Cris Carter often steals the spotlight during football games at the Metrodome, either by making a spectacular touchdown grab or barking at his underachieving teammates.
But on a Saturday night? During a Vikings bye-week? Even God would have a hard time getting Carter involved under these circumstances.
Yet somehow, good ol’ No. 80 and his mouth made a difference during Ohio State’s 31-28 win over Minnesota on Saturday.
The former Buckeye and future NFL Hall of Famer pumped up Ohio State during the team’s pregame meal. More importantly, Carter’s sideline advice ignited struggling – and often inaccurate – Buckeyes quarterback Steve Bellisari.
“He just told me not to throw as hard, because I have plenty of arm. And it paid off,” said Bellisari, who has known Carter since he trained at one of Carter’s camps in Boca Raton, Fla., his junior year in high school.
“Anytime you have someone give you little pointers like that, especially from a guy like Carter, you might as well listen to him and take advantage of it.”
Bellisari took the message to heart.
Entering the game eighth in the Big Ten in passing at just 161.9 yards per game, Bellisari had thrown twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns. When forced to run, he’d average just 2.4 yards per carry.
Against the Gophers, however, an inspired – and much improved – Bellisari showed up to play.
Bellisari completed 12 of 17 pass attempts for 203 yards versus Minnesota, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
He rushed for another 66 yards on 11 carries without being sacked. In all, Bellisari led Ohio State’s offense to its second-highest scoring output this season.
“Bellisari came out and played a great game,” Gophers safety Jack Brewer said. “He was the difference.”
The win brought a huge sigh of relief for Bellisari – in more ways than one.
The leader of Ohio State’s offense had a dismal game against Minnesota a year ago, completing 11 of 28 passes for 130 yards while being sacked four times.
Bellisari’s play helped the Gophers upset No. 5 Ohio State on homecoming to end national championship hopes.
Ever since, he’s been chastised in Columbus for his inconsistencies. Columnists called for his head. Fans booed him out of Ohio Stadium. But coach Jim Tressel stuck with the senior and his faith was rewarded on Saturday.
“I thought he did a darn good job,” Tressel said. “He was patient running the ball. He made good decisions throwing the ball. He had a great grasp of what we wanted to do (offensively).”
Bellisari’s play surprised the 5,000 or so Buckeyes fans who made the trip from Columbus while shocking the 40,000 plus Minnesota fans as well. Only Gophers coach Glen Mason was unmoved.
“I had to field a lot of questions about Bellisari,” Mason said. “I saw the eyebrows raise when I said he’s my type of guy – when everybody else is booing him.”
After his performance against the Gophers, nobody’s booing Bellisari.