Sunday Morning QB: Now That Was A Game

We reflect on what was an entertaining and hard-hitting Big Ten football game between Ohio State and Minnesota. We answer the Ten Pressing Questions surrounding that game. Plus, we look at the weekend in the Big Ten and the college football world 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.

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

* Before I answer the Ten Pressing Questions, let me say this: The game Ohio State and Minnesota played on Saturday at the Metrodome was a great college football game.

There, I said it. Those two teams battled hard for 3-1/2 hours. And Ohio State showed the resolve of a champion – something we also saw in the come-from-behind win over Michigan State a few weeks back.

It was far from pretty. But I think we have to give the opponent a ton of credit here. That was, perhaps, the best Minnesota team I can ever recall. OK, their defense may not be all that great. But their offense – especially if Bryan Cupito is going to play like that – is among the best in college football.

I went to dinner after the game with a guy who has spent four decades following this stuff. He said for the fun factor alone this game ranked behind the OSU-Miami (Fla.) Fiesta Bowl from January 2003. I'd go with that. The skill level was at that kind of level. You say the defenses just got gashed. But they also stood up and made plays at key moments of the game.

All in all, this game was billed as a tight one and, up until OSU delivered the knockout blow midway through the second half, that's what you got. How could you ask for much more than that?

* Now, let's try and answer those Ten Pressing Questions.

1. Which Troy Smith will show up for the Buckeyes? -- It looks like the Troy Smith who could be a consistent winner at the quarterback position made the trip to Minnesota.

Smith was economical in the passing game, completing 14 of 20 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns. There were no interceptions or fumbles. Just sticks being moved all day.

Santonio Holmes, who caught two of those TD passes, said Smith has made the progression to steady hand.

"He's calmer in the pocket," Holmes said. "Guys can make mistakes and we just come back the next time and get after it. It wasn't that he was getting in guys' faces. He was just being aggressive. He's playing great ball. He knows guys will make mistakes, but he gives them an opportunity to make up for it."

If you're keeping score at home, Smith is now 9-2 as a starter.

2. Can Antonio Pittman approach or eclipse the 100-yard mark? -- Yeah, and he also outgained Laurence Maroney in the process. Just as Smith is making strides each week, Pittman hit the century mark for the fourth time in five Big Ten games – all wins. He ended up with a career-high 186 yards on 23 carries (8.1 average).

And, oh yeah, he took one 67 yards to the house on a run that would make a lot of former OSU tailbacks very proud. That was one of two touchdowns Pittman scored as he got that bugaboo off his back.

"He had 186 and he finally got a touchdown," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "Some people will say, ‘Hey, he ran it less than Maroney and he gained more.' So maybe that is a feather in his cap. Every step he takes is real important."

Even linebacker A.J. Hawk took note of Pittman: "He's fast, as everybody saw today. He got in there. Tony runs so hard. He deserves those touchdowns."

3. Will Ted Ginn Jr. and/or Santonio Holmes get loose and make a big play on offense? -- Yeah, Holmes had a couple of TDs and Ginn's legend grew bigger with a breathtaking 100-yard kick return for a touchdown.

Ginn's TD came on a faked handoff to Anthony Gonzalez. Ginn said the Buckeyes attempted the same play on the opening kickoff, but it did not work out.

"That's just like playing baseball and there are four guys on," Ginn said. "You miss it the first time, but then you come back next time and hit the grand slam. It's big."

And, yeah, Ginn said "four guys on." Hey, he spent his springs running track. He doesn't have to know there can only be three guys on base at one time.

Hawk again, this time on Ginn: "Ted is unbelievable. He is one of the most exciting players in college football."

4. Can the Buckeyes avoid costly mistakes? -- OSU came in after having six turnovers in the last two games and eight costly penalties at Indiana. At Minnesota, there were only four penalties and no turnovers – a fact that Tressel, himself, jinxed on the sideline early in the fourth quarter.

"With 13 minutes to go in the game, I remember standing there with Troy and Santonio and Teddy and Pitt," Tressel said. "I said, ‘Look, we've got zero turnovers. There's no way we'll lose this game if we end with zero.' That's the way we believe."

And so it shall be.

5. Will Ohio State contain Minnesota's awe inspiring rushing offense? -- Minnesota was averaging nearly 300 yards per game on the ground and as much as 350 per game at home in the Metrodome. But this was not Florida Atlantic the Gophers were facing.

They ended up with 182 yards on 42 rushing attempts.

"It came down to execution," said defensive end Mike Kudla, who made a huge fourth-down stop on Maroney. "We just had to fit our gaps. They had a great scheme. We had to make some adjustments and I think in the second half we did that."

OSU was nursing a 24-17 lead in the third quarter when Kudla collared Maroney for no gain at the OSU 32.

"Luckily enough, I had a good hold on him and I was able to hold on with everything I had," Kudla said. "I was able to stop him right there."

6. Can the Buckeyes get pressure on Minnesota QB Bryan Cupito? -- Cupito had a career day with 396 yards passing against OSU. People will say that OSU corner Ashton Youboty had a rough day, and he did. But in the big picture, the Buckeyes were willing to give up a few passing yards to Cupito to stop the run.

"We knew we wanted to make them one-dimensional," Hawk said. "For the most part in the second half, we stopped the run. But the quarterback played pretty well today. You have to give him some credit. A lot of us played with him in the North-South game. We knew he could do that. They get a lot of yards on people."

7. Can OSU stem the enthusiasm of all of the Ohio guys on the Minnesota team? --Make no mistake, Ohio State got Minnesota's best shot. And this was a hard hitting and intense football game. The Buckeyes rose to the challenge in the second half, taking a 17-17 tie to a 45-24 deathlock midway through the fourth quarter.

8. Will Josh Huston come through if the game is on the line? -- Huston's services weren't required to lock this one down. He did hit a 31-yard field goal, though, making him a sparking 14 of 17 on the year.

9. Can the Buckeyes win an important game against a quality opponent on the road? -- This one is big. OSU's recent pedigree was shrinking violet away from the Horseshoe. Not on Saturday. This two-touchdown win should give the Buckeyes the confidence they need to go anywhere in the country and win a game … and somebody said there is a big road game coming up on Nov. 19. Not sure where, though.

"Any time you go on the road and win in the Big Ten, you're saying something," Hawk said. "There were a lot of things we did wrong. But you have to take what we did good. Our offense played great. Our defense played good at times. We'll look forward to Illinois now."

10. Is Ohio State truly a Big Ten championship caliber team? -- The lead lap of the Big Ten race was whittled from four one-loss teams to three with Northwestern's home loss to Michigan.

Wisconsin visits Penn State this week, meaning those ranks will be whittled to no more than two after next Saturday. OSU is in position to have at least a share of the conference title on the line as November beckons.

"Our goal is to win the Big Ten title," said offensive guard Rob Sims. "I feel we came out here and made a statement. We have three more to go. We just want to go out every single week and get it done."

Around the Big Ten:

* No. 11 Penn State kept its momentum going with a 33-15 win over Purdue, which dropped its sixth straight game. This was somewhat of a smothering and the score was not indicative of how well PSU played.

Penn State inched closer to its first Big Ten title since 1994, though it now must defeat Wisconsin next week in a showdown of conference leaders at Beaver Stadium.

* No. 25 Michigan claimed its third straight win and dealt No. 21 Northwestern's Big Ten title hopes a huge blow with a 33-17 win in Evanston.

Michigan held an NU offense that was fourth in the nation, averaging 529.3 yards, to 415 yards and intercepted Brett Basanez twice. Michigan's Jerome Jackson ran for 105 yards on 24 attempts, while Kevin Grady, starting for Mike Hart, carried 20 times for 64 yards and a touchdown. Hart was in uniform but did not play after leaving last week's game against Iowa with a sprained ankle.

And, oh yeah, NU freshman Tyrell Sutton, second in the conference at 138.6 yards per game, carried 10 times for 50 -- giving him 1,020 this season.

* No. 15 Wisconsin rode the strong running of Brian Calhoun to a 41-24 win at Illinois. Brian Calhoun ran for 197 yards and five touchdowns. He carried the ball 35 times, his fourth game this season with more than 30 carries. He also caught two passes for 37 yards.

Illini quarterback Tim Brasic was 20-of-39 for 277 yards and two touchdowns and carried the ball 16 times for 116 yards.

* Michigan State rebounded from a lopsided home loss to Northwestern with a 46-15 crushing of Indiana. Drew Stanton threw for 244 yards and three TDs in the win, while Javon Ringer had 106 yards rushing. The Spartans are one win from qualifying for a bowl game.

And a glance at headlines nationally:

* The story on Saturday was how the undefeated ranks dwindled from six to five and very easily could have fallen down to just three.

We start in Jacksonville, Fla., where No. 16 Florida stunned No. 4 Georgia 14-10. Chris Leak threw a touchdown pass and ran for a score as the Gators prevailed in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party for the 14th time in 16 years. Georgia, which played without starting QB C.J. Leak, still controls its destiny in the SEC East and would clinch with a win over Auburn on Nov. 12.

* No. 2 Texas fell behind Oklahoma State 28-9. But, just as last year, the Longhorns pulled the rug out from under the Cowboys and rallied for a 47-28 win at Stillwater.

QB Vince Young rallied Texas with, perhaps, the best individual performance by any player in the country this year. Young threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns and also had 267 yards rushing and two scores. The nature of this win could cause Texas to move back behind USC in the BCS rankings and could open the door for No. 3 Virginia Tech, a 30-10 winner over Boston College on Thursday, to make up some ground as well.

* No. 8 UCLA also remained unbeaten, but it was anything but easy. For the fourth time in five games, the Bruins rallied from a double-digit deficit. This time they beat host Stanford 30-27 in overtime.

Brandon Breazell caught a 23-yard TD pass from Drew Olson in overtime after UCLA scored 21 points in the final 7:04 of regulation just to force the extra period. Olson went 24-of-35 for 293 yards and two TDs while leading his latest jaw-dropping comeback.

* No. 6 Miami (Fla.) also had to rally. But Tyrone Moss rushed for career highs of 195 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-16 win over North Carolina.

* No. 1 USC saw Matt Leinart throw for 364 yards and three touchdowns before coming out late in the third quarter as the Trojans routed Washington State 55-13. USC won its 30th straight game.

* Nebraska's 31-24 loss to Oklahoma, gave the Cornhuskers back-to-back home losses in the same season for the first time since 1968, when they lost three in a row.

* Rutgers' 31-21 win over Navy clinched its first winning regular season since 1992. In winning its third straight and starting 6-2 for the first time since 1979, Rutgers became bowl-eligible for the first time since 1992. Rutgers has not played in a bowl since the Garden State Bowl in 1978. The 26-year drought is the longest in Division I-A.

* The one thing Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer did not need back in his life was Steve Spurrier. But there was Spurrier on Saturday, leading his new team, South Carolina, to a 16-15 win over Fulmer's Vols. It was the Gamecocks' first win ever in Knoxville and dropped UT, a preseason top-five team (somebody I know had them No. 2), to 3-4 on the year.

The loss spoiled festivities as Peyton Manning's No. 16 was retired. (Why don't they retire Tee Martin's number, too? After all, he's the one that helped them win the national title. Hmmm.)

* And the news doesn't get any better for Tennessee, which meets No. 9 Notre Dame next Saturday. The Irish were off on Saturday, but made news anyway by granting first-year head coach Charlie Weis a 10-year contract extension. The move staves off any talk that Weis will jump back to the NFL ranks next year.

He got a 10-year deal after a 5-2 start. Imagine what they would have done if they were 7-0.

"Since the first day I arrived at Notre Dame as head football coach, one of my primary goals was to be able to see this job through to the time my son, Charlie, would graduate from the University of Notre Dame and to stay in this position until I retire. By restructuring this contract, adding an additional five years, this allows me to accomplish that goal," Weis said.

* Heisman Watch: Texas' Vince Young had a command performance in the win over Oklahoma State. Maybe the USC tandem of Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush will steal some votes. My money is still on Leinart, however.

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

* My bowl projections: Rose, USC-Texas; Orange, Virginia Tech-LSU; Sugar, Alabama-West Virginia; Fiesta, Ohio State-Notre Dame; Capital One, Penn State-Georgia; Outback, Wisconsin-Florida.

* Games To Watch: Connecticut-West Virginia (Wednesday), Pittsburgh-Louisville (Thursday), Toledo-Ohio U. (Friday), Stanford-USC, Miami (Fla.)-Virginia Tech, UCLA-Arizona, Tennessee-Notre Dame, Wisconsin-Penn State, Cal-Oregon, Texas A&M-Texas Tech, Iowa-Northwestern.

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 Temple 41-14, Oct. 29; vs. Buffalo, Nov. 5.

Sept. 10, Texas (8-0), beat Oklahoma State 47-28, Oct. 29; at Baylor, Nov. 5.

Sept. 17, San Diego State (3-6), lost to TCU 23-20, Oct. 29; idle, Nov. 5.

Sept. 24, Iowa (5-3), idle, Oct. 29; at Northwestern, Nov. 5.

Oct. 8, Penn State (8-1), beat Purdue 33-15, Oct. 29; vs. Wisconsin, Nov. 5.

Oct. 15, Michigan State (5-3), beat Indiana 46-15, Oct. 29; at Purdue, Nov. 5.

Oct. 22, at Indiana (4-4), lost to Michigan State 46-15, Oct. 29; vs. Minnesota, Nov. 5.

Oct. 29, at Minnesota (5-3), lost to Ohio State 45-31, Oct. 29; at Indiana, Nov. 5.

Nov. 5, Illinois (2-6), lost to Wisconsin 41-24, Oct. 29; at Ohio State, Nov. 5.

Nov. 12, Northwestern (5-3), lost to Michigan 33-17, Oct. 29; vs. Iowa, Nov. 5.

Nov. 19, Michigan (6-3), beat Northwestern 33-17, Oct. 29; idle, Nov. 5.

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Penn State (8-1, 5-1)

Wisconsin (8-1, 5-1)

Ohio State (6-2, 4-1)

Michigan (6-3, 4-2)

Iowa (5-3, 3-2)

Northwestern (5-3, 3-2)

Minnesota (5-3, 2-3)

Michigan State (4-4, 1-4)

Indiana (4-4, 1-4)

Purdue (2-6, 0-5)

Illinois (2-6, 0-5)

Oct. 29 Results

Wisconsin 41, Illinois 24

Michigan State 46, Indiana 15

Ohio State 45, Minnesota 21

Penn State 33, Purdue 15

Michigan 33, Northwestern 17

Nov. 5 Games

Iowa at Northwestern, noon (ESPN)

Michigan State at Purdue, noon (ESPN-Plus)

Minnesota at Indiana, noon (ESPN2)

Illinois at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

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

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