Nugent Helps Out Struggling Offense

The Buckeyes keep proving that there are other ways to win a football game besides a high-powered offense, but the offensive numbers against NC State were still ugly. Click on the link for a look at OSU's offensive output this weekend.

There was not a lot for the Ohio State offense to write home about following the Buckeyes' 22-14 win Saturday at N.C. State.

The numbers, you ask? Well, they were pretty doggone ugly. Here were some notables:

* Ohio State finished with a dismal 137 yards total offense – and still won the game. The showing was reminiscent of last year's 16-13 win over San Diego State when the Buckeyes netted 196 yards total offense. It was unclear how many years it had been since OSU last won a game with so few yards.

* The Buckeyes were almost given as many first downs by penalty (five) as they earned on their own (six).

* OSU was a dismal 2 of 16 on third-down conversions.

* If you're into predictability, try this on for size: OSU had the ball 13 times before its final possession was used to run out the clock. Tailback Lydell Ross carried 10 times on those series-beginning first downs and netted a robust 15 yards. One of those plays was a 3-yard touchdown after Donte Whitner's interception return to the NCSU 3-yard line. The rest set up second-and-long predicaments all day.

(Quarterback Justin Zwick was sacked on two other first downs to open possessions, while backup tailback Maurice Hall had a 2-yard gain on another one. That means for the day, Ohio State netted 3 yards on their 13 first downs that opened possessions while the game was still in doubt.)

This was definitely a step back for Ohio State, which averaged 432.5 yards per game in its first two wins over Cincinnati and Marshall. Granted, N.C. State boasted a talented, athletic and veteran defense. But OSU coach Jim Tressel, who calls all offensive plays, did not sound too perturbed.

"If we didn't win it would really concern me," Tressel said. "We will be concerned with individual plays. But if you're asking do we have some general overall concern, that's not the way we approach things."

Tressel said N.C. State's defense deserves a lot of credit.

"They were aggressive and they have some good athletes," he said. "Their people in the secondary did a good job of grabbing on. Our offense knew it would be a challenge. Our number one task was to turn over the ball. Then, if we got the chance, they needed to get us some points."

Of course, it helps that the Buckeyes can fall back on senior kicker Mike Nugent. He followed up his dramatic 55-yard game-winning field goal against Marshall last week by hitting all five of his field goal attempts in this game. He hit kicks from 50, 30, 33, 46 and 47 yards in this win.

Tressel was asked if it is a sound strategy to take the onus off his young offensive unit and put games in the hands of Nugent and the defense.

"I think it is a good combination when you have a young quarterback and a young offensive line," he said. "When you get to a certain point and you've got the three you might think, `Don't foul up our three. If you can get seven, go do it.' "

Zwick was coming off a 324-yard performance against Marshall. In this game, he finished 10 of 21 for 73 yards. After throwing four interceptions over the first two games, Zwick threw no picks at N.C. State.

"I think he's growing in every snap and with every situation," Tressel said. "There were guys flying around. There were some great athletes on that defense. The most critical thing for us was taking care of the football."

Ross was limited to 51 yards rushing on 25 carries. His day was capped by a fumble at the N.C. State 10-yard line with 3:08 left. The fumble denied the Buckeyes a chance to go up 25-7 and effectively put the game away.

"I'm sure if there is one play we would like to have back, that would be it," Tressel said.

Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman discussed OSU's woes in the running game.

"It's always frustrating when you can't get the running game to be more consistent than it was," Bollman said. "As you guys watch the game, you probably see they do a lot of stuff that makes it interesting. There are times when you keep hoping there will be a chance to split one and pop one out of there, but it didn't happen.

"We anticipated it being a very tough game. Certainly, it was a good one for us to win. We helped our turnover situation quite a bit. I thought that was a big part of this game."

Ross, now with 282 yards on 66 carries this season, was philosophical following the game.

"We got the W and that's all that really counts," he said. "They're a very good team. They had a lot of guys back from last year. They were trying to gun for us."

But, after he had a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Marshall last week, it makes you wonder if freshman Antonio Pittman and senior fullback Branden Joe, who each saw limited action as they come back from injuries, might see more action in the running game during the Big Ten portion of the schedule.

Nuge Strikes Again

Even at hostile Carter-Finley Stadium, you could hear cries of "Nuge!" when Nugent took the field to attempt his field goals. How pumped up was Nugent? One of his kickoffs went through the uprights in the second half.

"We took a little walkthrough last night and the field was soaking wet," Nugent said of the conditions. "But the field had a good crown to it, so it must have drained pretty well. It was good for us to face a real wet game. Hopefully, we won't face that again but if we do we can think back about what we did."

Nugent was beaming with confidence following his game winner.

"That's probably the toughest situation a kicker can face," he said. "It's good to know that I have faced that last week. It does kind of build your confidence."

An OSU false start penalty on his first attempt backed him up to 50 yards. But it was no problem.

"It was a good feeling to make that first one," Nugent said. "It was a new stadium I had never kicked in before. It was good to get that done and hit a nice long one and then just hit all the others.

"The last two I did not hit that great. My last one, I kind of hit the ground a little bit. But I figured as long as it was straight, I didn't care at all."

Nugent's five field goals tied Bob Atha's school record of five set against Indiana in 1981. He figured to have a chance to break the record until Ross' fumble.

"I wasn't aware of that until afterwards, but I didn't really care," Nugent said of the record. "I didn't care if I had one or nine in the game. I just wanted to kick that last one so we could just shut the whole game down.

"I was probably looking forward to that. We had 22 points and I knew if we could get to 25 it would have been a three-score game and the game would be over. We didn't get it."

For the year, Nugent is now 8 of 9 on field goals. In his career, Nugent is now 56 of 70 on field goals. His 285 career points leave him seventh on OSU's career scoring list. Pete Johnson's OSU career mark of 348 points is certainly in Nugent's sights.

And if he is part of the coaches' mind-set as they consider an offensive game plan, that's fine with Nugent.

"When you say `system,' I would agree with that because of the way we work with field position," he said. "The defense just does a great job of stopping them deep in their territory and getting us the ball back.

"I wouldn't mind kicking extra points all day, but no matter what happens I hope the coaches know we're ready to go in there in any situation that may come up."

Bollman confirmed that the offense realizes it has an ace in the hole with Nugent.

"We were pretty conservative on offense at times, but then it comes back to the fact that you've got Nuge."

Zwick agreed that having Nugent means he doesn't feel the need to force passes on third-down situations.

"It's huge," he said. "Any time you're around the 35-yard line, it's nice to know he can come in and put it through the uprights. As a quarterback, when it's third down you know you don't have to necessarily make a big play. You can still get three points on fourth down."

The Passing Game

N.C. State succeeded in bottling up flanker Santonio Holmes, who had 14 catches for 315 yards and three touchdowns over OSU's first two wins. He was held to two catches for 16 yards against the Wolfpack.

"They stayed with their game plan," Holmes said. "They stayed with man-to-man coverage and they blitzed us way more than what they did against (Richmond). I think that kind of threw our coaches off a little bit and hurt our game plan. But we still stuck with it."

Zwick added, "They were manning us up and bringing some blitzes. I picked a couple of them up. Sometimes, you look out there and there are a million things happening. For the most part, I thought the O-line did a good job of protecting. The receivers did a good job when we got the ball to them of making plays."

Holmes was just happy to get out of N.C. State with the win.

"Ah, man, we did our job," he said. "We only turned the ball over once. We never want to have any turnovers and we just want to put points on the board, regardless of how they get up there. Coach tells us to end each series with a kick.

"You like to come in and get used to the area a little bit on road games. That stuff kind of threw us off track a little bit. But we still came in and stayed focused."

Sometimes slow and steady wins the race, Zwick pointed out.

"We knew coming in it would be a lot different than what we were used to," he said. "We did the best we could. We got Nugent into field position and he made a lot of kicks for us.

"Overall, we're happy with how this went. If we get a block here or there, we would have had a big play. That's just how football goes. You can't be perfect every time you play and you don't expect to be. You just have to keep working hard. We had good field position from the defense. We drove the ball as well as we could and got it into field goal range."

Talking Personnel

It was interesting to note that Bam Childress started in place of Roy Hall at receiver. Childress responded with a team-high five catches for 38 yards, while Hall had one catch for 11 yards and had another pass batted away.

Plus, Bollman inserted sophomore T.J. Downing at right guard and redshirt freshman Kirk Barton at right tackle during key portions of the game. Downing subbed in for senior Mike Kne, while Barton subbed in for sophomore Tim Schafer at tackle.

"I want to get those guys going in there," Bollman said. "You always talk about how guys play and they've got to be good enough to play. But with those guys in there, that gives us a mix-and-match with seven guys that we can roll with. I'm looking to kind of continue that if it works out."

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