Hurricane Ivan watch
It's not very often a Big Ten team is concerned with a Hurricane's path, but that appears to be the case with the N.C. State game this weekend. Early projections of Hurricane Ivan have it stalling out and dropping buckets of rain in North Carolina possibly Friday and Saturday.
According to Jim Tressel, it won't make much difference for the Buckeyes. "I think the only thing it could possibly change is the way you travel. We'll wait and see if there are any travel issues. Other than that, when you get there it's wet for you and wet for them. You better be on feet…Whoever holds onto the ball better or makes the least mistakes is still going to win (and) maybe that's magnified."
Given the results of the Wisconsin game in 2003, Ohio State fans might hope that the storm stays as far away as possible, but not Bobby Carpenter. "I would like it to go right through and rain as much as it wants," he said. "It will keep it cool for us. They're a big passing team. If they keep the balls dry it won't make that much of a difference as far as throwing, but they have some extremely talented athletes and rain slows down speed so that should be good for us."
Buckeye wideout Santonio Holmes commented, "It might factor into the game, but you still have to be on top of your game."
He should know. As a native Floridian, he has experienced previous hurricanes.
"I've probably been through two or three hurricanes," he said. "Hurricane Andrew is the most recent one I can remember that I've been a part of. We just got a lot of rain and a lot of wind and a lot of trees knocked down from our place and a power shortage."
If Ivan doesn't take a detour and the field turns sloppy, Ohio State might do well to bring along an extra set of uniforms to keep the players dry. Maybe the Buckeyes could even call up Tennessee and check to see if the Volunteers have any extra cleats from the 1996 Citrus Bowl…
Although a good many are still down on him as a feature tailback, take a second look at not only the statistics but the game film from the previous two weeks.
He is averaging 5.6 yards per rush (231 yards) on 41 carries. Watch the tapes. Note how quick his feet look in comparison to previous seasons. Physically, he appears to be more agile than any point since his freshman year. He is threading his way through traffic and looking more like a scalpel than a blunt object. Ross has consistently been fighting for extra yardage, keeping his legs churning with contact. He even displayed a stiff arm to reach the corner of the defense and turn up field.
Even when he stepped out of bounds against Marshall this week, the reason was not to avoid contact. It was to level a blow. Against Cincinnati, Ross did not leave himself room to meet the defensive back on his 68-yard scamper. This time, he was trying to gain ground to knock over the defensive back, stay in bounds, and continue down the field.
Aside from the fumble, Ross' performance thus far has been what every Buckeye fan was hoping for in 2004. In fact, if told their starting tailback would be averaging 5.6 yards a carry before the season - much of that without a fullback to block for him - Buckeye fans would have dropped to their knees to utter thank you prayers. One or two might have even considered sacrificing the family pet in some animistic pagan ritual.
Granted, it's difficult to say whether or not Ross can keep up this type of performance, but he certainly has done everything expected of him thus far. As a senior, this team needs him to build upon the past two weeks. Put another way - if he doesn't, then the Buckeyes will likely head home to Columbus 2-1 on September 18.
Bobby Carpenter and the Penalty
When the Buckeyes' coaching staff elected to accept a penalty against Marshall late in the game, and the Herd scored on the next play (instead of being forced to try a field goal), more than one armchair quarterback and media pundit questioned the decision. Jim Tressel explained, "It was one play and long or two plays and long in my mind…" Tongue firmly in cheek he added, "But I asked around and Bobby Carpenter said we should take the penalty. So - his dad is a coach, he's been around the game a long time…"
Apparently linebacker Bobby Carpenter was none too pleased at the time and came off the field in rare form. At the media luncheon today, he sheepishly explained, "I wanted to decline the penalty. He was just making a little joke out of it. In pressure situations guys get a little heated sometimes (and) there's a little bit of controversy between the player and the coach. Coach Tressel did what he thought was right for the team. Now we can sit back and laugh about it, but during the game it wasn't really funny."
He continued, "During the game I'm a competitor like all guys are. I wouldn't be out there playing if I wasn't. When things don't always go the way you want them you get upset, but the trick is you have to take that energy you have and channel it back onto the field'
That appears to be exactly what Carpenter did. The defense came up big on subsequent Marshall drives and the Buckeyes escaped with a narrow victory.
Michigan Kicking Woes
While the Buckeyes have been enjoying extraordinary kicking performances in recent seasons under Jim Tressel, the Wolverines have been hemorrhaging games left and right with special teams gaffes.
In fact, the number of losses one can chalk up to such mistakes is reaching ridiculous proportions. 38-14 since 2000, at least eight of Michigan's setbacks can be directly attributed to kicking or return game problems. The loss 23-20 to UCLA in 2000 saw the Maize and Blue miss two field goals. In the 54-51 loss to Northwestern that same season, a poor snap on a field goal attempt to tie the game allowed the clock to run out. In 2001, Michigan was ahead of Washington 12-6 with only nine minutes and change remaining. What happened? Washington blocked a field goal attempt, returned it for a touchdown, and ultimately won 23-18. Later that season against Michigan State, Marquise Walker fielded a punt deep in Michigan territory instead of letting it roll into the end zone. After Michigan was unable to gain a first down, the resulting change in field position set the Spartans up for their final drive to win the game 26-24. In 2002, The Wolverines lost to Notre Dame 25-23, but only after having a field goal blocked.
2003 might have been the most frustrating season for Michigan fans in the last 15. A team that should have been playing in the Sugar Bowl found itself soundly defeated in the Rose with two ugly losses because of their kicking game. Against Oregon, the Wolverines missed an extra point attempt in the first quarter, had a fake field goal attempt bounce off the head of Scott McClintock, and had a punt blocked and recovered by Oregon in the end zone for a touchdown. The final score? 31-27 Oregon. Though conventional wisdom expected the Hawkeyes to lose last year's game against Michigan after the pasting they administered in 2002, Carr's team turned yet another victory into defeat with their punting protection. Two punts were blocked, leading to points for Iowa en route to a 30-27 win.
Finally, on Saturday against a questionably talented Irish team in South Bend, the Wolverines found themselves in a dogfight. Trailing 14-12 but still very much in the game, punting protection broke down yet again. Notre Dame blocked the kick attempt and used the change in possession to score a touchdown. Michigan lost 28-20 in a game that might otherwise have gone their way.
The question is - what is going on with Michigan's coaching staff? Clearly they must know this flaw more intimately than the average fan or reporter. How is this not being fixed?
What could have been a special run at multiple national titles has turned into the Keystone Cops. You won't catch any of the Ohio State faithful crying for Michigan, but it certainly has to be frustrating for fans of ‘that team up north.'
Pass Rush for OSU
Though the Buckeyes clearly are not pressuring quarterbacks in 2004 as they did in the previous two seasons, it's not quite time to hit the panic button. Gino Guidugli and Stan Hill are not the easiest players to sack, and their coaches used a good deal of three-step drops and rollouts to keep away from the athletic Buckeye front seven.
Bobby Carpenter commented on the difficulty of tracking them down: "Stan Hill was a coach's son and a two year starter and Guidugli is probably one of the top 15 quarterbacks in America, so he's a good player."
Buckeye Leaf to Maurice Hall
Maurice Hall might not have touched football but he should have earned a Buckeye leaf Saturday. After the Lydell Ross fumble (and subsequent touchdown by Goddard), Holmes and Hall were sent back to return the kickoff.
When the ball sailed 5 yards into the end zone, the fans, announcers, and anyone watching at home expected Holmes to go down to one knee. Instead, he fielded the ball and looked ready to charge into the face of a fast closing coverage unit. The only thing that prevented a mistake of epic proportions was Maurice Hall. Hall effectively blocked Holmes' path from the end zone, forcing him to abandon the idea of returning the kick.
The difference in field position was immediately felt as Zwick opened the drive passing the football instead of being forced to run it just to gain breathing room. Playing pitch and catch, the Buckeyes marched down the field and scored a touchdown to put them firmly back into the lead.
Marshall Running backs
Much has been made about the 17 play, nine minute drive by the Thundering Herd Saturday. Bobby Carpenter was undoubtedly one of the most frustrated by the long drive, but he pointed out, "I don't think people give the Marshall running backs enough credit. They were good players. They did some things against us we weren't prepared for - as Coach Tressel said, I don't think they showed their full hand against Troy State; they held a lot back. We were kind of unprepared a little bit, and it took us (until) after that drive in the third quarter really to adjust and shut them down again."
Indeed, Marshall tailback Earl Charles routinely used his blockers, cut back against the flow of the defense, and on one play even dragged Carpenter for several yards. Backup tailback Ahmad Bradshaw was a highly regarded recruit and headed for the University of Virginia until his legal woes forced him, like Randy Moss, to consider Marshall.
Carpenter's assessed the defense's performance, saying, "I think we played pretty well. They had that one drive where they had 70 of their rushing yards. You take out that, and they are under a hundred. They were just getting 6-7 yards a crack every time and sometimes eight or nine on first down…a lot things were happening. On the sideline, Coach Snyder was not able to see what was happening. It wasn't until they got into the red zone that we were able to get over and talk to him because of the time out. Once we got everything squared away we stopped them."
"We don't like long drives, but any time you stop them and they don't get any points, we'll take it. If they have 17 plays and take off 8 minutes but don't get any points out of it - it's no good for them."
A.J. Hawk was more succinct. "We stopped them when we needed to."