Sunday Morning QB: What Kind Of Statement?

In today's edition of Sunday Morning Quarterback, we have notes on OSU's win over Indiana, Troy Smith's play to date, the officiating and TV coverage for OSU-Indiana and also analysis of the Big Ten football race and the college football world at-large.

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.

First, let's take a look at OSU's win over Indiana:

* Prior to Saturday's game against Indiana, I made the point on Buckeye Football Fever on WSYX-TV (Ch. 6) that the Buckeyes needed to have a statement game.

They were coming off a less-than-perfect 35-24 win over Michigan State, where they had held the ball for 19 minutes and turned it over four times.

I have to admit – like many of the people I found lurking on the boards in the first half – I was less than awed with OSU's first-half performance against Indiana.

Yes, the defense had played extremely well and, yes, the Buckeyes had succeeded in rolling up nearly 300 yards of total offense in that first half. But, because of a number of mistakes – miscues that have and will get them beat against quality competition as this year unfolds – they only held a 17-3 halftime lead.

The score at halftime could have easily been 34-3 when you look at the Ted Ginn Jr. touchdown that was negated by penalty, the Troy Smith interception at the goal line and Josh Huston's missed 49-yard field goal on the final play.

OSU coach Jim Tressel said he was left staring in disbelief as his team unraveled just a little bit in the first half.

"It was a ‘You got to be kidding me' day," Tressel said. "We have the ball early and then we go back 15 yards on the penalty. We drive it down there and throw the interception on the goal line. We return a kickoff for a touchdown and have a penalty. Those are all ‘You got to be kidding me' moments."

Tressel was asked what you do to overcome that type of start: "You just have to go back to work wherever you are."

Things got even worse as Ginn had the ball stripped from him after a catch and Indiana's John Pannozzo returned it 57 yards for a touchdown. (By the way, maybe the football gods were getting even with the Buckeyes for the way Matt Finkes stripped IU's Matt Rodgers in that 1996 OSU win – the one where you guys tore down that fence when you stormed the field – that clinched the Rose Bowl.)

That gaffe cut the lead to 17-10 early in the third.

"You get the feeling like you're dominating a team, but you look up at the scoreboard and it's still relatively close," said OSU linebacker Bobby Carpenter. "They made some plays and kept them in the game for a while until our defense took over."

But the Buckeyes showed some heavy duty resolve by marching right back down the field and scoring on Smith's exceptional 23-yard touchdown run.

The rout was (finally) on as Brandon Mitchell, a great kid and company guy, returned a pick 57 yards for a score and Ginn (finally) broke loose on his 62-yard punt return for a touchdown.

The final result was palatable as OSU's depth, talent and that amazing defense finally rose to the forefront.

"I have to credit our defense," Smith said. "Their field goal came off a turnover and the touchdown came off a fluke play. They only gave up 130-something yards. That's great."

The 41-10 win matched the largest margin of victory a Tressel team has had in a Big Ten win, equaling the margin in OSU's 34-3 win over Minnesota in 2002.

But in what was a weird day all the way around, Tressel's postgame analysis of this problem-filled game was dead on.

"We know this – that was probably not good enough of a performance for us to expect to win (next week) at the Metrodome," he said. (More on what's ahead in a moment.)

* The Buckeye Nation seems to be divided on Troy Smith. Those on Smith's side point to his overall effort and say he just had his third big game of the season. Those who clamor for Justin Zwick or somebody else seem to believe Smith can riddle defenses like Michigan State and Indiana, but will be hard pressed to deliver against a good team.

Smith is definitely a work in progress, but there seem to be few guys on this team who give as much as he does each week.

I am not sure he is ever going to be a perfect quarterback. Tressel likes his quarterbacks to minimize turnovers, manage the offense and, when available, make the big play.

Smith had two costly turnovers against Penn State, then had a fumble that nearly derailed the win against MSU last week. On Saturday, he threw an ill-advised interception on the goal line – although it appeared that Santonio Holmes had been re-routed just a little bit. Ball security will probably always be an issue with Smith, but turnovers are part of the game regardless of who is at quarterback. Minimizing them is the biggest thing.

In the same vein, some may criticize Smith for not pitching the ball to Antonio Pittman on the option play that resulted in Smith's 1-yard touchdown run. Smith learned the hard way in last year's loss at Purdue that if you can score standing up without making a risky pitch you do it and don't ask questions. Yes, it would be nice to get Pittman a taste of the end zone. But not at the risk of scoring the surest way possible.

In terms of managing the offense, I see Smith making some strides. OSU completed passes to seven different receivers and Smith put the ball in all quadrants of the field, dumping the ball off and throwing upfield. Granted, it was against Indiana. But I like the progress he is making in this regard.

In terms of making the big play, go back and watch that 23-yard touchdown run. Smith had T.J. Downing, Ryan Hamby, Anthony Gonzalez and Ginn selling out hard on blocks and then he made a great dive to get the ball into the end zone. That run will have defensive coordinators from OSU's four remaining opponents staying up at night. A week ago, Smith had three nice pass plays that went for long touchdowns. He is coming around in this department.

Moreover, Smith is now 8-2 as OSU's starting quarterback. The hope is the progress he makes against teams like Michigan State and Indiana will serve him well when defenses like Minnesota and Michigan come around.

* Smith handled both the Indiana defense and the media afterwards. Ordinarily, reporters take turns asking questions. But in the rush to get an answer, two Columbus TV reporters tried to out-shout each other while questioning Smith. One was asking if the Buckeyes could now look ahead to Minnesota, while the other was trying to ascertain if Smith felt he was in command against IU.

"Yes, we've got to think about Minnesota and, yeah, I felt like I was in command today," Smith said, eliciting laughter from the crowd of reporters.

* Prior to the game, I mentioned on Buckeye Football Fever that with all the clamor to get the ball to Ginn, people had forgotten about Santonio Holmes.

But Holmes came up big with five catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. He was back on the site of his first big game as a Buckeye two years earlier. If OSU can get solid play from Smith and similar performances like this from Holmes and tailback Antonio Pittman (who had his fourth 100-yard game with 133 yards on 26 carries), this offense will become a force to reckon with.

OSU piled up 478 yards – nearly 120 more than its previous season average of 359.7 yards per game.

And Indiana's defense was actually rated fourth in the Big Ten coming in, so don't necessarily put an asterisk by this one and say "It was just Indiana."

* How can we put this delicately? That was a hard game to watch.

The officiating left a lot to be desired and the coverage – at least on the ESPN-Plus feed that was shown in the press box – was pretty poor. (I didn't get many rave reviews on the ESPN feed, either.)

Referee Dan Capron's crew had a rough day. They will have plenty to review when they see the tape – provided they don't burn it.

There was no consistency on pass interference penalties, a fact that Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner pointed out to Capron and field judge Norm Nelson, who may be Hoeppner's new best friend they spent so long talking to each other on Saturday.

It looked like IU's Terry Porter appeared to bump Holmes on the Smith interception, but there was no call. OSU's Nate Salley had two hands on an IU receiver and there was no call, drawing Hoeppner's considerable ire. It was not a surprise a moment later when OSU's Mike Kudla was flagged for roughing IU quarterback Blake Powers. (We have no idea if that was a good call because the ESPN and ESPN-Plus coverage somehow never showed the camera angle following Powers after the throw.)

Wait, there's more.

Ginn's 98-yard kickoff return was negated by a penalty on walk-on linebacker Trever Robinson some 25 yards behind the play. Robinson allegedly took an otherwise legal shot at an IU player as Ginn was sprinting away from everybody. The officials ruled it as a personal foul on a defenseless player. It must have been some kind of hit – again, we don't know because the TV coverage completely missed it.

Although common sense would dictate that you not even touch an opponent when a teammate has a sure touchdown in his back pocket, Carpenter said that penalty was ridiculous.

"That's a questionable call," Carpenter said. "In football, if you get hit in front, I think it should be legal anywhere on the field. You're taught to keep your head on a swivel and make sure you are looking for anybody. They said he was defenseless, but he was on a football field. You have pads and a helmet on just like everybody else."

The second half kickoff was an unmitigated debacle. OSU's Mike D'Andrea dropped it. Then, as the ball was skitting on the ground, somebody blew the play dead. Indiana recovered the ball, but, by rule, the play had to be re-run as the whistle blew when the ball was loose.

That decision only served to send Hoeppner into another tizzy.

OSU offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, a veteran football coach, was asked if he had ever seen a "do over" like that.

"No, not that I can remember," Bollman said. "We were very fortunate on that one. Then, the next time it happened, they ended up taking the ball out of Teddy's hands and they scored on that one, so it kind of evened out."

Bollman, of course, was talking about the ensuing play where several IU defenders stood Ginn up and Pannozzo stripped it and returned it for a score. Some believed that could have been blown dead before the strip.

And the officials were wrong even when they were right – it appeared they got a correct call on an early catch by IU's Jahkeen Gilmore, only to see it inexplicably overruled by Big Ten replay official Verl Sell – yes, the same Verl Sell who used to work Big Ten basketball games. The TV coverage at least showed air under the ball as Gilmore made his shoestring catch. How Sell missed that is anybody's guess.

* Once again, Ohio State was the de facto home team as it visited Indiana. At least half of the announced crowd of 52,866 was rooting for the Buckeyes.

"They had the chant going, the ‘O-H-I-O' chant," Smith said. "It's always great to have that kind of feeling and that kind of support."

Linebacker A.J. Hawk added, "We traveled well. We had a lot of fans here who supported us. I think any time you go on the road in the Big Ten and win, that's big."

Of course, many of them – like myself – were stuck in traffic trying to get into Bloomington. (I finally had to abandon my carpool mates and hoof it in from three blocks away just to make the pregame show.)

Indiana cycles off of OSU's schedule after next year's game in Columbus, meaning that OSU's next trip to Bloomington for a football game would be 2009 at the earliest. Believe me, that is none too soon.

* During the five-plus hour ride home that should have taken less than four hours (more construction on I-70 east of Indy), I pulled out the Big Ten schedule and tried to plot things out.

OSU's BCS bowl hopes seem to be pinned to winning out and hoping that both Penn State and Wisconsin lose. Of course, those two teams play each other on Nov. 5 at State College.

Wisconsin also visits Illinois and hosts Iowa. Penn State also hosts Purdue and visits Michigan State. As you can see, time is dwindling for Ohio State to get the hope it needs to lock down the Big Ten's automatic BCS bid – not to mention that whole "winning out" thing.

Northwestern, which also has just one Big Ten loss, closes its season by hosting Michigan and Iowa and visiting OSU and Illinois.

This much is true, though: If OSU can negotiate wins in the next three games – at Minnesota and home over Illinois and Northwestern – it will play for at least a piece of second Big Ten title in seven years at Michigan on Nov. 19. That would certainly make that one interesting.

Surveying the nation, there seems to be little chance OSU would get a BCS at-large bid with a 9-2 finish. There are still six major conference unbeatens – USC, Texas, Virginia Tech, Alabama, Georgia and UCLA. Those ranks will whittle to at least four by the end of the year as Alabama and Georgia will either lose or collide in the SEC title game and UCLA visits USC in the final week.

Then, you look at the popular one-loss teams like Miami (Fla.), LSU and Florida State. And there is the specter of Notre Dame, which, if it can finish 9-2 and somewhere in the BCS top 10, would be guaranteed an at-large spot. Ohio State could end up as high as seventh or eighth in the polls, but get shut out of the BCS. As of now, I'd say the Capital One Bowl in Orlando is OSU's likely destination.

Of course, there is still that "winning out" thing that may make any BCS or even Cap One talk a bit premature.

Around the Big Ten:

* Northwestern is showing the look of a possible Big Ten championship team. The Wildcats came back from an early deficit and embarrassed No. 22 Michigan State 49-14 in East Lansing. Brett Basanez threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores to lead Northwestern to its third straight win.

The Spartans entered the game third in the nation and first in the Big Ten in total offense, while Northwestern ranked fourth in the nation and second in the conference.

"They played harder than we did," Michigan State coach John L. Smith said. "They played much better than we did."

Basanez, who entered the game as the Big Ten's passing yardage leader, completed 24-of-30 passes and did not throw an interception. His favorite target was Shaun Herbert, who caught 10 passes for 138 yards.

MSU's Drew Stanton came into the game as the nation's leader in passing efficiency. But he was just 20 of 38 for 234 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

In a battle of freshman running backs from Ohio, NU's Tyrell Sutton had 109 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, while MSU's Javon Ringer had 104 yards on 18 carries.

* Michigan gutted out a 23-20 overtime win at Iowa, prevailing as Jerome Jackson had to replace injured running back Mike Hart down the stretch. Jackson's 1-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal in overtime was the game winner and helped UM to snap Iowa's 22-game home winning streak.

Michigan quarterback Chad Henne completed 14-of-21 passes for 207 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and Jason Avant had seven catches for 105 yards and a score. Iowa forced overtime on Kyle Schlicher's clutch 32-yard field goal on the final play of regulation.

Iowa's Drew Tate went 27-of-39 for 288 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, while Albert Young gained 153 yards on 30 carries for the Hawkeyes.

Michigan won consecutive games for the first time this year. It also gave coach Lloyd Carr his 100th career victory.

* No. 12 Penn State obliterated host Illinois 63-10. QB Michael Robinson threw for four touchdowns and ran for two more as the Nittany Lions built a 56-3 halftime lead. Penn State gave coach Joe Paterno his 350th victory.

Penn State's performance set a new school record for scoring in a half, breaking the old mark of 55 set on Oct. 11, 1947, in the first half of a 70-0 victory over Fordham. It was the worst defeat for Illinois since a 69-13 loss to Michigan on Nov. 1, 1986. It also marked the second consecutive home game that the Illini have given up more than 60 points, after a 61-14 defeat by Michigan State on Sept. 24.

Robinson did not play in the second half, allowing sophomore Anthony Morelli to play in the second half. (By the way, there is no truth to the rumor that Paterno sent Zook a note at halftime that read: "Yo, Zooker … Dawg, I've got this young kid, Morelli. We're going to work on your pass defense in the second half. Love, JoePa.")

* No. 19 Wisconsin fed off three interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, in a come-from-behind 31-20 win over Purdue. The Badgers victimized Purdue redshirt freshman Curtis Painter, who replaced Brandon Kirsch at quarterback. The Boilers dropped their fifth straight game and need to win out to qualify for postseason play.

And a glance at headlines nationally:

* Top-ranked USC extended its school-record road winning streak to 14 and won a record-tying 19th consecutive conference game with a 51-24 win at Washington. It was also USC's 29th straight win overall.

Matt Leinart completed 20 of 26 passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns, including three to Dwayne Jarrett. Reggie Bush returned a punt 84 yards for another score.

* No. 2 Texas downed previously unbeaten and No. 10-ranked Texas Tech 52-17. Vince Young threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as the Longhorns cruised to the win and remained on a path toward the Rose Bowl.

* There were three big games in the SEC. No. 5 Alabama needed a 34-yard field goal by Jamie Christensen's with 13 seconds left to hand No. 17 Tennessee a 6-3 defeat. Alabama got only its second win in 11 seasons over its bitter rival.

Fourth-ranked Georgia kept on pace to clinch the SEC East with a 23-20 win over Arkansas. But it was marred when D.J. Shockley injured his left knee in the second quarter. The senior quarterback hobbled to the bench and was in obvious pain, but coach Mark Richt said he doesn't think Shockley will need surgery or miss the rest of the season. Georgia can clinch the East with a win over Florida next week.

And No. 7 LSU stayed on par with Alabama in the SEC West with a 20-17 overtime win over No. 16 Auburn. John Vaughn's 39-yard field goal attempt in overtime hit the left upright, paving the way for LSU to win.

* No. 9 Notre Dame bounced back from its loss to USC with a 49-23 win over BYU, avenging a loss from last year. Brady Quinn threw for 467 yards and a school-record six touchdowns, while Maurice Stovall caught a career-high 14 passes for 207 yards and four TDs.

* Missouri quarterback Brad Smith rushed for 246 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 234 yards and another score in a 41-24 win over Nebraska. Smith's 480 yards in total offense set a school record and makes him second in career quarterback rushing behind Antwaan Randle El of Indiana, 1998-01. He is the sixth quarterback in NCAA history to get 200 yards in both passing and running in the same game.

* UCLA's Drew Olson threw for 262 yards and a school-record six touchdowns in the eighth-ranked Bruins' 51-28 victory over Oregon State.

* Oklahoma needed two overtimes to beat pesky Baylor 37-30. Rhett Bomar threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Juaquin Iglesias in the second overtime for the win. Oklahoma improved to 15-0 all-time against Baylor.

* In Division III, Mount Union dropped a regular-season game for the first time since 1994, losing 21-14 to Ohio Northern. The Purple Raiders had won 110 straight regular-season games and had not lost an Ohio Athletic Conference or regular-season game since they were beaten 23-10 by Baldwin-Wallace on Oct. 15, 1994.

* Heisman Watch: USC's Matt Leinart is still tops on my list, but I am also looking at USC's Reggie Bush and Texas' Vince Young. I think Notre Dame's Brady Quinn, UCLA's Maurice Drew and Virginia Tech's Marcus Vick could also get some strong consideration and/or invites to New York.

* My new top 15: USC, Texas, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Alabama, UCLA, Florida State, Miami (Fla.), LSU, Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Florida, Notre Dame, Boston College.

* Games To Watch: Boston College-Virginia Tech (Thursday), Washington State-USC, Texas-Oklahoma State, Georgia-Florida (at Jacksonville, Fla.), UCLA-Stanford, Maryland-Florida State, Oklahoma-Nebraska.

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) (4-3), beat Eastern Michigan 24-23, Oct. 22; at Temple, Oct. 29.

Sept. 10, Texas (7-0), beat Texas Tech 52-17, Oct. 22; at Oklahoma State, Oct. 29.

Sept. 17, San Diego State (3-5), lost to New Mexico 47-34, Oct. 22; vs. TCU, Oct. 29.

Sept. 24, Iowa (5-3), lost to Michigan 23-20 (OT), Oct. 22; idle, Oct. 29.

Oct. 8, Penn State (7-1), beat Illinois 63-10, Oct. 22; vs. Purdue, Oct. 29.

Oct. 15, Michigan State (4-3), lost to Northwestern 49-14, Oct. 22; vs. Indiana, Oct. 29.

Oct. 22, at Indiana (4-3), lost to Ohio State 41-10, Oct. 22; at Michigan State, Oct. 29.

Oct. 29, (noon, ABC) at Minnesota (5-2), idle, Oct. 22; vs. Ohio State, Oct. 29.

Nov. 5, Illinois (2-5), lost to Penn State 63-10, Oct. 22; vs. Wisconsin, Oct. 29.

Nov. 12, Northwestern (5-2), beat Michigan State 49-14, Oct. 22; vs. Michigan, Oct. 29.

Nov. 19, Michigan (5-3), beat Iowa 23-20 (OT), Oct. 22; at Northwestern, Oct. 29.

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Penn State (7-1, 4-1)

Wisconsin (7-1, 4-1)

Iowa (5-3, 3-2)

Ohio State (5-2, 3-1)

Northwestern (5-2, 3-1)

Minnesota (5-2, 2-2)

Michigan (5-3, 3-2)

Michigan State (4-3, 1-3)

Indiana (4-3, 1-3)

Purdue (2-5, 0-4)

Illinois (2-5, 0-4)

Oct. 22 Results

Michigan 23, Iowa 20 (OT)

Northwestern 49, Michigan State 14

Ohio State 41, Indiana 10

Wisconsin 31, Purdue 20

Penn State 63, Illinois 10

Oct. 29 Games

Wisconsin at Illinois, noon (ESPN)

Indiana at Michigan State, noon (ESPN-Plus)

Ohio State at Minnesota, noon (ABC)

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

Michigan at Northwestern, 7 p.m. (ESPN or ESPN2)


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