Sunday, September 19, 1999

Buckeyes play half-heartedly to beat Ohio

OSU awakens after halftime

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Buckeyes' Yon Rambo (4) strides into the end zone ahead of Ohio University defender Donnie White (3).
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        COLUMBUS — For 28 minutes Saturday, the Ohio State Buckeyes did little but trip over themselves, daydreaming through a lifeless first half that turned the Battle of Ohio into an actual battle it shouldn't have been — a 10-10 tie at intermission.

        When the sleeping giant finally woke up, the 13th-ranked Buckeyes crushed Ohio University 40-16 at Ohio Stadium.

        But there was little to be excited about. It was an underwhelming victory that left Ohio State players a tad bitter and wondering why they can't get up for big games (the season-opener on national TV against a ranked Miami, Fla., team) or small ones in which they are heavy (43-point) favorites.

        “It was our attitude,” linebacker Na'il Diggs said. “We were taking them too lightly.”

        They said the same thing about Miami after losing 23-12. Either the Buckeyes have an emotional vacuum in their lockerroom, or they're not as good as they think.

        “This is definitely different (than Miami),” Diggs said. “Guys aren't young any more. There's no excuse for today. It's like going to work on a rainy day. You really don't want to do it, but you have to do it. That's the mentality some guys had coming into the game, like "Let's get it over with.' (Ohio) came in here like, "We're about to kick their butts.'

        “When those two mix, that's what happens at halftime.”

        What saved the Buckeyes (2-1) were some hard hits from the defense and playmakers stepping up on offense — none bigger than wide receiver Ken-Yon Rambo, who scored just before the half and turned mod erate passes into big gains in the second half with his speed.

        “We're too quiet before some games,” said Rambo, a vocal guy who finished with seven catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns. “I don't like being quiet before games. I like going out with energy. I didn't want to go down losing to Ohio.”

        Tailback Michael Wiley was stifled early, but broke several big gains in the second half. He scored twice and finished with 98 yards on 17 carries. Quarterback Steve Bellisari had an up-and-down day in his first start, connecting with Rambo on big plays but also underthrowing and overthrowing receivers in key situations.

        Bellisari finished 12-of-21 for 243 yards with two touchdowns and an interception — which should have been a touchdown had fullback Jamar Martin not let it slip off his fingers. Had it been a score, the first half might have been different.

        “I'm very pleased with our team. We bounced back in the third quarter,” coach John Cooper said. “I'm just happy we came back out fighting in the second half.”

        That they did, scoring three touchdowns in six minutes to take control, 31-10. But the first half was much more telling.

        The Buckeyes moved the ball well on the first drive behind Bellisari, but stalled and had to settle for a 31-yard Dan Stultz field goal. That's when they seemed to fall asleep.

        Ohio (0-3) tied it 3-3 on a 44-yard field goal by freshman kicker Kevin Kerr, a St. Xavier High grad. The Bobcats then grabbed a 10-3 lead late in the first half when Chad Brinker ran up the gut of Ohio State's defense for a 3-yard touchdown.

        “I can't ask our kids to play any harder,” Ohio coach Jim Grobe said.

        The Bucks showed signs of life late in the first half, driving 66 yards to score when Rambo caught a 15-yard pass from Bellisari to make it 10-10 tie.

        But this was less a day for celebrating a win and more a postmortem and a warning with Cincinnati coming to town next week fresh off its stunning defeat of Wisconsin Saturday.

        “They saw the way we played today,” Bellisari said, “and they're going to come in ready.”

        Whether Ohio State does is the big question.


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