morency had a huge day with 269 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Cowboys over Kansas 44-21.

* The race in the MAC West is tightening up. Toledo's Bruce Gradkowski completed 24 of 27 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns in the Rockets' 49-30 win over No. 21 Northern Illinois. Meanwhile, Josh Harris threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns for Bowling Green in its 42-33 win over Kent State.

The Falcons (8-2, 5-1 Mid-American Conference) have a chance to play in their first conference title game since the MAC split into two divisions in 1997. But they still must win at Ball State next week and against Toledo (also 5-1 in MAC play). Bowling Green then would host the Dec. 4 MAC championship game and get another shot at No. 23 Miami (Ohio), which already has secured its spot.

Miami (9-1, 6-0) avenged a bitter loss at Marshall a year ago with a 45-6 win Wednesday night in Oxford. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 282 yards and two TDs in the win, joining former Marshall stars Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich as the only passers in MAC history to have three 3,000-yard seasons.

"They've got a great quarterback," said Marshall coach Bob Pruett. "He should definitely come out and go in the first round (of the NFL draft) – get him out of this league."

* Pittsburgh could not sustain the momentum it gained by knocking off Virginia Tech. The Panthers went south to Morgantown and dropped the Backyard Brawl to West Virginia 52-31.Rasheed Marshall threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score for West Virginia. Quincy Wilson became the latest running back to put up big numbers against the Panthers' defense, rolling for 208 yards and four touchdowns to help the Mountaineers to their fifth straight victory and a tie atop the Big East standings.

Pittsburgh (7-3, 4-1), Miami (8-2, 4-1) and West Virginia (6-4, 4-1) are even in the Big East, though the conference is Miami's to win if it finishes by beating Rutgers and Pittsburgh.

* No. 12 Virginia Tech beat Temple 24-23 in overtime when the Owls' Jared Davis missed an extra point.

* In the Game of the Week, No. 13 Florida State wrapped up its 11th Atlantic Coast Conference title in 12 years, beating North Carolina State 50-44 in double overtime. Leon Washington's 12-yard touchdown run gave FSU the win.

Florida State (9-2, 7-1) also locked up its fourth BCS game in five years after surviving a brilliant performance by North Carolina State's Philip Rivers. The ACC's career passing leader, Rivers completed 28 of 38 passes for 422 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another score.

North Carolina State (7-4, 4-3) gambled and lost in the second overtime. Instead of trying a field goal, the Wolfpack went on fourth-and-1 at the Florida State 16 and Rivers' pass for Jerricho Cotchery was broken up by Allen Augustin at the 5. Then Washington reeled off successive runs of 13 and 12 yards to give the Seminoles the win. Washington finished with 121 yards.

Regulation play ended when North Carolina State's Derek Morris – yes, that Derek Morris -- blocked a 32-yard field goal try by Florida State's Xavier Beitia.

* No. 18 Nebraska lost to Kansas State 38-9. It was the Wildcats' first victory in Lincoln since 1968, and the Cornhuskers' worst loss at Memorial Stadium since a 31-0 setback against Missouri in 1958. Ell Roberson passed for 313 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 90 yards and a touchdown for Kansas State.

K-State clinched a share of the Big 12 North title and gave the Wildcats the inside track to a meeting with South champion Oklahoma in the Dec. 6 conference championship game. Darren Sproles ran for 140 yards and a touchdown for the Wildcats (9-3, 5-2 Big 12), the sixth team to beat the Huskers (8-3, 4-3) in the last 107 games in Lincoln.

* Chance Mock came off the bench and hit B.J. Johnson with a 9-yard touchdown pass with 46 seconds left, sending Texas to a wild 43-40 win over Texas Tech and keeping the Longhorns in the hunt for a BCS bowl.

Mock, who began the season as the starter for Texas (9-2, 6-1 Big 12), relieved Vince Young after Texas Tech (7-4, 4-3) took a 40-35 lead on Taurean Henderson's third touchdown run of the night. Faced with 86 yards to cover with 1:57 on the clock and no timeouts, Mock directed Texas' two-minute attack. His 54-yard pass to Roy Williams got Texas out from deep in its own territory, and he scrambled for a first down. The touchdown came when Mock floated a pass into the corner of the end zone and Johnson made a sliding, over-the-shoulder catch.

Texas Tech's Keith Toogood, who had two extra points blocked, missed wide left on a 48-yard field-goal attempt to tie as time expired. Red Raiders star B.J. Symons passed for 365 yards and three touchdowns, two to Mickey Peters.

* North Texas won the Sun Belt Conference title with a 58-14 win over Arkansas State. It was the Mean Green's 17th straight conference win, the longest streak in Division 1-A. North Texas accepted its third straight invitation to the New Orleans Bowl after clinching the title. The Mean Green will face a Conference USA team in the Dec. 16 game.

* Arizona was shut out for the first time in 146 games, 45-0 by No. 2 Southern California.

* Alabama's 27-3 loss to No. 3 assured the Crimson Tide of its third losing season in the past seven years after having just one in the previous 40.

* Freshman Josh Swogger, a Youngstown native, threw his first college touchdown pass to help Washington State beat Arizona State 34-19. Swogger replaced starter Matt Kegel in the second quarter with the game tied at 10 and led two long scoring drives, keeping the Cougars ahead of No. 2 Southern California atop the Pacific-10. The Cougars (9-2, 6-1 Pac-10) could record their third consecutive 10-win season with a victory next week over Washington in Seattle.

* Division III powerhouse Mount Union won its 12th consecutive Ohio Athletic Conference championship with a 58-0 victory over Wilmington that also clinched a playoff berth for the three-time defending national champions. The Purple Raiders won their 85th straight game in the OAC and 52nd in a row overall, two short of their NCAA record.

* My new Heisman Trophy ballot (subject to change, of course, before I have to send it in): Oklahoma's Jason White (they may complete the engraving), Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald (yes, they lost to WVU, but did you see those highlights of No. 1?), Virginia Tech‘s Kevin Jones (played on a bad stomach and still got his 150 in all-too-tight win), Ole Miss‘ Eli Manning (can make his case vs. LSU), N.C. State's Philip Rivers (422 yards, 4 TDs in loss to ‘Noles).

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

* Games to watch next week include: Alabama-Auburn, Iowa-Wisconsin, LSU-Ole Miss, Maryland-N.C. State, Oklahoma-Texas Tech, UCLA-USC, Washington State-Washington.

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 (5-6), lost to California 54-7, Nov. 15; vs. Washington State, Nov. 22

Sept. 6, San Diego State (5-6), lost to Colorado State 21-6, Nov. 15; vs. Air Force, Nov. 22

Sept. 13, N.C. State (7-4), lost to Florida State 50-44 (2 OT), Nov. 15; vs. Maryland, Nov. 22

Sept. 20, Bowling Green (8-2), beat Kent State 42-33, Nov. 15; at Ball State, Nov. 22

Sept. 27, Northwestern (5-6), lost to Michigan 41-10, Nov. 15; at Illinois, Nov. 22

Oct. 11, at Wisconsin (7-4), beat Michigan State 56-21, Nov. 15; vs. Iowa, Nov. 22

Oct. 18, Iowa (8-3), beat Minnesota 40-22, Nov. 15; at Wisconsin, Nov. 22

Oct. 25, at Indiana (2-9), lost to Penn State 52-7, Nov. 15; vs. Purdue, Nov. 22

Nov. 1, at Penn State (3-8), beat Indiana 52-7, Nov. 15; at Michigan State, Nov. 22

Nov. 8, Michigan State (7-4), lost to Wisconsin 56-21, Nov. 15; vs. Penn State, Nov. 22

Nov. 15 Purdue (8-3), lost to Ohio State 16-13 (OT), Nov. 15; at Indiana, Nov. 22

Nov. 22 (noon, ABC), at Michigan (9-2), beat Northwestern 41-10, Nov. 15; vs. Ohio State, Nov. 22

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Ohio State (10-1, 6-1)

Michigan (9-2, 6-1)

Purdue (8-3, 5-2)

Minnesota (9-3, 5-3)

Iowa (8-3, 4-3)

Michigan State (7-4, 4-3)

Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3)

Northwestern (5-6, 3-4)

Indiana (2-9, 1-6)

Penn State (3-8, 1-6)

Illinois (1-10, 0-7)

Nov. 15 Results

Wisconsin 56, Michigan State 21

Ohio State 16, Purdue 13 (OT)

Michigan 41, Northwestern 10

Iowa 40, Minnesota 22

Penn State 52, Indiana 7

Nov. 22 Schedule

Ohio State at Michigan, noon (ABC)

Northwestern at Illinois, noon (ESPN-Plus)

Penn State at Michigan State, noon (ESPN)

Purdue at Indiana, noon (ESPN-Plus)

Iowa at Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)


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