Sunday Morning QB: A Win To Cherish

Once again, we go inside Ohio State's historic win over Michigan on Saturday. Plus, we look at the week that was in the Big Ten and in college football in general.

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 Michigan:

* Perspective. We all need it from time to time.

Why was Ohio State's win over Michigan on Saturday so important? It was for so many reasons.

You had the "program under siege" reason. ESPN's crusade against Ohio State has taken its toll on a lot of people in and around Columbus. My experience is a win like this puts the focus back where it should be – on the athletes who play on the field. That is not to say if there is any wrongdoing that it should be shoved under a rug. I just don't need to hear about some liar or some felon's allegations on the 10's any more.

You had the "Ohio State must at least win the home games" reason. Over the last 20 years, OSU was just 3-5-1 at home against Michigan. This win gave OSU consecutive home wins over UM for the first time since 1982 and '84. That is big to re-establish that even when UM comes south with a great team, it won't be easy.

You had the "redeem the season" reason. This was a lost year for Ohio State from the standpoint that the Buckeyes were a preseason top-10 team. They were picked by many to win the Big Ten. It did not work out. But in the season's biggest game, the Buckeyes came through with their best performance in many moons.

You had the "get some good feeling around the program" season. It would have been a bleak holiday season if the Buckeyes were sitting around at 6-5 and waiting for the Sun Bowl (or worse). Instead, the Buckeyes have the glow of something special as they head toward the bowl, the winter program, spring football and on into next year.

As always, OSU coach Jim Tressel had the proper words. Just as he was asked two years ago about the meaning of qualifying for the national championship game with his team's win over UM, Tressel shared his view on what was important:

"Well, it was important because it was the Ohio State/Michigan game. Let's go back to some years where there weren't up and downs and let's just go two years ago. There weren't too many up and downs. We were 12-0 coming into the game and that win was so crucial and Ohio State/Michigan is huge for the morale.

"Coach Bruce tells us every year, the Ohio State coach, if he wins the Ohio State/Michigan game, he can walk down the street in Columbus. If he loses, he better walk the back alleys. So it's an important game."

* The OSU win was predicated on the play of three Cleveland area standouts – quarterback Troy Smith and receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez.

It is tradition for the coach and several players to appear at the Cleveland OSU alumni club dinner on the Tuesday night after the Michigan game.

"This will make the Cleveland alumni banquet pretty nice Tuesday night, which wasn't that nice last year," Tressel joked.

A reporter later opened his question with "Coach, if we could stay with Teddy Ginn for a moment …"

Tressel broke in: "I'd like to stay with him for four years."

As Ginn got up to head to Cleveland to see Glenville take on St. Ignatius in a playoff game (won by the state-bound Tarblooders 22-14), a reporter blurted, "Drive safely."

Indeed.

* It was a great scene at Ohio Stadium prior to the game. As the teams wrapped up warm-ups, you could sense something special was about to happen. The Michigan band performed, largely to boos. The OSU band followed with all of its usual favorites – the ramp entrance, Script Ohio and Carmen Ohio.

A group of about 500 former players formed a tunnel for the team to run through. Then came the team's 17 outgoing seniors, one at a time. The last player introduced, fittingly, was All-American kicker Mike Nugent. These festivities only get better each year.

Then, we had a 60-minute football game that people in these parts will be talking about for years. No, it doesn't get any better than this.

* One of those seniors, cornerback Dustin Fox, marveled at how everything came together for the season's biggest game.

"I'm just impressed with how we played as a team," he said. "It was awesome to see all aspects clicking today. This was the last game for us, against Michigan in the biggest game of the year. You want to play your best football at the end of the season. Against the seventh-ranked team in the country, we played pretty well.

"Whenever you've had some adversity and you have a chance to come out here and play like this, I think it erases it a little bit."

* One theme the players talked about was the fact they wanted "our own set of Gold Pants." All of the juniors and seniors have at least one set from OSU's win over Michigan in 2002. But they wanted a set that they had a larger part in earning. They got it on Saturday.

"A lot of guys in the junior class, not a lot of us played two years ago when we beat them here," Carpenter said. "It's special when you're one of the starting guys out there making plays. We worked hard all year to get this set."

* This season will be remembered as the year nobody from the Big Ten wanted to go to the Rose Bowl.

Michigan has backed into its charter flight to Pasadena after its loss to Ohio State.

Let's examine:

Wisconsin got as far as 9-0 and as high as No. 4 in the polls before its stunning loss to Michigan State last week.

Purdue got as far as 5-0 and as high as No. 5 in the polls before its stunning home loss to Wisconsin Oct. 16.

Ohio State got to 3-0 and as high as No. 7 in the AP poll before its overtime loss at Northwestern Oct. 2.

And here was Michigan at 9-1 and No. 7 coming into the game with Ohio State.

This was definitely a year where the Big Ten powers beat up on each other.

* Speaking of bowls, OSU can not go to the Outback Bowl. The Buckeyes are two full games behind both Iowa and Wisconsin, who figure to be in the Capital One and Outback bowls, respectively.

We should know something on Monday or perhaps by Tuesday at the latest regarding the Alamo Bowl's decision between OSU and Purdue. Purdue has been to the Alamo before, where OSU never has. The teams tied at 7-4. Sources have indicated that OSU will be the pick, but until it's final it is not final.

Purdue would then probably be headed to the Sun with the Music City and Motor City to decide between Minnesota (6-5) and Northwestern, provided the Wildcats defeat Hawaii this Saturday to get to 7-5 and become bowl eligible.

The Alamo Bowl is set for Wed., Dec. 29, at the Alamodome in San Antonio. It will start at 8 p.m. on ESPN. The opponent will be the fourth choice from the Big 12. My feeling is that could be Texas A&M (7-3), Oklahoma State (7-3), Texas Tech (6-4) or maybe even the Colorado (6-4)/Nebraska (5-5) winner.

* On Friday night, I posted my usual column, Ten Pressing Questions, on keys to the Ohio State-Michigan game. Here is how each of these questions were answered:

1. What impact, if any, will the weather have on the game? The weather was not a factor. The gametime temperature was a balmy 57 degrees (I've been at these games when there has been piles of snow on the sideline) and there was no rain.

2. Can Ohio State stop Michigan's running game and, in particular, freshman tailback Michael Hart? This was probably the single biggest factor in the game. Michigan had no fewer than 190 yards rushing in any of its last five games. In fact, UM had been over the coveted 200-yard mark in each of its last four games. OSU's run defense had been fairly adequate. Nobody had gone for more than 184 yards (Wisconsin) on the ground against the Buckeyes.

But in the season's biggest game, OSU closed off the UM ground game. The Wolverines netted 71 yards on 22 carries. Hart, the Big Ten's leading rusher at over 1,300 yards, ended up with 61 yards on 18 carries.

"Our goal was to make them one-dimensional and stop the run," said outside linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who had nine tackles. "Hart is a good back. He's had 1,300 yards. At times, we did not stop the run the way we would have liked this year. Today, we just played hard and executed our defense. If you're able to execute, you can stop them. Once we were able to stop the run, it was all us from there. They had to pass the ball and we blitzed them. Our DBs played well and we got pressure on the quarterback."

3. Will the Buckeyes get pressure on UM freshman quarterback Chad Henne? The answer to this was a resounding yes. OSU notched just one sack on safety Donte Whitner's crushing hit on a blitz. But Simon Fraser and Mike Kudla stepped up and pressured Henne and hit him as he threw on several occasions. Henne fumbled a snap on a key third down and threw a critical interception to Ashton Youboty on the goal line when UM had a chance to get back into the game.

The thought is Henne will come back stronger from this experience. He showed enough on this day to say he is a real good one. But it's hard to try and win the Ohio State-Michigan game without benefit of a rushing game.

4. Will the Buckeyes be able to contain UM's stellar receiver Braylon Edwards? As rumor had it, Edwards came back for his senior year to specifically have a chance to win this game in Columbus. And he had a great game against Ohio State. He had 11 catches for 172 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown grab and a 46-yard catch as well. But Edwards had a key fourth down drop.

It seemed early in the game UM would move up and down the field on the Buckeyes with no problem. But the OSU defense gradually made some adjustments, found Edwards, pressured Henne and got off the field.

"We were just trying to get a beat on them," Fox said. "They did some things early on that hurt us. Our coaches did an excellent job of telling us what was going on and in making some calls. We just went out there and got it done."

5. Can the Buckeyes run the ball effectively against Michigan? As we noted, OSU has had to deviate from the power running game to get yardage on the ground. Smith came through here with 145 yards on 18 carries. He was never sacked, either.

On Thursday before the game, reporters sensed something was up. They asked offensive coordinator Jim Bollman if an "offensive explosion" was possible.

Bollman said, "You never know when it will happen."

Well, it happened and it happened in the season's biggest game.

6. How will Troy Smith play? Coming off a four-turnover game a week ago at Purdue, there was concern about how Smith would perform against Michigan's stellar defense. He came through with one of the great clutch performances in the history of the OSU-Michigan series, if not all of OSU football.

He delivered 386 yards of total offense, three touchdowns (one rushing and two passing) and did not turn the ball over.

"He played great," conceded UM cornerback Marlin Jackson. "We knew coming into the game he was an exceptional athlete and that he was capable of making big plays. Today, he made too many big plays that kept their confidence high and their offense moving."

If you go by what happened with Craig Krenzel after his 2001 win over UM (and Krenzel played nothing like this in that 26-20 win), he became the clear starter heading into the spring of 2002. It looks like Ohio State has found its quarterback.

7. Can Ohio State get Ginn and Santonio Holmes involved? Oh yes! Ginn had five catches for 87 yards and was used as effectively as he has been all season in the offense. Of course, the phenom also had that incredible 82-yard punt return for a score. What an amazing athlete.

And Holmes, after a midseason lull, has come on with big plays here at the end of the year. He had three catches for 50 yards, including the 12-yard touchdown that helped put the game away late in the third quarter.

Even better for OSU fans, the Smith-Ginn-Holmes connection should be in full force for 2005. Oh, we can hardly wait.

8. Will OSU's edge in the kicking game factor in? OSU's offense could not find the end zone twice at the UM 1 late in the first half. But Nugent hit a 21-yard field goal and then came through with a 42-yarder on the half's final play to give OSU some momentum. Then, his 48-yarder with 7:15 left meant UM needed two eight-point touchdowns just to force overtime.

Nugent's 13-point day lifted his career total to 341 points. He needs seven points in the bowl game to tie Pete Johnson for the OSU career scoring lead (348) and eight to break that mark.

9. Will the crowd factor in this game? This was as loud as it has been at the Horseshoe in maybe two years. Tressel's teams are now 25-3 in his four years on the job. (Bring on Texas … ha ha.)

10. Is Ohio State good enough to win the game? We made the point that Michigan was better on paper, but they would have to go out on the field and prove it. They could not get that done.

There are a faction of OSU fans out there saying, "Where has this been all year?"

And they're within their rights to say that. My counter to that is that Smith (and the rest of this team) were not good enough to pull this off until yesterday. They worked hard to improve to get to this point and finally got it done. The offensive line played its best game. The defensive line stopped the run. And so on. Ohio State finally put it together in the biggest game of the year. I know, it's not a Big Ten championship year and it won't lead to a New Years' Day bowl. But enjoy this for what it was worth.

Now for a look around the Big Ten:

* No. 17 Iowa stunned No. 9 Wisconsin 30-7 to steal a piece of the Big Ten title. It was the second straight lopsided loss for the Badgers, who had opened the year 9-0.

Drew Tate threw for 186 yards and three touchdowns for Iowa, which fed off four Wisconsin turnovers.

What We Learned: Iowa claimed its second Big Ten crown in three years … Kirk Ferentz is the unquestioned Big Ten coach of the year and will be getting a ton of inquiries from NFL teams (and maybe some other colleges) in the weeks ahead … Wisconsin could not finish it off after having such a great year. The Badgers had the Rose Bowl chance they wanted with OSU's win over Michigan, but could not fire.

* Purdue ripped instate rival Indiana 63-24 to claim its seventh win in eight years in the Old Oaken Bucket series. Kyle Orton threw for 522 yards and six touchdowns, while Purdue finished with a Big Ten-record 763 yards total offense and scored its most points since 1912.

Purdue's Taylor Stubblefield broke the NCAA record for career receptions, catching his 301st pass during the first quarter against Indiana. Stubblefield entered the game needing six receptions to pass Louisville's Arnold Jackson for the career record. Jackson caught 300 passes from 1997-00. Stubblefield caught 14 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns in the rout, giving him a total of 309 receptions. Marshall's Josh Davis entered Saturday with 295 receptions and caught six against Western Michigan to improve to 301 for his career.

What We Learned: Orton is really good (as is Stubblefield) and Indiana is, well, Indiana … This lopsided loss makes you wonder what will become of IU coach Gerry DiNardo, who drove away from the stadium without meeting with the media after a loss to Penn State the week before.

* Northwestern kept its postseason hopes alive by rallying to force overtime against Illinois, then winning 28-21 on Brett Basanez's 7-yard TD pass to Jonathan Fields. It was the fourth overtime game this year for the Wildcats, an NCAA Division I-A record. Northwestern also beat Ohio State and Indiana in overtime, and lost to TCU. The Wildcats have to win at Hawaii next weekend to be bowl eligible.

What We Learned: Illini coach Ron Turner could also be on the chopping block. He led Illinois to an outright Big Ten title and the 2002 Sugar Bowl, but the Illini are just 9-26 since … Never count Northwestern out. By their standards, they have had a great year (5-3 and fourth place in the Big Ten).

* Penn State knocked Michigan State out of bowl contention with a 37-13 win in Happy Valley. PSU intercepted five MSU passes and saw Zack Mills rushed for two scores and threw for one for the Lions. MSU could not sustain the momentum built with a big win over Wisconsin last week.

After his team finished 4-7 – its fourth losing season in five years – 39-year PSU head coach Joe Paterno was asked about his status: "Have I ever said I wasn't (coming back)? Is that wishful thinking? I'm planning to be back next year."

And a glance at headlines nationally

* There were no changes at the top of the polls as No. 1 USC was idle. The Trojans host Notre Dame next week, then visit crosstown rival UCLA Dec. 4.

Auburn and Oklahoma, tied for second in the last AP poll, both won. The Sooners routed Baylor 35-0 to improve to 11-0 and 8-0 in the Big 12. They won't play again until the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 4. Oklahoma freshman RB Adrian Peterson tied the NCAA record for most 100-yard rushing games by a freshman with his 10th in the Sooners' win over Baylor. Peterson ran for 240 yards on 32 carries, with three TDs. He has 1,671 yards this season.

Auburn rallied from a six-point halftime deficit to beat Alabama 21-13. The Tigers (11-0, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) completed their first perfect regular season since 1993, when the team was on probation. They'll next face Tennessee in the SEC championship game on Dec. 4.

* No. 4 Cal whipped rival Stanford 41-6. J.J. Arrington ran for 169 yards to set California's single-season rushing record. Arrington has 1,584 yards and is the only running back in the NCAA to gain at least 100 yards in all of his games this season. This was Cal's biggest victory in the Big Game since 1930.

* No. 5 Utah capped its regular season at 11-0 with a 52-21 win over BYU. QB Alex Smith threw for 184 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for a score as the Utes wrapped up the Mountain West title and made their last best case to become the first team from a non-BCS conference in seven years to crack one of the big four bowl games. The prevailing wisdom is that Utah will play in the Fiesta Bowl.

* Boise State's Jon Helmandollar rushed for a school-record five touchdowns, and No. 13 Boise State clinched at least a share of its third straight Western Athletic Conference title with a 55-14 win over Louisiana Tech. Boise State extended the nation's longest winning streak to 21 games and tied BYU's record for the most consecutive conference wins at 25. Boise State can claim the WAC title outright beating Nevada next week.

* No. 12 Miami (Fla.) kept its ACC title hopes alive with a 52-7 rout of Wake Forest. Brock Berlin threw for a career-best 361 yards and four TDs in just over a half.

* Florida upset No. 10 Florida State 20-13, winning one for the Zooker in what was UF coach Ron Zook's last regular season game as the Gators coach. The win was Florida's first in Tallahassee since 1986. Chris Leak threw a TD pass and Ciatrick Fason rushed for one for the Gators.

"I thanked them for hanging in there and not quitting," Zook said.

Florida spoiled a special night as the school named its field Bobby Bowden Field and unveiled a 30-foot stained glass likeness of Bowden at the stadium.

* Lou Holtz's last regular season game at South Carolina turned into an embarrassing mess with a 29-7 loss at rival Clemson. The game was marred by a sidelines clearing brawl late in the game. Holtz, 67, told his team Thursday he plans to retire and Steve Spurrier has already been widely rumored as his replacement.

* Harvard completed a perfect season by beating Yale 35-3 in the 121st edition of The Game. Harvard (10-0, 7-0 Ivy League) finished unbeaten and untied for the second time in four years. Before 2001, the Crimson had not had a perfect season since 1913. The Crimson had already clinched at least a share of the Ivy title. Harvard beat Yale for the fourth consecutive year; the last Harvard seniors to go 4-0 against their rivals was the class of 1923.

* In its last game in the Big East, Temple lost to Boston College 34-17. The Owls are getting kicked out of the Big East for failing to meet minimum requirements for membership, most notably in attendance, facilities and fielding a competitive team. Temple finished with its 13th straight losing season and had only 14 Big East wins in 14 conference seasons. Boston College is leaving the Big East for the ACC next year, and can win the conference title with a win over Syracuse next week.

* Lafayette beat Lehigh 24-10 in the 140th meeting in college football's most-played rivalry. The Leopards secured a share of the Patriot League championship and the league's automatic bid to the I-AA playoffs. Lafayette leads the all-time series 73-62-5.

* Heisman Watch: Peterson's big day make it hard to choose between he and teammate Jason White. Others still in this mix include Utah's Alex Smith, USC's Matt Leinhart and Texas' Cedric Benson.

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

My latest bowl projections are still pretty much the same. They would be USC-Oklahoma in the Orange, Auburn-Boston College in the Sugar, Michigan-Cal in the Rose and Utah-Miami in the Fiesta.

* Games to watch next week: Bowling Green-Toledo (Tuesday), West Virginia-Pittsburgh (Thursday), LSU-Arkansas (Friday), Texas A&M-Texas (Friday), Georgia Tech-Georgia, Virginia-Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State-Texas, Notre Dame-USC.

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 (6-4), beat South Florida 45-23, Nov. 20; at Louisville, Nov. 27.

Sept. 11, Marshall (6-5), beat Western Michigan 31-21; season complete.

Sept. 18, at N.C. State (4-6), idle, Nov. 20; vs. East Carolina, Nov. 27.

Sept. 25, idle

Oct. 2, at Northwestern (6-5), beat Illinois 28-21 (OT), Nov. 20; at Hawaii, Nov. 27.

Oct. 9, Wisconsin (9-2), lost to Iowa 30-7, Nov. 20; regular season complete.

Oct. 16, at Iowa (9-2), beat Wisconsin 30-7, Nov. 20; regular season complete.

Oct. 23, Indiana (3-8), lost to Purdue 63-24, Nov. 20; season complete.

Oct. 30, Penn State (4-7), beat Michigan State 37-13, Nov. 20; season complete.

Nov. 6, at Michigan State (5-6), lost to Penn State 37-13, Nov. 20; at Hawaii, Dec. 4.

Nov. 13, Purdue (7-4), beat Indiana 63-24, Nov. 20; regular season complete.

Nov. 20 Michigan (9-2), lost to Ohio State 37-21, Nov. 20; regular season complete.

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Michigan (9-2, 7-1)

Iowa (9-2, 7-1)

Wisconsin (9-2, 6-2)

Northwestern (6-5, 5-3)

Michigan State (5-6, 4-4)

Purdue (7-4, 4-4)

Ohio State (7-4, 4-4)

Minnesota (6-5, 3-5)

Penn State (4-7, 2-6)

Indiana (3-8, 1-7)

Illinois (3-8, 1-7)

Nov. 20 Schedule

Northwestern 28, Illinois 21 (OT)

Penn State 37, Michigan State 13

Purdue 63, Indiana 24

Ohio State 37, Michigan 21

Iowa 30, Wisconsin 7

Nov. 27 Schedule

Northwestern at Hawaii, 11 p.m.

Dec. 4 Schedule

Michigan State at Hawaii, 11 p.m.


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