Sunday, September 03, 2000

Ohio State 43, Fresno State 10

Defense outscores offense for Buckeyes

By Scott MacGregor
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COLUMBUS — The true test of Ohio State's renewal won't come until the leaves change, when the foes are worthy names like Wisconsin and Michigan and the games mean something to the Big Ten race. But against the likes of Fresno State, this much was true Saturday: The Buckeyes' defense is back, even if their offense still has a ways to go.

        Playing for the first time in a refurbished Horseshoe, 16th-ranked Ohio State also looked refurbished, winning its season opener 43-10 over Fresno State before a record Ohio Stadium crowd of 96,583.

        The Buckeyes' defense did most of the work, scoring four defensive touchdowns, one more than it had all last season: Two by cornerback David Mitchell (fumble return and an interception) and one each by safety Michael Doss (fumble recovery) and middle linebacker Matt Wilhelm (interception).

        The offense could have been better — failing to get in the end zone in two short-yardage situations and scoring only one TD with the first-team unit in the game — but it was still a stark contrast to the way Ohio State opened the 1999 season, when it lost to Miami in the Kickoff Classic on the way to a dismal 6-6 fall.

        “I'm happy to win, but I think we can play better than that,” coach John Cooper said.

        here were signs Saturday that this Ohio State team is healthier — especially defensively — than its oft-maligned predecessor, noted most as it built a 20-0 halftime lead.

        • The defense, torched last year by missed tackles and big

        plays, made huge ones all day after recovering from a first-drive weakness.

        After the Buckeyes failed to score four times from the 1 on their first drive, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett forced an FSU fumble at the 1. Doss — a sophomore building his reputation with each hit — recovered in the end zone for the game's first score and a 6-0 first-quarter lead.

        The Buckeye defense made it 13-0 on the next series, with cornerback Derek Ross forcing a fumble that Mitchell returned 34 yards for a TD.

        Late in the second quarter, free safety Donnie Nickey thwarted one of the few Fresno State scoring threats by picking off a David Carr pass at the OSU 13.

        Mitchell intercepted one early in the third and returned it 51 yards for a TD and a 27-0 Ohio State lead, and Doss added a third INT later in the end zone after a Steve Bellisari fumble put the Bulldogs in scoring position. Wilhelm capped it off late in the fourth with a 25-yard return for a TD.

        It's a philosophy the Buckeyes are re-emphasizing this year: Score on defense. Cooper and defensive coaches Fred Pagac and Jon Tenuta have been drumming it into their players' heads all summer.

        “What's different is that we're better this year,” Mitchell said. “We have a new mentality: To make plays. Our No. 1 goal on defense is to score.”

        “Score, get turnovers, and three-and-out,” Nickey said of the defense's goals. “It's not a new attitude, it's just re-emphasized. That mentality enabled us to do a little something out on the field.”

        • The hits were hard — cornerback Nate Clements and Doss took turns leveling Fresno State receivers all afternoon. Clements, like Doss an emerging star in the Ohio State defensive back mold, was glue on Fresno receivers all day.

        • The offense, which struggled so much last year to make plays and hold on to the ball, turned the ball over once, but there were two major blemishes: The failure to score four times from the 1 on Ohio State's first drive and Bellisari's fumble.

        That, and the fact that Bellisari's 23-yard TD pass to Chad Cacchio in the sec ond quarter was the only offensive touchdown by the first team.

        “We controlled the ball. The worst thing was short-yardage,” Cooper said. “We ought to be able to knock them off the ball and get the first down. We'd like to protect the quarterback a little better and execute the passing game better than we did today.”

        Bellisari, the junior quarterback, finished the game 8-of-14 for 95 yards passing and 52 yards rushing.

        Fresno St.  0 0 3 7—10

        Ohio St. 13 7 7 16—43

        First Quarter

        OSU—Doss fumble recovery in end zone (kick failed), 1:52

        OSU—Mitchell 34 fumble return (Stultz kick), 1:31

        Second Quarter

        OSU—Cacchio 23 pass from Bellisari (Stultz kick), 8:59

        Third Quarter

        OSU—Mitchell 51 interception return (Stultz kick), 10:54

        FS—FG Asparuhov 25, 9:41

        Fourth Quarter

        OSU—FG Stultz 34, 11:20

        OSU—Wilhelm 25 interception return (Stultz kick), 4:56

        FS—Davis 9 pass from Grady, Asparuhov kick), :05

        OSU—Bryant 44 pass from McMullen (no extra-point attempted), :00



        RUSHING—Fresno St., Tillman 8-33, Ward 11-33, Wright 2-18, Gaines 3-14, Davis 1-0, Carr 1-minus 3, Grady 1-minus 8. Ohio St., Combs 14-88, Wells 14-65, Bellisari 10-52, Westbrooks 8-26, Kline 1-2, Krenzel 3-minus 10.

        PASSING—Fresno St., Carr 26-44-4-238, Grady 5-7-0-47. Ohio St., Bellisari 8-14-0-95, Krenzel 2-5-0-27, McMullen 1-1-0-44.

        RECEIVING—Fresno St., Wright 8-49, Davis 4-37, Ward 3-49, Tillman 3-9, C.Smith 2-59, J.Johnson 2-23, Shabaglian 2-17, Mahdi 2-16, Berrian 2-9, Gaines 2-7, Gilbert 1-10. Ohio St., Rambo 5-55, Germany 2-26, Bryant 1-44, Cacchio 1-223, Hartsock 1-11, Provitt 1-7.


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