5 Questions: New Mexico State at Ohio State

On the docket this week: How will the visitors react to the Ohio Stadium crowd, will a two-quarterback system give the Buckeyes problems, can Ohio State maintain its focus, what role might special teams play and how healthy are the Buckeyes?

1. Can New Mexico State handle the Ohio Stadium atmosphere and crowd?

The 3-5 Aggies travel east to Ohio to play in front of a crowd that is expected to be almost three times bigger than the largest audience of the season to see New Mexico State so far this season.

They defeated rival New Mexico 20-17 in front of 35,248 on Sept. 26, but one wonders if that compares much to what awaits them this weekend.

Ohio State tight end Jake Ballard said he expects New Mexico State to enter with a mindset to shock the world with this win, "But the environment might shock them, too. Every crowd is going to be hostile, especially at the ‘Shoe with our students and our fans."

2. Will the Buckeyes keep their focus and continue improving this week?

Everyone said the right things this week in terms of respecting their opponent, but the fact remains this Ohio State squad is young and admitted to just two weeks ago overlooking a Big Ten team with a worse record than New Mexico State.

"Coach Tress says you can always write a book about losing a game and write a sentence on winning a game," Ballard said. "We learned a lot from losing to Purdue, and we're not going to let it happen again."

What was that lesson?

"Never underestimate any team," Ballard said. "We maybe looked past Purdue. Maybe not all of us came to play and Purdue beat us."

3. Can New Mexico State keep the Ohio State defense off balance with its two quarterbacks?

Jeff Fleming has played in every game while Trevor Walls has seen action in seven of them, and their total pass attempts are almost even. Fleming has completed 52 of 99 passes for 492 yards with six interceptions, while Walls is 45 for 87 for 339 yards and five picks. Both have a pair of touchdown tosses.

"Two different quarterbacks, two different styles," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "So our defense has got to be on task as to what needs to be the situation and how we go after them, how we try to affect those quarterbacks."

Walls is more of a drop-back passer while Fleming has run for 140 yards on the year.

Ohio State defensive lineman Doug Worthington said facing a two-quarterback system will be challenging and they will have to be carful to identify who is in the game.

4. Which team will get the better of special teams?

After the Oct. 17 upset loss at Purdue, Tressel highlighted how the kickoff team's performance mirrored the success of the kickoff team as the Boilermakers scored both times the Buckeyes failed to meet their goal of making the stop inside the 25-yard line.

Ohio State also muffed a punt in that game, but last week benefitted from a turnover in the kicking game during a 38-7 win over Minnesota.

Could any such plays swing momentum this week?

"Our kickoff coverage team did a good job and we did a good job with our hang time on our punts and so forth, and we're going to need to do the same thing from a special teams standpoint this week because I think both their kickoff returner, (Tonny Glynn) and (Marcus Anderson) back there on punts, are guys that can change a game," Tressel said this week. "They're guys that can give you a burst when you might need it the most. So most of our discussions begin with the thing that the team does as a whole and the staff does as a will whole and that's the special teams."

5. How healthy will the Buckeyes be at and after game time?

Ohio State has injury concerns at tailback and on both the offensive and defensive lines as October winds down.

The Buckeyes might have to go into the game Saturday relying on freshmen running backs Jordan Hall and Jermil Martin while Dan Herron (ankle) and Brandon Saine (concussion) continue recovering from injuries.

Up front on offense, Jim Cordle and Andrew Miller continue to get healthier while Justin Boren was seen in a yellow jersey earlier this week and Michael Brewster has been fighting a bad ankle. Mike Adams, the starting left tackle for four games, had surgery and is out this week but could return by the end of the season.

Defensively, the Buckeyes have been without nose guard Dexter Larimore, but he is getting closer to being available.

Ohio State can use all those players heading into a tough November that will determine if the Buckeyes win a share of a fifth Big Ten title in a row, and they don't want to get any more banged up in this contest.

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