Monday, August 30, 1999

Buckeyes now have eyes wide open




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Ahmed Plummer took up his position beside a garbage can. He stood his ground on the service level of Giants Stadium despite the fetid fumes rising from the refuse, fielding questions, foraging for answers.

        The Ohio State cornerback seemed oblivious to the odor, or perhaps he had built up an immunity while the Buckeyes were stinking up the joint Sunday afternoon. There was no smell, however noxious, that could make the former Wyoming High School star feel any worse than Miami's 23-12 conquest in the Kickoff Classic.

        “There's just a very bad feeling in my stomach,” Plummer said. “The way we played today — in my opinion — was disgusting.”

        Among the risks inherent in facing high-profile opponents in August is that they might catch you unprepared and/or overrated and have enough ability to exploit it. Such was the case Sunday. Miami's speed and superior conditioning exposed the Buckeyes as unworthy of their No.9 national ranking, a squad with question marks where fans had grown accustomed to exclamation points.

        “We've got a long way to go before we have the kind of football team we're accustomed to having at Ohio State,” Buckeyes coach John Cooper said. “You name it, we need to work on it.”

Not your usual OSU
        There has been too much turnover in Columbus for a seamless transition. Dueling quarterbacks Austin Moherman and Steve Bellisari, competing for the right to succeed Joe Germaine, both distinguished themselves by their ability to fire blanks. The offensive line, usually a source of strength, “embarrassed ourselves” according to tackle Tyson Walter. A seasoned defensive secondary was scorched on an underthrown, end-of-the-half prayer despite what was ostensibly triple coverage. The Heisman Trophy candidate, running back Michael Wiley, was caught from behind on his longest run and opened the second half with a fumble.

        “We weren't ourselves today,” Wiley said. “We had different people out there. We had different people running the show. We had a new quarterback who may have been a little nervous. It was just a different feeling out there. I have never felt like this.”

        Ohio State has not opened a season so ominously since 1978, when Penn State pitched a 19-0 shutout in Columbus. That was the year of Woody Hayes' Gator Bowl meltdown and one of the few times the Buckeyes have faced such a serious challenge out of the chute.

        Established powers of Ohio State's pedigree traditionally have been able to hide their flaws at this stage of the season. They tend to open the season against overmatched opponents, prevailing on cash-poor programs to take a few lumps for the sake of solvency. Since 1993, the Buckeyes have debuted against such dubious rivals as Fresno State, Wyoming and Rice (twice).

        Cooper and Co. were willing to step up in class against Miami because the Kickoff Classic does not count against the NCAA limit of 11 regular-season games. It gives coaches an extra game to prepare for conference play, three hours of network exposure for recruiting purposes and the greater of $650,000 or 30 percent of the gross revenues generated by the game.

Frauds exposed
        The trouble with extra tuneups, of course, is that an experienced mechanic may detect some new problem with the transmission. Arizona was ranked No.4 nationally before it was humiliated Saturday by Joe Paterno and Penn State.

        “I know now how (Arizona coach) Dick Tomey felt yesterday,” Cooper said.

        Plummer wondered if some Ohio State players have grown so accustomed to success that they assumed it was automatic.

        “I definitely think some players take it for granted because of how good we've been in the past,” he said.

        It's time to wake up and smell the garbage.

        E-mail Tim Sullivan at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

        SULLIVAN ARCHIVE