The Ohio State offense emerged with an 81-69 victory over the defense in Saturday's jersey scrimmage and will keep the scarlet jerseys until at least spring practice.
Quarterback Justin Zwick started the game and overall, he fared well. He opened the game with an impressive touchdown drive and finished the day with solid numbers (14 of 21 for 120 yards, one TD, one INT).
"I felt good about it," Zwick said. "Just going out there with the whole mentality of practice and just trying to get better while you're out there. That's how I went about it and I feel pretty good about the way I played."
With the season opener just two weeks away, the scrimmage was important for the Buckeyes.
"You know, it was big for all of us to go out there and perform today," Zwick said. "It's our one big test before the season actually starts. We put a lot of weight on this scrimmage, so everyone wanted to go out and have a big game. Everyone was out there working hard and trying to get better."
Zwick's one major miscue was a badly underthrown ball that was picked off by safety Tyler Everett.
"Definitely, you can't have turnovers," Zwick said. "I got a little greedy on that one and tried to put it over Tyler's head, but didn't get enough air under it. Just little things like that. Sometimes you don't want to do certain things. You want to try to get it done as a competitor, but it's better to be smart with the ball and that's something that comes with experience."
As the probable starter for the Cincinnati game, Zwick says he is comfortable leading the offense.
"Yeah, I've been here a couple years and I know the offense pretty well," he said. "I'm pretty comfortable with it. There's not a lot of new things that we've put in this preseason. Just a lot of overview of things we've done before and I'm pretty comfortable with everything."
Towards the end of the scrimmage, Zwick seemed to sprain an ankle, but says it's no big deal.
"Yeah, I got my ankle twisted up in between Lydell (Ross) and somebody else back there, but I'll be fine," he said. "It's nothing that a little ice can't handle."
Zwick did not try and downplay winning the scrimmage. He takes pride in wearing the scarlet jerseys in practice.
"It's exciting," he said. "We're not used to having them the entire season, but we will this year and it just shows how hard we've been working in camp. We had a lot of fun out there today and we came out on top."
Usually, the defense is ahead of the offense in preseason camp. But the reverse might be true with the Buckeyes. The offense might be a step ahead of the defense.
"I don't think about us being ahead of them or not," Zwick said. "I just think that everyone is out there working hard trying to get better."
It would appear as though it's Zwick's job to lose. However, he says he doesn't get caught up in wondering who will start against UC.
"I don't even worry about that stuff," he said. "I just go out there every day and try and get better and try and make this team better and that's really all I can worry about."
Jim Tressel has not indicated to Zwick when a final decision will be made.
"No idea what is going to happen there," Zwick said. "Like I said, that's all in his hands. He gets paid the big bucks for that and I'm just going to do what I do and see what happens."
But a starter needs to be named before the Bucks start game-planning for the Bearcats, right?
"You would think so," Zwick said. "But we (Zwick and Troy Smith) both get the same amount of reps - we're both working with the ones and getting a chance to be in there and be the leader. So, whatever happens is going to happen."
"They're looking good," Zwick said. "They're running hard. We had a couple guys lose the ball here and there and we can't have that, but they've been working hard, running hard for us and I think they're going to have a good year for us."
Zwick is ready for camp to be over. He wants to start putting in the game plan for UC.
"Definitely looking forward to getting away from two-a-days," he said. "I'm looking forward to it. We're doing a lot of intrasquad stuff right now, so it's going to be nice to actually get a chance to look at somebody else's defense and things we have from Cincinnati from the past and just get an idea of what they're going to be doing to us. It will be fun."
Zwick capped the opening drive with a touchdown strike to Santonio Holmes. He knew it was crucial to get on the board early.
"Yeah, I think it was good to get that momentum going right away and get some points on the board," Zwick said. "It's always big when you can get the ball in the end zone, especially against the one defense. So, it was good; a good way to start out. It was better than going three-and-out."
The Buckeyes ran a lot of two tight end formations on Saturday. They also used an H-back quite often (usually Stan White, who had a very solid game). With Branden Joe out with an injury, the fullback was not used very much. There were not many I-formations.
The tight ends stood out and that made Zwick a happy man.
"Yeah, they're looking good," he said. "We've got Ryan (Hamby) and a couple young guys that haven't played much, but they're learning the offense and everything they need to do. I think they're going to be good for us. We do a lot of two tight end stuff, so we're going to need somebody to be able to fill in that second spot."
Rory Nicol was impressive, catching four balls for 43 yards. Hamby added four for 26.
Zwick thought OSU's offensive line was solid throughout the scrimmage.
"I thought they played well today," he said. "We came out and there wasn't too much pressure on the quarterbacks. They played well. I had time to get the ball out and our backs had some nice runs, so they were opening holes and doing everything they needed to do. They've come a long way."
There were 179 plays in the scrimmage and Zwick knows that means a lot of film study.
"That's going to be a long meeting tomorrow. I'll tell you that much," he said.
The other quarterbacks also played well Saturday. Smith finished 12 of 18 for 106 yards and one interception (and a rushing touchdown). Todd Boeckman looked sharp, going 21 of 34 for 195 yards and one pick.
"I felt good out there," Barton said. "I was running with the ones most of the time and it was a good experience for me, going up against Simon (Fraser) and some of the big guys. I thought the offense really played well. We had a little bit of a lapse in the middle, but after that we picked it up and finished it off."
Barton was asked to handicap the quarterbacks.
"They're strengths are obvious," he said. "Justin is a great leader. Troy's a great leader also, but I mean, with Troy we were running those draws and we know he had that big touchdown run that put us up top. Justin was just a general out there. We changed up the cadences and we got the D-line a few times and that was kind of due to Justin's prowess on the field."
Barton said the opening touchdown was a big key to the win.
"I think that's critical," he said. "For a team that plays defense like we do, as the offense, if we get points on the board early, our D-linemen can pin in back and they can shut down anybody. So, that was really critical for our success.
"It gave us a lot of confidence today because we feel our defense is one of the tops in the nation every year. So, that gives us a lot of confidence going into the season and that first touchdown was really critical."
The Buckeyes seem to be running more sweeps and other outside runs this year. That is due to the increased athleticism on the offensive line.
"Well, Lydell obviously looks a lot quicker and we're getting Mo Hall back at full strength and those guys are burners," Barton said. "If we can get them on the edge, they can run past D-ends.
"This year, our offensive line is noticeably more athletic, so we can pull out, we can lock down the D-ends and they can get around them and pick up a lot of yards."
Barton likes the two-tight, or H-back look.
"With the speed we have, it really helps us on offense," he said. "There's a lot more things we can do. We didn't use the fullback very much today. We can still power block, but now there's a whole new element of spreading the ball out. The defense is going to have to get out there, or they're going to give up some big yardage."
Schafer also got a lot of reps with the ones Saturday. He thinks all three of the candidates at right tackle are solid players.
"I think we all have different strengths and different weaknesses," Schafer said. "I think we can all play and get the job done. I think the coaches have confidence in all of us. One will start and the other two will play as backups, or somewhere else on the line. We're just going to keep going. We have a few more weeks to figure it out."
Schafer came to OSU as a defensive lineman, but was moved to offense last year.
"That was always a possibility in the back of my mind," he said. "Even when I was a senior in high school, people were like, 'I think you're going to move to offense.' I told them I was going to do whatever it took. There are certain parts of defense I miss, but I feel good about playing offense."
According to one reporter, Tressel praised Schafer's play after the scrimmage.
"It feels good to hear that," Schafer said. "I'm going to keep working hard. I'm not going to get complacent. Every day, just keep working."
Downing echoed some of the comments of Barton and Schafer. He knows only one will emerge with the starting job, but thinks that all three of them will get playing time.
"Honestly, I don't feel, necessarily, that's there is going to be a certain 'one' that will be the starter," Downing said. "I feel that, right now, all three of us can play. We just out here battling trying to help this team get better. That's what we have to do: anything that's good for the offense.
"We want to make everybody better. We want to improve the run, improve the pass and it's all going to start up front with the offensive line."
With the other four spots on the O-line settled, right tackle is the one question mark.
"Yeah, I would say we're the only question mark on the offense line, meaning we don't know who is going to open up the season," Downing said. "But, then again, you never know what's going to happen with the guard spots and you never know what's going to happen across the ball. You just never know what's going to happen because it's a long season. This right tackle spot is going to be big for us and I think we'll be fine."