Sunday Morning QB: Some Questions Answered

We are back with our weekly look at Ohio State football, the Big Ten and the college football world in general. We call it Sunday Morning Quarterback. Today, we provide answers to the Ten Pressing Questions surrounding the season opener with Northern Illinois. Plus, we have news, notes and opinions on the Big Ten and the college game at large. Click here for all the fun.

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 Northern Illinois:

* On Friday in The Buckeye Grove, I posted my Ten Pressing Questions for OSU's opener against Northern Illinois. Today, with some time to reflect on what we saw, we have some of the answers.

1. How will Troy Smith open the year and who is/are his backup(s)? -- Smith came one short completion away from what would have been his third straight 300-yard game, so we'll just say he already seems to be in midseason form.

"Troy did a great job putting the ball on the money for the big plays, and our guys made the catches and we got off to that good start," said OSU coach Jim Tressel.

Smith completed his first five pass attempts with three of those going for touchdowns. He hooked up with Ted Ginn Jr. for gains of 58 yards (touchdown) and 56 yards. He spreaded the ball around to eight different receivers. He did everything but run the ball (one carry for minus-1 yard), so his game has truly come full circle.

Imagine when he mixes that back in and he also gets to play a full game with the throttle down (i.e. not surrounded by a few backups, as he was when a number of the second-half drives faltered).

(As an aside, did anybody get a good feeling when Smith and Ginn did the bump after their first touchdown connection of the year?)

As for the backup, the only other quarterback to play was Justin Zwick. He relieved Smith in the middle of a drive and promptly turned the ball over when he fumbled a handoff to Chris Wells. Either he or Wells went the wrong way or Zwick slipped on the slick turf. Somebody even mentioned he may have been stepped on by a lineman.

The good news for Zwick was he came back on the final series and completed a pair or pass attempts to go out with a better feeling for the day.

2. How will the running backs perform and how will Chris Wells look in his debut? -- OSU's three-headed monster at tailback came out strong on Saturday.

The lead dog, Antonio Pittman, had 19 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown. It was just a workmanlike day for Pittman, who just keeps polishing his game.

Freshman Chris Wells made his long awaited debut and it was a mixed bag. He looked devastating as he churned out 50 yards on 10 carries and also plowed ahead for his first career touchdown on an 8-yard run. Wells looks like he could be a great weapon on the goal line and in short yardage sets, even converting a fourth down with a powerful run at one point.

But he also put the ball on the ground and lost a fumble at the 2-yard line, denying himself and OSU a scoring opportunity.

"I just told him to keep ballin', in players' terms," Smith said of his advice to Wells. "I told him to stay positive. Everybody makes mistakes. It's how you bounce back and continue to play. He's going to be a great player here."

And sophomore Maurice Wells also made an impact. He had 15 yards on five carries and also made a nifty 30 yard catch-and-run on a short Smith pass. He has a role in this offense also, it appears.

3. Can OSU's "other receivers" do enough to help out Ted Ginn Jr.? -- The Buckeyes went into their opener without senior Roy Hall, sidelined with an ankle injury.

The opener showed, though, that the other receivers are going to stand up and be counted. Ginn had his best September game yet with four catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. After him, Anthony Gonzalez had four catches with a score. Brian Robiskie had three catches, Ray Small had three catches and Brian Hartline and Albert Dukes each made one grab. This was a great showing by this receiving corps. It would be great to add Hall to this mix as well, beginning next week.

"We could have had some more points," Robiskie said. "We'll look at the ones we missed. But, overall, I think we did pretty good."

4. Who steps up at tight end? -- OSU pretty much stayed away from the two-tight end sets. Rory Nicol seemed to do a good job as a blocker and he had two catches for 14 yards. I can't recall seeing any of the other tight ends factoring much in the offense.

5. How will the veteran offensive line do with run blocking and pass protection chores? -- The veteran line helped Ohio State churn out 488 yards and did it all without allowing a single quarterback sack.

"We blitzed a few times, but they picked it up," said NIU coach Joe Novak. "That hurt us. This offense is going to score a lot of points. I voted for them as No. 1 in the preseason and I'll vote for them as No. 1 again."

One wrinkle we saw was how OSU rotated Tim Schafer and Steve Rehring in and out every two series at left guard.

"Every two series, they switched," said left guard Alex Boone. "They're trying to figure out who is more compatible there. I think they are great at different things. It's just going to come down to who is going to play better longer."

Doug Datish, settling in at center, believes the line established itself with this performance.

"We took a big step on the offensive line today," he said. "The communication was one of the best things about today. We did great with that and with the communication being smooth, things are much easier for me."

6. Can the defensive ends truly get after opposing passers? -- In the jersey scrimmage, we did not see the ends make much of an impact. But, then again, they were going against OSU's offensive line.

Jay Richardson had one of his best games as a Buckeye with 2-1/2 tackles for loss and a sack. Vernon Gholston tallied two tackles for loss and 1-1/2 sacks. Lawrence Wilson had a sack and Alex Barrow added a TFL, so this was a good showing all the way around for this four-man group.

"Every chance you get in there, you want to do good," Gholston said. "When you get a win, you can say you did your job. But, again, those big plays can hurt you in the long run. That's something we need to clean up."

7. How does the new linebacker trio look in live game action? -- Well, this was somewhat of a mixed bag.

Freeman looked like a keeper with nine tackles in his first start. James Laurinaitis tallied four tackles, while John Kerr only had one assist. Of course, the numbers are kind of skewed because, from the third series on, OSU mixed in some of the backups, including Larry Grant (one interception), Ross Homan (three tackles) and Curtis Terry.

Some will blame the incredible performance turned in by NIU's Garrett Wolfe (171 yards rushing, five catches for 114 yards and a touchdown) on substandard linebacker play. I would say there were at least a few instances where tackles were missed and some of those were by the LBs.

But you need to give Wolfe and the NIU offense and coaches some props as well. They know what he can do and they get the ball to him in position to make plays. I thought on some of their long gainers – like his 51-yard run and 65-yard catch-and-run – NIU simply had a great play call and executed it to perfection.

"It was the first game and we were going to be nervous, but after the first play, butterflies were out of the picture," Freeman said. "My performance was OK. I just need to keep getting better each week. We just need to wrap up for next week and keep getting better as the season goes on."

8. Who will make the biggest impression at cornerback and brand themselves as reliable for the showdown with Texas? -- I did not see any glaring breakdowns at cornerback for the opener. Malcolm Jenkins (three tackles) is as solid as they come, it seems. Antonio Smith and Donald Washington split time at the other corner spot and Kurt Coleman got in later. Looks like the arrangement of Smith and Washington splitting time will continue for at least another week.

9. How will kickers Aaron Pettrey and Ryan Pretorius fare in the opener? -- Well, it was a rough opener for the kickers, although the conditions were not optimum. Usually, it's sunny and 80 degrees for the opener. Yesterday, it was blustery and 61.

Plus, the field was a little bit slick after enduring some heavy rains. The kickoffs, by and large, were good. Pettrey had four kickoffs with three touchbacks. Pretorius had a pair of kicks that were returned. I'd say they'll be sticking with Pettrey there.

Pretorius got the first call on a 51-yard field goal that came up just short. Pettrey then sprayed a 44-yarder wide right.

The hope was that one of the kickers would make a big kick – distance or key point in the game – to solidify themselves going into Texas. But that did not happen.

"As far as kickers, we went into it with the idea that they both have opportunities to kick off and we were hoping we could earn the right for them to have an opportunity to do PATs and field goals," Tressel said. "I mentioned to one of the coaches late in the game that it wasn't the ideal game for a guy being the first time out there under the gun because kicking is all about your plant foot, and there was a little slippage in your plant foot.

"You couldn't really attack the ball maybe like you normally do and especially if you're a rookie. So we got to see a little bit, and I don't know where the balls went through on the goal posts. We don't just evaluate whether they made it or not, we want it to be straight down the middle. So we'll do all those evaluations. I thought they kicked off pretty well, though."

10. How will all of the new guys fare? -- I thought Ohio State had some players make some smashing debuts on Saturday. Other than the fumble, Chris Wells branded himself as a future star at tailback. Grant gave OSU a huge lift with his interception. Hartline had a 32-yard catch on his first play. Likewise, Homan made the tackle on his first play as a Buckeye.

"You try to simulate it in your mind a few days beforehand, so you don't go out there and get all worked up," Homan said. "That's what I did. I thought I was pretty calm about it."

Bonus Question: Is this a national championship-caliber team? -- You had to like a lot about what you saw with this opener. The Smith-to-Ginn combination could push for some school-record numbers, perhaps, by the end of the year.

This was a good starting point for the defense. There were some missed assignments and plenty of things to teach off of. Texas will find some ways to attack the defense. But you have to like the way the defensive ends attacked the pocket and harassed NIU's Phil Horvath. If they can do the same to Texas' Colt McCoy (and others the rest of the year), the Buckeyes will have a chance.

My guess is that NIU will score a lot of points this season, so there was no disgrace in the yardage totals the Huskies accumulated. Plus, from the third series on, OSU substituted liberally.

Yes, this is a championship-caliber team. But they'll need to prove it on the field week after week, beginning with next Saturday at Texas.

"We took a step," Tressel said. " Now, the next step is higher. We understand that. But we took a step.''

* Grant's interception probably slammed the door shut on NIU. The Buckeyes already had a 21-0 lead, but NIU was knocking on the door at the OSU 11 after the 65-yard screen pass from Horvath to Wolfe.

"You always need to make a big play after they have a big play like that," said safety Brandon Mitchell. "That was the kind of play a defense needs to pick you up."

Grant picked off the pass in the right flat and returned it 49 yards before Horvath cut him off and he slipped to the ground.

"I'm sure some of the guys are going to be on Larry for running out of gas there," Tressel joked. "I'm not sure who caught him, but I thought it was the left tackle."

Grant was asked if that play would solidify his spot in the linebacker rotation.

"I still feel like I have more to do," Grant said. "I'm just trying to learn everything now and get everything down to a T."

Grant was also asked how it felt to play in front of more than 103,000 people after spending the last year at City College of San Francisco.

"The most I ever played in front of at CCSF was probably 1,000," he said. "It was nothing like this."

* It is apparent Ohio State would have a hard time fielding a team without Cleveland. Smith, Ginn, Gonzalez, Boone, Robiskie, Hall, safety Jamario O'Neal and defensive tackle David Patterson are all from Cleveland. Akron chimes in as well with Pittman and Chris Wells.

"I have Troy and Teddy and Beanie now," said Boone, a Lakewood St. Edward graduate. "It's great. We all just try to represent for Cleveland. I call my friends back home after the game, but it's fun playing with guys I used to watch in Cleveland."

* I've seen one game with the timing changes and I am non-plussed. Great, we saw an Ohio State game end in two hours, 51 minutes. The teams combined for 126 plays. Tressel noted that the average game last year was 141 plays.

I'm not sure shorter and less plays is better.

The biggest change is winding the clock at the start of each new possession. That probably took three or four minutes out of the game right there. They are also starting the clock on kicks when the ball is kick instead of when it is returned.

I have a solution that may be more palatable, perhaps.

Keep these rules as they are, but also institute a two- or three-minute warning (like the NFL) at the end of each half. That would give you one more stoppage that the networks can brand and sell. After that warning is made to both benches, the timing rules would revert to the old system – the clock would start only when kickoffs are returned and only when the ball is snapped on first down of a new series.

This is similar to how the NFL handles the end of each half by reverting to the old timing rules.

This one change might help college football split the difference and get a few more plays in there. Plus, it may set up more dramatic finishes.

Now for a look around the Big Ten:

* No. 14 Michigan struggled with Vanderbilt for three quarters before pulling away for the 27-7 win. The UM defense got after the Commodores, allowing Vandy just 171 yards. Mike Hart had 146 yards for the new-look Wolverines, who shook up their coaching staff in the off-season.

* No. 16 Iowa had no problem with Division I-AA Montana, rolling to a 41-7 win as Drew Tate threw for 223 yards and three TDs. In other Big Ten/I-AA games, Purdue blasted Indiana State 60-35 and Illinois stomped Eastern Illinois 42-17.

* No. 19 Penn State pulled away late to down Akron 34-16. Anthony Morelli threw for 206 yards and three TDs in his first start for the Lions, who visit No. 2 Notre Dame next week. (By the way, JoePa can coach forever if he wins that game next week.)

* Michigan State slipped past Idaho 27-17. Drew Stanton was 16 of 25 passing for 225 yards and a touchdown. That spoiled the debut of Idaho coach Dennis Erickson, back on the sidelines for the Vandals.

* The Big Ten was 6-0 against the MAC in the first weekend. In addition to the OSU and PSU wins, Minnesota coach Glen Mason went back to Kent State and saw his team roll to a 44-0 win. Northwestern gutted out a 21-3 win in its first game with Pat Fitzgerald as the NU coach. Also, Wisconsin downed Bowling Green 35-14 at Cleveland to make Bret Bielema's debut a winning one and Indiana stopped Western Michigan 39-20.

And a glance at headlines nationally

* No. 2 Notre Dame rallied for a 14-10 win at Georgia Tech. Brady Quinn threw for 246 yards and rushed for a touchdown. He also converted a fourth down with 1:07 left to put the game away.

* No. 3 Texas prepped for Ohio State by blasting North Texas 56-7. Colt McCoy made his first start at quarterback, going 12 of 19 for 178 yards and three touchdowns. WR Limas Sweed caught five passes for 111 yards and two TDs in the win. Temperatures pushed the 100 degree mark in Austin for the game, which started at 11 a.m. local time.

* No. 4 Auburn steamrolled Washington State 40-14 behind 183 yards from Kenny Irons.

* No. 5 West Virginia rode Steve Slaton (203 yards, two touchdowns) to a 42-10 win over Marshall in the Coal Bowl.

* No. 6 USC buried Arkansas 50-14 as John David Booty made his first start as the Trojans QB a winning one. Booty threw for 261 yards and three TDs for the Trojans.

* No. 23 Tennessee jumped on No. 9 Cal for a 35-0 lead and cruised to the 35-18 win. Erik Ainge threw for 187 yards and four touchdowns for the Vols.

* Colorado and Duke suffered losses to Division I-AA schools on Saturday. The Dan Hawkins era at Colorado started off the wrong way with a bumbling 19-10 loss to visiting Montana State, while Richmond blanked Duke 13-0.

* Jonathan Stewart rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns as No. 21 Oregon, which had not opened against a conference opponent since 1997, beat rival Stanford 48-10.

* Heisman Watch: You can't win this in the first weekend, certainly. But most of the same names are still there. The guys on that list who stood out included Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson, OSU's Troy Smith, West Virginia's Steve Slaton, OSU's Ted Ginn Jr. and Auburn's Kenny Irons. Notre Dame's Brady Quinn kind of treaded water. Cal's Marshawn Lunch was hurt by a loss.

* My new top 15: Ohio State, Texas, USC, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Auburn, Oklahoma, LSU, Florida, Florida State, Louisville, Michigan, Iowa, Miami (Fla.), Tennessee.

* Games To Watch: We still have more football this weekend with Kentucky-Louisville tonight and Florida State-Miami (Fla.) Monday.

Next week, we have a nice schedule of games including Oregon State-Boise State (Thursday), Pittsburgh-Cincinnati (Friday), Penn State-Notre Dame, Minnesota-California, Washington-Oklahoma, Virginia Tech-North Carolina, Clemson-Boston College, Oregon-Fresno State and, oh, yes, Ohio State-Texas.

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. 2, Northern Illinois (0-1), lost to Ohio State 35-12; vs. Ohio U., Sept. 9.

Sept. 9 (8 p.m., ABC), at Texas (1-0), beat North Texas 56-7; vs. Ohio State, Sept. 9.

Sept. 16 (noon, ESPN-Plus), Cincinnati (1-0), beat Eastern Kentucky 31-0; vs. Pittsburgh, Sept. 8.

Sept. 23, Penn State (1-0), beat Akron 34-16; at Notre Dame, Sept. 9.

Sept. 30 (8 p.m., ABC or ESPN), at Iowa (1-0), beat Montana 41-7; at Syracuse, Sept. 9.

Oct. 7, Bowling Green (0-1), lost to Wisconsin 35-14; vs. Buffalo, Sept. 9

Oct. 14, at Michigan State (1-0), beat Idaho 27-17; vs. Eastern Michigan, Sept. 9.

Oct. 21, Indiana (1-0), beat Western Michigan 39-20; at Ball State, Sept. 9

Oct. 28, (3:30 p.m., ABC or ESPN) Minnesota (1-0), beat Kent State 44-0; at California, Sept. 9.

Nov. 4, at Illinois (1-0), beat Eastern Illinois 42-17; at Rutgers, Sept. 9.

Nov. 11, at Northwestern (1-0), beat Miami (Ohio) 21-3; vs. New Hampshire, Sept. 9.

Nov. 18, (3:30 p.m., ABC) Michigan (1-0), beat Vanderbilt 27-7; vs. Central Michigan, Sept. 9.

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Wisconsin (1-0, 0-0)

Michigan (1-0, 0-0)

Iowa (1-0, 0-0)

Northwestern (1-0, 0-0)

Ohio State (1-0, 0-0)

Michigan State (1-0, 0-0)

Minnesota (1-0, 0-0)

Indiana (1-0, 0-0)

Illinois (1-0, 0-0)

Penn State (1-0, 0-0)

Purdue (1-0, 0-0)

Aug. 31 Results

Northwestern 21, Miami (Ohio) 3

Minnesota 44, Kent State 0

Sept. 2 Results

Ohio State 35, Northern Illinois 12

Michigan State 27, Idaho 17

Michigan 27, Vanderbilt 7

Iowa 41, Montana 7

Purdue 60, Indiana State 35

Penn State 34, Akron 16

Wisconsin 35, Bowling Green 14

Indiana 39, Western Michigan 20

Illinois 42, Eastern Illinois 17

Sept. 9 Games

Central Michigan at Michigan, noon (ESPN Game Plan)

Illinois at Rutgers, noon (ESPN2)

Miami (Ohio) at Purdue, 1 p.m. (ESPN 360)

New Hampshire at Northwestern, 2 p.m.

Penn State at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. (NBC)

Eastern Michigan at Michigan State, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN Game Plan)

Iowa at Syracuse, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Western Michigan at Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Indiana at Ball State, 6:30 p.m.

Minnesota at California, 7 p.m. (TBS)

Ohio State at Texas, 8 p.m. (ABC)




Buckeye Sports Top Stories

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\r\n \r\n","mobileBody":"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.

* On Friday in The Buckeye Grove, I posted my Ten Pressing Questions for OSU's opener against Northern Illinois. Today, with some time to reflect on what we saw, we have some of the answers.

Smith came one short completion away from what would have been his third straight 300-yard game, so we'll just say he already seems to be in midseason form.

\"Troy did a great job putting the ball on the money for the big plays, and our guys made the catches and we got off to that good start,\" said OSU coach Jim Tressel.

Smith completed his first five pass attempts with three of those going for touchdowns. He hooked up with Ted Ginn Jr. for gains of 58 yards (touchdown) and 56 yards. He spreaded the ball around to eight different receivers. He did everything but run the ball (one carry for minus-1 yard), so his game has truly come full circle.

Imagine when he mixes that back in and he also gets to play a full game with the throttle down (i.e. not surrounded by a few backups, as he was when a number of the second-half drives faltered).

(As an aside, did anybody get a good feeling when Smith and Ginn did the bump after their first touchdown connection of the year?)

As for the backup, the only other quarterback to play was Justin Zwick. He relieved Smith in the middle of a drive and promptly turned the ball over when he fumbled a handoff to Chris Wells. Either he or Wells went the wrong way or Zwick slipped on the slick turf. Somebody even mentioned he may have been stepped on by a lineman.

The good news for Zwick was he came back on the final series and completed a pair or pass attempts to go out with a better feeling for the day.

OSU's three-headed monster at tailback came out strong on Saturday.

The lead dog, Antonio Pittman, had 19 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown. It was just a workmanlike day for Pittman, who just keeps polishing his game.

Freshman Chris Wells made his long awaited debut and it was a mixed bag. He looked devastating as he churned out 50 yards on 10 carries and also plowed ahead for his first career touchdown on an 8-yard run. Wells looks like he could be a great weapon on the goal line and in short yardage sets, even converting a fourth down with a powerful run at one point.

But he also put the ball on the ground and lost a fumble at the 2-yard line, denying himself and OSU a scoring opportunity.

\"I just told him to keep ballin', in players' terms,\" Smith said of his advice to Wells. \"I told him to stay positive. Everybody makes mistakes. It's how you bounce back and continue to play. He's going to be a great player here.\"

And sophomore Maurice Wells also made an impact. He had 15 yards on five carries and also made a nifty 30 yard catch-and-run on a short Smith pass. He has a role in this offense also, it appears.

The Buckeyes went into their opener without senior Roy Hall, sidelined with an ankle injury.

The opener showed, though, that the other receivers are going to stand up and be counted. Ginn had his best September game yet with four catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. After him, Anthony Gonzalez had four catches with a score. Brian Robiskie had three catches, Ray Small had three catches and Brian Hartline and Albert Dukes each made one grab. This was a great showing by this receiving corps. It would be great to add Hall to this mix as well, beginning next week.

\"We could have had some more points,\" Robiskie said. \"We'll look at the ones we missed. But, overall, I think we did pretty good.\"

OSU pretty much stayed away from the two-tight end sets. Rory Nicol seemed to do a good job as a blocker and he had two catches for 14 yards. I can't recall seeing any of the other tight ends factoring much in the offense.

The veteran line helped Ohio State churn out 488 yards and did it all without allowing a single quarterback sack.

\"We blitzed a few times, but they picked it up,\" said NIU coach Joe Novak. \"That hurt us. This offense is going to score a lot of points. I voted for them as No. 1 in the preseason and I'll vote for them as No. 1 again.\"

One wrinkle we saw was how OSU rotated Tim Schafer and Steve Rehring in and out every two series at left guard.

\"Every two series, they switched,\" said left guard Alex Boone. \"They're trying to figure out who is more compatible there. I think they are great at different things. It's just going to come down to who is going to play better longer.\"

Doug Datish, settling in at center, believes the line established itself with this performance.

\"We took a big step on the offensive line today,\" he said. \"The communication was one of the best things about today. We did great with that and with the communication being smooth, things are much easier for me.\"

In the jersey scrimmage, we did not see the ends make much of an impact. But, then again, they were going against OSU's offensive line.

Jay Richardson had one of his best games as a Buckeye with 2-1/2 tackles for loss and a sack. Vernon Gholston tallied two tackles for loss and 1-1/2 sacks. Lawrence Wilson had a sack and Alex Barrow added a TFL, so this was a good showing all the way around for this four-man group.

\"Every chance you get in there, you want to do good,\" Gholston said. \"When you get a win, you can say you did your job. But, again, those big plays can hurt you in the long run. That's something we need to clean up.\"

Well, this was somewhat of a mixed bag.

Freeman looked like a keeper with nine tackles in his first start. James Laurinaitis tallied four tackles, while John Kerr only had one assist. Of course, the numbers are kind of skewed because, from the third series on, OSU mixed in some of the backups, including Larry Grant (one interception), Ross Homan (three tackles) and Curtis Terry.

Some will blame the incredible performance turned in by NIU's Garrett Wolfe (171 yards rushing, five catches for 114 yards and a touchdown) on substandard linebacker play. I would say there were at least a few instances where tackles were missed and some of those were by the LBs.

But you need to give Wolfe and the NIU offense and coaches some props as well. They know what he can do and they get the ball to him in position to make plays. I thought on some of their long gainers – like his 51-yard run and 65-yard catch-and-run – NIU simply had a great play call and executed it to perfection.

\"It was the first game and we were going to be nervous, but after the first play, butterflies were out of the picture,\" Freeman said. \"My performance was OK. I just need to keep getting better each week. We just need to wrap up for next week and keep getting better as the season goes on.\"

I did not see any glaring breakdowns at cornerback for the opener. Malcolm Jenkins (three tackles) is as solid as they come, it seems. Antonio Smith and Donald Washington split time at the other corner spot and Kurt Coleman got in later. Looks like the arrangement of Smith and Washington splitting time will continue for at least another week.

Well, it was a rough opener for the kickers, although the conditions were not optimum. Usually, it's sunny and 80 degrees for the opener. Yesterday, it was blustery and 61.

Plus, the field was a little bit slick after enduring some heavy rains. The kickoffs, by and large, were good. Pettrey had four kickoffs with three touchbacks. Pretorius had a pair of kicks that were returned. I'd say they'll be sticking with Pettrey there.

Pretorius got the first call on a 51-yard field goal that came up just short. Pettrey then sprayed a 44-yarder wide right.

The hope was that one of the kickers would make a big kick – distance or key point in the game – to solidify themselves going into Texas. But that did not happen.

\"As far as kickers, we went into it with the idea that they both have opportunities to kick off and we were hoping we could earn the right for them to have an opportunity to do PATs and field goals,\" Tressel said. \"I mentioned to one of the coaches late in the game that it wasn't the ideal game for a guy being the first time out there under the gun because kicking is all about your plant foot, and there was a little slippage in your plant foot.

\"You couldn't really attack the ball maybe like you normally do and especially if you're a rookie. So we got to see a little bit, and I don't know where the balls went through on the goal posts. We don't just evaluate whether they made it or not, we want it to be straight down the middle. So we'll do all those evaluations. I thought they kicked off pretty well, though.\"

I thought Ohio State had some players make some smashing debuts on Saturday. Other than the fumble, Chris Wells branded himself as a future star at tailback. Grant gave OSU a huge lift with his interception. Hartline had a 32-yard catch on his first play. Likewise, Homan made the tackle on his first play as a Buckeye.

\"You try to simulate it in your mind a few days beforehand, so you don't go out there and get all worked up,\" Homan said. \"That's what I did. I thought I was pretty calm about it.\"

You had to like a lot about what you saw with this opener. The Smith-to-Ginn combination could push for some school-record numbers, perhaps, by the end of the year.

This was a good starting point for the defense. There were some missed assignments and plenty of things to teach off of. Texas will find some ways to attack the defense. But you have to like the way the defensive ends attacked the pocket and harassed NIU's Phil Horvath. If they can do the same to Texas' Colt McCoy (and others the rest of the year), the Buckeyes will have a chance.

My guess is that NIU will score a lot of points this season, so there was no disgrace in the yardage totals the Huskies accumulated. Plus, from the third series on, OSU substituted liberally.

Yes, this is a championship-caliber team. But they'll need to prove it on the field week after week, beginning with next Saturday at Texas.

\"We took a step,\" Tressel said. \" Now, the next step is higher. We understand that. But we took a step.''

* Grant's interception probably slammed the door shut on NIU. The Buckeyes already had a 21-0 lead, but NIU was knocking on the door at the OSU 11 after the 65-yard screen pass from Horvath to Wolfe.

\"You always need to make a big play after they have a big play like that,\" said safety Brandon Mitchell. \"That was the kind of play a defense needs to pick you up.\"

Grant picked off the pass in the right flat and returned it 49 yards before Horvath cut him off and he slipped to the ground.

\"I'm sure some of the guys are going to be on Larry for running out of gas there,\" Tressel joked. \"I'm not sure who caught him, but I thought it was the left tackle.\"

Grant was asked if that play would solidify his spot in the linebacker rotation.

\"I still feel like I have more to do,\" Grant said. \"I'm just trying to learn everything now and get everything down to a T.\"

Grant was also asked how it felt to play in front of more than 103,000 people after spending the last year at City College of San Francisco.

\"The most I ever played in front of at CCSF was probably 1,000,\" he said. \"It was nothing like this.\"

* It is apparent Ohio State would have a hard time fielding a team without Cleveland. Smith, Ginn, Gonzalez, Boone, Robiskie, Hall, safety Jamario O'Neal and defensive tackle David Patterson are all from Cleveland. Akron chimes in as well with Pittman and Chris Wells.

\"I have Troy and Teddy and Beanie now,\" said Boone, a Lakewood St. Edward graduate. \"It's great. We all just try to represent for Cleveland. I call my friends back home after the game, but it's fun playing with guys I used to watch in Cleveland.\"

* I've seen one game with the timing changes and I am non-plussed. Great, we saw an Ohio State game end in two hours, 51 minutes. The teams combined for 126 plays. Tressel noted that the average game last year was 141 plays.

I'm not sure shorter and less plays is better.

The biggest change is winding the clock at the start of each new possession. That probably took three or four minutes out of the game right there. They are also starting the clock on kicks when the ball is kick instead of when it is returned.

I have a solution that may be more palatable, perhaps.

Keep these rules as they are, but also institute a two- or three-minute warning (like the NFL) at the end of each half. That would give you one more stoppage that the networks can brand and sell. After that warning is made to both benches, the timing rules would revert to the old system – the clock would start only when kickoffs are returned and only when the ball is snapped on first down of a new series.

This is similar to how the NFL handles the end of each half by reverting to the old timing rules.

This one change might help college football split the difference and get a few more plays in there. Plus, it may set up more dramatic finishes.

* No. 14 Michigan struggled with Vanderbilt for three quarters before pulling away for the 27-7 win. The UM defense got after the Commodores, allowing Vandy just 171 yards. Mike Hart had 146 yards for the new-look Wolverines, who shook up their coaching staff in the off-season.

* No. 16 Iowa had no problem with Division I-AA Montana, rolling to a 41-7 win as Drew Tate threw for 223 yards and three TDs. In other Big Ten/I-AA games, Purdue blasted Indiana State 60-35 and Illinois stomped Eastern Illinois 42-17.

* No. 19 Penn State pulled away late to down Akron 34-16. Anthony Morelli threw for 206 yards and three TDs in his first start for the Lions, who visit No. 2 Notre Dame next week. (By the way, JoePa can coach forever if he wins that game next week.)

* Michigan State slipped past Idaho 27-17. Drew Stanton was 16 of 25 passing for 225 yards and a touchdown. That spoiled the debut of Idaho coach Dennis Erickson, back on the sidelines for the Vandals.

* The Big Ten was 6-0 against the MAC in the first weekend. In addition to the OSU and PSU wins, Minnesota coach Glen Mason went back to Kent State and saw his team roll to a 44-0 win. Northwestern gutted out a 21-3 win in its first game with Pat Fitzgerald as the NU coach. Also, Wisconsin downed Bowling Green 35-14 at Cleveland to make Bret Bielema's debut a winning one and Indiana stopped Western Michigan 39-20.

* No. 2 Notre Dame rallied for a 14-10 win at Georgia Tech. Brady Quinn threw for 246 yards and rushed for a touchdown. He also converted a fourth down with 1:07 left to put the game away.

* No. 3 Texas prepped for Ohio State by blasting North Texas 56-7. Colt McCoy made his first start at quarterback, going 12 of 19 for 178 yards and three touchdowns. WR Limas Sweed caught five passes for 111 yards and two TDs in the win. Temperatures pushed the 100 degree mark in Austin for the game, which started at 11 a.m. local time.

* No. 4 Auburn steamrolled Washington State 40-14 behind 183 yards from Kenny Irons.

* No. 5 West Virginia rode Steve Slaton (203 yards, two touchdowns) to a 42-10 win over Marshall in the Coal Bowl.

* No. 6 USC buried Arkansas 50-14 as John David Booty made his first start as the Trojans QB a winning one. Booty threw for 261 yards and three TDs for the Trojans.

* No. 23 Tennessee jumped on No. 9 Cal for a 35-0 lead and cruised to the 35-18 win. Erik Ainge threw for 187 yards and four touchdowns for the Vols.

* Colorado and Duke suffered losses to Division I-AA schools on Saturday. The Dan Hawkins era at Colorado started off the wrong way with a bumbling 19-10 loss to visiting Montana State, while Richmond blanked Duke 13-0.

* Jonathan Stewart rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns as No. 21 Oregon, which had not opened against a conference opponent since 1997, beat rival Stanford 48-10.

You can't win this in the first weekend, certainly. But most of the same names are still there. The guys on that list who stood out included Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson, OSU's Troy Smith, West Virginia's Steve Slaton, OSU's Ted Ginn Jr. and Auburn's Kenny Irons. Notre Dame's Brady Quinn kind of treaded water. Cal's Marshawn Lunch was hurt by a loss.

Ohio State, Texas, USC, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Auburn, Oklahoma, LSU, Florida, Florida State, Louisville, Michigan, Iowa, Miami (Fla.), Tennessee.

We still have more football this weekend with Kentucky-Louisville tonight and Florida State-Miami (Fla.) Monday.

Next week, we have a nice schedule of games including Oregon State-Boise State (Thursday), Pittsburgh-Cincinnati (Friday), Penn State-Notre Dame, Minnesota-California, Washington-Oklahoma, Virginia Tech-North Carolina, Clemson-Boston College, Oregon-Fresno State and, oh, yes, Ohio State-Texas.

Sept. 2, Northern Illinois (0-1), lost to Ohio State 35-12; vs. Ohio U., Sept. 9.

Sept. 9 (8 p.m., ABC), at Texas (1-0), beat North Texas 56-7; vs. Ohio State, Sept. 9.

Sept. 16 (noon, ESPN-Plus), Cincinnati (1-0), beat Eastern Kentucky 31-0; vs. Pittsburgh, Sept. 8.

Sept. 23, Penn State (1-0), beat Akron 34-16; at Notre Dame, Sept. 9.

Sept. 30 (8 p.m., ABC or ESPN), at Iowa (1-0), beat Montana 41-7; at Syracuse, Sept. 9.

Oct. 7, Bowling Green (0-1), lost to Wisconsin 35-14; vs. Buffalo, Sept. 9

Oct. 14, at Michigan State (1-0), beat Idaho 27-17; vs. Eastern Michigan, Sept. 9.

Oct. 21, Indiana (1-0), beat Western Michigan 39-20; at Ball State, Sept. 9

Oct. 28, (3:30 p.m., ABC or ESPN) Minnesota (1-0), beat Kent State 44-0; at California, Sept. 9.

Nov. 4, at Illinois (1-0), beat Eastern Illinois 42-17; at Rutgers, Sept. 9.

Nov. 11, at Northwestern (1-0), beat Miami (Ohio) 21-3; vs. New Hampshire, Sept. 9.

Nov. 18, (3:30 p.m., ABC) Michigan (1-0), beat Vanderbilt 27-7; vs. Central Michigan, Sept. 9.

Wisconsin (1-0, 0-0)

Michigan (1-0, 0-0)

Iowa (1-0, 0-0)

Northwestern (1-0, 0-0)

Ohio State (1-0, 0-0)

Michigan State (1-0, 0-0)

Minnesota (1-0, 0-0)

Indiana (1-0, 0-0)

Illinois (1-0, 0-0)

Penn State (1-0, 0-0)

Purdue (1-0, 0-0)

Northwestern 21, Miami (Ohio) 3

Minnesota 44, Kent State 0

Ohio State 35, Northern Illinois 12

Michigan State 27, Idaho 17

Michigan 27, Vanderbilt 7

Iowa 41, Montana 7

Purdue 60, Indiana State 35

Penn State 34, Akron 16

Wisconsin 35, Bowling Green 14

Indiana 39, Western Michigan 20

Illinois 42, Eastern Illinois 17

Central Michigan at Michigan, noon (ESPN Game Plan)

Illinois at Rutgers, noon (ESPN2)

Miami (Ohio) at Purdue, 1 p.m. (ESPN 360)

New Hampshire at Northwestern, 2 p.m.

Penn State at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. (NBC)

Eastern Michigan at Michigan State, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN Game Plan)

Iowa at Syracuse, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Western Michigan at Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Indiana at Ball State, 6:30 p.m.

Minnesota at California, 7 p.m. (TBS)

Ohio State at Texas, 8 p.m. (ABC)

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