From the outside, the Ohio State football program looked like a team in turmoil prior to the Alamo Bowl.
The discussion regarding suspended starting quarterback Troy Smith and other off-the-field allegations had reached a fever pitch.
But the Buckeyes did something they have been accustomed to quite a bit over the last two seasons: They put the controversy aside and went out and decimated Oklahoma State 33-7 in Wednesday’s Alamo Bowl. The 26-point win stands as OSU’s second-biggest bowl win behind only a 47-17 pasting of BYU in the 1982 Holiday Bowl.
Afterwards, OSU coach Jim Tressel was asked how his team was able to play despite controversy.
“I think our guys are very proud of themselves,” Tressel said. “They are confident in who we are and what we do and what this program is all about. They don’t blink. There will be mistakes and errors and bad fortune, but they don’t blink.
“They are interested in being good football players on a good team. They are pretty special people. A lot of it is because of who they are.”
Following the game, OSU fullback Branden Joe stood up for the embattled coach.
“The guy’s a winner,” Joe said. “We have faith and we believe. The guys believe in his philosophy. All we have to do is go out and execute. The guys buy into that. He’s a proven winner. The numbers don’t lie.”
Joe said the media is guilty of only reporting the negative aspects of the OSU program.
“It’s funny how they emphasize all the bad things,” he said. “But we were number one in Academic All-Big Ten picks. We do numerous hours of community outreach. People make bad decisions in life. It’s how you bounce back from that. That’s what is important.”
Quarterback Justin Zwick filled in for Smith, who reportedly took extra benefits from an OSU booster, and the Buckeyes never missed a beat.
“It was great coaching,” Zwick maintained. “They told us not to worry about what was going on.”
Middle linebacker Anthony Schlegel also talked about how Tressel and the coaching staff insulated the team from the controversy.
“The reason we were able to shut it off is because Coach Tressel and the coaches do a great job of keeping us out of the mix,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going on. We have such great seniors and our captains and other guys like B-Joe and the other guys. They’re on the front line, answering all the questions for all the younger guys.
“When you have people like that, all they want to do is play football and represent The Ohio State University well. When there is controversy, you do what you can do and that’s play good football on Saturdays. We had a little skid there, but we ended up 5-1 over the last six games. People can see we have a really good football team and we should be ready to go next year.”
Seniors’ Last Hurrah
The Alamo Bowl was the last game for 17 OSU seniors. They ended their careers with a 40-11 record over the last four years. They joined the 1984 senior class as the only one since four-year eligibility began in the early 1970s to post winning records of 3-1 against Michigan and in bowl games.
“It was my last bowl game and we wanted to come out in a dominant fashion,” said Joe, who started in a one-back set and finished with 57 yards on 13 carries. “It’s been an honor and a privilege. You couldn’t close a chapter any better way than this. All year was a roller coaster for us, but we went out as winners. We leave as one of two senior classes with a winning record against Michigan and a winning bowl record. We were winners.
“I have a lot of friends here and a lot of relationships. It was just the camaraderie and working toward a common goal.”
Defensive end Simon Fraser was credited with just three tackles in his final game. But he earned game defensive MVP honors for getting after Oklahoma State quarterback Donovan Woods. Fraser was credited with three quarterback hurries in the game.
“I am happy with the way we came out here,” Fraser said. “I’m excited for our seniors and the coaching staff and everybody back in Columbus. What a way to end the season. The way everything happened, we couldn’t be more excited.”
Cornerback Dustin Fox, like Fraser a team captain, also discussed the end of the line.
“I’m done, that’s it,” Fox said. “Now it’s time to get ready (for the NFL draft). I’m glad I had the opportunity. I can’t be sad to leave. It’s just the end of one chapter. I am proud to be a part of this program and also part of this university.”
Tailback Lydell Ross, also a captain, ended a trying senior season in fine fashion as well. He tallied 99 yards on 12 carries, scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run as well.
“This was a great way to go out,” Ross said. “You couldn’t ask for anything better than to score a touchdown and get some yards. I’m just glad we finished strong.
“It felt good. I got into a groove and got going and that’s what happens.”
Another Good Offensive Day
Ohio State’s late-season offensive renaissance continued in the Alamo Bowl as the Buckeyes reached the magical 400-yard mark for the fifth time in 12 games, finishing with 403 yards.
One of the key components was Zwick, who had one of his best games by completing 17 of 27 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. Zwick played through a hamstring injury as well.
“Justin showed some toughness,” said offensive coordinator Jim Bollman. “He hurt his hamstring, but he was able to play through it.”
After OSU exploded for 446 yards offense in the 37-21 win over Michigan, the Buckeyes hoped for more of the same against Oklahoma State. When Smith’s suspension was announced, though, many felt the Buckeyes would have trouble moving the ball in the bowl game. But their 214 yards rushing (on 42 attempts) were OSU’s third-highest total this season.
Bollman said the exploits of the running game allowed the Buckeyes to take some of the onus off Zwick, who had not played since suffering a shoulder injury Oct. 16.
“At haltime, we checked ourselves and saw that we had eight first downs passing and seven rushing. That was good in terms of balance,” Bollman said.
And, for the second straight game, the OSU offensive line did not surrender a sack.
“I think, especially in this game, they played well,” Bollman said of the line. “That was a pretty physical outfit. I think they played hard. We weren’t perfect, but we did what we needed to do. I think we’ve been improving. We need to carry this into the off-season and keep rolling.”
The Alamo Bowl drew a sellout crowd of 65,265, the second largest in Alamo Bowl history just off the record of 65,380 set for the Penn State-Texas A&M game in 1999.
“We really felt like we needed to come out of the gate strong,” said Tressel, whose team capitalized on an early Cowboys turnover and jumped ahead 7-0 just three minutes into the game. “In a stadium with 65,000 people and it was half and half or maybe even 60-40 against us, someone was going seize control of that stadium and we wanted that to be us. We did seize control of that.”
This marked the 12th sellout crowd the Buckeyes played in front of during the 2004 season. It was also the fourth sellout in Alamo history, though just the first without a team from Texas.
* The national television broadcast of the 2004 Alamo Bowl earned a 4.25 rating making it the second highest-rated college football game of the season on ESPN. The rating translates into a viewership of six million ranking it as the No. 12 most-watched bowl game in ESPN history. Over the last 10 years, the Alamo Bowl has produced six of the top 15 most-watched bowl games in ESPN history.
* Since 1996 the Big Ten has won seven of nine games against the Big 12 in the Alamo Bowl. The only two victories by the Big 12 were by Nebraska (2000 and 2003).
The Buckeyes improved to 5-0 in bowl games against teams currently in the Big 12. To go along with the win over Kansas State last year, Ohio State has twice beaten Texas A&M (1999 Sugar Bowl, 24-14 and 1987 Cotton Bowl, 28-12) and Colorado, 27-10, in the 1977 Orange Bowl.
* The win upped Tressel’s career mark to 175-68-2 in 19 seasons, including a 40-11 record in four years at Ohio State.
Tressel became the fifth coach in Ohio State history to win 40 games at Ohio State and the second fastest to do so. Other OSU coaches to reach 40 wins include Earle Bruce (took 50 games to do it), John Wilce (52), Woody Hayes (57) and John Cooper (65).
Tressel would need 10 wins in his next 12 games to match Bruce’s mark as the fastest OSU coach to 50 wins. It took Bruce 63 games to reach 50 wins, while Wilce took 64.
* Ohio State held a 23-0 lead at halftime. With the win, the Buckeyes are 29-2 under Tressel when leading at the half. The Buckeyes extended their lead to 30-0 after three periods. Under Tressel, OSU is 31-3 overall when leading after three periods.
* The fewest points allowed in a bowl game by Ohio State was seven, which last happened in the 1986 Citrus Bowl a 10-7 Buckeye victory vs. BYU. Ohio State also limited opponents to seven points in the 1957 Rose Bowl, a 10-7 victory over Oregon in the 1957 Rose Bowl, and in the 1954 Rose Bowl, a 20-7 victory over Southern California.