He had thrown for 270 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Michigan. He had thrown for 340 yards and one score in a win over Michigan State. But, perhaps, Tate's best showing of 2004 came in his team's 33-7 win over Ohio State. In that game, he completed 26 of 39 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball nine times for 24 yards and a touchdown.
Now, as the ninth-ranked Buckeyes prepare to host No. 21 Iowa and Tate this Saturday in the Big Ten opener for both schools (noon, ABC), much of OSU's focus will be on containing the realatively diminuitive Tate, who is listed at just 6-0 and 185 pounds.
"The quarterback is their main threat," said OSU defensive end Mike Kudla. "As a defense, we have to contain him and try and make them one dimensional and not let him get out. Last year, they ran a lot of bootlegs on us. He was able to get out and gave his receivers more time to run. For our secondary guys, that's hard to do. We need to take away his abilities and make him feel uncomfortable."
Defensive end David Patterson also discussed the job ahead for the OSU defense.
"It takes a whole defense as a unit to contain a quarterback," Patterson said. "I think it will help us tht we have gone against a mobile quarterback already this year. It will take everyone doing their job. The coaches will scheme it up. If everybody does their job, we should be OK.
"It takes a relentless pursuit of the football. If he does get outside the pocket and runs, we have to be at full speed."
Tate's competitive nature never lets him give up on a play. Consequently, last year against OSU the plucky Tate escaped the pocket and bought time to throw to his receivers.
"He has the ability to make plays," Patterson said. "He has a very, very strong arm. I have seen plays where he is scrambling and he just spins out and chucks the ball 40 yards downfield off his back foot."
Defensive tackle Marcus Green still shudders when he thinks of last year's game.
"Last year, they kind of has us on skates a little bit," Green said. "It was the most embarrassing game I've ever been a part of. I guess the physicality of the game has to pick up. I don't think we played very physical last year.
"It was probably the blocking schemes we weren't used to. We studied that. We knew he could run, but we probably underestimated the extent of his play making ability. He's kind of like a Mike Vick out there. He can make you miss."
Cornerback Ashton Youboty said he and the defensive backs will appreciate more pressure on Tate this time around.
"The defensive line needs to be more disciplined," he said. "They need to keep him in the pocket or, when we're blitzing, make him rollout and throw bad passes.
"It makes it more difficult for us because we are used to a quarterback who drops back and throws. We make our reads and react. Once he starts scrambling, that makes it more difficult. You just hope your defensive linemen get there before he is able to throw the ball. He is unique because most sprint-out quarterbacks are not that accurate, but he is."
Linebacker A.J. Hawk, who has three sacks on the young season, also sees the need to get after Tate.
"We need to come out and make sure we contain him a little bit," Hawk said. "We talk about affecting the quarterback and we have to be sure we get pressure on him. He's a great scrambler and he always seems to find the open guys. He will look to pass more than a guy like Vince Young. He's looking for an open receiver. But when he has to, he will tuck it and run."
New Wrinkle With Carpenter
OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock has put his own stamp on the defense, putting outside linebacker Bobby Carpenter at defensive end in nickel situations. That strategy is contrary to last year, when the middle linebacker usually came out on passing downs.
"A lot of those things depend on who's in the game," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "When people have three wides and four wides, we will go to our nickel-type personnel and that's when Bobby ends up on the edge. If they have regular people or two tights, two backs, that type of thing, Bobby would be more of the third linebacker.
"For instance, Jay Richardson, who normally plays, let's say, 40 plays a game, played seven (against San Diego State) because we were in nickel so much, we only played 42 plays. But I think we were in nickel 35, 34 plays, something like that, so according to what they're in, yeah, that could be something that helps us."
Tressel hopes Carpenter's presence as a pass rusher will pay dividends against Iowa. The coach recognizes the importance of containing Tate.
"Oh, absolutely," Tressel said. "That ought to be the emphasis every time we play. You've got to affect the quarterback's job because no one has a harder job than the quarterback, and if you make it even harder, I think you have a chance to stop an offense."
Hawk was asked if the linebackers still consider Carpenter, who also has three sacks, to be one of their own.
"Yes, we still consider him a linebacker," Hawk said. "He is down with his hand on the ground a lot of times, but we still count him as a linebacker. He's a tough guy to block off the edge. He's big and powerful and strong. It causes problems for an offense because if you have a guy with that kind of speed off the edge it's tough. If he can get pressure on the quarterback, that makes our job easier."
Green added, "Bobby is turning into a great pass rusher. Having him out there gives us an extra dimension."
Kudla said the linemen have taken Carpenter under their wing.
"He has done a great job of coming down there," Kudla said. "He is learning and asking us questions. He'll ask us on the field, 'What should I do on this one?' But he's done a great job. He's a great athlete. It's great to have him come with us and make plays.
"As a front, we know we need a four-man pressure. We just line up and go. It's fun for us to go out and create havoc. It is a great scheme that the coaches have put together for us."
One part of the Carpenter wrinkle is that Patterson has spent time lining up at both end and tackle.
"I think I like it," Patterson said of his double duty. "It switches things up for me. Sometimes I'm at end and sometimes I'm at tackle. It helps me to give other guys a breather. It makes the game fun for me. I get to play against everybody on the offensive line.
"I'll go wherever the team needs me to play. Jay Richardson and Mike Kudla are probably better pass rush ends. My strength is playing the run at end. It depends on what the other team is doing."
Patterson said the linemen watch tapes of college defensive linemen selected as first-round NFL picks to try and pick up some techniques.
"Coach Heacock has been stressing the pass rush," Patterson said.
Safety Donte Whitner said the use of Carpenter as a pass rusher shows a difference in coaching styles between Heacock and his predecessor, Mark Snyder.
"There are different coaching styles," Whitner said. "Coach Snyder has a different coaching style than Coach Heacock has. Coach Heacock wants to get after it and affect the quarterback. I'm not sure if the coaching staff last year wanted to do that a lot, but we didn't do it. If you look at the number of sacks we had last year, we had 24. We're almost halfway there in three games this year. We are coming after people more than we did last year.
"With that nickel package, we really bring it. We put Bobby down at defensive end. It's hard for one tackle to stop him."
Stopping The Run
Iowa struggled at running back last year, losing key players due to injuries. They were down to walk-ons at the position late in the year.
That is not the case this year, though, as 5-10, 207-pound sophomore Albert Young is raring to go against OSU. He has 298 yards and three games this year.
"Last year, they did not have that ability," Kudla said. "They were always changing backs. They had lost some guys. This year, they definitely have a running game. He's a good back with good speed and good power. They do a good job of making holes for him. We have to control them and take away the run and try and make them one dimensional."
The Big Ten Opener
Moving into conference play is a whole different animal, Kudla said.
"Once you know the Big Ten starts, you know it's going to be real physical," he said. "It's week in and week out of hard, tough-nosed football. We have to take each game one game at a time."
After a 2-1 nonconference slate, the Big Ten season gives the Buckeyes something important to shoot for.
"This is a start over for us," Youboty said. "We're 2-1, but this is a fresh start. We know we have to play a great game to start out the Big Ten. They got the job done against us last year and we need to turn it around."
Youboty said much could be gleaned from last year's game with Iowa.
"We're trying to learn from it," Youboty said. "I watched it twice already. I've seen our mistakes."
Hawk added, "We remember how good they are and what they can do to us if we don't play well."