Sunday Morning QB: Another Classic At The 'Shoe

We take a look at the weekend that was in college football, focusing on Ohio State and its dramatic win over Marshall and broadening out to the Big Ten and the nation at-large. Regarding the Buckeyes, we have notes on the Old Gray Lady, winning tight games, Mike Nugent, Dustin Fox, Justin Zwick, Mark Snyder and so much more. Check it out!

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 Marshall:

* As I like to say, the Old Gray Lady on the banks of the Olentangy struck again Saturday night.

There are moments and then there are Ohio State Moments.

At approximately 7:19 p.m. Eastern time last night, about 104,622 of us experienced an Ohio State Moment.

The Terry Bowdens and Mark Mays of the world may call it "luck."

But there was some skill involved in Ohio State's 24-21 win over Marshall.

For starters, the Ohio State defense, wrung out after a rough second half against the Thundering Herd, got the stop the Buckeyes needed with 30 seconds left in regulation.

Then, the combination of Justin Zwick and Santonio Holmes – magic over the game's first 30 minutes – got together for a pair of pass plays to put the Buckeyes in field goal range.

And, finally, after a mad scramble to get the field goal team in place, Mike Nugent drilled a 55-yard field goal to give the Buckeyes – a 16-point favorite – their hard-earned three-point win over Marshall.

I know, Marshall is 0-2. Big deal, you say.

But you have to go a little deeper than that. Marshall had won 63 games over the last seven seasons. Only Miami (Fla.) had won more – and it was just one more.

That tells me that Bob Pruett and his staff know a little bit of something about winning football games. And they've shared it with their players, who did not go quietly.

Ohio State is a young team. I know that's a hard pill to swallow. The mistakes OSU made – the Buckeyes are now minus-7 in turnover margin on the year, though they are 2-0 – come with being a little bit young.

But I think this three-point win will go a long way toward steeling this team for future tough encounters.

Does this mean they'll automatically win next week at N.C. State? Certainly not. But the next time OSU finds itself in this kind of do-or-die predicament, the Buckeyes will know how to react.

And what about the scene at the venerable 84-year-old Horseshoe as Nugent's kick just swerved inside that pesky left upright in the nick of time to save (and finish) the day?

Pandemonium spread throughout the stadium as that kick found its way into the back of the net.

That was another Ohio State Moment courtesy of the Old Gray Lady. There is only one place in the world like this. You don't see things like that every day. Enjoy that moment. Savor that moment. It is days like these that make being an Ohio State fan so, well, interesting and fun.

* Along those lines, Ohio State has now won 13 of its last 14 games that were decided by a touchdown or less. The only loss in that period was the 17-10 shiner at Wisconsin last year. Otherwise, OSU would be 14-0 in such games over the last two-plus years. Fairly remarkable stuff.

"It seemed like last year we had a bunch of close games," said linebacker A.J. Hawk. "We were pretty confident our offense would move the ball when they needed to and get in position to kick the field goal. Obviously, I'm sure it makes the fans a little nervous."

Linebacker Bobby Carpenter is waiting as well for an easy game – and he knows that probably won't happen next week at N.C. State, either.

"We like to think that we could win some games by a bigger spread," he said. "But we'll take a win any way we can get it. Marshall's a good team. They're a giant killer and they've shown they can win games like this.

"We know we will have to play a lot better next week when we go down to ACC country."

* It speaks volumes for Nugent that he was voted a team captain, despite being "just a kicker." On Saturday night, we saw that Nugent is much more than that. He is a leader and a winner.

He delivered one of the all-time clutch plays in Ohio State football history. That play has to stand with some of the most revered, like the fourth-and-1 pass from Craig Krenzel to Michael Jenkins at Purdue in 2002, Vaughn Broadnax clearing out two blockers so Art Schlichter could score at Michigan in 1981 and so many others in OSU annals.

It was Nugent's first chance to make a final-play field goal to win a game, and he delivered.

"It's exciting to see him get his first opportunity to do that and to make it," Hawk said.

Fellow captain Dustin Fox said he had faith in Nugent all the way.

"He hit it good," Fox said. "I was confident he was going to make it. That's the Nuge, man."

* Of course, the news was not so good for Fox, who suffered a broken arm making a tackle in the first quarter of the win.

Fox suffered the injury, but he didn't sit around and mope about it. He came back out for the captains meeting before the second half in sweats with his arm in a sling. He stuck around for an hour after the game to speak with reporters as well. (We will have a story on Fox's injury later today.)

"My family and everybody was down and I was like, `Hey, I'm gonna be all right. I'll be back,' " Fox said.

As you're reading this, Fox has likely already undergone surgery to insert a plate in his arm to aid the healing process. Fox figures to be out four to five weeks. Obviously, that means some other people – most notably Ashton Youboty and probably Ted Ginn Jr. – will have to step up in his absence and maintain a high level of play at corner. And that will be no more true than this week when the Buckeyes visit N.C. State.

One more thought on that situation is that Fox, since he has only played two games this year, would certainly qualify for a medical redshirt and could come back next year if his healing and rehab work are slowed for any reason.

* I admit it is ridiculous to say this after two games, but I think we're going to have the privilege of watching several All-Americans each week this season.

There probably will not be a bigger kick in a more high profile situation made all year than the one Nugent delivered yesterday. As long as he can avoid an unforeseen spate of misses, I'd have to think he's on his way to being a two-time All-American.

Likewise, I think Holmes is going to pile up some gaudy numbers as well as some highlight reel catches (I think he has five or six of those on his highlight tape already this year). You need both statistics and plays that stick in peoples' heads to win All-American honors. Again, it's just two games, but Holmes looks like the real deal.

And, I think if Carpenter and Hawk keep this stuff up every week, people will be mentioning them for similar honors at the end of the year. Their work so far has been top shelf.

* Dissect this win, where do we start?

Well, it's clear that Justin Zwick has become Ohio State's quarterback. Troy Smith got three snaps – count ‘em, three – on Saturday.

Even more telling than that, they came at the absolute wrong time. Zwick had just hit Holmes for touchdowns of 80 and 47 yards. He was hot. OSU was leading just 14-7 when Smith came in. Zwick needed to stay in the game and try and hit another big play to possibly put this game away.

But if Tressel has one fault it's that he wants to be almost too nice and include everybody at times. It was almost like Smith got his token possession, then OSU went back to work with Zwick to try and win the game.

Do I think Zwick is the end-all, be-all at quarterback? Do I think Smith is chopped liver? Probably no on both counts.

But there is something to be said for continuity, too. Zwick will probably be given a chance to go the route next week at N.C. State. Will he make a mistake or two? Yes, I'm sure he will. But we all knew that score when we signed up for this extravaganza.

How weird is it that OSU beats Marshall by a scant three points, then you see Florida State and Michigan get knocked off and you have delusions of grandieur creep in and try to tell you "You're in the hunt for the big prize THIS year."

That may turn out to be the case. But reality is such that we know the mistakes that haven't cost Ohio State yet may, in fact, do so any moment now. And, the cold hard reality is that's just the way things go sometimes.

Until then, though, as Nick Bakay might say, "I'm living the dream."

* Once again, Zwick marred what was an otherwise bright performance with two second-half interceptions.

On the first one, OSU was backed up on its own 17 and faced a third-and-4 predicament. At the time, OSU was nursing a 21-14 lead.

I was sitting next to Charles Babb and my friend John Porentas from The O-Zone and I said I had a bad feeling before that play. OSU only needed 4 yards. Instead, Zwick hardly let his receivers get into their routes – maybe he was pressured, I don't recall – but he threw one up for grabs 20 yards downfield toward Ginn, who hadn't even turned around yet. Marshall's Chris Royal stepped up in the flat and made the easy pick. That turnover led to Marshall's game-tying touchdown.

Nobody ever died throwing the ball away (well, OSU did in that game at Purdue when Mike Tomczak thought it was third down and it was really fourth). OSU probably would have been just as fine had he done that and they would have punted the ball away, still holding the lead.

Then, on the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Zwick made a rookie mistake. He tried to get it all back at once. He went deep down the middle to Holmes, but Royal was playing center field and again made the easy pick – his fourth in two games for the Herd. Obviously, Marshall had made some adjustments after Zwick and Holmes had beaten them deep early in the game.

I think Zwick will be prone to one or two lapses in judgment like these probably all season long. On the plus side, I thought he was sharper and much more accurate than he was the week before.

* A lot of people, myself included, gave Mark Dantonio a ton of credit for his job as the defensive coordinator the last three years.

One of Dantonio's fortes was making adjustments at halftime or on the fly to counter an opponent's offensive attack. (Of course, it helped that he had seven or eight NFL players to execute his plans, too.)

Yesterday, it seemed that Mark Snyder, Dantonio's replacement, got his arms wrapped around how to stop Marshall's perimeter passing game just in time to see the Thundering Herd try and cram the ball down Ohio State's throat.

I'm not criticizing Snyder in the least. I think he and co-coordinator Mel Tucker are about as sharp as they get. But they're growing into their new roles, too. So if it seems like it's taking an inordinate amount of time to make adjustments, that's just part of what this year may be about as well.

And you have to remember they played the last three quarters without Fox and the last two quarters without any help from the OSU offense. In the second half, OSU's possessions went five plays, eight plays, three plays, one play and three plays before the final drive that set up Nugent's field goal.

Now, for a look around the Big Ten

* Nobody gave Notre Dame a chance to beat Michigan Saturday in South Bend. But of course that analysis leaves out the fact that UM can't seem to win its first road game of the year. For the fifth straight season, the eighth-ranked Wolverines dropped their road opener, falling 28-20 to the Fighting Irish.

UM settled for four field goals and a 12-7 lead before ND rallied behind a blocked punt and the running of freshman Darius Walker – yes, that Darius Walker, the one who seemed to give OSU a close look last winter – to pull out the win. Walker, who did not play in ND's season opening loss to BYU, had two fourth-quarter touchdowns and ran for 115 yards on 31 carries.

That was Notre Dame's first win over a top-10 team since beating the Wolverines, then ranked fifth, 25-23 two years ago. Walker was the first Irish freshman to rush for more than 100 yards since Julius Jones had 146 yards against Navy in 1999.

* Purdue's Kyle Orton may have been throwing against air as he completed 23 of 26 passes for 329 yards in his team's 59-7 pasting of Ball State. The Boilermakers have now rolled up 110 points in wins over Syracuse and Ball State. Orton's completion of percentage was a school-record 88.5 percent. He also threw for a career-high five touchdowns and ran for another score.

Taylor Stubblefield had three TD grabs among his five catches for Purdue.

* No. 21 Wisconsin survived without lead runner Anthony Davis, who may miss two more games with an eye injury, and defeated UNLV 18-3. The win avenged a loss to the Runnin' Rebels a year ago. UW used two safeties to hold off UNLV. The Badgers hadn't recorded two safeties in a game since 1951 and they're the first Big Ten team to do it since Minnesota had two at Indiana in 1981. The first came on a high snap out of the end zone on a punt by UNLV and the second on linebacker Mark Zalewski's sack in the end zone.

* Indiana shocked No. 24 Oregon 30-24 for its first 2-0 start since 1996. The Hoosiers, who opened with a 41-10 rout of Central Michigan, won only two games last season and had not defeated a ranked opponent on the road since Nov. 10, 2001, when they beat No. 23 Michigan State in East Lansing. The Ducks broke a string of 21 straight nonconference victories at Autzen Stadium dating to Sept. 17, 1994, when they lost to Utah.

Matt LoVechhio threw for a touchdown and BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 91 yards and another score to lead Indiana to its biggest win in recent memory. IU held on after nearly losing a 23-0 lead.

* UCLA snapped a six-game losing streak with a 35-17 win over Illinois on Saturday. Drew Olson threw three touchdown passes and Maurice Drew rushed for 142 yards to help end a string of losses dating back to Nov. 1.

* The good feeling surrounding Penn State after an opening win over Akron dissipated with a 21-7 loss at Boston College.

And a glance at headlines nationally

* The weekend's biggest game saw No. 5 Miami (Fla.) rally to defeat No. 6 Florida State 16-10 in overtime. It was Miami's sixth straight win against its instate rival. FSU quarterback Chris Rix became the first quarterback to lose to the same team five times in his career.

* Cedric Benson rushed for 188 yards and scored two touchdowns and No. 7 Texas took advantage of a late Arkansas fumble deep in Longhorns' territory to hold off the Razorbacks 22-20 on Saturday night. The Longhorns turned their oldtime rivals back three times in the final 9:58 after Arkansas closed within two. Razorback quarterback Matt Jones gave up the crucial fumble and Texas recovered at the 8 with three minutes left.

* Kansas' Adam Barmann threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Jayhawks to a 63-14 win over Toledo.

* Fresno State shocked No. 13 Kansas State 45-21 in its biggest win ever over a ranked team -- and the Wildcats' worst regular-season nonconference loss in 13 years. The Bulldogs' 45 points were the most given up by Kansas State in a regular-season, nonconference game since a 56-3 loss to Washington in 1991. Fresno State's previous most decisive win over a ranked team was a 44-24 victory over Oregon State, then ranked 10th, in 2001.

FSU coach Pat Hill played the Texas Hold ‘Em card with his postgame comments: "We are still at the main table. We were all in. We picked up all their chips, and now we've got a bigger pile -- and next week we'll go all in again."

The victory was the Bulldogs' second victory over a team from a Bowl Championship Series conference in seven days -- and their seventh since the BCS was established in 1998.

* Former Buckeye Sammy Maldonado ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns as No. 23 Maryland defeated Temple 45-22.

* Top-ranked Southern California blanked Colorado State 49-0 to win its 11th-straight game. That is the second longest active winning streak among Division I-A schools behind Boise State's 13. It also was the Trojans' 16th consecutive triumph at the Coliseum dating nearly three years -- their longest winning streak at home since they won 19 straight from 1931-33.

* The West Coast offense may be new at Nebraska, but the results were much of the same as Southern Miss went into Memorial Stadium and dealt the ‘Huskers a 21-17 defeat. It was Nebraska's first home nonconference loss since a loss to Washington in 1991. The Huskers, 102-7 at Memorial Stadium since 1988, had not lost to an unranked opponent at home since a 20-16 defeat by Texas in 1998.

* Antonio Perkins tied the NCAA record for career punt returns for touchdowns with a 41-yarder in No. 2 Oklahoma's 63-13 win over Houston on Saturday night. Perkins, who tied Texas Tech's Wes Welker with eight career punt returns, holds the NCAA records for punt return for touchdowns in a game (three) and a season (four).

* On the losing end: Louisville beat Army 52-21 Saturday to extend the Black Knights' losing streak to 16 straight games. Meanwhile, SMU dropped its 14th straight game -- the second longest streak in the nation -- with a 44-0 loss to TCU.

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

* Games to watch next week: Cal-Southern Miss (Thursday), Maryland-West Virginia, Marshall-Georgia (ha ha), Oregon-Oklahoma, LSU-Auburn, Florida-Tennessee, Iowa-Arizona State, Minnesota-Colorado State, Indiana-Kentucky.

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 (1-1), beat Miami (Ohio) 45-26, Sept. 11; at Syracuse, Sept. 18.

Sept. 11, Marshall (0-2), lost to Ohio State 24-21, Sept. 11; at Georgia, Sept. 18.

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

Sept. 25, idle

Oct. 2 (7:45 or 9 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2), at Northwestern (0-2), lost to Arizona State 30-21, Sept. 11; Kansas, Sept. 18.

Oct. 9 (TBA), Wisconsin (2-0), beat UNLV 18-3, Sept. 11; at Arizona, Sept. 18.

Oct. 16 (TBA), at Iowa (2-0), beat Iowa State 17-10, Sept. 11; at Arizona State, Sept. 18.

Oct. 23 (TBA), Indiana (2-0), beat Oregon 30-24, Sept. 11; at Kentucky, Sept. 18.

Oct. 30 (TBA), Penn State (1-1), lost to Boston College 21-7, Sept. 11; vs. Central Florida, Sept. 18.

Nov. 7 (TBA), at Michigan State (1-1), beat Central Michigan 24-7, Sept. 11; vs. Notre Dame, Sept. 18.

Nov. 14 (TBA), Purdue (2-0), beat Ball State 59-7, Sept. 11; idle, Sept. 18; at Illinois, Sept. 25.

Nov. 21 (1 p.m., ABC), Michigan (1-1), lost to Notre Dame 28-20, Sept. 11; vs. San Diego State, Sept. 18.

Buckeye Sports Top Stories