Ten Pressing Questions: The Alamo Bowl

How will Justin Zwick fare in his return as the starting quarterback for Ohio State? We take a look at that key question and several others the Buckeyes will try and answer with tonight's Alamo Bowl game against Oklahoma State (8 p.m., ESPN).

As we all count down the hours until kickoff of the Alamo Bowl at 8 p.m. Eastern tonight, I came up with my usual game day theme, Ten Pressing Questions, to think about what we may look for during Ohio State's game with Michigan.

As always, I'll come back afterwards with my thoughts on how each of these questions were answered.

Without any further adieu, here we go:

1. How well will Justin Zwick play? Going in and on the surface, this is probably the single biggest factor in this game. Knowing the way Jim Tressel prefers to coach, however, he will not want the game to hinge on Zwick. If Zwick is able to keep away from costly turnovers and run an efficient offense, the Buckeyes have a great chance to win this game.

As I have noted, Tressel would prefer for his defense and running game to win this game and put it away so Zwick is asked to execute a minimal number of "have-to-have" throws. That's obvious. Zwick hasn't played competitively since Oct. 16 and, even when he was playing, he was barely a 50 percent passer.

Zwick's future at Ohio State and as a quarterback may be determined with how he plays tonight. That puts even more pressure on him. To say his every move tonight will be scrutinized is a major understatement.

2. What will happen if Zwick goes down with an injury? That is a key question as well. Ohio State has put two years of planning into setting up Todd Boeckman for a redshirt season this year. That could all go by the wayside if Zwick gets injured early in the game.

But Tressel has made it clear that if the coaching staff feels Boeckman gives the team the best chance to win and he has to play, he will. Tressel also indicated, however, that Bam Childress, Ted Ginn Jr. and walk-on QB Ben Kacsandi have also taken snaps this week. The obvious inference there is that if Zwick goes down late and OSU has the game under control, one of those players would take snaps and execute a basic offense to get the Buckeyes through the game without burning Boeckman's redshirt year.

3. With Troy Smith out, who will Ohio State turn to in the running game? Smith was a big part of OSU's late-season renaissance of the running game. With him out, the Buckeyes will probably be going back to more of the I formation. Branden Joe certainly excelled in one-back sets. How about a backfield of Dionte Johnson blocking for Joe? Hmmm.

Lydell Ross was a non-entity by the end of the year, while Antonio Pittman also seemed to hit the freshman wall somewhere in there. Maurice Hall remains a threat in certain situations. The hope is that one or all of them will join a healthy Joe and help the Buckeyes approach their pronounced goal of 200 rushing yards, something they hit three times in 11 games during the regular season.

4. Can OSU's receivers deliver the big play? Zwick displayed a strong arm early in the year before his shoulder injury. He will find that the receiving corps is much farther along today than the last time he played with the emergence of Ginn and Gonzalez.

Without a doubt, it would help Zwick's confidence if he is able to hook up with Ginn, Gonzalez and/or Santonio Holmes early for a big touchdown play.

5. Can Ginn notch a record fifth punt return for a touchdown this year by bringing one back against the Cowboys? This may not be easy. Oklahoma State was a respectable 31st nationally in net punting this year, meaning they did a good job of keeping return yardage to a minimum.

But Ginn is back on the same turf field he returned a kick for a score in last year's national high school U.S. All-American Bowl. Obviously, any help Zwick and the offense can get from the special teams would be greatly appreciated.

6. Will Mike Nugent break OSU's career scoring record? Nugent needs seven points to tie Pete Johnson as the school's career scoring leader at 348 points. The smart money is on Nugent to break that record. Obviously, those chances increase if Ohio State has to settle for two or three field goals, which given the change at quarterback, seems a distinct possibility.

It would be nice to get that out of the way early in the game, that way any late game kicks won't carry any extra pressure. But, yes, I see Nugent rewriting the OSU record book one last time at some point in this game.

7. Will Ohio State be able to contend with the Oklahoma State running game? This is probably the other key factor in this football game. Oklahoma State runs the ball 77 percent of the time and has a real plowhorse in 25-carry-a-game back Vernand Morency.

They have a big offensive line that excels at run blocking as well as two huge tight ends. The Cowboys were eighth nationally in rushing offense at 245 yards per game.

Michigan was also a great run team, but was stopped cold by OSU. My feeling is we see something similar here. There have been so many guys like this through the years – Amos Zereoue, Deshawn Foster, Willis McGahee, Darren Sproles and so on – who come up against Ohio State with huge resumes. But the final line usually looks the same: 20 carries for 80 yards.

8. Can Ohio State keep a handle on Donovan Woods? The Oklahoma State quarterback is a true dual threat player with 13 touchdowns passing and 10 rushing. Some have compared him to Kansas State's Ell Roberson, although Woods is a redshirt freshman and Roberson was a senior.

The linebacker corps must come up big here by pressuring Woods as he leaves the pocket, containing him on the option and, yes, helping out in pass coverages. This is also a tall order, but I feel the Buckeyes will get after young Mr. Woods.

9. Will the secondary be lulled to sleep by the running game and surrender the big play? Oklahoma State loves the play action pass after it has run the ball 15 or 20 times. It's been a great recipe for success. The Ohio State secondary will have to be on its toes to prevent any such surprise big plays?

With that unit back at full strength with Nate Salley, Donte Whitner and Dustin Fox all figuring to play, the Buckeyes should be able to handle this one as well.

10. Will this bowl experience serve as a positive starting point for a big year in 2005? The Alamo Bowl was nobody's preseason choice as a bowl destination. Ohio State aspires for much more and, with 17 starters due back next year, the Buckeyes will want to be back in a BCS bowl one year from now.

An emphatic win here would start the ball rolling toward that goal. Obviously, we may not know the final answer to this one for a while. But this is an important statement game on national television for a program that has underperformed off the field and on it for much of the last 12 months. Recruits will be dialed in as well.

Enjoy the game. See you on the other side.

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