Imperfect Game May Turn Out Perfectly

In what had been overly hyped as a return match of the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State pretty much had its way Sept. 11 with Miami (Fla.), rolling up more than 400 yards of total offense, creating four turnovers and cruising to a 36-24 victory.

Trouble was that the victory could have/should have been by a much, much wider margin.

The OSU offense that was so effective in piling up yardage in the middle of the field against a supposedly tenacious Hurricanes defense bogged down several times in the red zone and had to settle for a school record-tying five field goals in six tries from senior kicker Devin Barclay.

Worse yet, the Buckeyes’ special teams – often the strength of any Jim Tressel team – has proved to be the team’s weakest link. And that’s being generous. To put it bluntly, after only two games of the 2010 season Ohio State’s kick coverage stinks. Miami returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the contest, accounting for more than half of its points and keeping the Hurricanes in the game.

Take away the special-teams breakdowns and turn half of the field-goal attempts into touchdowns and you get Ohio State stomping a 51-10 hole into their talkative rivals from South Beach.

Yet for all of the scarlet and gray warts that were exposed, the game may have been the perfect contest in the eyes of Tressel. It was a good, sound victory over the 12th-ranked team in the nation, a win that kept Ohio State solidly in the No. 2 spot in the polls and hopefully silenced a few more of the team’s critics. It was also a mistake-riddled performance filled with enough glaring errors to keep the team fully attentive as it enters the soft part of the 2010 schedule.

There should be no more lingering doubt – at least not within the Buckeye Nation – that this team is a legitimate national championship contender. You could make the argument that Miami was overrated, but even if that turns out to be the case, one thing not up for conjecture is the way Ohio State took care of business.

That is what seems to set this team apart from those of the past couple of seasons. Last year, for example, the Buckeyes had a talent-laden roster and still lost games they should have won to USC and Purdue, teams that combined to go a pedestrian 14-11 in 2009. Physical mistakes and the inability to stay mentally focused after those mistakes hurt the team as much as anything the Trojans or Boilermakers did in those games.

Then came an epiphany of sorts in the Rose Bowl against Oregon, another big game most national pundits wrongly figured the Buckeyes would lose.

The explosive Ducks took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched for a touchdown that gave them a 17-16 lead. In the past, that was about the point in a meaningful game when the throats of the Ohio State players would have started to tighten. Instead, the Buckeyes responded with a workmanlike drive that netted a 38-yard Barclay field goal and a 19-17 advantage.

The OSU defense followed by creating a turnover on the next series and held the vaunted Oregon offense to just one first down to show for its last four possessions.

Fast-forward nine months and the Buckeyes found themselves behind Miami by a 10-3 margin early in the second quarter. No panic, no second-guessing, no scratchy throats. Just an emphatic two-play, 80-yard touchdown response that began to suck the life out of the Hurricanes.

You can go back to last November and find that the Buckeyes have now vanquished four top-15 opponents – No. 10 Penn State, No. 13 Iowa, No. 7 Oregon and No. 12 Miami – over their last six games.

It is often said that one of the hardest things in sports is learning how to win. After enduring some tough, tough lessons, it appears the Buckeyes have learned well.

OSU-OHIO TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Ohio University are squaring off for only the seventh time in history. Four of the previous six meetings occurred between 1899 and 1902 while the series resumed in 1999 with a 40-16 win by the Buckeyes. The most recent meeting was in 2008 and resulted in a 25-14 win for OSU.

** That 2008 game marked the 800th victory in Ohio State program history. Should Ohio be able to upset the Buckeyes tomorrow, it would mark the 500th victory in Bobcats football history.

** The game could set another new record for the Bobcats. When last they visited Ohio Stadium in 2008, the crowd of 105,002 was the largest road crowd in Ohio program history.

** After last week’s victory over Miami (Fla.), Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is now 32-4 with the Buckeyes against regular-season nonconference opponents. His record with the Buckeyes is 59-8 against unranked competition and he is now 34-4 in September.

** Ohio head coach Frank Solich is his sixth season with the Bobcats after spending six at his alma mater Nebraska from 1998-2003. His overall career record is 91-51 that includes a 33-32 mark in Athens.

** Tressel is 3-0 lifetime against Ohio. That includes victories in 1990 and 1992 when he was head coach at Youngstown State. Against teams currently in the Mid-American Conference, Tressel is 31-14-1 for his career. In addition to the perfect record against the Bobcats, he is 9-2-1 vs. Akron, 6-3 vs. Kent State, 4-2 vs. Buffalo, 3-1 against Bowling Green, 1-0 vs. Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois and Toledo, 1-1 against Central Michigan and Western Michigan, and 1-4 vs. Eastern Michigan.

** Solich is 0-1 lifetime against Ohio State and 5-4 overall against Big Ten teams. In addition to his record against the Buckeyes, Solich is 2-0 vs. Iowa, 1-0 against Illinois, 1-1 vs. Penn State and 1-2 against Northwestern.

** The Buckeyes own a 177-48-5 all-time record against Ohio schools and are 26-1 against current members of the Mid-American Conference. The only blemish on that record against the MAC is a 12-6 loss to Akron in a game played Sept. 15, 1894, and the Ohio State Fair.

** OSU hasn’t lost to an Ohio school since a 7-6 defeat to Oberlin in 1921. The closest any instate rival has come since was a 7-7 tie achieved by Wooster in 1924.

** The Bobcats are 6-32-1 all-time against Big Ten schools and that includes losses in 15 of their last 16 tries. Since 1974, the only time Ohio has tasted victory against a Big Ten opponent was a 23-17 win at Minnesota in 2000.

** Over the past two decades, Ohio hasn’t fared very well against ranked teams. In fact, the Bobcats are 0-14 since 1990 against ranked teams.

** How bad has kick coverage gotten for Ohio State. The Buckeyes rank 113th of 120 Division I-A teams in kickoff yardage defense, 109th in punt return yardage defense and 110th in net punting.

** Unfortunately, Ohio has proven quite proficient with kick returns in the recent past. They returned three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns last season and also blocked a punt that was smothered in the end zone for another score. All three punt returns were handled by senior receiver LaVon Brazill, who set a school record by taking one back 91 yards against Northern Illinois. Brazill has returned four punts for touchdowns during his career.

** Look for Ohio State to try and smother the Ohio running attack. The Bobcats are 5-21 under Solich when they are held under 100 yards on the ground.

** Since the beginning of the 2009 season, the Bobcats have scored 10 touchdowns on either defense or special teams. That includes a 38-yard return on a fumble recovery by senior cornerback Julian Posey in the season opener against Wofford. Posey is the older brother of Ohio State receiver DeVier Posey.

** Solich’s 33 victories with Ohio tie him with Jim Grobe (1995-2000) for the fourth highest total in program history. Don Peden (1924-46) tops the list with 121 victories followed by Bill Hess (108, 1958-77) and Carroll Widdoes (42, 1949-57). Widdoes, of course, succeeded the legendary Paul Brown as head coach at Ohio State and he fashioned a 16-2 mark with the Buckeyes in 1944 and ’45.

** With seven takeaways and no turnovers of their own so far this season, the Buckeyes are the No. 1 team in the nation at plus-7 in turnover margin.

** On the flip side of that coin is kick coverage, Going back to last year’s overtime victory over Iowa, the Buckeyes have allowed 801 kick return yards in their last five games. That includes surrendering an average of 16.4 yards on seven punt returns and 29.8 yards on 23 kickoff returns. To coin a phrase, that just ain’t getting it done.

** Cameron Heyward’s 80-yard interception return established a new family record. The longest play ever turned in by his father, the late Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, was a 75-yard pass reception in 1986 while he was a college star at Pittsburgh. The longest run of Ironhead’s NFL career was 73-yard touchdown romp as a New Orleans Saints rookie in 1988.

** OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor is nearing some pretty elite company. With 5,425 yards of total offense, he needs only 165 more to pass Archie Griffin (5,589, 1972-75) for eighth on the school’s career list in that category. Art Schlichter (1978-81) is the all-time leader in OSU history with 8,850.

** Pryor needs to throw for only 115 yards tomorrow to become the 10th quarterback in school history to amass 4,000 career passing yards. Schlichter also owns that record with 7,547.

** Pryor also ranks third among Ohio State quarterbacks in career rushing yardage with 1,540. He trails only Cornelius Greene (2,066, 1972-75) and Rex Kern (1,714, 1968-70).

** Ohio quarterback Boo Jackson is also scaling several career lists at his school. His 60.3 percent completion rate is currently the best in program history while his 21 touchdown passes are tied for fourth all-time. Jackson is also tied for eighth in completions with 226 and he ranks ninth in passing yards with 2,803.

** DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher are close to denting OSU’s all-time top 25 in receiving yardage. Chris Sanders (1992-94) currently occupies the No. 25 spot with 1,120 yards with Posey (1,091) and Sanzenbacher (1,081) nipping at his heels.

** Posey (79) and Sanzenbacher (75) are also closing in on 100 receptions for their careers. Only 13 players in program history have ever hit the century mark in career catches, led by David Boston (1996-98) with 191.

** By rushing for only 181 yards against Miami last week, the Buckeyes ended a streak of six consecutive regular-season games in which they had rushed for 200 or more yards.

** Ohio State will make its second Big Ten Network appearance of the young season when it takes on Ohio. Eric Collins will provide play-by-play, Chris Martin will have the color commentary and Charrisa Thompson will report from the sidelines. Kickoff is set for shortly after noon Eastern.

** If you are not near a TV set, the game will be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channel 113 and XM channel 104.

** Next week, Ohio State will host another MAC team when Eastern Michigan makes its first-ever trip to the Horseshoe. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. ET and the game will be televised by ABC and ESPN using the reverse mirror effect.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Forty-four years ago today, Joe Paterno made his debut as head coach at Penn State. On Sept. 17, 1966, Paterno led the Nittany Lions to a 15-7 victory over Maryland in Happy Valley. The Terrapins, coached by Lou Saban, made a last-ditch effort to ruin Paterno’s debut but backup quarterback Phil Petry threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter. That victory was JoePa’s first of a Division I-A record 395 and counting.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Sept. 13, 1980, Louisiana-Lafayette managed to overcome an NCAA record-tying five lost fumbles in a single quarter to beat East Carolina, 27-21; on Sept. 14, 1991, San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk set an NCAA single-game record for freshmen by rushing for seven touchdowns during his team’s 55-34 win over Pacific; on Sept. 18, 1965, UTEP quarterback Billy Stevens established a new NCAA record for most total yards gained in a debut game with 483 yards in a 61-15 rout of North Texas; on Sept. 19, 1952, Duke took a 20-7 win over South Carolina in the inaugural game of the Atlantic Coast Conference; and Sept. 20, 1986, unranked Miami (Ohio) stunned eighth-ranked LSU, 21-12, in Baton Rouge. The Tigers committed seven turnovers in the game and had a punt blocked as Miami pushed its all-time record against SEC teams to an impressive 8-0-1.

** One other milestone moment occurring this week in college football history: On Sept. 15, 1973, Ohio State tailback Archie Griffin began his NCAA record streak of 31 consecutive games of rushing for 100 yards or more. Griffin had 129 yards as the Buckeyes rolled to a 56-7 victory over Minnesota in Ohio Stadium.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson ran for 258 yards and added 244 passing yards in his team’s 28-24 win over Notre Dame to become only the ninth quarterback in NCAA history to run and throw for 200 or more yards in the same game. The only other Big Ten quarterback to accomplish the feat was Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El, who ran for 210 yards and threw for 263 in his team’s 51-43 win over Minnesota in 2000.

** After two games, Robinson is the nation’s leading rusher with 455 yards, good for an average of 227.5 yards per game. The Michigan sophomore QB also leads the nation with 57 carries.

** The Big Ten also has the nation’s top quarterback in terms of pass efficiency. Northwestern junior QB Dan Persa ranks No. 1 with a lofty 212.1 rating.

** The nation’s top field goal kicker also resides in the Big Ten. Ohio State senior Devin Barclay has six three-pointers and ties him with Michael Taylor of Troy and Brandon McManus of Temple for most field goals so far this season.

** Last season, I got some hate mail from Alabama fans when I dared suggest Trent Richardson was a better running back than Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. I wonder what the ’Bama fans think now after Richardson has been in the cover of Sports Illustrated and ran for 144 yards in last week’s 24-3 win over Penn State.

** Richardson’s output marked the first time an opposing running back had cracked the century mark against the Nittany Lions in 17 games.

** Congratulations to Stanford. Its 35-0 win over UCLA marked the program’s first win at the Rose Bowl since 1996, its first road shutout since 1974 and its first shutout of the Bruins since 1941.

** How meaningless is time of possession? Judge for yourself. Minnesota leads the nation with an average of nearly 38½ minutes of possession in its two games. That is the same Minnesota team that dropped a 41-38 decision last week at home to Division I-AA South Dakota.

** Is the Pac-10 suddenly falling in love with defense? The usually offensive-minded conference currently boasts four teams among the nation’s top 11 in total defense. California is No. 1 followed by Arizona at No. 3, Stanford at No. 7 and Oregon at No. 11.

** The Labor Day evening game between Boise State and Virginia Tech on ESPN drew 9.89 million viewers, making it the second most-viewed college football game in network history. The most-viewed ESPN college football telecast was the USC-Ohio State game in 2009.

** Speaking of ESPN, the self-proclaimed worldwide leader recently announced it would not allow college football sideline reporter Jenn Brown to appear in an advertising campaign for Icehouse beer. According to an ESPN spokesman, the reason Brown can’t sell beer and nearly every other talking head on the network can hawk a variety of products is because Brown is a reporter who reports on college football and basketball and not a “personality.” Really? Someone should tell ESPN that its new “reporter” is a former model and host of such hard-hitting TV news shows as “The Wild Side” and “Bikini Destinations” not to mention the CMT reality show “I Want To Look Like a High School Cheerleader Again.” C’mon, ESPN. Who’s kidding who?

FEARLESS FORECAST

Things are getting monotonous here at the ol’ Forecast. For the second week in a row, we were 9-1 straight up which pushed the SU picks to 18-2 for the young season. It’s doubtful we can stay at 90 percent for the entire year, so we’ll crow while we can.

Against the spread, we got off to a rocky start when West Virginia needed a furious comeback to nip instate little brother Marshall in overtime. But we rebounded nicely on Saturday and finished with a very nice 7-3 week. That puts us at 11-7-2 ATS in the early going.

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Massachusetts at No. 20 Michigan: Michigan QB Denard Robinson is the talk of college football and rightfully so. The sophomore who doesn’t like to tie his shoelaces set a new school for total yardage in the season opener against Connecticut and then shattered that mark last Saturday with 502 in the Wolverines’ 27-24 win at Notre Dame. Can Robinson keep up his frenetic pace? He may have the biggest test to date this week. Although the Minutemen are in Division I-AA, they are 2-0 and are No. 16 in this week’s Football Championship Subdivision rankings. Still, UMass is 0-4 all-time against ranked I-A teams and Michigan certainly is on alert after what happened against Appalachian State three years ago … Michigan 37, Massachusetts 31. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Kent State at No. 22 Penn State: After getting their tails kicked last week by top-ranked Alabama, the Nittany Lions limp home for a get-well game. They haven’t lost a nonconference game at home since 2003 while the Golden Flashes have lost four straight to ranked Big Ten teams by an average of 36.5 points. This would be a good game for tailback Evan Royster to get untracked. JoePa’s bunch is going to need big things from Royster if they’re going to make any noise in the Big Ten this year, and so far the running back has only 72 yards and no touchdowns to show for his first two games. Things won’t get any easier for Royster this week. The Flashes boast the nation’s No. 1 rush defense. Unfortunately for the Flashes, they also rank 112th in rush offense … Penn State 28, Kent State 7. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

No. 1 Alabama at Duke: Nick Saban has a problem most coaches would like. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram makes his 2010 debut this week after knee surgery sidelined him for the Tide’s first two games. Saban’s problem? Dividing the carries between Ingram and Trent Richardson, who has led the Alabama offense with 210 yards and three touchdowns these past two weeks. In addition to Ingram, Saban also gets defensive star Marcell Dareus back from suspension this week. That’s bad news for Duke, whose porous defense puts pressure on the offense to outscore the opponent. If that approach didn’t work last week when the Blue Devils lost a 54-48 shootout with Wake Forest, it’s unlikely to work this week for the Dookies who are 0-10 all-time when playing No. 1 teams … Alabama 41, Duke 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Arizona State at No. 11 Wisconsin: If you wondered whatever happened to former Michigan quarterback Steven Threet, wonder no more. Threet transferred to Arizona State and leads the Sun Devils into Camp Randall Stadium this weekend. U-M was only 2-8 when Threet was the starter in 2008, but one of those wins was a 29-27 shocker over the then-No. 9 Badgers. He remains the dual-threat quarterback he was with the Wolverines with a much better supporting cast now. He is also throwing the ball with more authority, racking up 630 yards and five touchdowns during his team’s 2-0 start. Before you start thinking upset, though, be advised that ASU’s two victories to begin the season were against I-AA opponents and the Badgers are working on a 25-game winning streak over unranked opposition in Camp Randall … Wisconsin 31, Arizona State 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

No. 18 USC at Minnesota: If someone says they have either of these teams figured out, they’re lying. USC has run hot and cold on both offense and defense so far this season, and the Golden Gophers allowed I-AA South Dakota to outscore them – at home – last week in a 41-38 loss. The Trojans are about as undisciplined as any team could be (24 penalties for 240 yards) and still be undefeated, but they still have plenty of star power. Sophomore QB Matt Barkley has completed 65.5 percent of his attempts so far for 459 yards, seven TDs and no picks, and he should be the difference-maker. Goldy can’t stop anyone through the air as evidenced last week when South Dakota piled up 352 passing yards … USC 38, Minnesota 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 8 Nebraska at Washington: Huskies quarterback Jake Locker can take a huge step toward legitimizing his Heisman Trophy candidacy this week. Trouble is Locker is facing one of the toughest defenses college football has to offer. The Cornhuskers have made things particularly difficult for opposing quarterbacks recently, including last year’s Big 12 championship game when they intercepted Heisman runner-up Colt McCoy three times and sacked the Texas QB nine times. And just in case you thought Nebraska’s defense would drop a few notches without star Ndamukong Suh, think again. The Black Shirts grabbed five interceptions last week during a 38-17 win over Idaho. Locker looks he’s in for a long day … Nebraska 31, Washington 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Baylor at No. 4 TCU: With all of the talk about Boise State and the nation championship race, it seems that everyone has forgotten about TCU. The Horned Frogs are still the No. 4 team in the country, have outscored their first two opponents by an 82-28 margin, and own a victory over Pac-10 member Oregon State. This week, they take on Baylor from the Big 12 in search of another win over a BCS conference member. These two Texas rivals have plenty of history, playing one another 105 times over the years. The series is deadlocked at 49-49-7 even though the Frogs have gotten the better of things in recent years. The Bears haven’t had a winning season since 1995 and they haven’t beaten a top-five team since 1985 … TCU 42, Baylor 17. (4:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 3 Boise State at Wyoming: Who was the biggest loser last week in college football? Boise State and the Broncos didn’t even play. Boise is trying to hang onto its lofty No. 3 ranking in the polls and thought a signature win over then-No. 10 Virginia Tech would do the trick. Then the Hokies lost to I-AA James Madison and the Broncos’ baby-soft schedule somehow got softer. This week, the cupcakes keep coming although the Cowboys seem to always give Boise fits. Back in 2006, the last time the Broncos visited Laramie, they barely escaped with a 17-10 win and that was followed by a 24-14 victory in Boise a year later. The thin air in Laramie (elevation: 7,165 feet) tends to give opponents trouble but the Broncos are just too good to allow that to become a factor … Boise State 38, Wyoming 7. (8 p.m. ET, CBSC)

No. 6 Texas at Texas Tech: Mack Brown has been ultra-successful as head coach of the Longhorns but he is a pedestrian 3-3 in Lubbock and all three losses have derailed potential Big 12 and/or national championship celebrations in Austin. The rosters of these teams have changed quite a bit from 2008 when Michael Crabtree made a highlight-reel touchdown reception to grab a 39-33 win for Double-T. One thing you can be reasonably sure of, however: plenty of points. The last eight meetings have produced 602 total points with the winner scoring 40 or more five times. A new quarterback for the Longhorns (Garrett Gilbert) and a new head coach at Tech (Tommy Tuberville) may keep score down – a little – but you can still expect an entertaining ballgame … Texas 37, Texas Tech 31. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN2)

No. 9 Iowa at No. 24 Arizona: The Hawkeyes have been percolating on both offense and defense so far this season, averaging 36 points and 457 yards on offense while allowing opponents only seven points and 216 yards. But would you believe the Wildcats are even better? Mike Stoops’ team averages 46.5 points and 503.5 yards on offense and gives its opponents only four points and 177 yards per game. This may come down to a battle of quarterbacks – Ricky Stanzi for Iowa (433 yards, 3 TDs) and Nick Foles for Arizona (574 yards, 3 TDs). The one who makes the fewest mistakes will likely emerge the winner … Iowa 23, Arizona 17. (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Ohio at No. 2 Ohio State: Some call this a Hangover Game. We prefer to think of it as a Statement Game. The Buckeyes can either come out and go through the motions or they can do what national championship caliber teams do – take control early, build a multi-touchdown lead by midway through the third quarter and cruise to victory with their second- and third-teamers carrying the fourth-quarter load. Two years ago, OSU played around with the Bobcats and trailed 14-12 heading into the final period before finally seizing a 26-14 win. One week later, the team got torched at USC and any title hopes went up in smoke. To be honest, Ohio has very little chance of winning the game. The Bobcats have never beaten Ohio State in six tries and they are 0-14 since 1990 against all ranked teams. Therefore, there is little doubt as to the outcome. The final score, however, is a different matter. Hangover from last week’s big win over Miami or statement going forward? Stay tuned … Ohio State 45, Ohio 7. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Massachusetts at Michigan (NL); Kent State at Penn State (-20½); Duke at Alabama (-23); Arizona State (+15½) at Wisconsin; USC (-11) at Minnesota; Nebraska (-3) at Washington; Baylor at TCU (-17); Boise State (-21) at Wyoming; Texas (-3) at Texas Tech; Iowa (-1½) at Arizona; Ohio at Ohio State (-30).

Enjoy the games and we’ll chat again next week.

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2 Comments

  1. Go Bucks!

    Great read.

  2. I agree BUCKEYE 1991 with your thoughts on this go Bucks!


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