Bucknotes - 11/30

One of the several things that took place in the OSU/Michigan game was Troy Smith taking a firm hold on the starting QB position. In today's Bucknotes, Dave Biddle says Smith has always been impressive and hasn't exactly come out of nowhere. Dave also talks about the evolution of the OSU offense, the Alamo Bowl, Andy Geiger, and more.

Sorry this column is 10 minutes late. My bags were sniffed by rabid dogs. That only took a minute, but I complained about it for nine additional minutes.

OFFENSE TRANSFORMS

Even the biggest Jim Tressel supporters have criticized his offensive play calling during his four years at Ohio State.

"Great head coach, poor offensive coordinator" is what we often hear.

However, this season, we witnessed the subtle transformation of OSU's offense. No, the Buckeyes are never going to be a spread ‘em out, run-n-shoot team, and why should they be? Ohio State will always be a power running team at heart.

However, what we saw this year from Tressel was the willingness to mix it up more than usual. There were more four-wide sets than at any other time during his tenure. More one back, less two backs. More spread, less three yards and a cloud.

You could argue that this was done out of necessity. Since OSU never had a tailback step up this season, Tressel couldn't just line up with two backs and bang his head against the wall, could he?

Well, that's basically what he did last year.

But this year, even before Troy Smith took over at QB, the Buckeyes really tried to use the entire field.

Were there serious growing pains this year as the new offense was put in place? Certainly. Ohio State looked like the worst offense in the Big Ten at times.

But chalk this up as a transition year. Next year we will see a much-improved offense. The players are now more comfortable running spread formations and Smith is built to run a wide-open offense.

Also, with a deep and talented receiving corps that includes Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez, Roy Hall and Devon Lyons, it wouldn't make much sense to just have two receivers on the field.

As previously mentioned, OSU will always look to run first. The power O play is the staple of the playbook and always will be. But, Tressel has diversified the offense and should get some credit for doing so.

SMITH'S JOB TO LOSE

After his sterling performance in the 37-21 win over Michigan, the quarterback job is obviously Smith's to lose heading into next season. A strong performance in the bowl game will remove any doubt, if there's any left.

So, what will happen to Justin Zwick? Well, I'm guessing he sticks it out and battles Smith for the job next year. If Zwick transfers, he would have to go the I-AA (or D-II, D-III) route to play next season and have two years of eligibility remaining. If he transfers to a D-I school, he would have to sit out a season and would lose a year of eligibility since he already redshirted at OSU.

But, if Zwick sticks around, he is sure to get his shot at OSU again. Smith is a scrambler and he also carries the ball a lot on called QB draws and sweeps. Therefore, he is sure to get injured at some point over the next two years. Having a veteran like Zwick waiting in the wings would be a great asset for Tressel and the team.

As for Smith, some might wonder where he came from. How did he go from backup, to starter, to giving one of the best performances ever by an OSU quarterback against Michigan? Did Smith just come out of nowhere?

Not exactly. He has been impressive since the moment he stepped on campus. In the summer of 2002, veteran OSU receivers said Smith threw the best ball on the team in 7-on-7 drills. They said he had the best arm strength and accuracy. And that was with Craig Krenzel, Scott McMullen and Zwick around.

My first time seeing Smith in live action was the fall jersey scrimmage of 2002 and he was extremely impressive. Of course, it was against mostly third-string defenders, but he was clearly more than just some "athlete" that could also play a little bit of quarterback.

Smith always seemed to shine in live scrimmages, but early in the 2003 season against Northwestern, Tressel tipped his hand in terms of the future QB battle. With Krenzel out with an injury and McMullen making his second start, Tressel wanted to get one of the young quarterbacks some experience when the game was on the line. So, early in the first half against the Wildcats, Zwick entered the game.

There you had it. It was pretty clear that Zwick was going to open the 2004 season as the starter, and he did.

But what about Smith? He always seemed to outperform Zwick in live scrimmages (except when Smith was not allowed to scramble). The common thought was that the coaching staff knew something we didn't. Zwick must have a better feel for the offense. He was more Tressel's quarterback. Smith was the risk-taker, while Zwick was the steady, reliable QB with all of the high school credentials.

But, as it turned out, Smith turned the ball over less than Zwick. Smith was also a better runner and his passing statistics were also better.

You have to wonder if Smith would have been given a shot if Zwick didn't go down with a shoulder injury in the Iowa game. Chances are he would have been. The Buckeyes were at the low point of their season. But the point is that Smith more than made the most of his opportunity and has earned the starting QB job.

GEIGER NEARING RETIREMENT

Count me in the group that will sorely miss athletic director Ferdinand "Andy" Geiger when he retires in the near future (most likely following the 2005-06 school year).

Geiger took over in 1994 and has done an excellent all-around job, from hiring coaches, to building new athletic facilities.

I like the direct way Geiger handles problems. He always comes across like he's in complete control and everything will work out for the best.

The latest Maurice Clarett mess couldn't have been handled any better. Instead of allowing ESPN and former OSU dropouts to take shots at the university, Geiger fired back. He has "stones" as the kids say and whoever replaces him at OSU will have some huge shoes to fill.

One sidebar: Geiger's record against Michigan? 5-6. Now you know why he wants to stick around for at least one more football season.

LUDICROUS SPEED

Ginn's incredible season sparked a question in my mind: Who is the fastest Buckeye in recent history?

It's gotta be Ginn, right?

Who else is even up there? Terry Glenn? Yeah, he's close, but I wouldn't say he was faster than Ginn.

Anyone else? Chris Sanders? Probably not. Joey Galloway? Not quite.

It will be interesting to see how Ginn does on the OSU track team this year. He has aspirations to be an Olympic hurdler. But when you're talking about pure football speed, I've never seen anyone faster.

And the great thing about Ginn is that he's humble. He's a great kid. Yeah, tied the NCAA single-season record for punt return touchdowns, set the OSU career record, big deal. He acts like he's been there before, even though he hasn't.

And as he gets a little stronger, watch out. Next year, we will be seeing Ginn at punt returner and receiver just like this season. But we will also see him at kick returner and defensive back. In fact, don't be surprised to hear that Ginn gets some snaps in bowl practice on defense.

PROPS TO TIM MAY

Columbus Dispatch reporter Tim May has dubbed OSU's shotgun, spread offense the "ShotGinn" offense. Nice work, Tim. Even Tressel got a kick out of that one at the press conference following the Michigan win.

OUTSTANDING SPECIAL TEAMS

The play of OSU's special units this season has been excellent – and I'm not just talking about Ginn. The kickoff and punt coverage teams made plays all season, rarely allowing any meaningful returns. Sirjo Welch and Antonio Smith – both from Columbus Beechcroft – were especially impressive on punt coverage.

On kickoffs, Mike Nugent usually boomed the ball for touchbacks, but when he didn't, the coverage was very good.

As for the return games, Ohio State was the most improved team in the country and WR coach Darrell Hazell was a big reason why (along with Ginn of course). One of the reasons Hazell was hired last spring was to work with the kick and punt returners and he got the job done and then some.

In 2003, the Buckeyes finished 106th in the country in both kick and punt returns.

This year, they finished the regular season ranked No. 12 in the nation in kick returns (23.6 yards per return) and No. 3 in punt returns (17.2).

When you throw in the best kicker in college football in Nugent, one of the best long-snappers in Kyle Andrews, along with a competent punter in Kyle Turano, you have one of the best overall special teams performances of the season.

TEXAS TECH IN THE ALAMO?

All signs point to Ohio State facing off with Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. This would be a rematch of OSU's 45-21 win over the Red Raiders in the 2002 opener.

Reportedly, Texas Tech has a much-improved defense from its 2002 squad. That's not hard to believe considering the Red Raiders didn't even bring their defense along for the trip last time.

Overall, I think the Alamo Bowl is a good fit for the Buckeyes. It's a winnable game and gives OSU fans a new place to visit – and everyone has nice things to say about the city.

And Santonio will be in San Antonio. It doesn't get any better than that.

E-mail Dave at: sports@madison-press.com


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