Ten Pressing Questions: Iowa at Ohio State

Quarterback Troy Smith will look to improve on his showing in last week's game against San Diego State. Smith and the Buckeyes host Iowa in Saturday's Big Ten opener (noon, ABC). Click here for the Ten Pressing Questions surrounding this pivotal game.

As we all count down the minutes until kickoff for Saturday's Big Ten opener with Iowa (noon, ABC), I came up with my usual game day theme, Ten Pressing Questions. As always, I'll come back on Sunday with my thoughts on how each of these questions were answered during my Sunday Morning Quarterback column.

Without any further adieu, here we go:

1. How will Troy Smith rebound from last week's performance? -- Yes, Ohio State did defeat San Diego State and, yes, Troy Smith rushed for a couple of touchdowns and did a number of positive things. But just a cursory glance at Smith's first start since last year's Michigan game shows that he misfired on more than a few passes, threw one interception and had a potential pick-six go through a DB's hands, missed several open receivers and seemed to rely too much on his feet instead of his arm to move the sticks.

It is my contention that Smith's limited reps in preseason camp are coming home to roost. OSU coach Jim Tressel held Smith out of a number of full pads practices during preseason camp, presumably as a penalty for the much publicized skipped class incident from last June. Yes, Smith was back to full-go for the last week or so of preseason camp. But he certainly did not get all the reps he could have during August. (And, honestly, Tressel needs to be commended for exerting some kind of control over the situation.)

Smith knocked some of the rust off last week against SDSU and he will benefit from a full week of coaching. But the Buckeyes are stepping up in class this week. Iowa's front four is not imposing, but the Hawkeyes linebackers are the best OSU will face and the secondary is experienced as well. Smith's margin for error this week is much less than it was a week ago.

2. Can Ted Ginn Jr. get back into OSU's offensive plans? -- Ginn has become, almost, the forgotten Buckeye, his touches -- and, in turn, his impact on the game -- seem to be dwindling with each passing week. He simply has to much talent to be ignored. Perhaps some of it is on him. He's not a unknown freshman any more. He is a marked man as a sophomore and he has to work much harder for everything he gets. Opposing defense have schemed against Ginn.

Some of the onus goes to the quarterbacks here, although Ginn has had at least three drops the last two weeks. They need to keep feeding him the ball. And, naturally, some of the responsibility falls back on Tressel for the play calling. That includes the design and the timing of play calls. Ginn's few opportunities to carry on reverses have been disastrous. It should not be this hard to incorporate a player of Ginn's ability into the game plan.

3. Will Antonio Pittman be able to run the ball effectively? -- Pittman's numbers took a small step backwards last week. OSU has had middling success running the football in 2005. The Buckeyes need to establish Pittman as one of the Big Ten's top tailbacks. The feeling is that would open up running lanes as well for Smith and also give the passing game some room to operate.

Pittman has scratched the surface of what he is capable of doing. Now, he needs to take it to the next level and have a career game in a key Big Ten match-up. There would be no better time to do that than in this game right here, particularly against Iowa's youthful and undersized front four.

4. Can OSU block linebackers Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway? -- The Iowa defensive front is similar to OSU's from a year ago -- young and inexperienced. But behind them, Iowa boasts two of college football's best linebackers in Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway. The challenge for the OSU offensive line, blocking backs and tight ends will be to handle the D-line and successfully get into the second level, where they can try and take Hodge and Greenway out of the play.

That task will be easier said that done because Hodge gets off blocks as well as anybody and Greenway's lateral pursuit of ball carriers is something to see. If OSU can't get these two under control and they are allowed to run amok and gum up the OSU offense, it could be a long day for the home team.

5. Will the Buckeyes hit a big play? -- Other than the 42-yard touchdown pass from Todd Boeckman to Ginn in the season opener against Miami (Ohio), there has been a paucity of big plays for this OSU offense. I can't remember one remarkable running play over the course of the first three games.

Smith, of course, went over the top for a modest 24-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes against Texas. Holmes excels in making the hard-to-make catch. Why not put him in the ballgame and see if he can snag a couple of more highlight reel touchdowns? What could it possibly hurt?

6. Can the OSU defense find a way to contain Drew Tate? -- Tate filleted OSU a year ago at Iowa City, getting outside the pocket and blistering the Buckeyes for 331 yards and three touchdowns passing and one touchdown rushing. He is a streaky player and his teammates feed off his energy. He was 3-1 as a starter on the road in the Big Ten a year ago and played reasonably well in the lone loss at Michigan.

The Buckeyes had no answer for Tate's mobility a year ago. However, new defensive coordinator Jim Heacock may be on to something by using linebacker Bobby Carpenter as a rush end, at least in nickel situations. Carpenter has the lateral speed to stay on Tate, even if he breaks contain.

Tate sometimes gets in trouble when he tries to do too much. He is a riverboat gambler and, up until now, most of those gambles have paid off. The Buckeyes need a strong plan to contain Tate or they could be in for a long afternoon.

7. Is this defense truly as good as it looked against San Diego State? -- This is another good question. The Buckeyes gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage against SDSU, then allowed the Aztecs just 99 more yards over the rest of the game. SDSU went 2-1/2 quarters without a first down and ended up with a school-record low three first downs.

It is unlikely that we will see the OSU defense duplicate the great showing it had against SDSU again this season. Their Big Ten opponents should be able to do something -- anything -- to muster at least a few first downs and a few points. Obviously, we think OSU's linebacker play has to be among the nation's very best and the secondary -- its foibles against Texas notwithstanding -- may not be too far behind.

To be truly great, though, an Ohio State defense has to lead the Buckeyes to victory. They gave up 441 yards total offense to Tate and the Hawkeyes a year ago in Iowa City. If they can keep Iowa somewhere around 300 yards or so and manage to win the game, it would have to be considered another command performance.

8. Will the Buckeyes allow Iowa RB Albert Young to approach his season average of 99 yards? -- OSU's pedigree in the Tressel era has been lights out play against opposing runners. Michigan's Michael Hart, Oklahoma State's Vernand Morency and many others come to mind. Young, Iowa's 5-10, 207-pound tailback, will become the latest to test the OSU rushing defense. Finally healthy, Young has become a serviceable Big Ten running back.

Like anything else, the OSU defense will have to go out and prove its mettle against the run once again in this game.

9. Will a special teams play change the complexion of this game? -- OSU's first-year kicker (Josh Huston) and punter (A.J. Trapasso) have been unqualified successes in their new roles. The OSU return and coverage teams have also been very strong.

Two years ago, Michael Jenkins returned a punt for a touchdown and the Buckeyes defeated Iowa 19-10 without benefit of an offensive touchdown. You would hope that the offense will handle the brunt of the scoring. But in what could be a Big Ten standoff, one special teams play may be the most critical play in this game. And the Buckeyes have come oh so close to seeing Holmes and Ginn break a big return. Maybe this is the game where OSU finally gets that big return.

10. Is Ohio State a Big Ten championship-caliber team? -- We'll have a much clearer view of this one after the game. The Buckeyes got the utmost respect from pollsters, sitting at No. 8 in the AP poll as the highest ranked team with a loss. But they can ill afford another defeat on their home field, where they have been a robust 27-4 in four-plus seasons under Tressel.

The loser of this game would fall to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in Big Ten play. They would be immediately behind the eight-ball in the conference race and would probably need to win out and also see the winner drop two of its last seven conference games just to keep any hope of a BCS bid alive. That's a lot to ask. With so many tough games in front of each team over the course of the year, each will view this game as a major missed opportunity if they lose it.

Playing at home, you have to like the Buckeyes. But if the errors they made in last week's (yawn) win over SDSU creep into their game here, their Big Ten chances will probably take a back seat to just trying to secure a New Years' Day bowl bid.

Hey, enjoy the Large Eleven opener and we'll see you on the other side.


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