Sunday Morning QB: Youth Served In Win

We are back with Sunday Morning Quarterback, our opinionated look at Ohio State football, the Big Ten and the college football world at-large. Click here for more on what's happening with the Buckeyes and the rest of the country.

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 win over Indiana:

* Perspective … you need to keep perspective.

Ohio State's 30-7 win over Indiana was a lot of things, probably, to a lot of people. For starters, it helped the 2004 edition of the Buckeyes avoid the ignominy of being just the second team in school history to open the Big Ten 0-4.

It returned some good feeling to a program that had been in sore supply of that for the last 21 days.

And it gave Ohio State fans a small glimpse of what the future may hold with a number of young players getting opportunities – both small and large – to show what they can do.

It did not, however, solve all of Ohio State's troubles. This was still your father's Indiana, after all. Yes, the Hoosiers did win an early season game at Oregon. And, yes, they did give Michigan a good game for 2-1/2 quarters and they did take Northwestern to double overtime.

But I'm afraid on too many occasions I saw OSU ball carriers, receivers and, yes, even the quarterback break tackles and take off for big gains. Do it once or twice in a game and you say, "Good for you." Do it on every other play – as we saw Ohio State do it on Saturday – and you just have to pity the opponent.

How many times did an IU tackler grab an OSU player and wait for help that never came? Five, 10 times … you tell me. Against a strong defense, help would have arrived at least half the time to turn those 20-yard plays into 2- or 3-yard gains.

Now don't get me wrong. You can't make great plays against air sometimes, so the showings turned in by the OSU offensive and defensive units should be applauded. If you are an OSU fan, you have to hope that this is the first step in OSU's march back toward respectability and, perhaps, a bowl bid of some sort.

* We talked about youth and it was certainly served with the play of sophomore quarterback Troy Smith, freshman receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and freshman tailback Antonio Pittman.

I have no idea how soon Justin Zwick will be back to full health. But I have to tell you if I was the coach, it probably would not be a big factor in my thinking: Smith would start the next game and every game for me until he indicates he is unable to handle the job. He earned that right, plain and simple, on the playing field.

(And, yes, I just told you that beating Indiana is no great shake. But I don't care.)

My reasons: Smith throws a good ball. He didn't turn it over. He seems to be somebody the rest of the offense will follow. And, when things break down, there can't be many quarterbacks anywhere in this game who can turn those broken plays into positives the way Smith showed he can on Saturday.

Smith is taking nothing for granted and plans to go back to work this week. That's good to hear. This is a great problem to have with two quarterbacks who seem to be capable.

* And ditto for Pittman. He stepped in for the suspended Lydell Ross and turned the Horseshoe on its ear in becoming the program's latest 100-yard rusher.

(And, yes, I just told you that beating Indiana is no great shake. But I don't care.)

I have no idea if Jim Tressel will reinstate Ross anytime soon. But this should now be Pittman's job to lose. He seems close to putting it all together. I think he just needs some more 20-carry games to get where he needs to be.

* What has happened to Ross appears to be, at the least, unfortunate and, at worst, really stupid on his part. And to think he was one of the six self-appointed senior leaders "out in front" on Tuesday.

He owes a lot of people quite a bit. Let's hope he pays them off with real currency (from the heart).

* Ginn's spectacular 59-yard catch-and-break tackles-and run touchdown is a play they will show on the big board for a long time to come (although that play kind of makes my theory above that IU was not a worthy opponent).

Still, that play makes you wonder what Ginn will be like when he learns how to play this game. Or, better yet, when he gets more than one or two freaking touches in a game.

* The OSU defense also came up big. The Buckeyes were the first team to hold Indiana to single digits and they did it despite giving up a handful of big plays. OSU was as good as gold in the red zone and exerted some pressure (six sacks) on IU passers. The Hoosiers also only got 53 yards rushing.

The defense made some huge hits, most notably pass breakups by safeties Nate Salley and Brandon Mitchell. Those plays gave the defense some spark, defensive end Simon Fraser said.

"Please, that was a beauty," Fraser said of Salley's hit on an IU receiver. "That gives you an adrenaline rush and some emotion. Any time you get a big hit like that, it always sets the tempo for that next play. The offense is like, `Whoa, they're coming out to hit us.' We get all fired up. A hit like that generates enough momentum that more hits come."

* It had been over a month since the Buckeyes last won a game and even longer for senior cornerback Dustin Fox, who missed the last win over N.C. State on Sept. 18 due to injury.

"That was Sept. 11 (against Marshall), right?" Fox said. "It feels great. I was actually kind of nervous before the game. It was homecoming, but for me it was a real homecoming. It was exciting to get back out there in the ‘Shoe."

The impact of this win – even if it was against Indiana – should help the Buckeyes as they attack the second half of their Big Ten schedule, Fox said.

"It was huge," he said. "When you don't win a game for three weeks or whatever it was, any kind of success would be great. But to come out and play like this? You've got to have some kind of confidence after a game like this."

* Most everybody knows OSU needs a 6-5 record to be bowl eligible. That means the Buckeyes need to go at least 2-2 the rest of the way to qualify. (Keep in mind, the Buckeyes host Penn State, then visit Michigan State and Purdue before finishing with Michigan at home.)

On paper, a win over PSU seems to be in the cards – particularly if the Buckeyes duplicate this effort. Maybe by the time November arrives, OSU will have things squared away enough to win one or more of those challenging games.

People ask me all the time about bowl bids. It looks like the Big Ten's Florida-based bowls are out of the equation. Those are the Capital One and Outback, set in Orlando and Tampa, respectively, and each on Jan. 1. OSU would need a 4-0 finish to get any kind of play, I feel, for either of those bowls.

A 3-1 finish and 7-4 final record could put OSU on the Outback Bowl's radar, although the next bowl on the list – the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio – seems much more likely. OSU has never been there and the Alamo would love to have the Buckeyes, above all else, to play a Big 12 team (maybe Oklahoma State or Texas A&M).

It's possible OSU could still squeak into the Alamo Bowl at 6-5. Remember, the bowls can skip teams above Ohio State, provided the Buckeyes are within one game of them. More likely, a 6-5 OSU team would probably land in the Sun Bowl in El Paso on Dec. 31. The Sun Bowl is also dying to get its hands on OSU. The opponent would be of the Pac-10 variety, maybe Arizona State, UCLA or Cal.

In my learned opinion, OSU will not slip past either of these Texas bowls.

Now for a look around the Big Ten:

* The Game of the Week was again at Purdue, where No. 13 Michigan pulled out a 16-14 win over No. 12 (and falling fast) Purdue. Freshman tailback Michael Hart had 206 yards and Garrett Rivas drilled a 35-yard field goal with 2:46 left to lift the Wolverines to the win.

Hart broke Ricky Powers UM freshman single-season rushing record in this game.

"Michael Hart has certainly done his share," said UM coach Lloyd Carr. "He's a special kid."

The Michigan defense got after Purdue, which suffered a second straight home loss after falling to Wisconsin a week earlier. Kyle Orton was 14 of 30 passing for 214 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His key target, record setting wide receiver Taylor Stubblefield, was held to one catch for 10 yards.

What We Learned: Purdue is probably headed to Florida for the holidays ... Michigan is winning games very much like Ohio State (used to) … Hart and UM freshman QB Chad Henne (190 yards, one TD) are pretty amazing … The Big Ten race is a two-team struggle with UM and Wisconsin. But since they don't play, UM needs some help to reach the Rose Bowl.

* No. 25 Iowa followed up its lopsided win over Ohio State by winning a weird game at Penn State 6-4 (yes, we said 6-4).

Kyle Schlicher's two first-half field goals accounted for all of Iowa's points. Penn State scored only on two safeties. The Nittany Lions took a 2-0 lead on the first possession -- Penn State's first lead in a Big Ten game this season -- when the snap went over Iowa punter David Bradley's head and into the end zone. Bradley kicked the ball out the back of the end zone. Iowa gave Penn State its final two points, conceding a safety instead of punting from its own end zone late in the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes were also called for holding in the end zone on the play that made it 6-4.

PSU twice had the ball inside the Iowa 10 in the second half. But Robie Gould missed a 25-yard field goal and Antwan Allen intercepted a Michael Robinson pass at the 1-yard line.

"I don't know whether we could play much poorer than we did today," said PSU coach Joe Paterno.

What We Learned: You don't even need a touchdown to beat Penn State … Iowa's defense (which held PSU to 147 yards total offense) is pretty stout … Did we mention that Penn State's offense is non-existent? The Nittany Lions have 34 points in their five losses and just two offensive touchdowns in four Big Ten games … Accordingly, next week's game between OSU and Penn State should be a real barnburner (I can't believe ABC is seriously considering televising this game).

* Anthony Davis rushed for two touchdowns and No. 6 Wisconsin beat Northwestern 24-12. The Badgers are 8-0 for just the fourth time in the program's 115-year history.

What We Learned: Kirk Herbstreit may be right about the Ohio State offense. (He's preaching overhaul.) But he needs help with his upset picks … Wisconsin is a bye week, a home game with Minnesota and road games at Michigan State and Iowa away from at least the Rose Bowl and maybe much more.

* Minnesota registered its first shutout in Big Ten play since 1990 with a 45-0 pasting of Illinois. The win snapped the Gophers' two-game losing streak and made UM bowl-eligible for coach Glen Mason.

This was only the Gophers' second shutout of a Big Ten opponent since 1977. The Gophers ran up 587 yards of offense and held the Illini to 231. Marion Barber III was the offensive star for the Maroon and Gold running for two scores and throwing another. Barber finished with 11 carries, 138 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw a 21-yard TD to Ernest Wheelwright in the 3rd quarter.

What We Learned: Minnesota is great against bad defensive teams … The Illini lost their 13th straight Big Ten game and when that string will end is anybody's guess … The Gophers may be two wins away from at least the Alamo Bowl.

And a glance at headlines nationally

* With no upsets in the top 15 – aside from Purdue – the Game of the Week was at Mississippi State, where the Bulldogs shocked No. 20 Florida 38-31. Jerious Norwood, Mississippi State, rushed for 174 yards on 29 carries and two TDs, including a 37-yard touchdown run with 32 seconds remaining to lead the Bulldogs to the win.

The victory was the first in SEC play for MSU coach Sylvester Croom, the conference's first black coach. Mississippi State, a 24-1/2 point underdog, improved to 2-5 overall.

"This is just the beginning," Croom said. "We're building a championship program."

"This is embarrassing for us. We thought we were ready to play," countered Florida's Ron Zook, whose team fell to 4-3 overall.

What We Learned: Barring a win over Georgia this week or one over Florida State in November, the fraternity-hating Zook can probably start searching for a good moving company.

* Kansas State ended a three-game losing streak with a 45-21 win over Nebraska. Backup quarterback Allen Webb rushed for 147 yards and scored four TDs for the Wildcats.

* Arizona State's Andrew Walter threw for 415 yards and six touchdown passes, two in a fourth-quarter rally, to lead No. 21 Arizona State to a 48-42 victory over UCLA.

* No. 2-ranked Oklahoma broke open a tight 14-10 game at halftime with 27 unanswered points in the second half in a 41-10 win over Kansas. QB Jason White threw for 389 yards and four touchdowns. Freshman RB Adrian Peterson, needing 99 yards to tie Emmitt Smith and Marshall Faulk as the quickest freshmen to gain 1,000 yards, gained 126 yards on 22 carries. Peterson now has 1,027 yards in just seven games.

* No. 8 Texas cruised to a 51-21 win at Texas Tech. QB Vincent Young had a career-high 300 yards total offense (158 rushing, 142 passing), ran for four touchdowns and threw for one more for the Longhorns. Texas' Cedric Benson became the sixth player in NCAA Division I history to rush for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. He joined an elite group that includes Ron Dayne, Wisconsin (1996-99); Tony Dorsett, Pittsburgh (1973-76); Avon Cobourne, West Virginia (1999-02); Denvis Manns, New Mexico State (1995-98) and Amos Lawrence, North Carolina (1977-80) as four-time 1,000-yard rushers.

* Boston College quarterback Paul Peterson struggled in the first half against No. 24 Notre Dame, completing just 8 of 18 passes for 96 yards. In the second half, he completed 19-of-23 for 297 yards, leading the Eagles to a 24-23 win. The Eagles outgained the Irish 319 yards to 122 yards in the second half and outscored them 17-3 after halftime. Notre Dame fell to 5-3 after losing to BC for the fourth straight time.

* No. 5 Florida State defeated Wake Forest 20-17 as Xavier Beitia kicked a 22-yard field goal with 1:03 left.

* Lester Ricard set a Tulane record with six touchdown passes and also had 417 passing yards to lead the Green Wave to a 59-55 upset of Alabama-Birmingham. The teams combined for 865 yards passing and 309 yards rushing.

* No. 4 Miami (Fla.) went on the road in the ACC and rolled to a 45-31 win at N.C. State. Brock Berlin was 15 of 30 passing for 265 yards and tied a school record with five TD passes for Miami. Devin Hester opened the game with a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown for the ‘Canes.

* Heisman Watch: This is now a two-man race, down from 2-1/2 a week ago. The two who appear to be in it for the long haul are Oklahoma's Jason White (Archie, still beware) and USC's Matt Leinhart. The half-man who dropped out with his team's second straight loss is Purdue's Kyle Orton. Others still hanging around are Cal's Aaron Rodgers, Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson, Georgia's David Greene, Arizona State's Andrew Walter and Miami's Antrel Rolle.

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

* Games to watch next week: Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech (Thursday), Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Tennessee-South Carolina, Florida-Georgia (at Jacksonville), Michigan-Michigan State, Arizona State-California.

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 (3-4), beat Memphis 49-10, Oct. 23; vs. TCU, Oct. 30.

Sept. 11, Marshall (4-3), beat Buffalo 48-14, Oct. 23; vs. Central Florida, Oct. 30.

Sept. 18, at N.C. State (4-3), lost to Miami (Fla.) 45-31, Oct. 23; at Clemson, Oct. 30.

Sept. 25, idle

Oct. 2, at Northwestern (3-4), lost to Wisconsin 24-12, Oct. 23; vs. Purdue, Oct. 30.

Oct. 9, Wisconsin (8-0), beat Northwestern 24-12, Oct. 23; idle, Oct. 30; vs. Minnesota, Nov. 6.

Oct. 16, at Iowa (5-2), beat Penn State 6-4, Oct. 23; at Illinois, Oct. 30.

Oct. 23 Indiana (2-5), lost to Ohio State 30-7, Oct. 23; vs. Minnesota, Oct. 30.

Oct. 30 (noon, ABC or ESPN), Penn State (2-5), lost to Iowa 6-4, Oct. 23; at Ohio State, Oct. 30.

Nov. 6 (TBA), at Michigan State (4-3), idle, Oct. 23; at Michigan, Oct. 30.

Nov. 13 (TBA), Purdue (5-2), lost to Michigan 16-14, Oct. 23; at Northwestern, Oct. 30.

Nov. 20 (1 p.m., ABC), Michigan (7-1), beat Purdue 16-14, Oct. 23; vs. Michigan State, Oct. 30.

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Wisconsin (8-0, 5-0)

Michigan (7-1, 5-0)

Iowa (5-2, 3-1)

Michigan State (4-3, 3-1)

Minnesota (6-2, 3-2)

Purdue (5-2, 2-2)

Northwestern (3-4, 2-2)

Ohio State (4-3, 1-3)

Indiana (2-5, 0-4)

Penn State (2-5, 0-4)

Illinois (2-6, 0-5)

Oct. 23 Results

Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 12

Iowa 6, Penn State 4

Ohio State 30, Indiana 7

Minnesota 45, Illinois 0

Michigan 16, Purdue 14

Oct. 30 Schedule

Penn State at Ohio State, noon (ABC or ESPN)

Purdue at Northwestern, noon (ABC or ESPN)

Iowa at Illinois, noon (ESPN-Plus)

Minnesota at Indiana, 2 p.m.

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


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