One streak died for the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday evening in Bloomington, Indiana. Two others remain alive and well.
Ohio State's string of shutout quarters ended at nine when Indiana scored early in the second period. But more importantly, the Buckeyes ran their winning streak to three with a decisive 33-14 victory over an improved Hoosiers team. Their string of Big Ten Conference road victories now stands at sixteen, one off the record of seventeen set by Michigan from 1988-92. The Buckeyes will have a chance to tie the record in two weeks when they head to West Lafayette to take on Purdue. In the meantime, bigger fish remain to be fried, as undefeated Wisconsin visits Columbus on Saturday to take on Jim Tressel's team in a battle for early dominance in the Big Ten.
Since losing to USC three weeks ago, Ohio State has outscored its opponents 102-14. Regardless of the strength of those opponents, it's been an impressive bounce-back. But it's about to get tougher.
Play of the Game: Not a play, but a series- specifically, the Ohio State offensive series that directly followed Indiana's second-quarter touchdown that cut the Buckeyes lead to 10-7. After Ray Small returned the ensuing kickoff to the Ohio State 45-yard line, Terrelle Pryor picked up 14 yards on a quarterback draw, hit Dane Sanzenbacher for 18 more, than found DeVier Posey with a beautiful throw down the middle for a 23-yard touchdown. In the span of just over a minute, Ohio State was back out in front by ten at 17-7, and the Buckeyes never relinquished control the rest of the way.
Nice Half: Terrelle Pryor has taken quite a bit of criticism for the passing element of his game- and rightfully so- but there was nothing wrong with the way he threw the football during the early stages of Saturday's game. In the first thirty minutes of action, young Mr. Pryor went 9-of-14 for 97 yards and three touchdowns, hitting seven different receivers in the process. By the end of Terrelle's aerial exhibition, Ohio State led 24-7 and the game, for all intents and purposes, was over.
Carrying the Load: With Boom Herron out, the primary tailback responsibilities fell to Brandon Saine- and the 2006 Ohio Mr. Football was up to the task. The speedy junior from Piqua notched his first 100-yard game, with 113 on seventeen carries, and added two receptions for 19 yards. In his last two games, Saine has rushed for 194 yards and an impressive 6.5 yards per carry. Next order of business is finding the end zone, something Saine hasn't done since the second week of the 2008 season against Ohio University.
All He Does is Catch Touchdown Passes, Junior: Congratulations to young Duron Carter, son of the legendary Cris, who scored his first Ohio State touchdown on a nifty five-yard catch in the first quarter. I have a feeling it won't be the last time Duron finds the end zone in Scarlet and Gray. By the way, I could be wrong, but I don't think Cris Carter ever threw a block like this one.
Been a While: Per Eleven Warriors: On September 8, 2001 Ohio State quarterback Steve Bellisari hit fullback Jamar Martin with a ten-yard scoring toss as the Buckeyes defeated Akron, 28-14. That game was the first of Jim Tressel's tenure as head coach. It also marked the last time a Buckeye fullback scored on a touchdown reception- until Saturday, when Terrelle Pryor found Zach Boren from eight yards out late in the second period.
Sweating the Small Stuff: Kicker Aaron Pettrey has a howitzer for a leg yet sometimes resembles the proverbial golfer who can routinely drive the ball 350 yards but struggles on the greens. He missed two field goals last Saturday, one a 35-yarder that he ricocheted off the upright, the other a 29-yarder that he hooked. Thus far in 2009 Pettrey is a perfect 5-of-5 on kicks from forty yards or longer, and a somewhat blasé 5-of-7 from 39 yards and in.
Let's Just Hope For a Speedy Recovery: Junior defensive tackle Dexter Larimore has been a mainstay in the middle of Ohio State's brilliant front wall all season. Last night, however, the big man was hauled off the field in the second period, the victim of a right knee strain. Preliminary reports indicate that the injury isn't a serious one, and that's a good thing, with power-running Wisconsin and the bruising John Clay coming to Columbus next Saturday.
Blooming Rose: One of the themes for this Ohio State season has been outstanding performances by senior defenders who have been star-crossed to various degrees: Lawrence Wilson, Doug Worthington, Todd Denlinger and, of course, Robert Rose. The ex-Glenville Tar Blooder has been haunted by injuries and off-field issues, but he's been sensational thus far in 2009, never more so than on Saturday. Spending ample time in Indiana's backfield all night, Rose had two tackles for a loss and trapped Hoosier punter Chris Hagerup for a safety in the third period. It's always good to see a young man live up to his potential, long overdue or not, and Robert Rose is definitely living up to his in 2009.
And Another Senior Superlative: Former starter Anderson Russell was back with the first unit on Saturday thanks to Kurt Coleman's suspension, and he took advantage of the opportunity with six tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. A defense that can bring a guy with Russell's experience off the bench is a deep unit indeed.
Around the Nation
Game of the Week- Notre Dame/Washington: I don't know if Notre Dame is really that good of a team. They don't play great defense, they aren't the world's most balanced offensive team, and with Michael Floyd hors de combat, they're missing one half of the best receiver duo in college football. But they certainly know how to play an interesting game of football, and that's what they did, again, in a rain-soaked, 37-30 overtime win over Washington. Jimmy Clausen showed again why he might be the best quarterback in the game, throwing for 422 yards, and Golden Tate (great name for a Domer) showed why he might be the best receiver with a staggering 244 yards. Up next is the acid test: USC, next Saturday at 3:30 in South Bend. It's probably the best chance for Notre Dame to get a win in the series since the Bush Push classic of 2005.
They don't pay good money to watch you throw a hankie: It's a sports truism as old as the Flying Wedge and leather helmets: the officials should never, ever decide the outcome of a game. Unfortunately, that's what happened during Saturday's thriller between Georgia and LSU in Athens, when the Bulldogs were whistled for an excessive celebration penalty after scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 1:09 left in the fourth quarter. Verne Lundquist and Gary "Carpetbagger" Danielson went over the replay with a fine-toothed comb, but they didn't see anything in Georgia's celebration that deserved a flag- and neither did I. Thanks in large part to the penalty (and a legit call on Georgia for having only three men to one side of the kicker) LSU started its ensuing drive at the Bulldog 38-yard line, trailing 13-12. Two plays later, Charles Scott busted loose for a 33-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers back on top to stay.
Unless someone pulls out a throat-slash, does the Worm in the end zone or drops trou' and moons the fans- in other words, something egregious- you can't draw laundry in that situation. The fact that LSU was assessed its own excessive-celebration penalty on Scott's winning touchdown- a makeup call if there ever was one- just illustrates how ridiculous the original call was. Georgia and LSU are good football teams and they played one hell of a game between the hedges on Saturday. The kids and coaches for both squads deserved a lot better than to have their battle decided by the guys in the striped shirts.
Can't Punch It In: No question, Washington is playing better football this season under Steve Sarkisian than they did at almost any point during Tyrone Willingham's reign of error- but the Huskies will need to work on their goal-line offense if they want to get back to the Pac-10 and national elite. Washington had three first-and-goal situations in the second half of their 37-30 overtime loss to Notre Dame- including two on one possession- and came away from those three first-and-goals with a total of three points. Washington's inability to find pay-dirt from in close doomed them to defeat in South Bend on Saturday.
Not Exactly a Statement: Fifth-ranked Boise State didn't do much to bolster its argument that it belongs among the nation's elite teams last Saturday. Facing California-Davis of the FCS Great West Conference- who went 5-7 last season and entered the match-up on the Smurf Turf at 1-2- the Broncos struggled to a 34-16 victory, not putting the game on ice until late in the fourth quarter. Three of Boise's next four games are on the road, at Tulsa, at Hawaii and at Louisiana Tech. If Chris Peterson's team loses a game, chances are it will be one of these three.
Hostess with the Most-ess: The Big Ten Network has some issues: their coverage is sloppy and amateurish (how many times do they return from the commercial break after the resumption of play? Too many) and I swear, if I see one more Rotel commercial I'm going to break something valuable. But they certainly do a fine job picking female talent. Melanie Collins is absolutely unreal. She makes Charissa Thompson look like a 5. I'll sit through a thousand Rotel commercials just for the chance to gawk at her. Of course, that's exactly what I have to do anyway.
Off-topic and topical: I'm going to go a little off the college football path for this take. This past weekend and throughout the month of October, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the players and coaches of the National Football League wore pink- pink hats, cleats; wristbands, rally towels, etc..
Now, before I go any further, let me make it clear that I'm not downgrading the importance of breast cancer research by any means. I have a mother, a sister, aunts and female friends I love and respect. Cancer, more than just about any affliction, is a scourge of humanity, and any and all action must be taken to eliminate it.
But here's my qualm. The NFL, of course, is made up exclusively of men: players who are men, coaches who are men, general managers, team presidents and owners who are men. How many of these men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes? How many of these men will be diagnosed with prostate or testicular cancer? Where is the awareness for these latter diseases- which affect men- on the part of the NFL, which is made up of men?
For all the talk about what a sexist society this is, how women are treated as second-class citizens and so on and so forth, it's obvious- at least to me- that the health and welfare of women is actually seen as far more important than that of men. I just don't think there is any question about it. The disparity in media attention and funding between breast cancer and prostate cancer is a case in point. I'm not blaming women for this by any means: as shown by the focus of the NFL on breast cancer, men themselves perpetrate this imbalance just as much, if not more, than women.
Frankly, I think it's a shame that the NFL, a male bastion if there ever was one, is passing on the opportunity to tackle diseases that will affect its own, and men in general. Someday I'd like to see the league don blue in honor of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, or Testicular Cancer Awareness Month. But I'm not holding my breath.
And for the record, I am a cancer survivor myself. Testicular, Stage III, eleven years cured.
Winners of the Week
Stanford: The Cardinal moved to 4-1, 3-0 in the Pac-10, with a 24-16 victory over previously unbeaten UCLA at the Farm. It's the first time since 1999 Stanford has won its first three conference games. The Cardinal went to the Rose Bowl that year, and although they probably won't get there in '09- they have to go to USC on November 14, among other tough games- they're almost certainly going to be bowl-bound for the first time since 2001. I like the way Stanford plays football- tough, physical and fearless- and even as a Buckeye fan I like former Michigan quarterback and current Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh. As a player Harbaugh absolutely maximized his physical ability, and as a coach he has a great approach and attitude toward the game. He's positive, enthusiastic, and has built a hard-working, overachieving team in his image. It's a fun team to watch.
Miami: The Hurricanes overcame an early 10-0 deficit to upset Oklahoma 21-20 Saturday night, avenging their humiliating 51-13 defeat in Norman two years ago. They survived their Opening Stretch of Death with a very healthy 3-1 record, and from here on out the schedule looks very forgiving, with no ranked teams on the docket between now and the end of the season. I've been tough on Randy Shannon in the past, but far be it from me to not give props- the ex-Miami linebacker has done a nice job injecting the old swagger and belief into the U. Next year's match-up with Ohio State in Columbus is starting to look very, very interesting.
Michigan State: It's no exaggeration to state that Sparty saved its season on Saturday. A loss to Michigan- especially after blowing a 20-6 fourth-quarter lead- would have sent Mark Dantonio's troops to 1-4 and ended their season almost before it began. But they regrouped, finally got a big play out of a beleaguered defense, and made it back-to-back wins over the Wolverines for the first time since Bubba Smith and Clint Jones were ruling the gridiron in East Lansing. The Spartans aren't out of the woods yet by any means- they're still under .500 at 2-3, face a grueling Big Ten schedule and haven't shaken an alarming propensity to give up leads late- but at least for now, they've gotten that phone call from the governor.
Wisconsin: They haven't exactly looked overwhelming getting there, but the Badgers, winners of seven games in 2008, are 5-0 after holding off Minnesota 31-28 in TCF Bank Stadium. Counted out of the Big Ten title race prior to the season, Bret Bielema's team can seize nominal control of the conference's top spot with a win in Columbus next week. Wisconsin has played very well on the road against Ohio State recently, winning three of its last four in the Horseshoe.
Auburn: All of a sudden, Gene Chizek doesn't look like such an awful hire after all. With the offense continuing to click, the Tigers moved to 5-0 with a 26-22 win over Tennessee, matching their victory total from 2008. The boys from the Plains have already scored as many points (208) as they notched all of last year. Of course, credit for Auburn's offensive revolution should not go to Chizek as much as guru-for-hire Guz Malzahn.
Losers of the Week
Houston: So much for that run to the BCS. The Cougars gave up 41 second-half points against UTEP and lost, 58-41, finishing on the short end despite piling up 664 yards of offense. Case Keenum didn't exactly hurt his long-shot Heisman chances in the defeat- he completed 51-of-76 passes (!) for 536 yards and five touchdowns without an interception- but his efforts weren't enough to overcome a defense that was gashed for 262 yards by Miner tailback Donald Buckram. As it turned out, Houston just wasn't two-dimensional enough to go unscathed through the West Division of Conference USA, where, like in Double Jeopardy, the scores can really change.
California: The Golden Bears looked horrendous for a second consecutive week, losing in Berkeley to USC, 30-3 to pretty much kill off their Rose Bowl hopes for good. Cal hasn't scored a touchdown in two weeks, and in that span Kevin Riley has gone 27-of-71 on pass attempts (38 percent) for 322 yards- a paltry 4.5 yards per attempt. It's been a long while since one of Jeff Tedford's quarterbacks came up large against anyone other than the sisters of the poor.
Purdue: The Boilermakers didn't just shoot themselves in the foot in their 27-21 loss to Northwestern- they emptied an entire magazine and then dry-fired a couple of times for good measure. After jumping out to a 21-3 first-half lead, Danny Hope's team committed five turnovers- all of which led to points for the Wildcats- and then failed to convert a first-and-goal at the Northwestern seven-yard line in the final minutes. The Wildcats won the game despite getting a total of three points out of a pair of twenty-play drives in the first half.
North Carolina: This was supposed to be a breakout season for Butch Davis's Tar Heels. But they're now 0-2 in the ACC after an embarrassing 16-3 loss in Chapel Hill to a Virginia team that had done nothing right, especially defensively, in a winless opening month of the season. UNC turned the ball over three times, went 4-of-16 on third downs, and amassed a meager 39 rushing yards against the Cavaliers.
Florida State: Following a 28-21 loss to Boston College the Seminoles are 2-3 for the first time since 1976, Bobby Bowden's first season in Tallahassee, are 0-2 in the ACC for the first time ever- and Coach Dad-Gum is feeling the heat in the Sunshine State. With Florida at the top of the college football heap, South Florida rising like a rocket and Da U on its way back to prominence, FSU looks to be at a major disadvantage, not just this year but for the foreseeable future. Something's got to give in Seminole Country, and that something might just be its venerable coach, along with his hand-picked successor Jimbo Fisher.
Next Week: Ohio State does battle with Wisconsin in a Saturday matinee at the Horseshoe. Dan Wismar and Yours Truly will look back at the Indiana game and forward to the Badgers on the Buckeye Friday podcast.