Zwick Prepares for First Road Test

Justin Zwick is about to learn what life is like on the road for the OSU starting quarterback. Kyle Lamb has more on Zwick's performance so far and what to expect this week.

With Saturday's showdown in Raleigh looming on the horizon, the Buckeyes need the real Justin Zwick to stand up. A very hungry N.C. State Wolfpack squad is eagerly waiting to blow Zwick away with more than just remnants of Hurricane Ivan.

Perhaps the real Zwick has already stood up, but deciphering which one is the norm is about as predictable as figuring out the exact landfall of Ivan.

Maybe it was the Zwick that completed 18 of 32 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns against Marshall, or maybe it's the Zwick that has thrown four interceptions and lost two fumbles this season.

For that matter, maybe it's truly a cross of the two, or maybe it's neither one whatsoever.

In any event, Zwick has given Ohio State fans a bittersweet taste of a passing attack that has been somewhat lacking the past couple of years, and in absence of the tradition running game Ohio State usually possesses, Zwick's performance during the first road test of his career will loom large in the outcome.

When Zwick goes out there, he will do so apparently with the full support of the coaching staff. The coaches have now made Zwick their guy, and there's no current plan to insert Smith in any premeditated manner.

"There's really nothing against Troy (Smith), but his command of the offense and his understanding of the offense is just a little better," Quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels said Tuesday after practice. "Another thing he does so well is that he gets rid of the ball so quickly, and that's something you really look for."

"He's got a good understanding of where the ball should go, and he sees the field really well," Daniels added.

For about 28 passes last Saturday against the Thundering Herd, Zwick was delivering the ball on time, where it was supposed to be, and in stride to his receivers.

But it was the other three or four passes that got the Buckeyes into a situation where they were dealing with more than they particularly wanted to handle.

"I felt good about my performance except for three passes in a row, really," Zwick said. "I had three passes that I didn't feel good about, but I was fine other than that."

Understanding that he's making his first road start, N.C. State will try to complicate things for him the best they can. With nine defensive starters returning from an athletic defense that caused problems last season for the Buckeyes in the 3 OT thriller, the Wolfpack will try to continue forcing mistakes an inexperienced quarterback would make.

Zwick understands his responsibility.

"I know we just have to eliminate the mistakes and eliminate the turnovers," he said. "We can't turn the ball over as much as we have the first two games. This week, that's our priority."

Even despite the mistakes, Zwick in just two collegiate starts is sitting with a healthy 146 pass-efficiency rating, and a 57 percent completion percentage.

In just those two games, Zwick's 537 yards passing is over 20 percent of the total the Buckeyes had as a team for the entire season last year in 13 games played.

As many Buckeye fans were probably throwing shoes, lamps, or any other unattached objects they could find to toss towards the television in watching Zwick's roller coaster ride, even Zwick himself can relate.

"If I were sitting at home watching the game on T.V., I think I would have been yelling at me as well," Zwick laughed.

"I think I was compounding one mistake into another, and you just can't have that," he explained. "As a quarterback, you don't want to put yourself in that situation."

Last season, the Buckeyes were able to put up 273 yards passing on N.C. State, although a fair amount of that was done past regulation.

It didn't help, however, that Krenzel threw three interceptions, keeping the Wolfpack in the game as they rallied from a 24-7 deficit to force overtime before ultimately falling, 44-38.

Zwick understands it's a matter of repetition as far as road games are concerned. Although this is his first, and a big test at that, he's not going to be intimidated.

"The more you do it, the better you'll feel about it," Zwick said. "When you're out there in those situations, there's nothing you can do about it. You just have to play your game."

Daniels said Zwick is to be held accountable for some of the mistakes he's made, but reminds everyone that on one of the interceptions, Zwick's hand had gotten sweaty and there's really not much you can do when that happens.

In the other cases, he simply compounded his mistakes by making them worse. On the plus side, Daniels is amazed at Zwick's veteran ability to shake those mistakes off.

"Very much so, he has that ability," Daniels said. "I think part of that is his understanding. He understands the offense, he understands what we're capable of doing and he understand what he should and shouldn't do. It's definitely not going to wear on him (when he makes a mistake)."

The challenge of heading to Raleigh for the 3:30 kickoff and facing the quick Wolfpack secondary is tough enough, but with Ivan threatening to stop by, the task may be even tougher.

"We haven't really worried much about that," Zwick said of the possibility Ivan could effect the game. "Obviously it's not something I'm hoping for, but we're not concerned about it."

The coaching staff hasn't told Zwick or Smith one way or another of their plans, but even the added assurance of Zwick being the guy wouldn't change his mentality.

"I've always felt that when I'm out there, I felt comfortable like it was my team to lead," he said. "That's something you've got to do as a quarterback. You need confidence and have to take control as a leader."

Saturday will go a long ways in showing how quickly Zwick is ready to mature as a quarterback. This game in a hostile environment will test his poise and mental capacity immediately.

Maybe very little can derail Zwick's focus.

"As long as Ivan stays away, I'm excited," Zwick joked.

Hopefully Ivan stays away. It would be a shame to see Mother Nature preventing Zwick from standing on his own two feet -- the real Justin Zwick, that is.

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