It's hard to remember a more anticipated opening game. Fans were looking forward to this game for months, wondering what this year's team would bring. Sometimes, trying to figure out what the team would look like boggled the mind.
It was worth the wait.
Today, Ohio State came out and pounded Texas Tech, 45-21. Many expected the game to be close, but the Buckeyes established themselves early and were largely dominant the rest of the way.
The game started symbolically with a fine play from a true freshman as Texas Tech took the opening kickoff and was stopped back at the 8-yard line after a strong open-field tackle by Bobby Carpenter. From there, Texas Tech went three and out, and then after a fine punt return by Mike Doss, the Buckeyes had great field position at the Texas Tech 32. The Buckeyes moved the ball down steadily with short passes and runs (and a key 3rd down dumpoff from Craig Krenzel to Maurice Clarett), and Lydell Ross punched it in shortly after for a 2-yard TD.
Texas Tech got the ball back, but had to punt shortly after as Will Smith's first sack of the year helped hold the Red Raiders in check. A great punt followed though, and the Buckeyes had to start at their own 4-yard line. Krenzel would make another big play as on 3rd down on the first set of downs, he dropped back to pass and couldn't find anyone open and then scampered for a big 23-yard gain. Shortly after, the Buckeyes had a 3rd down and short, and Maurice Clarett took the handoff and burst through the hole for a 59-yard touchdown, making it 14-0 Buckeyes.
Texas Tech came back on the next drive though. The Red Raiders drove down to the OSU 37-yard line, and they were faced with a 4th and 2, but they gambled and went for it. The gamble paid off as on that play, QB Kliff Kingsbury hit WR Carlos Francis on a slant for a 37-yard touchdown. It was 14-7, Buckeyes.
The two teams traded three-and-outs after that, but then when OSU got the ball again, they would drive the ball down and extend the lead behind more good running by Clarett and Krenzel and a nifty catch by Ben Hartsock. Lydell Ross punched it in from 1 yard out to make it 21-7.
The teams traded three-and-outs again, but then Texas Tech put together a drive and they were looking poised to score again before the half. Two big gains off short passes and a personal foul penalty on OSU helped TT get down to within striking distance, and the Red Raiders would have the ball at the 1-yard line on fourth down. But the Raiders tried to run it in and were stacked up on a big goal-line stand, giving the ball back to the Buckeyes. From there, the two teams each had one more drive, but the score would remain the same going into halftime -- 21-7 Ohio State.
The Buckeyes received the kickoff in the second half, and it didn't take long for them to strike as a nice run by Maurice Hall and a Michael Jenkins-catch helped set up another big Maurice Clarett TD run, this time from 45 yards out. The score moved to 28-7 OSU. On the next drive, TT drove down and it looked like they would punch it in when Kliff Kingsbury had a wide receiver open in the end zone, but he made a poor pass which was picked off on an athletic play by Dustin Fox. The Bucks had dodged another score took over on the 20.
More Clarett running and a Jenkins and Chris Gamble catch helped drive the Buckeyes downfield on the ensuing drive, but it stopped short on third down. The Bucks were within range for a long field goal though. Mike Nugent came on for his first opportunity of the year and nailed it -- a 45-yarder right through the uprights to make it 31-7.
Texas Tech would go three-and-out after that and punted it back to OSU, and a nice return by Chris Gamble, a good run by Maurice Hall, and a Maurice Clarett TD run made it 38-7. That was about all she wrote... Texas Tech would score two late touchdowns, and the Buckeyes answered in between those with a good drive that was capped by a Scott McMullen 1-yd TD dive, and the game ended at 45-21.
Maurice Clarett was the biggest story as he went for 175 yards on 21 carries and 3 TDs in his first game as a true freshman. The stats were only part of the story though as Maurice really looked like a complete back out there. He blocked well and made an impact as a receiver also as he had 4 catches for 30 yards. This showed just how good he is; he really seems advanced in other facets of the game for a true freshman.
Craig Krenzel also played well. Coming in, no one was asking Craig to win the game for the Buckeyes, just to lead the offense and make good decisions. He did exactly that, and he showed a knack for making plays under pressure as well. He showed running ability that is sneaky-good as he ran for 34 yards on 4 carries and came up big a couple of times on third down. The offense looked smooth with him at the controls.
And give it up for the offensive line, who also played well. 315 rushing yards don't come without some big holes, and there were definitely some of those today. Mike Stafford was a great story in his first start ever. The Buckeye OL also showed some good pass protection as well. If this OL continues to play well, this team could be in for lots of Ws this year.
Defensively, OSU just got the job done. Not everything was perfect, but they did a fine job keeping the TT passing attack under control. There were a few 15-yard penalties we could do without, but mostly, the D looked good, and the pressure on Kingsbury was effective. Will Smith reportedly had 2 sacks and Cie Grant chipped in with 2 more (the team had seven total... TT allowed 26 all of last year). Kingsbury's 341 passing yards were deceptive as the D by and large did what they needed to do.
This is a heck of a start for OSU. Lots of people are wondering just how good Texas Tech is, but the guess here is they will be good enough to get back to another bowl game, and OSU manhandled them. The Buckeyes put in a pretty darn good performance today.
Next up is a bye week, then Kent State comes to town, then a challenge against Washington State. You will see several teams this year who do not look this good in their first game of the season. If this team only gets better from here, big things could indeed happen.
Allen Injury: Safety Will Allen went out late with a right shoulder sprain. No word on his status.
What Distractions? Any concern about OSU being distracted by off-the-field issues certainly disappeared quickly, didn't it? :-)
Walk-ons Contribute: The walk-ons are making some noise. Mike Stafford proved that you shouldn't count them out, and a handful got to play today, including CB Chris Conwell, K Jeremy Uhlenhake, S Steven Moore, LS Kyle Andrews, and TE David Andrews.
Freshman Watch: What freshmen will see the field this year? We got a big answer today. In addition to Clarett (yeah, I'd say he played), freshmen who saw the field were LB Bobby Carpenter, LB Mike D'Andrea, LB A.J. Hawk, DB Nate Salley, DB Tyler Everett, DB E.J. Underwood, DE Mike Kudla, and DL Joel Penton. They made some noise too; in addition to Carpenter's big opening tackle, A.J. Hawk made a crushing hit on Kliff Kingsbury and Mike D'Andrea was putting some pressure on Kingsbury when he was in there. The commentators, Brad Nessler and Bob Griese, were impressed.
Herbie Beaming: On ESPN just a few minutes ago, Kirk Herbstreit was visibly excited over OSU's performance today. Chris Fowler was also impressed as he said he was going to vote OSU in the top 6 or 7 in the next poll.
The Nuge: Mike Nugent had a great day kicking as he looked good at both placekicking and kicking off. The lack of Texas Tech touchbacks was not due to him (we all saw their kooky kick returner who ran the ball out more than once after catching it in the back of the end zone). Mike's field goal was perfect too. Just another aspect of this great performance.
FB Situation: Brandon Schnittker and Jack Tucker both played, and Tucker played quite a bit. It will be interesting to see how this situation shakes out when Branden Joe gets back.
Burgess Sighting: Warren Harding DB Prescott Burgess did make the trip... he was in the background during one segment with Lynn Swann. Yes, recognizing him in that instance probably does suggest we follow recruiting just a little too closely... :-)
Maurice Clarett (13) had a huge day for OSU (Allsport Pic)
Craig Krenzel was a cool customer today (Allsport Pic)
Lydell Ross punches it in (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)
Will Smith gets one of what should be many sacks this season (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)
Coach Tressel watches from the sidelines in the third quarter (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)