Sunday Morning QB: Another Big Finish For OSU

We are back with our weekly look at Ohio State, the Big Ten and the college football world at-large. We have notes on OSU's sluggish start, its fourth straight strong finish, the defense's comeback, the Illini's dubious two points, ABC's quandary and much more.

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 Illinois:

* Ohio State has had better starts than it had against Illinois on Saturday.

The Buckeyes went three-and-out on their first series, then benefited from an obvious pass interference call on the second series for their first first down. The offense then got it in gear but an old nemesis – red zone inadequacy – cropped up and OSU had to settle for two short field goals and a 6-0 lead deep into the first half.

Tailback Antonio Pittman, who ended up just shy of 100 yards on the day and 1,000 yards on the season, has a theory on why OSU started so slowly.

"In the first half, everybody was trying to bust the big one instead of just letting the game come to them," Pittman said. "We calmed down in the second half. The coaches got on us in the locker room and we came out ready to play."

Of course, there is something to be said for finishing strong. That is what Ohio State did for the fourth straight week.

The Buckeyes came up just shy of their season-high of 530 yards against Iowa, settling for 526 in this rout of the Illini. They also reached the 40-point plateau for the first time since the latter stages of the 1995 season.

"It's funny, I remember a game – and I'm not sure who it was against – but I was wondering if I would ever see a game where we scored 40 points," said wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez. "Now we've done it in three straight games. It's fun being out there. We're all so experienced with each other that we kind of feed off each other.

"That is especially true when the offensive line is protecting, Troy's back there slinging the ball and we're catching it. Pitt's coming in and getting 100 yards a game. That's what you look for."

Linebacker Bobby Carpenter said it was a weird game that the Buckeyes just needed to assert themselves.

"This was one of those games you think you have control of the whole time and then you look at the scoreboard and say, ‘Wow, it's only 13-0,' " he said. "We had to come out and execute better. We weren't going to let them drive on us."

* Once again, the OSU defense came up huge. The Buckeyes were coming off a game at Minnesota where they had allowed 578 yards in the team's 45-31 win.

But they never gave the Illini an opening, holding them to 160 yards total offense. The Buckeyes sacked quarterback Tim Brasic five times.

Last week's game was a source of motivation for the defense.

"All of our coaches all week were kind of upset with us," said linebacker Bobby Carpenter. "Hey, we didn't play good. They said we should thank the offense for bailing us out. They were down on us all week. But then on Friday, Coach (Jim) Heacock in our meeting said, ‘Hey, don't forget you're the number one defense in the Big Ten.'

"You can't always hold your hat on that, but you have to think, ‘Hey, we're going to go out and stop these guys and keep them out of the end zone.' "

Defensive end Mike Kudla spent a good portion of the day chasing Brasic. He sacked him once and forced a 17-yard intentional grounding penalty on another pressure.

"We knew we had a big challenge," Kudla said. "You look at last week and they had some big plays. As we watched the film, we saw we had some good plays and some bad plays. We took that to heart. We really pushed that in practice."

OSU held its opponent under 200 yards for the fifth time in nine games this season. The defense, for all intents and purposes, pitched a shutout – Illinois' only points came on a return of a botched snap on a PAT attempt.

"That is a great accomplishment for us, not being scored on," said safety Nate Salley. "That's something we try to do every week – come out and be physical. I think we did a pretty good job of it today."

Linebacker A.J. Hawk added, "We didn't let up. That's the biggest thing about this defense. We have a lot of character and heart. We're going to play for four quarters."

* OSU came within two points of its first shutout win since a 20-0 win over Northwestern in 2003.

"What else can you do but stop them every time they have the ball?" Carpenter asked. "We can only stop them when we're on the field."

On the PAT return, Illinois' Kevin Mitchell picked up the mishandled snap and returned it 75 yards for the score. But it appeared that referee Jim Lapetina overlooked a blatant block in the back penalty as OSU kicker Josh Huston had an angle on Mitchell, only to go down in a heap when an Illini player used two hands to shove him directly in the back.

"I learned a long time ago not to worry about the officiating," Carpenter said. "They're not going to get them all. Hey, if our offense scores 40 every game and we give up 2, it will be all right."

This is not the first time OSU has won a game where it allowed just two points. It last happened in 1990, when the Buckeyes beat Purdue 42-2.

* Carpenter has been dealing with a bone bruise in his knee. That is why he took an early powder at Minnesota and also against Illinois.

"I got nicked up last week against Minnesota," he said. "I didn't practice that much. I was trying to come out and contribute as much as I could. Once the game was kind of out of balance, I maybe cashed it in a little bit earlier than normal."

* I mentioned Huston above. He hit those two short field goals to continue what has been an incredible year following up the job done by Mike Nugent. It is rare when Huston's kickoffs don't go into or even through the end zone for touchbacks and he is now 16 of 19 on field goals.

In fact, all eight of his kickoffs against Illinois were touchbacks, giving him 40 on 56 kickoffs this year.

* It is early to pinpoint OSU's MVP. But I think it would be hard to have a ballot that does not include split end Santonio Holmes as well as Hawk and Carpenter. Those three have been the most consistently spectacular players on the team, in my opinion.

* As OSU struggled in the first half, I am sure a number of the younger players were wondering if they would get into the game. The Buckeyes then grabbed their huge lead late in the third quarter and slowly started to empty the bench.

That is a delicate balance because the starters need to be sharp and have a sense of accomplishment going into two tough games like Northwestern and Michigan.

Of the young guys I saw on the field, I liked the two freshman running backs, Maurice Wells and Erik Haw. Wells is a smaller guy, but he hits the hole hard. One of these days he is going squirt through there – almost like a Darren Sproles type play – and break a big one. Haw only had two carries all season coming in. He got four carries (for 14 yards) in this game. Good to see.

Albert Dukes had a 16-yard grab and backup tight end Brandon Smith also caught a ball. Some of the key walk-ons like Ryan Franzinger, Steve Winner, Matt Daniels and Derek Harden were also spotted on the field late.

Defensively, I think it was good that James Laurinaitis and John Kerr got some work at linebacker.

* ABC has almost painted itself into a corner with its coverage for Nov. 19.

Penn State, by beating Wisconsin Saturday, now travels to Michigan State that day to play for at least a piece of the Big Ten title and the conference's automatic bid. With 78-year-old Joe Paterno at the controls, that is a ready-made storyline that you simply can not ignore. This could be his last great hurrah as the Lions coach. (As an aside, he'd be crazy to come back and face the major rebuilding PSU will have next year.)

Of course, OSU also visits Michigan for The Game that day. If the Buckeyes can negotiate a win over Northwestern, they would be playing for a share of the Big Ten themselves. They would need MSU to upset PSU, though, to snag the BCS bid.

The network is stuck, somewhat. They only have one college football window that day at 1 p.m. That is because they are televising the Skins Game that day at 4:30 p.m. (By the way, who in their right mind cares about TV golf in November?)

It is a very real possibility that ABC will opt for the Penn State-Michigan State game at 1 p.m., leaving Disney corporate partner ESPN the ability to televise OSU-Michigan for the first time ever. In fact, an OSU official said he believed the network would opt for PSU-MSU.

The Game has been on network television – either ABC or CBS – every year dating to 1983, when the networks took a pass and WBNS-TV (Ch. 10) hastily arranged its own local coverage and Woody Hayes provided color commentary. Prior to that, you have to go back to 1971 to find a season where The Game was not on network television.

It is unclear what ESPN would do with The Game. It could air at noon Eastern time or, as ESPN did with a similar Iowa-Wisconsin game last year, they held it until OSU-Michigan (which was a 1 p.m. start last year) was over and started that game at 4:30 p.m. A 4:30 p.m. game at Ann Arbor on Nov. 19? Egads.

ABC usually announces its plans 12 days out – which would be tomorrow. But they have the option of doing a six-day pick, meaning they may want to see how OSU does against Northwestern before committing one way or the other.

One way or the other, ESPN is getting an important Big Ten game that could draw a huge number and also have some historical implications.

Stay tuned tomorrow, I guess.

* As you'll see below, I have Ohio State in a BCS bowl. I have also now put Penn State in my mock BCS. Virginia Tech did not do OSU any favors, though, by losing to Miami (Fla.). OSU would be a stronger draw and, if it could run the table, would be considered one of the hottest teams in college football.

It will be interesting to see how the BCS powers that be are able to arrange the three "other" games. It looks like USC-Texas is a mortal lock for the Rose Bowl. Look for some major political maneuvers to take place when it comes to placing those other games.

Around the Big Ten:

* No. 10 Penn State moved to within one win of its first Big Ten championship since 1994 – and only its second ever – with a convincing 35-14 rout of No. 14 Wisconsin at State College.

QB Michael Robinson threw two touchdown passes and the unblockable DE Tamba Hali had four sacks for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State held Wisconsin tailback Brian Calhoun to 38 yards on 20 carries -- far below his 135-yard average. Meanwhile, RB Tony Hunt added 151 yards and two scores for Penn State.

The Nittany Lions can guarantee their first BCS bowl bid with a win at Michigan State Nov. 19.

"Our kids have played hard defense all year. Tamba -- I've been bragging on Tamba since preseason," Paterno said. "Tamba's a heck of a football player."

* Northwestern fell behind visiting Iowa 14-0 early, 24-7 at the half and trailed 27-14 midway through the fourth quarter. But the Wildcats rallied for two late touchdowns to take a 28-27 win over the Hawkeyes.

QB Brett Basanez delivered one more fantastic finish in his NU career, hitting Ross Lane with a 9-yard TD pass with a scant 42 seconds left.

"We made plays at the right time and came through," said Basanez, who threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns. "It just speaks to the character of the offense. The older guys were keeping everybody else [relaxed], saying, 'Calm down.' ... It speaks to the young guys. They played like veterans."

NU became bowl eligible, while Iowa must beat either Wisconsin or Minnesota to clinch a bowl bid.

The Wildcats recovered an onside kick after freshman RB Tyrell Sutton scored on a 1-yard run to bring the Wildcats to within six with 2:10 remaining.

Iowa's Albert Young rushed for a career-high 202 yards and two touchdowns, and Drew Tate passed for 273. The Hawkeyes gained 492 yards against a defense that was allowing 494.8 on average and ranked 117th in the nation.

* Minnesota rebounded from last week's loss to Ohio State by taking a 42-21 win at Indiana. RB Laurence Maroney was hobbled by an ankle injury, so backup Gary Russell carried 28 times for 188 yards and three TDs for the Gophers.

This was a big win for Minnesota, which snapped a two-game losing streak, won for the first time at Indiana since 1985 and became bowl eligible. Meanwhile, Indiana, which had bowl aspirations after a 4-1 start, was dealt its fourth straight defeat. IU needs wins at Michigan and at home against Purdue to qualify for its first bowl bid since 1994.

The Hoosiers visit No. 22 Michigan next week, where they haven't won since 1967, and then host Purdue, which they've beaten once since 1996.

* Speaking of Purdue, the Boilers won their first Big Ten game of the year, taking a 28-21 win over visiting Michigan State. The win snapped PU's six-game losing streak. QB Curtis Painter passed for a career-high 226 yards and one TD as the Boilermakers rallied for the win. MSU needed a win to become bowl eligible. The Spartans visit Minnesota this week and close by hosting Penn State.

And a glance at headlines nationally:

* No. 5 Miami (Fla.) gained some payback for last year's home loss to Virginia Tech. The ‘Canes jumped on the third-ranked Hokies 27-0 and pulled off a stunning 27-7 win in Blacksburg.

Virginia Tech gave the game – and probably the ACC title – away with six turnovers (four fumbles and two Marcus Vick interceptions). One of the fumbles was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. In one stretch, Vick fumbled the ball away three times in five snaps.

Miami has the inside track to the ACC Coastal Division title, although the ‘Canes still must visit Wake Forest and host Georgia Tech and Virginia. Virginia Tech suffered its first loss and may now have to hope for an at-large BCS bid.

* In a game that only ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit knew the final result of ahead of time, Arizona stunned No. 7-ranked and previously unbeaten UCLA 52-14. The Wildcats were 2-6 coming into the game and had lost 19 of their last 21 Pac-10 home games. But UCLA was probably due to lose after surviving four double-digit comebacks in recent weeks.

Freshman Willie Tuitama threw for two early touchdowns and Arizona rolled for 519 yards. RB Mike Bell added 153 yards in 16 attempts, including an 8-yard touchdown run.

* The ranks of the unbeaten thinned from five down to three. No. 1 USC rolled past visiting Stanford 51-21, No. 2 Texas crushed Baylor 62-0 and No. 3 Alabama beat host Mississippi State 17-0 without benefit of an offensive touchdown.

The USC-Stanford game saw Trojans coach Pete Carroll go against his former college coach, Walt Harris. But USC scored on each of its seven first-half possessions to take control. Matt Leinart passed for 259 yards and four touchdowns, Reggie Bush rushed for 113 yards and another score, and the Trojans extended their conference-record winning streak to 31 games.

* Texas QB Vince Young improved to 26-2 as a starter with 298 yards and two TDs passing and 53 yards rushing in the rout of Baylor. The Longhorns won their 16th straight game – their longest streak since winning 30 in a row between 1968-70.

* No. 13 Florida survived a 49-42 double overtime shootout with Vanderbilt in Gainesville. The Commodores were bidding to end a 51-game losing streak against ranked teams and also win in Gainesville for the first time since 1945.

QB Jay Cutler threw for 361 yards and four touchdowns, including two in the final 2:17 of regulation to send the game into overtime. But Florida's Reggie Lewis intercepted Cutler on the first play of Vandy's series in the second OT to end the game.

Florida's Chris Leak finished 32-of-41 for 257 yards with three touchdowns. He also ran for a career-high 67 yards and two scores.

* No. 8 Notre Dame found itself in a battle with visiting Tennessee, which drew even at 21-21 in the third quarter. But that is when the Irish surged ahead for a 41-21 win, dropping the Vols to 3-5.

Brady Quinn threw three touchdown passes and Tom Zbikowski had a punt return and interception return for scores to lead Notre Dame. Quinn was 20-of-33 for 295 yards and threw two touchdown passes in the span of a minute to give the Irish a 14-0 lead.

ND is bowl eligible in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98, while UT must win out against Memphis, Vanderbilt and Kentucky to become bowl eligible. The Vols suffered a fourth straight defeat for the first time since 1988, which is also the last time UT did not reach postseason play.

North Carolina State stunned No. 9 Florida State 20-15 in Tallahassee. Andre Brown ran for 179 yards and a 65-yard touchdown and the Wolfpack intercepted Drew Weatherford three times to beat Florida State for the third time in five years.

Even with the loss, FSU backed into the ACC's first championship game, set for Dec. 3 in Jacksonville, because Boston College lost at North Carolina.

* No. 15 Oregon was down to its third-string quarterback, but Brady Leaf got it done. His 4-yard TD pass in overtime gave the Ducks a 27-20 home win over No. 23 Cal.

* At Lawrence, Kan., thousands of fans rushed the field to celebrate when Kansas ended a 36-game losing streak to Nebraska with a 40-15 victory. The string of losses was the NCAA's second longest against an opponent in an uninterrupted series. The record, still current, is 41 wins in a row by Notre Dame against Navy.

* Missouri's Brad Smith set an NCAA career rushing record for quarterbacks in a 41-12 loss to No. 25 Colorado. Smith entered the game against Colorado with 3,891 yards rushing, 4 short of the record set by Indiana's Antwaan Randle-El from 1998-2001. A 4-yard scramble in the first quarter gave Smith 8 yards rushing for the game and the mark.

The win puts Colorado in position to represent the Big 12 North in the conference title game for the fourth time in five years.

* No. 20 TCU wrapped up its first outright conference title in nearly 50 years by beating Colorado State 33-6 to clinch the Mountain West in its first season as a member. The Horned Frogs last won an outright league title in 1958, when they were in the Southwest Conference. They shared SWC titles in 1959 and 1994 and won a piece of championships in the Western Athletic Conference (1999, 2000) and Conference USA (2002).

* South Carolina became bowl eligible with a 14-10 win over Arkansas. The Gamecocks have won four straight to qualify for the postseason in their first season under coach Steve Spurrier.

* Temple dropped its 10th straight this season with a 51-3 loss to Virginia. The Owls must win Nov. 19 at Navy to avoid their first winless season since 1959. They technically finished 0-11 in 1986 but only because they had to forfeit six wins due to an ineligible player.

* Heisman Watch: This race is almost too close to call between Texas' Young and USC's Leinart and Bush. My money is still on the incumbent (Leinart), however.

* My new top 15: Three of my top six lost, so there has been some shuffling. I now go: USC, Texas, Alabama, Miami (Fla.), Penn State, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Texas Tech, Florida State, UCLA, Oregon.

* My new bowl projections: Rose, USC-Texas; Orange, Miami (Fla.)-Penn State; Sugar, Alabama-West Virginia; Fiesta, Ohio State-Notre Dame; Capital One, Wisconsin-LSU; Outback, Michigan-Georgia.

* Games To Watch: West Virginia-Cincinnati (Wednesday), Boise State-Fresno State (Thursday), Rutgers-Louisville (Friday), USC-Cal, Kansas-Texas, LSU-Alabama, Arizona State-UCLA, Navy-Notre Dame, Florida State-Clemson, Auburn-Georgia, Florida-South Carolina, Iowa-Wisconsin.

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) (5-3), beat Buffalo 54-13, Nov. 5; vs. Bowling Green, Nov. 15.

Sept. 10, Texas (9-0), beat Baylor 62-0, Nov. 5; vs. Kansas, Nov. 12.

Sept. 17, San Diego State (3-6), idle, Nov. 5; at Colorado State, Nov. 12.

Sept. 24, Iowa (5-4), lost to Northwestern 28-27, Nov. 5; at Wisconsin, Nov. 12.

Oct. 8, Penn State (9-1), beat Wisconsin 35-14, Nov. 5; idle, Nov. 12.

Oct. 15, Michigan State (5-4), lost to Purdue 28-21, Nov. 5; at Minnesota, Nov. 12.

Oct. 22, at Indiana (4-5), lost to Minnesota 42-21, Nov. 5; at Michigan, Nov. 12.

Oct. 29, at Minnesota (6-3), beat Indiana 42-21, Nov. 5; vs. Michigan State, Nov. 12.

Nov. 5, Illinois (2-7), lost to Ohio State 40-2, Nov. 5; at Purdue, Nov. 12.

Nov. 12, (noon, ABC) Northwestern (6-3), beat Iowa 28-27, Nov. 5; at Ohio State, Nov. 12.

Nov. 19, (time, TV TBA) Michigan (6-3), idle, Nov. 5; vs. Indiana, Nov. 12.

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Penn State (9-1, 6-1)

Ohio State (7-2, 5-1)

Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2)

Michigan (6-3, 4-2)

Northwestern (6-3, 4-2)

Minnesota (6-3, 3-3)

Iowa (5-4, 3-3)

Michigan State (5-4, 2-4)

Indiana (4-5, 1-5)

Purdue (3-6, 1-5)

Illinois (2-7, 0-6)

Nov. 5 Results

Northwestern 28, Iowa 27

Purdue 28, Michigan State 21

Minnesota 42, Indiana 21

Ohio State 40, Northwestern 2

Penn State 35, Wisconsin 14

Nov. 12 Games

Northwestern at Ohio State, noon (ABC)

Indiana at Michigan, noon (ESPN2)

Michigan State at Minnesota, noon (ESPN-Plus)

Illinois at Purdue, noon (ESPN360)

Iowa at Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

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