Sunday Morning QB: Answering The Questions

We provide our weekly analysis and commentary on Ohio State football, including answers to the Ten Pressing Questions we posed prior to Saturday's game with No. 2 Texas. Plus, we have notes and headlines on the Big Ten and 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 game with Texas:

* I know, you're probably hurting today. If you're an Ohio State fan, it was certainly a rough night. I will try and make this as painless as possible.

On Friday, I posted my Ten Pressing Questions for OSU's opener against Texas. Today, with some time to reflect on what we saw, we have some of the answers.

1. How will Jim Tressel handle the quarterback position? -- Where do you start with this one? OK, Justin Zwick started as everybody figured he would. Then Troy Smith came in and led the Buckeyes on short fields to a field goal and a touchdown. They alternated, somewhat, in the second half.

The big decision was the one with 2:31 left in the game and OSU on its own 31-yard line after Texas had grabbed a 23-22 lead. Tressel inserted Zwick, presumably to run the two-minute offense. He will be second-guessed by some people for not putting the better runner, Smith, in the game at that point.

But even that argument loses steam because Smith was tackled for a safety on OSU's last possession with 19 seconds left.

Of course, I had one confidante after the game say, "If I had a quarterback come off the bench and led my team to 10 quick points – after not playing for nine months – I'd ride him like Secretariat."

But I'm not sure the quarterback waffling lost Ohio State this game. By and large, I thought the quarterbacks played well enough for OSU to win this game. Zwick was victimized by at least three dropped passes, including the critical one to Ryan Hamby in the end zone that would have staked OSU to a 25-16 lead late in the third quarter. Instead, the Buckeyes had to settle for one of their five field goals.

You could fault the quarterbacks, somewhat, for execution in the red zone and a lack of distribution.

We come back to the same series of questions that never seem to get answered with the Tressel offensive scheme: How much of it was play calling? How much of it was execution? How much of it was Texas' defense? We usually shrug our shoulders at these tough questions and come back with the same answer: "Probably a little bit of each."

You want to fault them for not throwing in the end zone. The Hamby drop kind of debunks that, but conservative quarterback draw calls with Smith – he carried seven times inside the Texas 40 – were endemic of an offense that did not go for the jugular.

The fearless foursome of Ted Ginn Jr., Santonio Holmes, Anthony Gonzalez and Roy Hall had a combined 24 touches on offense a week ago against Miami (Ohio). Against Texas, those four combined for 11 touches on offense. And I know Ginn and Gonzalez each had drops on the first series, but here may be one answer as to why, indeed, Ohio State did not defeat Texas.

And, as we look ahead at the last nine games, you have to ask yourself this question: What do they do now at quarterback?

2. How will Troy Smith play? --Smith did have some rust. He was not in full Michigan game form, certainly. But the deep throw to Holmes was top shelf. It's too bad they weren't ever able to go back to that and duplicate that deep ball success.

Smith would have obviously benefited from having a tune-up game. That was not the case with this scenario, though.

3. Will Ohio State be able to run the ball on Texas? -- The running game was Antonio Pittman early and Smith the quarterback draw as the game wore on. Pittman held his own with 75 yards on 17 carries – an average of 4.4 yards per carry. Smith was effective, at times, with the quarterback draw. But Texas began keying on that play as the game wore on and eventually took it away.

I think I would have liked to have seen them do more with Pittman and less with Smith. They didn't use their short-yardage hammer, Brandon Schnittker, once. And it speaks volumes that Maurice Wells and Erik Haw didn't get in the game, either. They have to hope they can jump on San Diego State next week and get those guys a chance to carry the rock.

4. Can Texas' defensive backs match up with OSU's plethora of wide receivers? -- I did not think the Texas DBs matched up well at all with Ohio State, but they brought their A game. They were hard hitters, good tacklers and, generally, strong in coverage. Even on Holmes' touchdown, he had a Longhorn draped all over him. Maybe we'll find out, upon coaches examination, that the Texas DBs had a super game and nobody was open – thus explaining the lack of touches mentioned above.

5. Can the offensive line hold its own against Texas' gigantic front four? -- This battle tipped in Texas' favor as the game wore on. Rod Wright, Larry Dibbles and the seemingly unblockable Tim Crowder (two sacks, 3-1/2 tackles for loss) were fairly dominant. They came up with big stops when the Longhorns desperately needed them. UT held OSU to 255 yards total offense. That tells you a lot right there.

6. How will the OSU defensive line fare against Texas? -- Again, Texas' offensive line won more of these battles as the game wore on. The Buckeyes have played two games and the linemen have a combined one sack (by Mike Kudla against Miami). Jay Richardson did create a key fumble. Other than that one play, the OSU defensive line had problems. They didn't get off blocks to help contain Vince Young. UT rolled up 382 yards total offense. There's your answer.

7. How will OSU contain Vince Young? -- We said this was the $64,000 question. And, ultimately, here you find another clear reason for OSU's demise. Yes, OSU forced him into a pair of interceptions and sacked him three times. But he overcame those mistakes with some incredible running. He is also a much better passer than I gave him credit for. He completed 18 of 29 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns.

Even when it appeared OSU had Young dead to rights, he would wriggle off the hook. The most glaring example of this was the way he sidestepped blitzing linebacker Anthony Schlegel and then, about two seconds later, calmly threw down the middle to speedy Billy Pittman on a 63-yard pass.

Then, I was truly impressed with the final drive. Young was patient and threw underneath twice to Jamaal Charles. Then, he went for the jugular – wow, what a concept? – with the game-winning touchdown throw to Limas Sweed. Beautifully conceived, beautifully set up.

The Buckeyes called Young out – sort of, in a roundabout way – and he beat them and he did it on their field, no less.

8. How will OSU's secondary match up with Texas' receivers? -- Maybe the OSU secondary is overrated. I don't know. They made Pittman look like Reggie Bush or something. The coverage breakdown on the Sweed touchdown is disappointing for veteran players like Ashton Youboty and Nate Salley. Youboty failed to jam Sweed at the line and Salley was late getting over the top.

The Buckeyes gave up three plays in excess of 30 yards in the passing game. I didn't think Texas had the capability of making plays like that. Again, some of it comes back on pressure or lack thereof on Young.

9. How will the kicking game factor into this showdown? -- This was a battle of the two kickers, as much as anything, and they rose to the occasion. David Pino made all three of his field goals for Texas, while Josh Huston was 5 of 6 on field goals for the Buckeyes. His 50-yard miss with 5:00 left denied OSU a commanding 25-16 lead. But it would be foolish to pin the loss on that miss. Tressel admitted to Huston he was disappointed they couldn't get him any closer.

10. Is Ohio State truly a national championship caliber team? -- Probably not this year. The Buckeyes would need a lot of help to get back into the top two by the end of the regular season. They would have to win out, which may be easier said than done. Iowa, for instance, will come in on Sept. 24 and will be playing for its season.

It is possible, certainly, if OSU finishes 10-1 that they could still get a Rose Bowl invite. I have pointed out what I think were some obvious flaws for the Buckeyes. But I'd think they are still among the 10 best teams in the country. Their best bet is to take care of business against San Diego State and then set their sights on trying to win the Big Ten championship. That would be a great way to salvage the season. There are, after all, nine games left.

This loss could also prove detrimental in the Big Ten tiebreaker for the automatic BCS berth. Because OSU does not play Purdue or Wisconsin, those teams could have an edge on OSU if they tie the Buckeyes for the title and are able to win their nonconference games. But that is way on down the line.

* The final result did not go how you would have liked. But I can't think of many days – on the whole and other than the final score – that were much better in my recent memory of covering OSU sporting events.

I jotted down some of my highlights from what was – other than the final score – a remarkable day.

At 10:30 a.m., ESPN's College Game Day came on. There appeared to be 10,000 or more OSU fans in the vicinity of St. John Arena. It was a great and orderly show of support for the Buckeyes. I loved the sign that read "Michigan Still Sucks."

The show took a turn toward the ridiculous, though, when they aired a feature on Michigan players learning "Hail To The Victors." Then, they came out of that segment and had Nick Lachey and Desmond Howard singing that song from the top row of Ohio Stadium. That was too much. Just when you thought ESPN had made up with Ohio State, they pull this kind of stunt. Unbelievable.

But at high noon, the show took a turn for the better as both Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso – flanked by Herbie's three boys – picked the Buckeyes. Corso even donned the Brutus Buckeye head.

As the day wore on, cheers could be heard from tailgates all over campus as Notre Dame finished off Michigan.

At 4:30 p.m., we opened the gates at our Bucknuts tailgate at Riverwatch Tower. We want to thank all of the subscribers who made it to the tailgate. It was fun to get to meet each of you and we really enjoyed the chance to entertain so many of you.

At 6 p.m., the team filed through St. John Arena and the Skull Session on its way to the stadium.

Nate Salley addressed the crowd, then handed the mike to Jim Tressel: "This is the day we've been waiting for," Tressel said. "Band, play hard, get after it. Fans, be the loudest you've ever been. The time is now. Go Bucks."

Many in the crowd were in their seats an hour before kickoff. There was a loud ovation when the team came out for warm-ups. At 7:50, the band conducted its usual ramp entrance and launched into "Buckeye Battle Cry." Moments later, the band delivered Script Ohio, followed by Carmen Ohio.

At 8:02 p.m., the team came down the tunnel and the roar was deafening.

At 8:09 p.m., Texas' David Pino kicked the ball off and this game – some six years in the making – was under way.

With OSU trailing 10-0, Smith trotted on the field to a loud ovation at 8:45 p.m.

At 9:10 p.m., Smith brought the house down with his 36-yard TD pass to Holmes, who made another one of his patented acrobatic grabs.

At 9:43 p.m., you had the stirring halftime tribute to Woody Hayes as the sign commemorating his contributions was unveiled on the east façade of C-deck.

At 10:40 p.m., you had the end of the third quarter and, unless I missed it, no Hang On Sloopy.

At 11:15 p.m., Huston's 50-yard field goal sailed just wide right, opening the door for a late Texas comeback.

At 11:25 p.m., that comeback came to fruition as Young hit Sweed for what would be the game winning score.

At 11:37 p.m., it was finally all over and Texas had pulled out one of the biggest wins in the history of its long and legendary football program.

The postgame was class all the way. The players knelt together near midfield. The OSU players then sang Carmen Ohio with the band. Then, the Texas players sang their alma mater with their band at the north end. And, finally, the OSU band played its rendition of the Texas fight song in tribute to the victors.

This day – other than the final result – was what college football is supposed to be all about.

"The atmosphere was great," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "The fans were great. We wish we could have gotten them a win, but I know they'll be back next week just like we will."

Now for a look around the Big Ten:

* You'd have to go back a long way to find a day where three top-10 teams from the Big Ten all tasted defeat. But that was precisely what happened on Saturday.

At Ann Arbor, No. 3 Michigan watched No. 20 Notre Dame drive for a score on the first possession of the game and the Wolverines never really regained control in a 17-10 loss to the Fighting Irish. UM had its 16-game home winning streak stopped, while Charlie Weis became the first Notre Dame coach to win his first two games on the road since Knute Rockne in 1918.

The ever affable Weis was asked about the comparison with Rockne. He said his coaching contemporaries would never let him live it down if he took the bait: "If I answered by dignifying that, (Bill) Parcells and (Bill) Belichick would humiliate me. Let's come back and revisit that in about 10 years."

ND quarterback Brady Quinn threw two touchdown passes in the first half as the Irish built a 14-3 halftime lead. UM cut the gap to 17-10 as Chad Henne hit freshman Mario Manningham for a 25-yard touchdown with 3:47 left. UM regained possession, but could not complete a pass to mount a threat to force overtime. ND won at Michigan for the first time since 1993.

* Iowa State knocked Iowa quarterback Drew Tate out of the game with a concussion and then knocked off the eighth-ranked Hawkeyes 23-3. Iowa State capitalized on five turnovers for all its points. LaMarcus Hicks returned one of the Cyclones' two interceptions 28 yards for a touchdown. Tate left midway through the second quarter. He is expected to return for next week's game with Northern Iowa. Iowa routed Ball State 56-0 last week, but never moved inside the ISU 26-yard line in this game.

* Northwestern has found a running back in freshman Tyrell Sutton. Ohio's reigning Mr. Football award winner, had 30 carries for 214 yards and four touchdowns. His fourth TD, a 5-yard run, gave NU a 38-31 lead with 1:02 left. Northern Illinois scored a touchdown with six seconds left, but opted for a two-point pass to go for the win and it fell incomplete.

* Penn State has five touchdowns off six opponents' turnovers this year, including three off four during a 42-24 win over Cincinnati. Michael Robinson threw for 220 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for a score.

* No. 13 Purdue won its opener as Jerod Void ran for 101 yards and a score and Dustin Keller caught two touchdown passes in a 49-24 win over Akron. Brandon Kirsch completed 22 of 34 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns for the Boilermakers.

* Wisconsin tight end Owen Daniels caught three TD passes from John Stocco in a 65-0 rout of Temple.

This was the Badgers' biggest margin of victory since an 85-0 shutout of Marquette in 1915 and their highest-scoring day since piling up 69 points against New Mexico State in 1962.

* Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton completed 21 of 26 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns and freshman running back Javon Ringer added 80 yards and two scores on the ground in a 42-14 romp over Hawaii. Hawaii made its first trip to the Eastern time zone since 1975, but dropped its sixth straight road opener.

You probably won't see MSU and Hawaii on the football field together again for a very long. MSU was still steamed about the 16 penalties called on the Spartans in last year's loss at Hawaii. This week, news was made as the MSU staff refused to exchange scouting films with Hawaii and this game saw a number of personal fouls as tempers flared in the fourth quarter.

* Indiana survived Division I-AA Nicholls State 35-31, winning on Blake Powers' 7-yard touchdown pass to 6-7 freshman James Hardy with a scant 47 seconds left. Powers threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns. Nicholls State, a Louisiana school that had its scheduled opener against Utah State canceled because of Hurricane Katrina last week. The game at Indiana was in doubt, too, until the Hoosiers arranged for a charter flight from Baton Rouge.

* Minnesota's Laurence Maroney carried 26 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns in his team's 56-24 win over Colorado State. It was a big day for Columbus City League players at Minnesota. Walnut Ridge's Gary Russell had two TD runs, Eastmoor's Justin Valentine had one TD run and Brookhaven grad Alex Daniels tallied on a blocked punt.

And a glance at headlines nationally

* No. 5 LSU had to move its home game with Arizona State to Tempe because of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in Baton Rouge. But in an inspirational finish, the Tigers rallied to beat the 15th-ranked Sun Devils 35-31. JaMarcus Russell's 39-yard TD pass to Early Doucet made a winner out of Les Miles in his debut as the LSU head coach.

"A lot of people on the team are from Louisiana, so some people didn't talk to their parents, some people didn't talk to their families, so I think this win that we did was a big thing for the state of Louisiana so they could turn to something else," said LSU running back Joseph Addai, who had 109 yards in the win.

* In one the most dramatic finishes of the young season, Ohio U. upset Pittsburgh 16-10 in overtime in Athens. Dion Byrum returned two interceptions for touchdowns, including an 85-yarder of a Tyler Palko pass in overtime, as the Bobcats roared to victory and new Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt fell to 0-2.

* Marshall grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory, falling 21-19 to Kansas State. The Thundering Herd were in position to duplicate their upset of K-State from two years ago as they drove to a first down at the K-State 20 with eight seconds left. But instead of attempting the game-winning field goal, Marshall ran a play from scrimmage and quarterback Jimmy Skinner threw an ill-advised interception with two seconds left.

* Oklahoma bounced back from a loss to TCU as Adrian Peterson ran for 220 yards and three touchdowns in the 18th-ranked Sooners' win over Tulsa 31-15.

* Cal's Robert Jordan caught 11 passes for 192 yards and three scores as the No. 16 Bears defeated Washington 56-17.

* Florida's DeShawn Wynn returned from a one-game suspension and rushed for a career-high 101 yards and three touchdowns as the 10th-ranked Gators defeated Louisiana Tech 41-3. The Gators prepped for next week's SEC showdown with Tennessee.

* Clemson had another come-from-behind win. This time, Reggie Merriweather scored his second touchdown on a 38-yard run with 2:58 remaining as the No. 25 Tigers rallied past Maryland 28-24.

* Georgia Tech's Reggie Ball threw for a career-high 320 yards as the 17th-ranked Yellow Jackets held off North Carolina 27-21.

* Georgia gave South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier a rude return to the SEC as the ninth-ranked Bulldogs defeated the Gamecocks 17-15. Thomas Brown rushed for 144 yards and scored the decisive touchdown with 11-1/2 minutes to go.

* Heisman Watch: This is a three-horse race between USC's Matt Leinhart and Reggie Bush and Texas' Vince Young.

* My new top 15 (and I have completely jumbled it): USC, Texas, LSU, Tennessee, Florida, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, Purdue, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Miami (Fla.).

* Games To Watch: Utah-TCU (Thursday), Oregon State-Louisville, Michigan State-Notre Dame, Florida State-Boston College, Oklahoma-UCLA, Pittsburgh-Nebraska, Alabama-South Carolina, Wisconsin-North Carolina, Fresno State-Oregon, Tennessee-Florida, Arkansas-USC, Illinois-Cal.

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. 3, Miami (Ohio) (0-2), lost to Central Michigan 38-37; at Kent State, Sept. 17.

Sept. 10, Texas (2-0), beat Ohio State 25-22; vs. Rice, Sept. 17.

Sept. 17 (3:30 p.m., ABC), San Diego State (0-2), lost to Air Force 41-29; at Ohio State, Sept. 17.

Sept. 24, Iowa (1-1), lost to Iowa State 23-3; vs. Northern Iowa, Sept. 17.

Oct. 1, idle.

Oct. 8 (7 or 7:45 p.m., ESPN2 or ESPN), Penn State (2-0), beat Cincinnati 42-24; vs. Central Michigan, Sept. 17.

Oct. 15, Michigan State (2-0), beat Hawaii 42-14; at Notre Dame, Sept. 17.

Oct. 22, at Indiana (2-0), beat Nicholls State 35-31; vs. Kentucky, Sept. 17.

Oct. 29, at Minnesota (2-0), beat Colorado State 56-24; vs. Florida Atlantic, Sept. 17.

Nov. 5, Illinois (2-0), beat San Jose State 40-19; at California, Sept. 17.

Nov. 12, Northwestern (2-0), beat Northern Illinois 38-37; at Arizona State, Sept. 17.

Nov. 19, Michigan (1-1), lost to Notre Dame 17-10; vs. Eastern Michigan, Sept. 17.

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Wisconsin (2-0, 0-0)

Northwestern (2-0, 0-0)

Michigan State (2-0, 0-0)

Minnesota (2-0, 0-0)

Indiana (2-0, 0-0)

Illinois (2-0, 0-0)

Penn State (2-0, 0-0)

Purdue (1-0, 0-0)

Michigan (1-1, 0-0)

Iowa (1-1, 0-0)

Ohio State (1-1, 0-0)

Sept. 10 Results

Notre Dame 17, Michigan 10

Penn State 42, Cincinnati 24

Wisconsin 65, Temple 0

Purdue 49, Akron 24

Minnesota 56, Colorado State 24

Illinois 40, San Jose State 19

Iowa State 23, Iowa 3

Michigan State 42, Hawaii 14

Northwestern 38, Northern Illinois 37

Indiana 35, Nicholls State 31

Texas 25, Ohio State 22

Sept. 17 Games

Eastern Michigan at Michigan, noon (ESPNU/ESPN-Plus)

Michigan State at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. (NBC)

Northern Iowa at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN-Plus)

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

Central Michigan at Penn State, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN-Plus)

Illinois at California, 5 p.m.

Kentucky at Indiana, 5:45 p.m. (ESPN Classic)

Wisconsin at North Carolina, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)

Purdue at Arizona, 9 p.m.

Florida Atlantic at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN-Plus)

Northwestern at Arizona State, 10 p.m.

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