Ohio State football sets pacefor rest of Big Ten, country

by Jeff Sherry

Late Saturday night, immediately after Gophers coach Jim Wacker ended his post-game press conference, a reporter approached him for a final question.
“Coach, what do you think about the Ohio State game coming up?” Wacker was asked.
Wacker, whose team had just lost its 11th consecutive Big Ten game — by 34 points to Michigan — relayed his answer to the gathering at Tuesday’s football media luncheon:
“I had to tell him the main thing I was concerned about was our players’ overconfidence.”
It’s a good thing Wacker still has his sense of humor; he’ll probably need it to get through the upcoming weekend.
Minnesota (3-4 overall, 0-4 in the Big Ten) will try Saturday to bounce back from its lopsided defeat against Michigan. But it must do so at No. 2 Ohio State.
“You’re jumping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire,” Wacker said. “Michigan was a very fine football team. Ohio State, according to all the stats and everything else, is even a finer football team — maybe the best team in the country.”
Ohio State (7-0 overall, 4-0 in the Big Ten) certainly has the stats and everything else to support that statement. The Buckeyes have both the top-rated offense and defense in the Big Ten. They have the third-best scoring offense (43.7 points per game) and fifth-best scoring defense (12.0 points per game) in the nation.
But although Ohio State perennially contends for the Big Ten title, some people were surprised at the degree of dominance the team has exhibited this year, particularly on offense.
The Buckeyes lost three players from last year who ended up being first-round NFL draft picks: tight end Rickey Dudley, running back Eddie George and receiver Terry Glenn. They also lost their quarterback, Bobby Hoying. The defense, however, lost only one starter. So it appeared OSU would need to rely on defense while its new skill-position players gained experience.
Well, it only took two weeks to show that they didn’t need much time to adjust. The Buckeyes opened with a 70-7 trouncing of Rice before shutting out Pitt, 72-0.
Suddenly, the Big Ten had a clear-cut favorite.
“Our players this year are playing good football for us,” Coach John Cooper said. “I think we’re better defensively this year than we were last year. Our special teams are pretty good, but we lost some great football players offensively last year. So we’re probably not as good offensively this year as we were last year.”
There’s one key offensive player, however, who did come back: 6-foot-6, 330-pound left tackle Orlando Pace. Last year Pace became the first-ever sophomore to win the Lombardi Award as the country’s top collegiate lineman. This year he could become the first offensive lineman ever to win the Heisman Trophy.
He has already flattened 50 opponents with pancake blocks this season, and Cooper said he thinks Pace should be the first player selected if the junior decides to enter the NFL draft in April.
“He’s a great athlete,” Ohio State strong safety Damon Moore said. “I played against him in basketball in high school, and he could go down there and dunk, block shots, run — he just has so much more to him than his size.”

Notes: Gophers junior left tackle Luke Herkenhoff appears to be out for the season with two broken bones in his left foot, Wacker said Tuesday. Herkenhoff’s injury, which occurred Saturday against Michigan, was originally thought to be a tendon strain but further tests revealed the foot was broken.
The Gophers’ game at Wisconsin on Nov. 9 was moved to an earlier time to accommodate television coverage. It will be televised live by Creative Sports on WCCO.