Sunday Morning Quarterback: Answers To Questions

We are back with our popular next-day column as we reflect on Ohio State's season opening win over Cincinnati. Plus, we look at what happened around the Big Ten and around the country in college football.

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 season opening win over Cincinnati:

* Prior to the game, I posted my Ten Pressing Questions as Ohio State approached the opener. With a few hours to ponder what we saw on Saturday, here are some answers to those questions.

1. How will Justin Zwick fare in his debut as the starting quarterback? You have to hand it to Zwick. He did a whale of a job in his first start for the Buckeyes. Yes, he had two interceptions and a fumble. But, he showed amazing poise, went through his progressions and just did a masterful job overall in running the OSU offense. His deep ball to Santonio Holmes was an amazing throw-and-catch.

2. How much will Troy Smith play and how effective will he be? Smith only played about a quarter of the game, if that. But he showed he, too, is up to the challenge. His TD toss to Holmes was phenomenal. Now you know what we've been raving about. He has a hose, doesn't he?

3. Will the real Lydell Ross please stand up? OK, Ross had 141 yards. Some will say he got half of it (68 yards) on one play, leaving him with 73 yards on his 16 other carries. But with the game on the line in the second half, Ross came up big with some nice runs that moved the chains. He made, perhaps, his best run ever during that late drive, even showing some elusiveness and lateral ability. (Egads!) If Ross can build on this game, he might just get his 1,000 yet. Of course, there is a long way to go.

4. You know Santonio Holmes has star written all over him. My question is this: Will this be like 1994, when opponents realized Joey Galloway was OSU's only game breaker and they'll scheme to stop Holmes and, in turn, the Buckeyes? This may have been the biggest thing that came out of this game. Bam Childress and Ryan Hamby came up big. Roy Hall did make one grab, although several others could have been his as well. The "situation" at wide receiver is telling when true freshman Ted Ginn Jr. probably had to play 20 plays or more on offense (translation: they know they need some play makers).

5. Is Rory Nicol ready for prime time? Nicol did not catch a ball, but he did a nice job when called upon in the two-tight end sets.

6. Will this lean, mean offensive line come through? Ohio State piled up 462 yards and allowed just one sack. I give you this was Cincinnati, but it looked good to me.

7. What kind of impact, if any, will Ted Ginn Jr. have? They tried like heck to get Ginn involved on offense, running the bubble screen. Obviously, you saw that incredible grab he made that was ruled incomplete when he was shoved out of bounds. OK, he didn't get a big one in this game. Come back next week and let's see what he does then. And I think it's clear he'll be working mostly on offense this year.

8. How will Mark Snyder's defense differ from what we've seen under Mark Dantonio? Wow. Was that a command performance or what? Cincinnati didn't get much going on the ground and Gino Guidugli was, well, contained through the air. I'd tell you how they rotated personnel all day, but there were so many substitutions it was hard to keep them straight. Snyder is right down there on the field managing this thing on every play. This was a cracker jack effort against a total unknown opponent. I'm interested in seeing what these guys do for an encore. No sacks and no turnovers are the only down sides, but no touchdowns means the most (obviously).

9. Speaking of those linebackers, OSU desperately needs meaningful play at the middle linebacker spot. Will it be there today? Yes, it was there in spades. Mike D'Andrea made a handful of huge plays. Anthony Schlegel also did his part. And what can be said about outside men A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter. This will be a joy to watch this fearsome foursome abuse people over the next two years (hope they can keep them together).

10. Kyle Turano has never played a snap for Ohio State, yet today he will be asked to punt the ball (probably six or seven times). How will he fare? Due to factors beyond his control, Turano only punted once for 57 yards and a touchback. Nice debut and it's good to get that first one out of the way, certainly.

* Holmes made a pair of incredible grabs – the deep ball from Zwick and the touchdown from Smith – on what was otherwise a quiet day. He agreed that the offense needs the boost his fellow receivers (and tight ends) can provide.

"Cincinnati was trying to disguise their defenses, but they were playing a lot of two-on-one on me," he said. "It worked for the most part, but I thought we did a couple good things. I just had to keep some faith and keep working hard.

"We talked about how guys are going to key on me and try and keep me from touching the ball. I told them, `Y'all got to step up.' Our coaches even say it – somebody has to step up every day."

* Hawk talked about the defense's strong showing.

"The defense did meet some of its goals," Hawk said. "We didn't get any turnovers. There are always things for us to work for next week.

"It just feels really good to get out there and play. There was a lot of talk about us and Coach Dantonio and a lot of coaches from our staff. It got kind of old for us. We just needed to get in the game and play well."

* In closing, I'd say that was an A-minus or a B-plus effort. A great opening game performance that they must build on. The coaches must earn their money and keep this young team – which could start to believe its press clippings – focused on what comes next.

Yes, Marshall was stunned by Troy State 17-15 and couldn't run the ball at all. But the Thundering Herd will still be dangerous here next Saturday. Mark my word.

Now, for a look around the Big Ten

* Much was made about the MAC and the upsets the conference was able to pull off last year. But in the first weekend, the MAC was 0-10 against Division I-A opponents outside the conference. That mark included an 0-6 record against Big Ten schools.

* Freshman Chad Henne stepped in for an injured Matt Gutierrez and threw two touchdowns to help No. 8 Michigan beat Miami (Ohio) 43-10 and end the nation's longest winning streak. Henne is the second quarterback to start as a freshman for the Wolverines. Rick Leach was the first in 1975 at Wisconsin. The RedHawks (1-1) had won 14 straight games.

"He made one mistake," UM coach Lloyd Carr said of Henne. "But considering running out into this stadium after he just got out of junior-senior prom, I was impressed."

* New Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco rushed for a touchdown and threw a pair of TD passes in his team's 34-6 rout of Central Florida.

This was the first game where the Big Ten's new instant replay system became notable. The replay official correctly called back Dontez Sanders' 50-yard fumble return for a touchdown. The replay official had to correct another call and missed another call.

Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez became the 15th coach in Big Ten history to reach 100 wins at one conference school.

* Penn State quarterback Zack Mills ran for a touchdown, caught a TD and threw two scoring passes in a 48-10 victory over Akron on Saturday. The Nittany Lions quarterback became the first Penn State player to accomplish the rare triple under Joe Paterno, who started his 39th season as head coach with career victory 340.

* It was a bitter trip home from Fort Worth for Northwestern. The Wildcats lost to TCU 48-45 in double overtime Thursday night. Kicker Brett Huffman was 1 of 6 on field goals for NU.

"He hasn't missed six kicks all of camp," said NU coach Randy Walker, who had to be ecstatic over Brett Basanez's 513 yards passing and four touchdowns.

The two teams combined for 1,152 yards and 12 touchdowns.

* Rutgers' Jeremy Ito made four field goals as the Scarlet Knights defeated Michigan State 19-14. Rutgers grad James Gandolfini – Tony Soprano from the HBO mob drama "The Sopranos" – was on hand to enjoy the biggest win in coach Greg Schiano's three-plus years at Rutgers.

* Minnesota obliterated MAC favorite Toledo 63-21. The Gophers rolled up 704 yards. New starting quarterback Bryan Cupito was 10 of 12 passing for 279 yards and a touchdown. Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, trying to become the first pair of teammates to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, each scored a pair of touchdowns.

And a glance at headlines nationally

* The Game of the Week was at Death Valley, where No. 3 LSU rallied late to force overtime with a touchdown and two-point conversion and then benefited from a missed extra point in a 22-21 win over Oregon State.

* Oklahoma State went into UCLA with untested quarterbacks. So how did the Cowboys pull off a 31-20 win at the Rose Bowl? They just lined up and rushed for 426 yards. Vernand Morency rushed for 261 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Cowboys.

"Defensively, we've got to get our young players ready to go," said UCLA coach Carl Dorrell in the understatement of the young season. The Bruins lost their sixth straight game dating to last year.

* Clemson had to rally to force overtime and eventually turned back Wake Forest 37-30 in double OT in each team's ACC opener. Former Ohio Mr. Football award winner Ben Mauk debuted at QB for Wake and threw for 101 yards and a touchdown.

* Mark Clayton caught two of Jason White's three touchdown passes as No. 2 Oklahoma beat Bowling Green 40-24. White, the returning Heisman Trophy winner, completed 21 of 31 passes for 238 yards, but also threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

* Temple's losing streak against Top 25 teams was extended to 18 games with a 44-14 loss to No. 16 Virginia, which began the season with its highest ranking since 1998. The Owls have 13 straight losing seasons and are getting kicked out of the Big East after this season.

* Air Force allowed the most points on opening day in school history in a 56-14 loss to No. 13 California on Saturday. J.J. Arrington ran for 181 yards and three touchdowns, and Aaron Rodgers threw for 208 yards and a touchdown to help the Golden Bears pull away from the Falcons in the second half.

* Notre Dame moved heavy and earth (almost) to play BYU before hosting Michigan next week. But the Irish, coming off a losing season, didn't bargain for what happened last night. BYU prevailed 20-17, despite ND quarterback Brady Quinn completing 26 of 47 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown.

* Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom took the field as the first black head coach in SEC history as the Bulldogs defeated Tulane 28-7. Croom, a longtime NFL assistant, took the MSU job after he was passed over by his alma mater, Alabama, a year ago.

"After 28 years of hard work, a dream became a reality today," Croom said.

* West Virginia RB Kay-Jay Harris set a Big East record with 337 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries in his team's 56-23 pasting of East Carolina.

* Colorado endured a rough off-season but the Buffaloes held off a late charge by bitter rival Colorado State to win their opener 27-24. Bobby Purify ran for 189 yards and a touchdown and teammate J.J. Billingsley made a game-saving tackle at the Colorado 3-yard line on the final play.

* Nebraska coach Bill Callahan and his West Coast offense made a rousing debut in Lincoln as the Huskers blasted Division I-AA Western Illinois 56-17. Joe Dailey threw for 218 yards and four touchdowns and also rushed for two scores.

* My new top 15: USC, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida State, Texas, Ohio State, Michigan, Miami (Fla.), LSU, Florida, West Virginia, California, Kansas State, Auburn, Tennessee.

* Games to watch next week: Florida State-Miami (Friday), Iowa State-Iowa, Auburn-Mississippi State, Michigan-Notre Dame, Colorado State-USC, Georgia Tech-Clemson, Texas-Arkansas.

We will wrap up each week with a look at how OSU's opponents fared and check out who they face next week.

Date (Time, TV), Opponent (Record), This Week's Result, Next Week's Game

Sept. 4, Cincinnati (0-1), lost to Ohio State 27-6, vs. Miami (Ohio) Sept. 11

Sept. 11 (3:30 p.m., ABC), Marshall (0-1), lost to Troy State 17-15, at Ohio State Sept. 11

Sept. 18 (3:30 p.m., ABC), at N.C. State (1-0), defeated Richmond 42-0, idle Sept. 11, vs. Ohio State Sept. 18

Sept. 25, idle

Oct. 2 (7:45 or 9 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2), at Northwestern (0-1), lost to TCU 48-45 (2 OT), vs. Arizona State Sept. 11

Oct. 9 (TBA), Wisconsin (1-0), defeated Central Florida 34-6, vs. UNLV Sept. 11

Oct. 16 (TBA), at Iowa (1-0), defeated Kent State 39-7, vs. Iowa State Sept. 11

Oct. 23 (TBA), Indiana (1-0), defeated Central Michigan 41-10, at Oregon Sept. 11

Oct. 30 (TBA), Penn State (1-0), defeated Akron 48-10, at Boston College Sept. 11

Nov. 7 (TBA), at Michigan State (0-1), lost to Rutgers 19-14, vs. Central Michigan Sept. 11

Nov. 14 (TBA), Purdue (0-0), vs. Syracuse today, vs. Ball State Sept. 11

Nov. 21 (1 p.m., ABC), Michigan (1-0), defeated Miami (Ohio) 43-10, at Notre Dame Sept. 11

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