The Five Questions: OSU-Youngstown State

Every week of the season highlights five of the most pressing topics facing the Buckeyes in their next football contest, a feature we call simply, The Five Questions. Check back this weekend to see how they panned out.

1. How is the new playing surface?

Ohio State will go nearly two decades between playing home games on a synthetic surface. That comes to an end Saturday, but this is not that nasty old AstroTurf that served as the playing surface from 1970-89. Instead FieldTurf has replaced the natural grass of the past 17 seasons.

The Buckeyes have been on the new Ohio Stadium field for a few functions, but this will be the official game debut.

"It feels hard, kind of, compared to the two turf fields we've got (at the WHAC)," tight end Rory Nicol said. "It's a little bit faster. It's gonna be hot though, man. When we broke camp Friday, we were standing there having our feet burning up through your shoes."

Both Nicol and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins expect the new field to play fast, and they agreed they are looking forward to having a more consistent surface than the worn-out grass field provided in 2006.

"I think one of the greatest things about it is that you know you're going to have a solid surface all year, no matter what the elements can be," Nicol said. "Last year was kind of a nightmare in that sense."

2. What will the second offensive line look like?

A trio of scholarship offensive linemen relegated to the sidelines for most of preseason camp had many across Buckeye Nation fretting the depth of the offensive line.

Coaches said they would like to have more depth, but they expressed happiness with the way the players who were available responded to getting extra work.

In fact, by the end of practice offensive line coach Jim Bollman said he might have found five guys to fill out a second unit.

Last year starters like Kirk Barton said the break they got when the second unit went in left them as fresh as if they had a second halftime, and with such heat pervading central Ohio this year, there is no doubt Barton and Co. would welcome another rest.

No better team to get a second unit's feet wet than one from Division I-AA. The Buckeyes might not find out exactly what they have, but lack of success would tell them what they don't have.

3. How will the debuts go?

More than a dozen Buckeyes figure to get their first action at Ohio Stadium with a packed house. Jenkins remembered his debut as a true freshman against Miami (Ohio) in 2005.

"The first series I was in (in the fourth quarter), it was kind of a shock, but after that it was just like normal," he said. "When you first get out there it's like, ‘Oh, that's a lot of people. But the kickoff goes off you know you've got to play and it's just like high school." Nicol said he has not tried to warn any of the young'uns about what to expect.

"I haven't said anything because when I was in that situation, I didn't want anybody to talk to me. I was so nervous," Nicol said.

Nerves begin to creep up on Friday night when the team has checked into the Blackwell hotel on campus.

"We're all going to be nervous," Nicol said. "If you're not nervous, I don't know that you're necessarily ready to play. But it's part of it, you know?"

4. What about the ever-present overlook factor?

Tressel compared the likelihood of an Ohio State blowout to that of a blizzard befalling the shores of the Olentangy River this weekend.

While that might be overstating it, he and his players were adamant that they would take the Penguins seriously.

"I don't worry about that at all," Tressel said of taking YSU lightly. "I think (my players) have a lot of respect. They live around here – they know what Youngstown State has accomplished."

Even if it is hard to imagine Youngstown State coming out on top in regards to the final score, Tressel said a different competition would spur on his players.

"We've got some people fighting for their lives for positions, for playing time, so I don't think (about) that the issue of we haven't played them before, they're in a different division, all that stuff."

As far as Nicol is concerned, history should be a guide.

"It doesn't matter. I always look at it like the teams that we're supposed to smash are the teams that play the best game of their life," he said, citing specifically a 24-21 squeaker over Marshall in 2004.

"These teams are going to come out here and play their best game, so the second you even think that you can overlook somebody, you're dead wrong," he added.

And when the favorite starts to get a big head, the combination can be deadly.

"I think oftentimes it's human tendency to get complacent in life, not necessarily just football," Nicol said. "That's one of the issues. I certainly just hope that's not the case this Saturday. I think we've got a focused team right now. We know they've got a great coach and great ties back to this university in Tressel and Bollman, so this is going to be the real deal."

5. So you're saying there's a chance?

Or term it, "Will this game work as mouthwash for Ohio State's last time out?"

Despite human nature being what it is, Youngstown State may have picked the wrong year to be their big brother's season-opening opposition, because never before has a Jim Tressel-coach Ohio State team entered a year having looked so bad its last time out.

"The last time we came together as a team, we weren't ready to play. That's a fact," Nicol said.

Now it is finally time to lineup against a team with a different logo on its helmet for the first time, and that alone figures to be more motivation even than usual.

Pity the Penguins.

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