Tuesday, September 24, 2002

UC exposes Ohio State holes


Secondary, defensive front need shoring up

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS - If Ohio State is No.6 in the rankings, does that mean Cincinnati is No. 5? That's not the case, despite the fact that the Bearcats played well enough to beat the Buckeyes on Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium. UC let several scoring opportunities slip through its fingers in what became a 23-19 Ohio State victory.

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        “Any hard-fought victory is a good one,” Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. “The only thing you really want to happen is you want to feel like you got better each game. It doesn't have that feel right now.”

        And with good reason. Statistics frequently lie, but they nonetheless echo the Bearcats' dominance. Cincinnati had more first downs (20-16), total yards (415-292), offensive plays (75-67) and a higher yield in yardage per play (5.5 to 4.4).

        When the turnovers are even and the big plays in special teams are a tradeoff, those kinds of numbers usually point to a winner. Not this time.

        Jonathan Ruffin, reputed to be one of college football's premier kickers, was wide right on the extra-point kick after the Bearcats' first score. That otherwise inconsequential miss became the biggest point in either team's season to date.

        Had Ruffin converted the kick - as he had a school-record 65 in a row before it - Cincinnati wouldn't have needed a touchdown on its final, frantic drive.

        Instead, Bearcats quarterback Gino Guidugli twice threw highlight-quality passes for apparent touchdowns in the final minute. Both were dropped.

        Ohio State must now take a deep breath, recognize how close it came to going into the dumper against a 17-point underdog and learn from it.

        The 1998 Buckeyes had just one close call all season. The top-ranked team in the nation ended up losing to Michigan State, also a 17-point underdog. The margin was four points, same as that in Saturday's game.

        That Ohio State team didn't have another shot at redemption after it missed out on the national title game.

        This Buckeyes team will be an even bigger favorite in its next three games against Indiana on Saturday, followed by a road trip to Northwestern and a home game against San Jose State.

        OSU has time to get its house in order before Big Ten Conference tests against Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan and others. Now, the Buckeyes must mend the cracks that were exposed in their veneer.

        The secondary looked ragged for most of the afternoon. Wide receiver Chris Gamble had to be switched to defense to help out. Freshman E.J. Underwood has suddenly become an important contributor. The starter at cornerback coming into the season, Richard McNutt, isn't seeing much action.

        Through Ohio State's first two games, quarterback Craig Krenzel was everything that his predecessor, the erratic Steve Bellisari, was not. Krenzel was 23-of-27 passing without an interception. Since then, he has made a stadium full of bad decisions while completing just 18-of-39 passes with two interceptions.

        The defensive front line dictated play in the first three games, but Guidugli had plenty of time to pick out primary and secondary receivers. He was sacked only twice and stood in the pocket without much pressure.

        The Buckeyes are still unbeaten. Hopes of a national championship or at least a Big Ten title haven't been tainted.

        The 1998 team - which finished No.2 because it didn't survive its one close call - would love to have received another chance.

       



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