Sunday Morning QB: Lots Of Questions, Few Answers

We are back with our weekly column on Ohio State football, Sunday Morning Quarterback. Today, we answer the Ten Pressing Questions we posed on Ohio State-Wisconsin. Plus, we look around the Big Ten and all of college football. Enjoy!

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.

We start with a look at OSU's loss to Wisconsin:

* Things have obviously gone from bad to worse in the Ohio State camp. Pitiful, ridiculous, embarrassing. Those are all good adjectives to describe the state of affairs right now.

It is amazing how things can change in the matter of two weeks. OSU was in line to make a play for the Orange Bowl just nine days ago. Now, I doubt the Buckeyes will even be ranked after losing to Wisconsin.

And, while everybody has started their Motor City Bowl and El Paso jokes, I'm not convinced you can even be assured that Ohio State will win the three games it needs to become bowl eligible. Indiana and Penn State? Probably. Michigan State on the road? Hmmm, maybe. The rest (Iowa, Purdue and Michigan)? You're gonna have to show me.

I'm not saying they're going to end up 5-6. I'm just saying they've got a lot of work to do to earn a bowl bid. (Of course, you probably already realized that.)

* On Saturday morning, I posted Ten Pressing Questions surrounding the OSU-Wisconsin game. Here's what we learned on Saturday:

1. Can the Buckeyes bounce back from last week's crushing defeat at Northwestern? Well, they did bounce back. The Buckeyes led 10-0 in the second quarter. But they could not sustain the momentum for 60 minutes. I think, however, that once you've tasted defeat it is much easier to accept defeat. We may have seen some of that in the second half when the OSU defense was left for dead on the field.

2. Are the Buckeyes tough enough to hang with the all-too-physical Badgers? Well, that's a big negatory. On offense, Wisconsin rushed for 184 yards and surrendered two sacks. Defensively, Wisconsin held OSU to 99 yards rushing and sacked Justin Zwick five times. It's hard to decide which line performed worse, the OSU offensive line or defensive line.

3. Can the Buckeyes (finally) establish the run? No, not by a long shot. The key is being able to run when you want to, and Ohio State could not do that. Freshman Antonio Pittman ripped off a 43-yard run on a modified Statue of Liberty play. Subtract that trick play from the equation – as well as the five sacks on Zwick – and you'll see that OSU's backs got 77 yards on 19 carries. Jim Tressel refuses to play Pittman when the Buckeyes have the ball deep in their own end (which was most of the game). Lydell Ross got a season-low seven carries (and netted 30 yards).

This facet of the Ohio State offense is an absolute mess. There aren't any easy answers. But I can tell you what they're trying to do isn't working. The Buckeyes got 220 yards rushing against a bad Cincinnati team (the Bearcats snapped Army's losing streak Saturday) in the opener. Since then, OSU has rushed for 349 yards in four games. That's an average of just over 87 yards a game. You can't beat Indiana doing that.

Yes, they jumbled some things up and tried to run some misdirection. They need to make some wholesale changes at the least with personnel and schemes – and probably even more than that.

The fact of the matter is other than the nine or 10 games Maurice Clarett was fully healthy to play in 2002 – and routinely erasing the mistakes of others – Ohio State has rarely been able to effectively run the football since Tressel arrived here in 2001. I plan to follow up on this analysis in this week's Buckeye Grove.

Tressel aspires to run for 200 yards a game. Let's see if they can hit the century mark first.

In my opinion, Ohio State's inability to run the football is the single biggest reason why the Buckeyes find themselves in the position they are in.

4. How will Zwick fare against this defense? Well, he didn't fare too well. He was sacked five times and completed 15 of 31 passes for just 125 yards. But again, as I pointed out in the original posting of these questions, it is ridiculous to expect Zwick to have to win games. When the defense and running game fail, it all falls on Zwick. He's 0-2 as a starter in Big Ten play. But it isn't his fault entirely. He didn't fumble. He didn't blow his blocks. He didn't leave UW receivers wide open. He didn't fail to hit UW's John Stocco. In short, placing this game at Zwick's feet is ridiculous.

Some are saying OSU should be playing Troy Smith. Tressel said he never harbored that thought. Did Zwick have a down game? Yes, but he was one of many wearing the scarlet jerseys guilty of that.

5. Can some new play makers emerge? Well, Ted Ginn Jr. found the end zone for the first time as a Buckeye in a moment we'll all remember for a while. Too bad that was the highlight of the whole 3-1/2 hour exercise. And it came on special teams. Everybody else who could provide big plays was shut down, except for the Pittman trickery. I don't think you can say OSU is devoid of play makers. Let's just say they're on hiatus.

6. Can the defense contain Wisconsin running back Anthony Davis? Davis had 54 yards at halftime and 87 after three quarters. So he was under control, headed for a modest 120-yard game. But with the game all but decided late in the fourth quarter, Davis got on a roll. He had 58 yards on UW's final game clinching drive, giving him a robust 168-yard day. You can fault the defense, but it did not help (obviously) that the offense in the second half went three plays and punt, three and punt, four and punt, fumbled punt, six plays and punt and three and punt.

When you hardly have time to come over and get a cup of water before it's time go back out there, well, you'd give up some running plays for first downs, too.

7. Can the defensive line get off blocks and pressure UW quarterback John Stocco? Well, obviously not. For the second week in a row, Ohio State made an inconsistent and/or young quarterback look like Kyle Orton. Stocco threw for 160 yards and two picture perfect touchdowns over the OSU defense. This was Stocco's coming-out party. Once again, Dustin Fox's absence meant a lot. But once again, the main onus is up front. The line never made Stocco move off his game. Too many times, Stocco stood in with no pressure and completed third-down passes. Only late in the game when safety Donte Whitner brought some heat did it seem like Stocco was under fire. They made a guy with five lifetime starts look like he belonged. Wisconsin got after Zwick; where was OSU?

8. Can Mike Nugent return to the hero role? This was probably the only other bright spot. Nugent became OSU's all-time leading field goal kicker with 60 field goals. That is an accomplishment because of the remarkable last two-plus years Nugent has put together. But even this is somewhat of an indictment of Tressel's "we'd rather settle for three than risk a turnover," station to station offense.

9. Is Wisconsin for real? Yes, the Badgers are definitely for real, particularly if Stocco keeps taking steps like this. He was the one real question mark they had. They have the great defense, the veteran offensive line, a witch at tailback and, now, a quarterback who has posted a win in a tough road environment. Wisconsin is for real.

10. Is Ohio State a legitimate Big Ten championship contender? Absolutely not. OSU would have to reel off six straight wins and get some help just to think about a Big Ten title. At the same time, it is ridiculous for me to sit here and say, "Time to get ready for next year."

For starters, Tressel does not operate that way. He wants to give his seniors every opportunity he can – almost to a fault, as we've seen at tailback – to have a fine final season.

But we know Ohio State will not throw in the towel. The Buckeyes went through something similar in 2001. But Tressel found a way to rally the troops and, in the regular season finale, OSU defeated a shaky Michigan team with a first-year starting quarterback that looks a lot like this year's Wolverines.

Will that lightning strike twice? Hard to say, especially if this offense can't pick it up.

You have to go back to John Cooper's ill-fated first season of 1988 to find the last time OSU opened the Big Ten 0-3. Of course, the last time the Buckeyes were 0-2 in conference play in 1992, co-captains Kirk Herbstreit and Steve Tovar circled the wagons. They won the next five and tied Michigan to regain a modicum of respectability.

This time, they'll go back to practice, jet out to Iowa and give it a try. Oh well, what the heck, we'll see what happens next week.

Now for a look around the Big Ten:

* For the second year in a row, Michigan rallied late to snatch victory away from Minnesota. This time, UM tight end Tyler Ecker caught a short pass from Chad Henne over the middle, eluded two tackles and lumbered down the sideline for a 31-yard touchdown with 1:57 left to help lift the 14th-ranked Wolverines to a 27-24 win over the 13th-ranked Gophers.

Last year, Minnesota led by 21 points in the fourth quarter before losing 38-35.

"Everybody sees you as a freshman, but you need to step up and show them you're really not," said UM quarterback Chad Henne, who was 33-of-49 for 328 yards -- both records for a true freshman at Michigan -- with two touchdowns. Tailback Leon Hart had 160 yards – a record for a UM freshman – and a touchdown on 35 carries.

Minnesota's Laurence Maroney had 145 yards, including an 80-yard TD, for the Gophers.

What We Learned: Michigan has retooled from its Big Ten championship season of a year ago a little better than somebody else has … Henne and Hart are the real deal … Minnesota leads the world in bad luck, and is still a major factor in this race.

* No. 9 Purdue held off upset-minded Penn State 20-13 in Happy Valley. Taylor Stubblefield caught a 40-yard touchdown pass for Purdue and became the Big Ten's career receptions leader. Stubblefield's 40-yard sprint down the left sideline on the first possession of the second half put the Boilermakers up 17-10.

Stubblefield had seven catches for 63 yards, giving him 271 career catches. Fellow Boilermaker John Sandeford set the previous record of 266 last year. Kyle Orton hit on 24 of 35 passes for 275 yards with a touchdown and his first two interceptions of the year. His TD-to-INT ratio is now 18-2. Zack Mills completed 29 of 49 passes for 293 yards and one touchdown for Penn State.

What We Learned: Purdue, even on an off week after a big win over Notre Dame, still came through. That's important for a champion … It used to be a big deal to beat ND and PSU in consecutive weeks (like OSU did in 1995-96). Now it elicits nothing more than a yawn … Penn State finally showed some backbone and won't be an easy out, probably, from here on in.

* Michigan State defeated Illinois 38-25, notching its eighth straight win over the Illini in the series since 1992. Illinois, which has not won at Spartan Stadium since 1989, suffered its 11th straight Big Ten loss. Drew Stanton threw three TD passes and caught one for the Spartans.

* One week after upsetting Ohio State in overtime, Northwestern outlasted win-starved Indiana 31-24 in double overtime. Tailback Noah Herron rushed for 197 yards and three touchdowns, while the Wildcats sacked IU's Matt LoVecchio on fourth down to end the game in the second OT.

What We Learned: Northwestern loves overtime.

And a glance at headlines nationally

* No. 2 Oklahoma cleared, perhaps, its biggest hurdle with a 12-0 win over No. 5 Texas in the Red River Shootout, held in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. OU won for the fifth straight year in this fabled series for the first time since 1971-75.

Texas was shut out for the first time in 282 games, ending the longest such streak in the nation. OU's Adrian Peterson rushed for 225 yards in the win, which should set the Sooners up for a return trip to the Big XII title game. In the five wins, OU has outscored Texas 189-54.

* Top-ranked USC avenged a triple overtime loss to Cal last year with a 23-17 win over the seventh-ranked Golden BearsUSC won its 14th straight game. Aaron Rodgers tied an NCAA record by completing his first 23 passes for California in a 23-17 loss to Southern California. But Rodgers could not complete the upset after leading Cal to a first-and-goal in the final two minutes. He threw three incomplete passes and was sacked to end the threat.

What We Learned: USC seems destined to head to the Orange Bowl and a potential marquee match-up with Oklahoma … Cal will be hard to beat the rest of the way.

* Army snapped the nation's longest losing streak at 19 with a 48-29 victory over Cincinnati. The Black Knights' last victory came on Nov. 16, 2002, against Tulane, and their last home win was Oct. 27, 2001, also against Tulane. Army's Tielor Robinson scored five touchdowns.

"This is the most disappointing loss of my life. We're probably the laughingstock of the nation," said UC quarterback Gino Guidugli, who threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns.

* Oregon's Kellen Clemens was a busy guy in a wild 41-38 win over Washington State. Clemens threw for 437 yards and three touchdowns and ran for three more scores.

* Texas Tech routed Nebraska 70-10, dealing the ‘Huskers their worst lost in the school's storied 114-year history. Before Saturday, the most points scored against Nebraska came in a 62-36 loss to Colorado in 2001. Nebraska's largest previous margin of defeat was 54, set in a 54-0 loss to Minnesota in 1943 and matched in a 54-0 loss to Indiana in 1944 and a 61-7 loss to Minnesota in 1945. Texas Tech recorded its first victory in eight tries against Nebraska. Tech's Sonny Cumbie threw for 436 yards and five touchdowns.

* In other Big XII developments, Oklahoma State crushed Colorado 42-14 and Kansas snapped an 11-year losing streak to Kansas State with a 31-28 victory.

What We Learned: The Big XII North is a shambles. K-State and Colorado are 0-2 and Nebraska, obviously, is a shaky 1-1. Missouri (2-0) may go on and win this division by default.

* One week after a lopsided home loss to Auburn, No. 17 Tennessee shocked No. 3 Georgia 19-14. Georgia, coming off a rout over SEC nemesis LSU, could not handle the Vols, who were a 13-point underdog. Erik Ainge threw for 150 yards and two touchdowns for Tennessee.

Georgia's 17-game winning streak was snapped as QB David Greene's potential game-winning pass into the end zone fell incomplete on the final play. UT snapped a four-game losing streak to the Bulldogs.

What We Learned: Auburn and Tennessee could be headed for a rematch of their game from last week (a 34-10 Auburn win in Knoxville) in the SEC title game.

* LSU came off the mat and rallied for a 24-21 upset of No. 12 Florida. QB Marcus Randall came off the bench and threw two touchdown passes, including a 10-yarder to Joseph Addai with 27 seconds to play.

* Notre Dame became just the second Division I-A team to win 800 games with a 23-15 win over Stanford. Michigan has 838 victories following its win over Minnesota.

* Heisman Watch: The field has been weeded out a bit with some losses. But I'll go with Purdue's Kyle Orton at the top of my list, followed by Oklahoma QB Jason White, Arizona State QB Andrew Walter, USC QB Matt Leinhart and USC RB Reggie Bush.

* My new top 15: Shakedown Saturday took a toll for some people. But theer are no changes at the top, where USC and Oklahoma are on a collision course at the Orange Bowl. After those two, I like Miami (Fla.), Auburn, Purdue, Virginia, Wisconsin, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota, Arizona State, California.

* Games to watch next week: West Virginia-Connecticut (Wednesday), Louisville-Miami (Fla.) (Thursday), Texas A&M-Oklahoma State, Arizona State-USC, Arkansas-Auburn, N.C. State-Maryland, Wisconsin-Purdue, Virginia-Florida State.

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 (2-4), lost to Army 48-29, Oct. 9; idle, Oct. 16; vs. Memphis, Oct. 23.

Sept. 11, Marshall (2-3), beat Ohio U. 16-13, Oct. 9; at Kent State, Oct. 16.

Sept. 18, at N.C. State (3-2), lost to North Carolina 30-24, Oct. 9; at Maryland, Oct. 16.

Sept. 25, idle

Oct. 2, at Northwestern (3-3), beat Indiana 31-24 (2 OT), Oct. 9; idle, Oct. 16; at Wisconsin, Oct. 23.

Oct. 9, Wisconsin (6-0), beat Ohio State 24-13, Oct. 9; at Purdue, Oct. 16.

Oct. 16 (3:30 p.m., ABC), at Iowa (3-2), idle, Oct. 9; vs. Ohio State, Oct. 16.

Oct. 23 (TBA), Indiana (2-4), lost to Northwestern 31-24 (2 OT), Oct. 9; idle, Oct. 16; at Ohio State, Oct. 23.

Oct. 30 (TBA), Penn State (2-4), lost to Purdue 20-13, Oct. 9; idle, Oct. 16; vs. Iowa, Oct. 23.

Nov. 6 (TBA), at Michigan State (3-3), beat Illinois 38-25, Oct. 9; vs. Minnesota, Oct. 16.

Nov. 13 (TBA), Purdue (5-0), beat Penn State 20-13, Oct. 9; vs. Wisconsin, Oct. 16.

Nov. 20 (1 p.m., ABC), Michigan (5-1), beat Minnesota 27-24, Oct. 9; at Illinois, Oct. 16.

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Wisconsin (6-0, 3-0)

Michigan (5-1, 3-0)

Purdue (5-0, 2-0)

Minnesota (5-1, 2-1)

Michigan State (3-3, 2-1)

Northwestern (3-3, 2-1)

Iowa (3-2, 1-1)

Ohio State (3-2, 0-2)

Indiana (2-4, 0-3)

Illinois (2-4, 0-3)

Penn State (2-4, 0-3)

Oct. 9 Results

Michigan 27, Minnesota 24

Michigan State 38, Illinois 25

Northwestern 31, Indiana 24, 2 OT

Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 13

Purdue 20, Penn State 13

Oct. 16 Schedule

Minnesota at Michigan State, noon (ABC, ESPN or ESPN-Plus)

Michigan at Illinois, noon (ABC, ESPN or ESPN-Plus)

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

Wisconsin at Purdue, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN2)


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