Sunday Morning QB: Plenty Of Good Answers

Donte Whitner discusses the lengths the Ohio State coaching staff went to for inspiration as the Buckeyes hosted Iowa for their Big Ten opener. We look at what psychological ploys may be in order now. We answer the Ten Pressing Questions for OSU-Iowa. And we look at the turbulent Big Ten and college football world at-large. Check it out.

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 win over Iowa:

* You can find inspiration in many different ways. But as Ohio State prepared to face Iowa, Jim Tressel and the OSU coaching staff left nothing to chance. They plastered the Woody Hayes Athletic Center with signs showing the score of last year's 33-7 defeat at Iowa City.

You can give the coaches credit on this one. Their ploy worked. The lopsided loss from a year ago was firmly and thoroughly avenged by, ironically, almost the identical score as the Buckeyes rolled 31-6.

Safety Donte Whitner said the coaching staff does not need any instruction on providing inspiration. Somebody on the staff must have taken a psychology class along the way.

"We played San Diego State on Saturday and when we walked in on Sunday they had it up already," said Whitner, who had an interception in the win over Iowa. "They must have had it ready. There's no way they could have done it all on Saturday night. It was everywhere around the building."

So what lengths did the staff go to?

"We were seeing 33-7 in the shower, in the bathroom," Whitner said. "Yes, in the shower, in the shower – where the water is. They'd laminate it and tape it up in the shower.

"It was on our lockers. Every time you went through a door, it was on the door. Outside in practice, we saw 33-7 on the field hockey scoreboard. We had no choice to think about last year and that score. It helped us focus on this game and what we had to do. We had to come out and play a good game because they embarrassed us last year."

The idea of losing a game by 26 points remains objectionable even a year later, Whitner said.

"Just seeing that score, 33-7 … I mean, you work so hard in the off-season and the summer and you have the national championship on your mind, and then you go out and lose to Iowa 33-7? That was embarrassing for everybody on this team. It was just a bad feeling," Whitner said.

Quarterback Troy Smith noted the score on the field adjacent to the practice field at the WHAC.

"That helped us," Smith said. "Every time we looked to the left, it was on that scoreboard up there. That told us how bad we got beat last year. I don't want to take anything away from Iowa. They came out and played hard. They're a tough team."

For these veteran players, this was the first time the coaches had put the steam on – at least to this extent.

"They have never gone to that extent – not even the loss to Michigan (35-21 in 2003) because it wasn't that bad," Whitner said. "Iowa came out last year and dominated us in every aspect of the game, and we just wanted to pay them back today."

* When Ohio State won the national championship at the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, Jim Tressel uttered a lot of words. Here were just a few of them: "What's important is what happens next."

You have to give the coaches and players credit for pulling it together. As we've noted, the coaches used some serious psychology to help get the job done.

Of course, all of this inspiration and work by the coaches must continue. OSU's bye week comes next in the Big Ten schedule. History tells us that a resounding – or even solid – win like this going into a bye week can ultimately be a bad thing.

Flash back just two years ago: Ohio State was 5-0 and had won 19 straight games heading into the open week. The respite – and the win streak – came to a crashing halt with the 17-10 loss to Wisconsin on a rainy night in Madison.

Come ahead to last year: The Buckeyes were 3-0 after a road win, such as it was, at N.C. State. They went through the open week listening to everybody's praise of how good they were. They then went up to Northwestern and promptly fell 33-27 in overtime. That was the start of a three-game Big Ten losing streak that shaped OSU's season.

It is hard for the coaches to play these kind of psychological games every week. Their message has to remain fresh or they risk losing a few guys along the way.

They will have their work cut out over these next 13 days as they preach how tough the road is ahead, beginning with the Oct. 8 night road game at Penn State.

This past Saturday, we saw three of the supposed four Big Ten contenders – Iowa, Michigan and Purdue – all fall to 0-1 in conference play. It was imperative that the Buckeyes hold serve in their conference opener.

But the nonconference season and Saturday's openers show the Buckeyes could have four or more tough games down the stretch. Those key games include at Penn State, home with Michigan State Oct. 15, at Minnesota Oct. 29 and, regardless of their record, you know the Nov. 20 game at Michigan will still be a toughie.

Yes, this was a big win. Yes, this was a great win. But Ohio State is a long way still to a BCS bowl bid. Some perspective – something the coaches provided plenty of this past week, it sounds – will come in handy.

It may even come in handy in the shower. Yes, in the shower – where the water is. (I could not resist repeating that classic line.)

* On Friday, we posed Ten Pressing Questions to deal with Saturday's Big Ten opener with Iowa. We got a few answers, we think. Here goes:

1. How will Troy Smith rebound from last week's performance? -- Now that's the Troy Smith that Tressel and everybody else has been looking for.

Yes, he did fumble the ball three times and he lost one inside the 10-yard line. But yesterday showed how Smith can confound a pretty good defense. He was economical with the passing game, averaging 10 yards a pass attempt. And he was lethal on the ground with 127 yards and two touchdowns rushing.

Many had dismissed Smith as a one-hit wonder for his play against Michigan last year. But Saturday showed Smith may be churning out the hits for a good while to come. If he can continue to play like that, they may be on to something.

2. Can Ted Ginn Jr. get back into OSU's offensive plans? -- Once again, they tried to involve Ginn. He had three catches for 31 yards, including a 17-yarder. I know one of those catches involved some great footwork to pick up a key first down.

He also broke loose on what looked like a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown. But his brother, of all people, Jamario O'Neal was guilty of shoving an Iowa defender in the back and the play was negated. I didn't peruse that play that closely but O'Neal's shove may have saved Ginn from taking a heavy shot, so sometimes you lose the battle and win the war.

Ginn is getting there. Maybe this break is what he needs to work on a few things and gear up for the seven-game stretch that awaits. He will definitely need to come up big if the Buckeyes harbor any thoughts of winning all of those tough games I outlined above.

3. Will Antonio Pittman be able to run the ball effectively? -- That's an affirmative. We are watching Pittman morph into a good to great Big Ten running back right before our eyes. It helps that the OSU offensive line had its way with Iowa's inexperienced and undersized front four.

But we saw a Pittman intent on delivering blows and getting yards after contact. He had several neat runs and allowed the Buckeyes to play a ball control game. He ended up with career highs with 28 carries and 171 yards. It was a great day for No. 25.

4. Can OSU block linebackers Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway? -- Greenway had 14 tackles and Hodge had nine. But when you consider that OSU held the ball for over 39 minutes and ran 81 plays, you'll understand that those guys were out there most of the day.

Offensive tackle Kirk Barton impeded Hodge's path to Smith on one of his touchdown runs. Alas, that was all Ohio State needed to win the game. Next!

5. Will the Buckeyes hit a big play? -- That, too, is an affirmative. Big plays were in short supply in the nonconference season. But Smith found Santonio Holmes on a great 46-yard catch-and-run and hit Anthony Gonzalez on a 29-yard TD. Pittman had runs of 20, 26 and 29 yards. So, yes, there were finally some big plays mixed in there.

"We needed to show everybody what we are capable of," offensive guard Rob Sims said. "We keep seeing on film that we're one block away or one dropped ball away. We just wanted to come out here and put it together. Now, we're looking forward to the bye week and on to Penn State."

6. Can the OSU defense find a way to contain Drew Tate? -- Tate did a number on the Buckeyes a year ago in Iowa City. But this time around, the Buckeyes sacked him five times and frustrated him so much he spiked the ball after one of the sacks. (The Dennis Lipski officiating crew must be the Supreme Court of officiating crews because they just set a precedent – in 30 years of watching college football, I have never seen a spike like Tate's flagged for anything less than 15 yards. They only dinged him for 5.)

Tate was about 250 yards total offense and four touchdowns off his performance against OSU from a year ago. Yeah, they found a way to contain him.

7. Is this defense truly as good as it looked against San Diego State? -- Roger, that's another affirmative. Wow, they could be scary good. Everything begins up front where guys like Mike Kudla, Jay Richardson, Lawrence Wilson, David Patterson, Joel Penton, Quinn Pitcock and Marcus Green are starting to change the game.

Kudla is really coming into his own at the right time. He's a moose.

A.J. Hawk had another incredible game and Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel were as solid as ever. The secondary made one great play after another. I thought Whitner, Ashton Youboty and Nate Salley all came up huge.

They have some high scoring offenses on their dance card – most notably Penn State, Michigan State and Minnesota. They are ready for those tests.

"It's never scheme thing," Hawk said. "It always comes down to how you play. Our coaches put us in the right position win. We wanted to come out today and make sure we played our game."

8. Will the Buckeyes allow Iowa RB Albert Young to approach his season average of 99 yards? -- No, not even close. Young finished with 10 carries for 25 yards as the Hawkeyes had to abandon the run.

9. Will a special teams play change the complexion of this game? -- The Ginn return would have made it 21-0 and slammed the door right before halftime. OSU punter A.J. Trapasso opened the door when he fumbled a snap late in the game. But the Hawkeyes could only manage a field goal after taking over at the OSU 31.

10. Is Ohio State a Big Ten championship-caliber team? -- Yes, through one week of the Big Ten season, Ohio State has to be viewed as the clear cut favorite to win the conference. But that and $3 will get you a gallon of gas.

They need to keep taking them one game at a time. They'll get a good viewpoint of Penn State this Saturday as the Lions host Minnesota in a battle of unbeatens. They need to get back to fundamentals, prepare for the PSU game and just take care of their business each week.

Sounds like an easy formula to lock down a BCS bowl bid to me (ha ha).

Now for a look around the Big Ten:

* Will anybody agree to ever play another night game at Madison? No. 14 Michigan became Wisconsin's latest victim at Camp Randall as the Badgers rallied late for a 23-20 win.

UW tied its modern-day mark of nine straight home wins -- its first such streak since the early 1960s. The victory snapped the Wolverines' 23-game winning streak in Big Ten openers and sent them to just their second loss in their last 38 conference openers, the last also to the Badgers.

Michigan had grabbed a 20-16 lead on a late flea flicker from Chad Henne to Mario Manningham. But Wisconsin's John Stocco ran a textbook two-minute drill and, eventually, capped off the victory with a 4-yard touchdown run on a third-down quarterback draw with just 24 seconds left. The play sent Camp Randall Stadium into delirium. It may be Wednesday before those fans come down from that high.

UW tailback Brian Calhoun kept up his great play. He rushed 35 times for 155 yards for Wisconsin and gained another 59 yards on seven receptions.

* Minnesota earned one of the biggest victories of the Glen Mason era, knocking off No. 11 Purdue 42-35 in two overtimes.

Gary Russell scored three touchdowns, the last a 3-yard run in the second overtime to lift Minnesota. Laurence Maroney rushed for a career-high 217 yards on 46 carries for the Gophers.

Purdue had a chance to tie the game in the second OT, but Jerod Void was stopped for no gain on third-and-1 from the Minnesota 17. Then, Brandon Kirsch's fourth-down pass glanced off Charles Davis' hands.

The celebration was on at the Metrodome as Mason got his first win over Purdue in seven tries.

"I was dreading having to go look in their eyes in the locker room and have to give them one of those talks that I've had to give too many times. We've kind of been snake-bitten against Purdue," Mason said.

* No. 17 Michigan State had no problem with Illinois, crushing the host Fighting Illini 61-14 in Ron Zook's Big Ten debut as the Illini coach. QB Drew Stanton threw for an MSU-record five touchdown passes. He was 20 of 26 for 259 yards.

The Spartans' points total was their highest since scoring 76 against Northwestern in 1989, and their offensive output of 705 yards set a Memorial Stadium record for total yards by an Illinois opponent.

* Penn State rallied from down 16 points and overcame four turnovers to take a 34-29 win at Northwestern. Michael Robinson threw the game-winning 36-yard touchdown pass to freshman phenom Derrick Williams with 51 seconds left.

Robinson became the first Penn State player to reach 1,000 career yards rushing and passing. He ended up with 60 yards rushing and threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns.

* Things only figure to get more interesting this weekend as Michigan State has rival Michigan coming to town. MSU, at least on paper, has to be considered the favorite and the Spartans want desperately to avenge a triple overtime defeat at Ann Arbor a year ago. I'm not sure, though, whether Michigan has ever opened a Big Ten season 0-2 or, just as bad, 2-3 overall. If it happened, it was many moons ago. The Wolverines' season will be on the line.

The ranks of the Big Ten unbeatens will shrink as Penn State hosts Minnesota. And Purdue can't sulk as powerful Notre Dame comes to West Lafayette.

And a glance at headlines nationally:

* No. 9 Louisville was supposed to roll through the Big East and try and crash the BCS national title game party. But the Cardinals were obliterated 45-14 at South Florida. Receiver Amarri Jackson ran for two touchdowns and threw for a third to lead South Florida to the biggest victory in the school's nine-year football history.

The game was the Big East debut for two schools who each left Conference USA.

South Florida beat a ranked opponent for the first time in six tries and stopped the nation's third-longest Division I-A winning streak at nine games. Louisville had not lost since a 41-38 loss at Miami (Fla.) last Oct. 14.

* No. 16 Notre Dame defeated host Washington 36-17 as former ND coach Tyrone Willingham coached against the school that fired him in December. Darius Walker became the first running back in Notre Dame history to run for more than 100 yards in each of his first four games, rushing for a career-high 128 yards on 21 carries.

Quarterback Brady Quinn, who threw four touchdown passes in a 38-3 win over UW last year, threw only one this time but compiled 327 yards passing.

This one was never in doubt as ND led 29-3 in the fourth quarter before UW scored twice late to trim the final margin.

* Arizona State QB Sam Keller threw for for 365 yards and four touchdowns and Derek Hagan had 11 catches for 193 yards and two TDs as the 18th-ranked Sun Devils defeated Oregon State 42-24. Hagan, who has receptions in 33 straight games, passed John Jefferson (1974-77) to become the school's career leader in receiving yards with 3,160.

* No. 5 Florida cruised to a 49-28 win over Kentucky. Chris Leak threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns and DeShawn Wynn ran for three TD and caught a scoring pass.

* Ohio U. got 200 yards and two TDs from Kalvin McRae in a 35-32 win over Kent State.

* No. 7 Georgia avoided an upset at Mississippi State, winning 23-10 in a game played in gusty winds related to Hurricane Rita. D.J. Shockley passed for a career-high 312 yards in his first career road start.

* No. 24 Oregon jumped on No. 1 USC for a 10-0 lead early and 13-10 halftime advantage. But the Trojans scored five unanswered touchdowns in the second half to back up their lofty ranking and defeat the Ducks 45-13 for their 25th straight win.

Reggie Bush caught a scoring pass and ran for another for the two-time defending national champions, who have been No. 1 for a record 22-straight AP polls. He finished with 20 carries for 122 yards, and three catches for 43 yards.

* Colorado needed a 58-yard field goal from Mason Crosby in the fourth quarter to avoid its first shutout loss since 1988. No. 12 Miami (Fla.) cruised 23-3 at the Orange Bowl.

* Temple's woes continued as Nate Meyer made a 33-yard field goal as time expired to give Western Michigan a 19-16 win.

* Clemson also felt the sting, losing in overtime for the second straight week. Boston College turned the trick this time with a 16-13 win, its first ever in ACC play. Miami downed Clemson 36-30 in three OTs last week.

* No. 20 Alabama beat Arkansas 24-13 to open with four straight wins for the first time since 1996. They host Florida this Saturday in an SEC showdown.

* Central Florida snapped major college football's longest losing streak at 17 games, knocking off Marshall 23-13. UCF last won Oct. 23, 2003, when it beat Central Michigan 31-13. This game matched a pair of former MAC teams moving to C-USA.

* Cory Rodgers scored on a 3-yard run in overtime, and after the play was upheld by replay, Jeff Manfredini kicked the winning extra point to give TCU a wild 51-50 victory over BYU.

* Pittsburgh avoided its first 0-4 start since 1984 and got its first win under coach Dave Wannstedt with a 41-0 victory over Division I-AA Youngstown State.

* No. 4 Virginia Tech swarmed No. 15 Georgia Tech 51-7. Jeff King caught a touchdown pass from Marcus Vick and blocked a field goal. The Hokies are already 3-0 in conference play and are firmly in the national title hunt.

* Boise State extended the nation's longest home winning streak to 26 games with a 48-20 win over Bowling Green on Wednesday. Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another. Zabransky was 16-of-23 for 202 yards and added 64 yards rushing. BG QB Omar Jacobs had one of his worst games since becoming the starter last year. He completed 18 of 36 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns.

* Heisman Watch: I'm adding a fourth horse. My order would be USC's Reggie Bush and Matt Leinhart, Texas' Vince Young and (drum roll, please) somebody from Ohio State named A.J. Hawk.

* My new top 15: USC, Texas, Virginia Tech, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, Florida State, California, Miami (Fla.), Tennessee, Michigan State, Purdue, Notre Dame, Arizona State.

* Games To Watch: Tennessee-LSU (Monday because of Hurricane Rita), Toledo-Fresno State (Tuesday because of ESPN2), Cincinnati-Miami (Ohio) (Wednesday because of ESPN2), USC-Arizona State, Texas-Missouri, Virginia Tech-West Virginia, Florida-Alabama, Notre Dame-Purdue, Michigan-Michigan State.

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) (1-2), idle, Sept. 24; vs. Cincinnati, Sept. 28.

Sept. 10, Texas (3-0), idle, Sept. 24; at Missouri, Oct. 1.

Sept. 17, San Diego State (1-3), beat San Jose State 52-21, Sept. 24; vs. BYU, Oct. 1.

Sept. 24 (noon, ABC), Iowa (2-2), lost to Ohio State 31-6, Sept. 24; vs. Illinois, Oct. 1.

Oct. 1, idle.

Oct. 8 (7 or 7:45 p.m., ESPN2 or ESPN), Penn State (4-0), beat Northwestern 34-29, Sept. 24; vs. Minnesota, Oct. 1.

Oct. 15, (noon, TV TBA) Michigan State (4-0), beat Illinois 61-14, Sept. 24; vs. Michigan, Oct. 1.

Oct. 22, at Indiana (3-0), idle, Sept. 24; at Wisconsin, Oct. 1.

Oct. 29, at Minnesota (4-0), beat Purdue 42-35 (2 OT), Sept. 24.

Nov. 5, Illinois (2-2), lost to Michigan State 61-14, Sept. 24; at Iowa, Oct. 1.

Nov. 12, Northwestern (2-2), lost to Penn State 34-29, Sept. 24; idle, Oct. 1.

Nov. 19, Michigan (2-2), lost to Wisconsin 23-20, Sept. 24; at Michigan State, Oct. 1.

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0)

Michigan State (4-0, 1-0)

Minnesota (4-0, 1-0)

Penn State (4-0, 1-0)

Ohio State (3-1, 1-0)

Indiana (3-0, 0-0)

Purdue (2-1, 0-1)

Illinois (2-2, 0-1)

Michigan (2-2, 0-1)

Iowa (2-2, 0-1)

Northwestern (2-2, 0-1)

Sept. 24 Games

Michigan State 61, Illinois 14

Minnesota 42, Purdue 35, 2 OT

Penn State 34, Northwestern 29

Ohio State 31, Iowa 6

Wisconsin 23, Michigan 20

Oct. 1 Games

Michigan at Michigan State, noon (ABC)

Indiana at Wisconsin, noon (ESPN2)

Illinois at Iowa, noon (ESPN-Plus)

Minnesota at Penn State, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Notre Dame at Purdue, 7:45 p.m. (ESPN)


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