Saturday, October 16, 2004
Is this must-win game?
For Buckeyes, alternative is 0-3 league start
By Chuck Schoffner
The Associated Press
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Forget those one-play, one-game-at-a-time clichÈs. Just another game? Not for these Ohio State Buckeyes.
Staring at the possibility of the school's first 0-3 Big Ten start since 1988, the Ohio State players know what's at stake in today's game at Iowa - and they aren't afraid to say it.
"This is pretty much our season right here," linebacker Bobby Carpenter said. "We can't afford to drop to .500 and 0-3 in the Big Ten. Iowa's a good team. It's definitely going to be a difficult situation going into it.
"We just have to find a way to get it done."
That's something the 25th-ranked Buckeyes (3-2, 0-2) haven't accomplished the past two weeks.
The defense got carved up in a 33-27 overtime loss at Northwestern and the offense staggered through the second half - 49 total yards, four first downs - in a 24-13 loss to Wisconsin at home.
Coach Tim Tressel says his team's confidence hasn't waned. It certainly hasn't for running back Tony Pittman.
"We're taking it game by game, but the way I see it, flat out, we're going to win them all from here on out," Pittman said. "There's going to be no team that can stop us."
The offense will have to be a lot more consistent and quarterback Justin Zwick much sharper for that to happen. Zwick has completed only 48 percent of his passes in the last three games, but Tressel isn't surrendering to the clamor to give backup Troy Smith a chance.
Tressel said Zwick performs better in practice and deserves to play in the games, though he admitted the team isn't always getting what it needs from the position.
"At times we have, and at times we haven't," Tressel said. "That's why we're 3-2."
The Buckeyes at least have history on their side. They've defeated Iowa (3-2, 1-1) eight straight times and haven't lost in Iowa City since 1983. Ohio State is the only Big Ten team Iowa hasn't defeated under coach Kirk Ferentz.
But the Hawkeyes are well rested after a bye week and are coming off their best offensive game of the season, a 38-16 victory over Michigan State. Iowa has won 15 straight at Kinnick Stadium, the nation's fourth-longest home winning streak.
"I think it would be a huge upside for us if we can get this win," Iowa linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Obviously it would be nice for us, because we haven't beaten Ohio State yet and it would be a nice win here in Kinnick. It would really put us at the next level."
Even with Ohio State looking beatable, Ferentz knows what can happen when a team starts thinking that way.
He was an assistant at Iowa in 1985 when the Hawkeyes were ranked No. 1 and had All-American Chuck Long at quarterback.
"We traveled into Columbus and supposedly they had just a terrible pass defense," Ferentz said. "In fact, a pretty pointed article got printed, but they had an emotional meeting about that article and then held us to about 100 yards passing. You talk about a setup."
Long actually threw for 169 yards but was intercepted four times and Ohio State won 22-13. Iowa hasn't been No. 1 since.
"That one thing that's been pretty consistent with Ohio State. It's hard to look at a film in 20-some years of experience and not see excellent football players," Ferentz said. "They're not as experienced as they were last year, but they're pretty good."
Iowa will have its third different starter at running back. Marques Simmons, who began the season as the fourth-stringer, moved to the top of the depth chart after the Hawkeyes lost three backs to torn ACLs.
"(Wisconsin) played to their strengths; we're going to have to play to ours," Ferentz said. "I'm not quite sure what that is right now. We're working on it. We're trying to find it."
No. 25 Ohio State at Iowa