Sunday Morning QB: Road Win Gives (Some) Answers

We return from Raleigh with answers to at least a few of the Ten Pressing Questions we posed prior to Ohio State's game at N.C. State. Plus, we assess another wild weekend of football in the Big Ten and across the country at-large.

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 N.C. State:

* On Friday night, I shared my Ten Pressing Questions surrounding this game with the Wolfpack. Now, we will share our informed answers to these questions. Here goes:

1. How will Justin Zwick fare in his first road start as OSU's starting quarterback? Well, he did not throw any interceptions, which is quite an improvement. N.C. State's big, athletic team came after Zwick early and often and he did a good job of standing in there. This two-week break will be perfect for Zwick to assess what he's done and what he needs to work on.

Zwick's problems, for lack of a better word, seem to be rooted in OSU's lack of a running game (see 2003). Opposing defenses will not respect him until they are forced to stop the run.

2. What kind of role will Branden Joe and Antonio Pittman play in energizing the OSU running game? It is apparent that Joe is not ready to play full-time, although he blocked for Lydell Ross on his touchdown. The only thing you can hope for is that he'll get healthy and be able to make an impact during the Big Ten slate.

Jim Tressel seems loathe to put Pittman in a big game when it's on the line. He did have two carries for 9 yards in this game, though.

3. Will Santonio Holmes be able to go deep on N.C. State's secondary? N.C. State never gave Holmes a chance. He had two grabs for 16 yards and spent part of the game getting a problematic thumb checked out. OSU's longest completion was for 13 yards to Bam Childress. Not good.

4. How will OSU's offensive line hold up against N.C. State's athletic front seven? Well, Ohio State was not going to run the ball in a month of Saturdays against this N.C. State defense. And it doesn't help when they know it's coming. The first six times OSU had the ball, they began each possession with a run by Ross. The net result: 0 yards and six second-and-long situations. All together, not good.

They won this game, yes, largely because N.C. State committed five turnovers and 14 penalties (thank you, Dick Honig). But they aren't going to beat any good Big Ten teams with overall anemic offensive performances like this.

5. Can the OSU defensive front contain N.C. State tailback T.A. McLendon? McLendon got fired up and ripped off that 41-yard run after he had that fumbled pitch. Otherwise, OSU largely held him in check.

6. Will the Buckeyes get meaningful and constant pressure on N.C. State quarterback Jay Davis? That had to be a major affirmative. Give the credit to the defensive front and the linebackers, who got to Davis. Pressures by Mike D'Andrea and Simon Fraser led to picks.

7. Will the OSU defense or special teams force any turnovers? Five turnovers later, this is also a big affirmative. How about Sirjo Welch hitting Tramain Hall right after the punt arrived to force a fumble?

8. How will the revamped secondary hold up without rock solid corner Dustin Fox? This was one of the biggest factors in the game. The secondary contained Davis and his explosive receivers, for the most part. Ashton Youboty and Donte Whitner had big interceptions.

9. What impact, if any, will the weather have on this game? The rain stopped two hours before the game started, but the field had never been covered and was extremely soggy. Perhaps the sloppy conditions played a big factor in each team's sloppy play.

10. Is Ohio State, as a result of this game, a serious contender for the 2004 national championship? On defense? Yes. On special teams? Probably. On offense? Not by a long shot. It's back to the drawing board for Tressel, Jim Bollman and the offense. Ross may be a team captain, but I think some other people need a look. Where was Roy Hall? Where was Ryan Hamby? Lots of questions and no answers (and no imagination, either).

They won, but does anybody think this offense will be good enough to win some of the nut crunchers this team faces ahead like Purdue, Michigan and maybe even Wisconsin?

* Much has to be made about the officiating. Remember a year ago, an ACC crew flagged Ohio State 14 times in the win over N.C. State in Columbus.

N.C. State and its fans felt robbed after a Big Ten crew flagged their team 14 times for 121 yards. But most, if not all, of the calls held water from where I was sitting. They ran into the punter, they hit after the whistle, they had a helmet-to-helmet hit on Zwick and so on.

Maybe two of the pass interference calls were iffy (on one, Zwick bounced the ball Ted Ginn; on another, Dovonte Edwards appeared to arrive with the ball). But everything else seemed plausible. McLendon got a celebration penalty for pointing to his crotch. That's a flag.

Chuck Amato wants his players to have some freedom. However, that freedom probably cost the Wolfpack this game. The OSU offense produced six first downs; N.C. State gave the Buckeyes five more on penalties. Ouch.

* Tressel was asked if his offense is conservative in nature. The response was among the biggest understatements of this calendar year.

"That might be our nature," he said with a sly smile. "But I think that has to do with what your team needs to win games. We did today what we needed to do."

* This was a trying road trip for the Buckeyes, whose flight out of Columbus was delayed when the Raleigh-Durham airport was closed due to a tornado watch. OSU waited at the airport for two hours before finally making the trip.

"They were challenged," Tressel said. "We had guys who had never been on a plane before. All of a sudden, they're hearing about tornadoes on the other end. It didn't go perfectly. It was a battle on the road. But now they have one of those under their belt.

"We had one like that two years ago (at Cincinnati). We learned our lessons and went on and played pretty well in the Big Ten."

* We would be remiss if we did not recognize Nugent's accomplishments: He tied a school record with five field goals (and would have had a sixth if not for Ross' late fumble). Bob Atha also kicked five field goals for the Buckeyes in 1981 against Indiana.

Now, for a look around the Big Ten

* Coming off a loss at Notre Dame, the last thing Michigan wanted or needed was a struggle with San Diego State. But the Aztecs gave UM all it could handle. The Wolverines rallied from a 21-17 halftime deficit for a 24-21 win.

Braylon Edwards caught eight passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns. In so doing, Edwards passed Marquise Walker to become Michigan's career leading receiver.

* Michigan State had owned Notre Dame in recent years, winning five of the last six meetings. But ND cruised to a 31-24 win at East Lansing. ND's Tom Zbikowski returned a fumble 75 yards for a touchdown and set up another score with an interception.

* Arizona lost to a nationally ranked team for the 16th straight time, 9-7 to No. 20 Wisconsin. UW's Booker Stanley carried 30 times for a career-high 135 yards, including a 7-yard run for Wisconsin's only touchdown, and the 20th-ranked Badgers rallied in a game delayed for 88 minutes in the second quarter because of lightning.

Mike Allen, who earlier missed a conversion try, kicked a 23-yard field goal with 3:47 to play for what proved to be the game-winning points.

* Minnesota's Marion Barber III ran for 201 yards and two touchdowns and running mate Laurence Maroney added 132 yards in a 34-16 pasting of Colorado State in Fort Collins.

Bryan Cupito hit Matt Spaeth with a pair of TD passes and Minnesota scored on four of its first five drives, finishing with more than 400 yards (504) for the 11th straight game. Colorado State has started the season with three straight losses for the first time in coach Sonny Lubick's 12 seasons.

* Iowa suffered a stunning 44-7 loss at Arizona State. ASU outgained Iowa 517-105 in avenging a 21-2 loss in Iowa City from last year. Andrew Walter was 31 of 44 passing for 434 yards and five touchdowns.

* Northwestern QB Brett Basanez rushed for a touchdown and threw for one as the Wildcats broke into the win column with a 20-17 win over Kansas. NU swept a two-year series with the Jayhawks with the win.

And a glance at headlines nationally

* It was a day for kicks in the SEC. First, Auburn took the early upper hand in the SEC West with a 10-9 win over defending national champion LSU, predicated by a missed extra point. Jason Campbell threw a 16-yard scoring pass to Courtney Taylor with 1:14 to play and Auburn got two chances to kick the winning extra point. John Vaughn's first PAT attempt went wide left after a low snap, but Early Doucet was called for a personal foul, giving Auburn another shot.

Then, it appeared that the Florida-Tennessee SEC East showdown would be headed to overtime. But Vols kicker James Wilhoit missed a late PAT kick to leave Florida in front 28-27. But a Florida late hit penalty helped preserve the clock in the final minute. The Vols got possession, drove to the Florida 33 and, with 6 seconds left, Wilhoit redeemed himself with a 50-yard field goal for a 30-28 win. UT won back-to-back games over Florida for the first time since 1970-71.

* UCLA's Maurice Drew ran for a school-record 322 yards and five touchdowns in the Bruins' 37-31 victory over Washington.

* Kansas State's Darren Sproles rushed for a school-record 292 yards on 38 carries, breaking his own mark, to lead Kansas State past Louisiana-Lafayette 40-20.

* Alabama's snake-bitten program took another hit as the Crimson Tide lost starting quarterback Brodie Croyle to a season-ending knee injury early in the third quarter in a 52-0 victory over I-AA Western Carolina. Croyle was injured when he was tackled at the end of a short run with Alabama leading 31-0. Backup Mark Guillon, who led the Crimson Tide on two second-half touchdown drives, will take over the starting spot.

* Navy won its first three games for the first time since 1979, beating Tulsa 29-0 on Saturday. It was Navy's first shutout since a 7-0 win over Lafayette in 1994.

* Rasheed Marshall threw a 7-yard scoring pass to Chris Henry as West Virginia turned back Maryland 19-16 in overtime. The Mountaineers to 3-0 for the first time since 1996 and avenged a pair of lopsided losses to the Terps from a year ago.

* Boise State's Jared Zabransky threw for 392 yards and two touchdowns to help Boise State extend the nation's longest winning streak to 14 games with a 49-31 win over Texas-El Paso.

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

* Games to watch next week: BYU-Boise State (Friday), Clemson-Florida State, Iowa-Michigan, Penn State-Wisconsin, Northwestern-Minnesota, Washington-Notre Dame, Air Force-Utah, N.C. State-Virginia Tech.

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 (1-2), lost to Syracuse 19-7, Sept. 18; at East Carolina, Sept. 25.

Sept. 11, Marshall (0-3), lost to Georgia 13-3, Sept. 18; vs. Miami (Ohio), Sept. 29.

Sept. 18, at N.C. State (1-1), lost to Ohio State 22-14, Sept. 18; at Virginia Tech, Sept. 25.

Sept. 25, idle

Oct. 2 (7:45 or 9 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2), at Northwestern (1-2), beat Kansas 20-17, Sept. 18; at Minnesota, Sept. 25.

Oct. 9 (TBA), Wisconsin (3-0), beat Arizona 9-7, Sept. 18; vs. Penn State, Sept. 25.

Oct. 16 (TBA), at Iowa (2-1), lost to Arizona State, Sept. 18; at Michigan, Sept. 25.

Oct. 23 (TBA), Indiana (2-1), lost to Kentucky 51-32, Sept. 18; vs. Michigan State, Sept. 25.

Oct. 30 (TBA), Penn State (2-1), beat Central Florida 37-13, Sept. 18; at Wisconsin, Sept. 25.

Nov. 7 (TBA), at Michigan State (1-2), lost to Notre Dame 31-24, Sept. 18; at Indiana, Sept. 25.

Nov. 14 (TBA), Purdue (2-0), idle, Sept. 18; at Illinois, Sept. 25.

Nov. 21 (1 p.m., ABC), Michigan (2-1), beat San Diego State 24-21, Sept. 18; vs. Iowa, Sept. 25.

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Ohio State (3-0, 0-0)

Wisconsin (3-0, 0-0)

Minnesota (3-0, 0-0)

Purdue (2-0, 0-0)

Michigan (2-1, 0-0)

Iowa (2-1, 0-0)

Indiana (2-1, 0-0)

Illinois (2-1, 0-0)

Penn State (2-1, 0-0)

Northwestern (1-2, 0-0)

Michigan State (1-2, 0-0)

Sept. 18 Results

Illinois 30, Western Michigan 27

Kentucky 51, Indiana 32

Arizona State 44, Iowa 7

Michigan 24, San Diego State 21

Notre Dame 31, Michigan State 24

Minnesota 34, Colorado State 16

Northwestern 20, Kansas 17

Ohio State 22, N.C. State 14

Penn State 37, Central Florida 13

Wisconsin 9, Arizona 7

Sept. 25 Schedule

Purdue at Illinois, noon (ESPN-Plus)

Michigan State at Indiana, noon (ESPN-Plus)

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

Penn State at Wisconsin, 5:45 p.m. (ESPN)

Northwestern at Minnesota, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)

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